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What follows are only basic snapshot summaries and breakdowns of the factors important to independent travellers. New Zealand has a lot to offer for a small country and the region of Polynesia is HUGE, spread over a wide area - it's impossible for this page to be comprehensive.
Both New Zealand and Fiji are firmly on the 'round the world'
route connecting Australia with the Americas. Although it is fair
to say that New Zealand sees far less tourists than Australia or
Europe, depending on the season it can seem as busy due to the compact
size. New Zealand and Fiji as with Australia have a well developed
travel industries supporting travelers of all budgets and are a great
place to start for new travels. They are both easier to get around, better value
and often friendlier than Australia (although very few places in
the world as are friendly as Fiji!).
Fiji, French Polynesia, Hawaii and Easter Island are the most well connected Pacific Islands and the ones reached most cost effectively and allowing you to connect onwards around the world. For this reason when you arrive in gateway hubs such as Nadi (in Fiji) don't expect the place to be a deserted instant paradise. That you can find (notably in Fiji) with a time and money. These main hubs are covered here. The poorly connected others like Samoa, Tonga, Kiribati, Tuvalu are best visited with Fiji as a hub and see little tourist traffic.
If you are set on going and need a guidebook or reading material please see a list of recommended guides/books here (go on, have a look!). All guides/books can be viewed in more detail and click-through purchased with Amazon in the UK, US or Canada. Plus shopping through the site is a big thank you (if you have been helped out). To see why click here.
Technically the Pacific region splits into three groups Micronesia, Melanesia and Polynesia - the easiest way to remember it is from the entomology of the names: Micro-nesia (small-islands) not covered on this site, Mela-nesia (black-islands) close to Australia (and covered in the Australia section) and Poly-nesia (many-island). There is of course plenty of crossover.
The Polynesian people travelled from island to island in canoes populating new islands and establishing cultures. If you imagine Polynesia as a triangle the three corners are New Zealand, Easter Island and Hawaii (covered in the USA section).
In all cases European visitors and settlers eventually caused havoc and much destruction, these cultures (epitomised by the Māori or Fijian warriors) are proud, traditionally fearsome, super friendly, but with little recorded or visual history (Easter Island aside).
Get your bearings... show/hide map of the region
Intro: It's a view maintained by many that New Zealand beats the hell out of Australia as a independent travel [backpacker] destination. It is cheaper (although overall cost differentials to Australia vary with currency trends and seasons), more compact, prettier and just if you are not looking for work or a vast desert, better. Few would disagree - that alongside South Africa - for a developed country it's good value and one of the most beautiful places on earth. Picking up a car to buy or hire is easy and the country hosts a perfect system of wonderful hostels, guesthouses and B&Bs.
Outdoor adventure activities are well organised and cheaper than Australia, with a whole host of possibilities from oxygen-assisted skydives to white-water rafting/surfing to the well-known bungee jump. You might feel a little like you are on a tourist trail and the North Island is a little lacking in some ways, but the scenery, especially in South Island for and the fjordlands makes up for it all. Having your own transport really makes the difference since major tourist hubs are busy and public transport is never perfect off the beaten track.
Isolated, still fifteen hundred
kilometres on from Australia, New Zealand has enjoyed a tourist boom with a
certain set of films putting its landscape very much
on the map. Despite this the country remains unfettered by the
crowds you'd find elsewhere due to just how far (and thus
expensive it is to reach for most).
More a holiday rather than a travel destination. Everything is easily accessible, packed into a land area little larger than the UK but with a population of under 4million, with over half that in the three largest cities: Auckland, the capital Wellington, and the South Island's Christchurch. Elsewhere, you can travel miles through farmland from one attraction to another and hardly see anyone.
At major tourist attractions okay, it's busy, but a far cry from Europe's or North America's equivalents. And the scenery: well welcome to 'Godzone'.
Natural beauty and variety. Great set up for those wishing to explore independently and on a budget (when compared to developed country alternatives such as Australia, USA or Western Europe). Everything is easy and set up with travellers in mind. The fjordlands , volcanic activity, Wanaka, great hostels and the South Island in general. NZ's amazing back country hut system comes highly rated as does many short treks. General awesome natural beauty, great facilities and compactness .
Queenstown, often full accommodation, the west (wet) coast
(although lowlight might be a bit harsh and some certainly disagree), some of the North
Island's cities and sand flies.
Christchurch and Auckland are just big cities, with little to distinguish them from most western world cities.
