When most travellers talk about cruising Fiji, they are referring to the large and familiar cruise liners that have plied the South Pacific waters for fifty years.
True, Fiji is one of our favourite cruise destinations aboard a P&O, Royal Caribbean or Carnival, but I would argue that the experience is a whole lot different when you choose a much smaller vessel to cruise locally. Away from the bustling ports of Suva and Port Denarau with all their popular tourist haunts is a whole other world of tropical islands, scuba diving, waterfalls, authentic villages and cultural experiences. There’s a whole lot of fun and frolic to be had on a big ship, I get that, but go small and see the real Fiji up-close-and-personal with one of the acclaimed boutique operators and you’ll see what you are missing.
The lush and impossibly idyllic island of Taveuni is a personal favourite. Adventurous, a bit raw around the edges, but blessed with scenery and landscapes right out of Hollywood. Hike to the gorgeous Bomo waterfall for a refreshing dip, stay at any of the indulgent beachfront resorts or scuba dive the colourful soft coral reefs, among the best in the world.
Stop by the sleepy port town of Savusavu on Vanua Levu where you can explore the acclaimed pearl farm of J Hunter Pearls or take an adventure tour into the jungle. Like almost everywhere else in this area of Fiji, the scuba diving is superb.
Another fascinating stop is the old capital of Fiji, Levuka, on the island Ovalau which sits just off the eastern end of Viti Levu. It’s a step back in time to the 19th century with the main street lined with weatherboard shops and verandahs. Heritage-listed by Fiji government, the town is home to Fiji’s oldest hotel, the Royal, as well as the eccentric Ovalau Club, where decades of scallywags and rogues have shared many Fiji Bitters and tall tales. A walking tour is the best way to see this intriguing location.
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The islands of Rabi (pronounced RAM-bee) and Kioa are highly unusual because of their transplanted Pacific populations. Rabi is now home for most of the population of Ocean (Banaba) Island in Kiribati and visitors can see entrancing performances by schoolchildren in national costume that is quite distinct from the native Fijians.
Likewise at Kioa, where visitors are met by a flotilla of canoes, filled with singing, flower-adorned Polynesians, that surround your ship before escorting you ashore for more singing, dancing and interacting with the residents who came from Tuvalu after WWII.
At the farthest eastern reaches of the Fiji islands, is the Lau Group, known throughout the Pacific as the birthplace of Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, the founding father of modern Fiji and its first Prime Minister. Seldom visited by tourists, the population shows ancient influences from nearby Tonga with many customs and languages more Polynesian than Melanesian Fiji.
While it is possible to fly to some of these lesser islands and stay in basic