Visa strategy: Free on entry for three months for most nationalities - onwards ticket normally requested. Australian citizens can stay indefinitely. Many choose the one year Working Holiday Visa (one time only, for those under 30) so they can legally work while travelling.
Typical tourist trail: Too various to mention, generally a loop around the North and South Islands
When to go: Dec-March is busy season, worth doing some booking ahead. June-Aug (winter) is the off-season and quieter/cheaper to travel in, though with worse weather.
Hot/cold, wet and dry: Typical four season climate, can get hot at the top of the North Island. The weather is (on average) rainy in the west and dry in the east. There is little variation between seasons, temps are rarely higher than mid 20'sC or lower than 0C. Average is about 10C during winter, 20C during summer. Best weather is January - April.
Costs: Good value, getting around can be expensive, as can tours. Cook your own food to save money. US$40-60 per day, but with so much to do, like shark diving (better in South Africa), dolphin swimming (better not done at all), glacier climbing and extreme sports (which are poor value), costs can run out of control. For a better idea of prices see http://www.backpack-newzealand.com/costs.html
Money: ATMs and credit card
Getting around: Many travellers go for backpacker buses. If you are more than one person, hire or buy a car instead - you won't regret it. Generally buses can be a little expensive (more than hiring a car if sharing the cost). There are quite a few car and car sharing notices in hostels, re-locations available around the country, if you keep an eye out. Compared to many western countries, hitchhiking and sharing lifts between travellers is more common and some say is easy, but you'll need some experience in this means of travel to avoid waiting too long - even the pros expect average wait times of about an hour per ride (naturally hitchhiking is never a totally safe means of travel). Rail is quite limited and expensive. Many choose to cycle.
Comment: I used your site before I embarked on a year-long round the world trip and found it very useful. I noticed this comment on the New Zealand page: "The general feedback on backpacker buses is rarely good." I went on a backpacker bus and it was undoubtedly the best time of my travels. I've met plenty of people who have also been with the bus company I went with or the main alternative, and they all have very positive things to say too.
Guide book: Use the fantastic free hostel guides (BBH) for accommodation if hostelling. Recommended is The Rough Guide: New Zealand. The Lonely Planet: New Zealand is up to its usual standard, but far too overused for the liking of many. All guides can be bought with ease in New Zealand: the Rough Guide was a favourite. There are a number of Lonely Planet specialist guides for walking/trekking (see details - UK or USA) which are very good. For a full list of guidebooks click here.
Other reading: Recommended are: The Bone People by Keri Hulme. Set in remote New Zealand, this Booker-prize-winning novel tells the story of the ties that bind three amazingly different people. It is a rich reading experience, with characters so real it is sometimes painful to read, and always totally engrossing - (see details - UK or USA). Māori by Alan Duff. Like The Bone People, but this book is much rawer. It's not pretty, but if you want to learn about the Māori, this is for you. It is a portrayal of Māori society, and a story in which everyone is a victim until the strength and vision of one woman transcends brutality and leads the way to a new life. (see details - UK or USA). For a full list of recommended reading click here.
Locals: Friendly and welcoming
Other travellers: Various, lots of Israelis and Dutch, but most notably - Germans and English. NZ is backpacker central. Many young 'kid' travellers
Tourist factor: 8-9/10 (NZ has become extremely popular in recent years)
Accommodation: Hostels, book ahead in peak seasons, especially for double rooms and the best rated
Average cost: $24-$29NZD dorm, $55-$60NZD for a double. Most expensive in Wellington and Queenstown. Campsites are about half the price (less of unserviced). A common recommendation is that an enjoyable way to save money is the Woofing programme, where you get to meet locals, eat very well, save money and learn loads of interesting stuff.
Communications: Internet widespread, but quality of Wifi is not always perfect in busy hostels and often restricted to the reception. Worth buying a local SIM card with a data package.
Health: Watch out for sand fly bites, otherwise no need for any special precautions
Food: Easy to cook own food in hostels. Eating out is not too expensive.. Many restaurants allow BYO wine which is cheaper.
Vegetarians: Never a problem
Hassle and annoyance factor: None
Women alone: None (hitchhiking alone might not be the best idea)
Local poisons for the body: Beer and wine good value and can now be bought in supermarkets throughout NZ. There are strict no smoking laws inside public buildings including bars, pubs and restaurants but they usually accommodate smokers in special smoking rooms or balconies etc. A lot of dope is grown in the North Island and around Motueka and Nelson so no worries about getting your mitts on some if desired in the South or North Island (it's still illegal though). Another recent development in NZ - which has developed a reputation for it is - is the advent of Party Pills, made from BZP, which gives a similar high to ecstasy, but legally. Can be bought from shops open all hours over the counter but you must be 18 or over and unfortunately will probably be made illegal by the time you read this (BZP is now). Typically when one variant is made illegal another variant pops up. There are plenty of other 'legal highs' - all come with buyer beware warning.
We are light on Pacific Island information as few pass through this region due to the cost and difficulty of access. There are only short summaries of Fiji, Easter Island and French Polynesia (and only one is actually a country).
Technically the 'pacific' splits into the following divisions (most overseas territories omitted, the major one
Micronesia (Kiribati, Palau, Guam, Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia)
Melanesia - closes to Oz and Indonesia (Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Papua New Guinea)
Polynesia (New Zealand, Fiji, Samoa, American Samoa, Tonga, Tuvalu, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Easter Island and Nauru).
Micronesia is not covered on this site, for Melanesia see the Australia country summary page. Although many nations are made up of widely spread chains of islands, the main inhabited island and main access point reachable without private charters can be tiny. These are alongside the Vatican, San Marino and Monaco, some of the smallest nations on earth. Nauru being only 21 square km! (tiny Easter Island is a whopping 164 square km in comparison). Leaving New Zealand aside, Fiji and Hawaii have the largest single land bodies and are thus the most interesting. Samoa (inc. American Samoa) and Tonga come in second.
Others such as Tuvalu, Nauru and the reachable hubs of Micronesia are really cool places to say you have been, but really don't have much going on when you arrive. The main pastime (apart from diving/fishing) is typically waiting for the next flight!
There is a strong sense of historical/national pride, but little history to be found (excluding WW2 remnants mainly in Melanesia). Each region (and to a certain extent every island) has its own distinct flavour and culture - although the overseas territories (e.g. American Samoa, French Polynesia, New Caledonia, Guam, etc.) do feel sterile in comparison to the sovereign nations having adopted much or their culture [and price range] from their big brother/sister.
Like the Caribbean the whole region is expensive to get around. Once you get there costs range from reasonable (living and travelling as locals do) to extremely high costs if your require comforts and products that require importing or are power intestive. Few islands have anything close to enough food production to meet demands or significant domestic industry. Everything comes by plane/ship, increasing the cost to well above that in your home country.
Nauru is the only country in the region that requires a visa (for nationals of developed countries) and along with the rest of Micronesia the hardest (read most expensive) to reach. Fiji and of course New Zealand are the most developed for tourism and have the best air network to connect to other islands such as Samoa and Tonga. From Fiji you can get to Kiribati and Tuvalu.
Palau is best accessed from Seoul, Taiwan, Japan
or like the rest of Micronesia from USA overseas territories
like Guam. The region is annoying difficult to hop around between the smaller nations. You have to
frustratingly and expensively return to a hub.
Most of those who visit, do so on round-the-world flight or on trips to/via Fiji which has good connections from Asia, Australia and the USA and acts as the best hub. Easter Island with its remote location and single land body is unique in that it can be accessed only from Chile or French Polynesia.
There are plenty of cruise ships and private yachts, but no international passenger ferries. Forget about island hopping and remember many islands (and indeed nations) are very small with little to do (apart from kick back) with high costs (due to the need to import almost everything).
Getting around within each territory varies. On the most populated islands between urban centres and nearby islands there are normally good transport links. Reaching further flung islands or less developed/inhabited parts typically is dependent upon infrequent ferry/bus schedules or expensive private hire. Remember this region is (much like the Caribbean) on its own time zone. That is everything is very relaxed and unrushed. Precise timetables are a novelty and outside of business hubs no one is in a hurry.
Intro: Easter Island, Isla Pascua, Rapa Nui, Te pito o te henua (the navel of the world)... probably no one knows the real name (if it even had one), and that enigma is at the heart of the island which is for many the very definition of remote. Arriving you find yourself in a time-warp between South America and Polynesia. You hear Chilean Spanish spoken, but notice flowers in the hair of girls and other distinct Polynesian flavours. The main 'town' Hanga Roa, sounds anything but South American. How you experience this will largely depends on if you have arrived from Tahiti or Santiago.
Easter Island is a tiny, expensive island about 5 and a bit hours flight (3,680km) from the nearest inhabited destination with an airport (the Pitcairn islands - of 'Mutiny and the Bounty' fame is probably remoter (and the nearest place with another living soul (2,075km if anyone is counting) - but accessible by boat only) Looking around will take a day, but two or three days (including the days you arrive/leave) is recommended to include time to get over the jet lag and take in the place. Actually seeing all the sites (which is costly as you need a tour or your own transport), despite what many sources will tell you, it takes no more than one whole day. Eastern Island is a wonderful, relaxed place and you could spend far longer - only if you want to chill, there are far better places for it (with regards to costs and services on offer.
The cost of getting to the island and around (see below) can be prohibitive for many, but it is a hell of a kick to come face to face with those heads and walk in such a remote, enigmatic place. Few places capture the imagination as this and despite being in real terms actually quite accessible (daily flights) you see few other visitors at many or the archaeological sites, relative to their fame.
The ocean, a dark deep blue looms large from everywhere - the curve of the earth just viable - with crashing waves on a rocky shore. The massive heads look ashore or have crashed ground wards. Then for the moments you start to wonder how and why and what it was like on this island 500 years ago (and how everything change (for the worst)). It certainly is a special place.
Volcanoes and you know what. In particular Roano Raraku (the quarry the heads come from), Ahu Tongariki (the most famous line-up) and Rano Kua/ORongo (crates and birdman site). Anakena must be the world's coolest beach.
Prices of food, getting there/away and around. It is worth remembering that when Captain Cook visited in 1772 many of the moai (the heads) where toppled. By the time Europeans established missions and Pervians had raided the island for slaves 50-100 years later all the moai were face down. Today there are four main line ups - all which have been re-raised. There are many moai sites on the island, but the typical moai you see is face down on the ground rather than majestically lines up. This is not a lowlight, only a point of note.
Dangers: Spending too long and too much. The island can be hot and dusty or prone to frequent rain showers (depending when you visit.
Visa strategy: Free on entry, same requirements as Chile
Typical tourist trail: A few days stop over between Santiago and French Polynesia. The main town, laying adjacent to the airport is the opposite end of the island to the main moai sites. Ahu Tongariki (the most famous photo of 15 standing moais) is the farthest corner away from the town. It is connected to Hanga Roa (the main/only settlement) via a loop road of good quality. To drive the whole loop - that passes 90% of the islands archeological sites - will take about 2 hours (it is about 70km). Typically you will spend a full day doing this, a half day looking around Hanga Roa plus climbing to the near-by Rano Kau crater (and birdman site) and a half day (or day), doing nothing, drinking pisco, surfing or some other (expensive) activity. You could probably drive to the main attractions every day for a week without being bored - only doing so comes at a high price (cost of transport, tours, rental).
Costs: Quite expensive (about US$50-$100 per day), but cheap accommodation can be found and you can cook your own food in many cabanas/hostels. The major cost is getting transport out to all the moai.
Money: The banks (just two - one is Santander) will give credit card advances when open at a fee. There is an ATM at both (but not in the airport - airport to bank is less than 15min walk), USD or EURs change no problem, but at a worse rate than mainland Chile. You can pay for most things with a credit or debit card so don't stress about cash.
What to buy: Many expensive, but very nice carvings. Lots of mini-moai
Locals: Fine (not many of them). There is a super chilled out vibe and small surf culture.
Other travellers: Fine, not to many of them. Large majority of Chilean (South American) visitors. Next come Japanese and the few round the worlders that make it here.
Tourist factor: 6/10
Accommodation: The options as you step off
the plane are huge if you did not book ahead. Options range
from the nice hotels/guesthouses from about US$40-100 to
pitching your own tent and dorm beds. In between you have
Cabanas (rooms with you own kitchen) and resadencals (rooms
next to or part of a family house). Many hostels have a
minimum 3 night rule. Pick wisely and go with one of these
owners for a look and free lift into town (although walking
is easy). Given how remote the location most arrivals have
pre-booked accommodation and if you walk around town many
places are surprised to see walk-in business However many
places are not available to book on the internet. Note the
best places to stay are the resceidetals which you almost
certainly won't find on internet booking engines. Any of the
airport information desks will give you a free map with all
the places to stay listed.
If you have nowhere - don't worry. Walking from the airport turn left (ot of the airport), then first right (take second right to pass a hostel), the left. You will pass Chez Oscar (a good choice) and a few others. When you hit the LAN Chile office you are on main street. Turn right and you are in the town centre. That will take less than 10mins to walk. Everyone is super friendly and getting directions if needed is easy.
The cheaper places are the far end of town and won't offer breakfast - no great hardship since you have tonnes of eating places and supermarkets.
Internet: Some Internet cafes and Wi-Fi (pretty slow at times) just about everywhere (you see, even the world's most remote place has great Wi-Fi!)
Food: Restaurants are nice, with given the location a great quality, but quite expensive. Supermarkets have a reasonable stock for preparing your own meals. If you are eating every meal out, things will get expensive.
Getting there: Currently the only way to get to Easter Island is with LAN Chile from French Polynesia (once a week) or Santiago (daily). This was possible on a One World round-the-world ticket, but regulations change frequently. Flight range from US$500-1000 return.
Getting around: The only real way to see the island is to hire a jeep (US$70-100) or take a tour. A motorbike, quad or scooter is cheaper (US$60), but you will need a specific reference to motorbikes on your licence to rent anything two wheeled. Given the period rain showers in some seasons a jeep is far better. A jeep, split between a few people is the best option and you will see all the sights in a day. Around the town, you can hire bikes and walk to a few sights including one of the stunning volcanoes, bird-man site and ruins. The main sites at the far end of town are far too far to reach by bicycle or foot.
Guide book: There is no travel guidebook for Easter Island alone, but plenty of books on the history and culture for sale in town. So for you need to buy something or use the chapters in the Rough Guide: Chile (see details/buy with Amazon - UK or USA) or Lonely Planet: Chile (see details/buy with Amazon - UK or USA), which are both good. To be honest you just need information on the history of the island. Some hostels have nice books for loan. Also there are loads of abandoned South America guidebooks here. The new Moon Handbook on Tahiti (including the Cook Islands), has a fairly detailed section on Easter Island and has been recommended.
Other reading: There are many books relating to the history of the island and your guidebook and Wikipedia is probably the best place to start, but for a novel/biography set around the island, Among Stone Giants: The Life of Katherine Routledge and Her Remarkable Expedition to Easter Island by Andrew Tathum (see details - UK, Canada or USA) is highly recommended and informative/interesting.
Comment: Easter island - incredible! Yes, you can see the main sites in 2 days if you run but there is so much to see and do on the island and you can easily spend more time there - horse treks, surfing, scuba diving, trekking, dance shows, or just plain chilling out on beautiful Anakena beach and hanging out with the locals on the weekend. Flights are very often delayed or you may be bumped off the flight, so if possible allow extra time. Wherever you're going it's a very very long way to get back here and it would be a real shame to end up running around the island snapping away at the moai in 2.5 days instead of budgeting for an extra day. The best guide by far is "A companion to Easter Island by James Grant Peterkin" plenty of detail and very easy to follow and it will even tell you how to avoid the tour groups. Lonely Planet etc don't come anywhere close. You can buy it in the stores on the island. - Thanks Jason K
Rating: Although you only need two/three days at maximum, with not much to see, those heads and the island are compelling - 8/10
Intro: Bula! Over 300 tropical islands set in the South Pacific. Lush green hills, underwater gardens, white beaches and a decent travel infrastructure across the whole budget spectrum. Good English is spoken (as in parts of Africa/Caribbean there is a real flavour of a formal British colonial outpost - occasionally forgotten in time) the locals are wonderfully friendly. There is much to like about Fiji and it is difficult not to be smitten if you spend a little time, effort and money getting away from the crowds. Maybe it is the sun, the water, the time difference or the Kava, but Fiji really does take you away from it all. Attractions are limited (they are small islands after all, with few roads) and getting to the little gems off the beaten track takes time (but at least ferries run and there are plenty of places to stay). If you are the first time in the Pacific or fresh from Asia you are going to find Fiji expensive, but in reality it is good value for where you are.
Fiji roughly breaks up into five zones/parts.
1) Viti Levu which is the main and largest island. Almost all enter at Nadi airport on the West coast (the capital Suva also has international connections and is the other size of the island). The [good] coastal road from Nadi to Suva along the 'Coral Coast' hosts the main population and is peppered by resorts.
2) The Yasawa and Mamanuca Islands. These small, but beautiful islands (one was the location of 'Castaway') are easily reached from Nadi (i.e. the main international gateway) and well developed with accommodation in every prices range. It seems almost all visitors to Fiji will have at least some exposure to them.
3) Vanua Levu, the country's second largest island, 200km away from Viti Levu.
4) The many small islands that can be reached with relative ease from Viti Levu and Vanua Levu (excluding the Yasawa and Mamanuca Islands) - these are great and are some of the best, most beautiful and relaxed spots - although there is never much to do when you arrive.
5) The rest of the islands deep in the Koro Sea, most with very limited ferry/air access and accommodation. Examples would be the Lau and Moala group. Few get here. This is the Polynesia you imagine and much as the first European visitors would have seen.
A complete antithesis to the North American, Western European and every other work-orientated culture, Fijians know how to relax and enjoy their surroundings: a way of life that they seem eager to share with those who care to visit. Escape Viti Levu (or at least its South (Coral) coast and islands (Yasawa and Mamanuca) accessible from Nadi) for a taste of true Fijian culture, without the manufactured tribal dances and 'grog' ceremonies that so many resorts offer. Many islands offer home stays which makes it possible to be exposed to the true nature of Fijians - a wonderfully friendly and inquisitive people.
Getting off Viti Levu and out of Nadi does require time and money. You won't find historic monuments or any 'attractions' of any significant, this is Polynesia - it is designed to relax: listen to the waves break, feel the wind on your face and feast your eyes on the lush green mountains/forests. Getting out to outer islands, accommodation and transport when there plus finding corners of paradise, although not cheap, is easier here than anywhere else in Poly/Mela/Micronesia.
If you are short on time you can still get a great taste in a 3-5 days, sticking to Viti Levu - but you will need to fork out for a boat cruise/trip and hire car to really see it properly.
Highlights: The lush green and ever changing landscape of Viti Levu is easily seen from the good quality island ring-road. The farther you are from Nadi the better (but more remote it is). However it is the outer islands which are the real highlight. Although the Yasawa to the north-west of the mainland are hugely popular (not least by their proximity to good connection and the nearby ferry), they are a little over-priced and over-rated compared to others, but perfect for a day (or 2) trip.
Try Ovalau, to the west, to experience an island uncorrupted by tourism (we pondered hard as to whether to reveal this here - so treat it with respect). Just off the coast of Ovalau is Caqalai (pronounce Thangalai) an island on which time stops and there is nothing to do but lie and relax, snorkel, or explore its five minute's walking diameter! Visit Nananu-I-Ra to the north for sheer beauty and tranquillity and excellent diving. There are many others to discover.
Lowlights: Nadi where most land is just one letter away from Nadir. It is a typical Fijian city, which few actually see, staying on a functional street of hotels and bars/restaurants at Denarau Marina or the default backpacker hub on a poor beach a few km from the main strip.
Suva, the capital, is run down in places and has some issues with crime. There is not much to see. Once a colonial beauty spot, unfortunately Suva is now not what Fiji is all about and best only for a night stop.
Harbour on the Coral Coast (before Suva if coming from Nadi is
best avoided as are any of the Coral Coast resorts. There is
just so much better.
Visa strategy: None or on arrival. Make sure you have something that at least looks like an onward ticket confirmation.
Typical tourist trail: A stay at a Nadi hostel (or Coral Coast resort) followed by visiting the Yasawas or Bounty/Beachcomber islands - which are touristy, but with easy access. Others will circle the island and stop off in Suva or a north coast resort. Outside of the Yasawas, Coral Coast resorts, Nadi and Suva it is amazing how few tourist you actually see.
Hot/cold, wet and dry: Hottest Dec-Apr which is also the rainy season - expect tropical storms. The best time to go is October when the weather is hot but not unbearable. Like most places, it can get chilly at night.
Costs: How to put this? Fiji is pretty
expensive and pretty cheap. It all depends on your window of
reference which needs to be that of Pacific Island nations. With this in
mind Fiji is good value. You can easily live on a
Australia/NZ budget, even staying on island resorts, have
decent food/drink and get around. That makes it hugely
more expensive than Thailand or the Philippines, but much
cheaper than French Polynesia or Vanuatu. It is on par with Windward
Typically tourists are not over charges (Fijians are too nice), but in resorts or where wealthier tourist are found, prices can be much higher.
Money: ATMs available at the larger resorts on the mainland. There are ATMs in all main towns but bear in mind there are only 7 main towns on the mainland, and fewer on the other islands. Credit cards are welcome in most places, but always with a 3-5% extra charge.
The best way to get around (short of having your own wheels)
are either the buses (make sure you get on an express bus or
the journey will take hours and will stop every 5 minutes)
or minivans - that will pick you up from the side of the
road, cheap and readily available - try it (with a small
bag) from the airport into Nadi for 1FJ$, the stop is just across
the road from the airport entrance. A hire car gets you around fastest (but not at
great value) and you can drive when whole of Viti Levu
in two relaxed days.
Getting to Vanua Levu requires a flight or 10-12hour ferry. Ferries to outer island are not always regular, but all things considered and compared to other Pacific nations, services are regular, reasonable quality and all together pretty good. It is certainly a lot easier to get around Fiji's Islands than it is in Melanesia or the Maldives/Seychelles.
Guide book: Lonely Planet is okay, the Rough Guide is much better. The Moon handbook is a good alternative and in some ways better, but more out of date these days.
Not an issue for most visitors on the beaten track, but
for those that stray it is important to note that Fiji
has retained many of its customs and sensibilities, and
you should respect these everywhere, especially in rural
areas. Exposing shoulders, knees, cleavage and midriffs
is frowned upon and deeply disrespectful if in a
village. Other customs to be aware of in villages are
those regarding the village chief: you must stoop your
shoulders when you pass if you are taller than him and
you must not wear head garments or hats in his presence.
Do not refuse the offer of yaqona. Man up and drink it in one. After one
bilo (coconut shell) full of
yaqona/grog/kava you are able
to refuse any more but the more you drink the more you
will be respected. If you wish to just have a little
then use the phrase "low-tide".
If you really get of the beaten track, you must not on any occasion enter a village without first seeing the chief - if you are unsure wait at the edge of the village for a villager to come to you and guide you. A gift (sevusevu) for the chief is essential when you enter the village (normally a gift of yaqona is the best bet!) Touching the head of a Fijian or facing the soles of your feet towards the chief are forbidden at all times.
The chief is highly respected; treat him as you would the queen! The beauty of Fiji is the culture, which is still very important to them. Respect this and you will be immediately welcomed into the community.
Many thanks to Katie Penman for supplying this
summary. Katie spent 5 months voluntary teaching in a
secondary school in Fiji. We update and revised some
of the information on a recent visit.
Accommodation: There are many hostels for
backpackers and many hotels and resorts have converted part
to be budget focused accommodation - standards vary hugely and AC significantly increases costs. Many resorts or
hotel offer a dorm option so if on a tight budget you can
cut costs. Fiji is one of only places in the world where resort type accomadtion in remote beutiful locations are affordble to
Homestays are well developed and if possible try to stay in a bure - a traditional Fijian thatched building. For the most part, don't expect prices on par with South East Asia (think more Australia/NZ).
Hot water: Can be absent if you go to the bottom of the budget range.
Average cost:FJ$50-100 for a double at the non-AC end. FJ$100-200 for the AC end.
Locals: The population is split between traditional Fijians and Indian Fijians (who still retain a South Asian culture and speak Hindi). Both are some of the friendliest people you will ever meet, interested in your life, and easily pleased. However be aware of local customs.
Other travellers: Normally Ozzie, American, English or German. Many travel here on their own or as a stop-over on a RTW trip.
Communications: Internet is available at more modern resorts/hotels. Accommodation aimed at Fijians won't have any Wi-Fi. Accommodation aimed at budget international travellers will have poor quality Wi-Fi, normally only in the lobby. There are a few nationwide Wi-Fi hotspots you can buy prepaid cards for. Otherwise buy a local SIM card.
Food: Mainly root crops, which are bland in taste and high in carbs, local curries (the Indo-Fijians make excellent rotis). The fruit is plentiful - make the most of the mangoes, pawpaw (papaya) and the local soursap. Western food is readily available, but if it is imported it won't be cheap.
Vegetarians: No worries.
Hassle and annoyance factor: Fijians are inquisitive so don't be offended by personal questions.
Women alone: Okay in rural areas but stay in pairs after dark. Suva and Nadi are probably the only places in Fiji where it is not advisable to venture out after dark alone.
Local poisons for the body: As in
it is all about Kava. A locally grown ceremonial drink
made from a root. Kava is also known as Grog or Yaqona. Its
use is fussed into Fijian culture and something to
experience (see customs above). It is suited to sunset and
groups of friends sitting telling stories. Drunk in one
draft from a bowl (traditionally coco-nut shell) taken from
a big pot. Much is written on the foul taste of Kava
(remember it is drunk in one go) and sure it doesn't taste
great, but trust me there are far worse things out there. Kava varies in strength and you are always
advised to leave 10-15mins between bowls. You will feel more
relaxed and sleepy. Conversation flows and generally you
won't be very productive.
Rum is distilled locally with Bounty being the most well known.
Intro: Where as the Tongans, Samoans and Fijians were known as fierce warriors, island European ships avoided, the Polynesians of these islands were calm and welcoming. Although much of this culture has now vanished and the Islands remain under European rule, you may feel like you are in a picture postcard or shipwreck movie (Mutiny anyone?), but given the high (European) standards and remote location, the cost of living is higher here than almost anywhere else in the world so if on a budget you really have to limit your time or catch a flight onto Easter Island (for which French Polynesia is a main launching point). As with its Caribbean counterparts, expect French through and through including the attitude, food, standards and prices. Escape Tahiti and head for the nearby island of Moorea, cook for yourself and it's doable price-wise. Head for some of the more evocative sounding islands or outer islands and you might wonder why you bothered, especially compared to other Pacific nations which offer so much more at half the price.
Highlights: What can you afford?
Lowlights: The costs and some locals
Visa strategy: Free on arrival, if you don't need a visa for France you don't need one for French Polynesia
Typical tourist trail: Moorea; you can go to a few further islands if you have time. If on anything close to budget you need to ask yourself two questions: Is there a public ferry and is there non-resort accommodation.
Dangers: Buying anything or spending too many nights in Tahiti.
Hot/cold, wet and dry: Very hot, expect downpours (the mountains of Tahiti are some of the wettest places on earth)
Getting around: La Truck to the dock, ferry (try and get a student discount if you have a card) and bicycles for hire. If you have the budget a hire car will allow you to see more of the main island
Guide book: You don't need one just to get from the airport to Moorea. Look at one before you go and make a few notes or photocopies. If you are travelling far and wide then the Lonely Planet is the best of a bad bunch. For a full list of guidebooks click here.
What to take: High factor waterproof sun-block. A tent if you are set on the cheapest accommodation
Money: ATMs, these can often be empty (including the one at the airport), take a little Euros (or USD). If using ATMs a Visa Plus card or Visa credit card is the way to go; don't rely on the Cirrus network 100%.
Costs: US$40-100 per day, less if you stay still and don't travel and eat out of supermarkets or fast food.
Locals: French characteristics prevail with some quite stroppy unfriendly locals.
Other travellers: Few backpackers, loads of honeymooners
Tourist factor: 7/10
Accommodation: There is one expensive-ish place (European prices) opposite the airport (see right) and a few in town, but its best to sleep at the airport the night you arrive (arrivals are normally in the middle of the night). Nearby there are two camping places in Moorea with some fixed huts if you don't have a tent or sleeping bag. These are fairly reasonably priced. See text on right for how to get there. You can find similar places on other islands, but check the guidebook and make a reservation before you head out since budget choices are very limited and if you can't find a bed you'll be forced into a resort at great expense. Beware camping sites can get booked up during public holidays. Overall if you need to stay on even a reasonable budget accommodation options are not great. This is a country where if you can handle $300-1000/night on a resort you are in the right place.
Average cost: About US$10-100 a tent/fixed tent/basic room. Away from Tahiti (the main island) and its capital on islands with a reasonable population prices are reasonable. On the more remote islands where all inclusive resorts are the only option (e.g. Bora Bora) costs increase significantly.
Food: Cook your own, everything is expensive, bring basic foods to cook with you if coming from New Zealand
Local poisons for the body: You might treat yourself to a beer and that's it
Rating: 6/10 if only for a quick taste of paradise and a serious tan
This is the only information you need - As you walk out of the airport, cross a big car park to the main road. This takes you to the side of the road furthest from the airport. To your right and 150m along is a commercial laundry. Up the street to its side is as cheap as room you will find in Tahiti (around US$30 dorm bed). Or on the road you will see a bus stop, which is in fact for Le Truck. You want to be on the side of the road that takes you left (with your back to the airport).
Don't get off Le Truck until you see big boats. Pay when you get off - prices are posted. You will soon find a ferry to Moorea; the first one goes at about 0630 (about 5 a day).
At Moorea (short crossing) you will see an old clapped-out school bus as you step off. The driver will signal to you, and will know where you are going from your backpack. Its about 30mins to Moorea Camping (there are a number of options and most have rooms, dorms, bungalows as your budget allows). This ride can be hitched, but took me four hours.
Please, please if you have been anywhere recently send your comments to contribute and help keep all information fresh for future travellers. Or if you are about to head off remember this site when you return and put a few lines in an e-mail to let us know if things have changed.
"When you exit this vehicle, please be sure to lower your head and watch your step. If you fail to do so, please lower your voice and watch your language. Thank you."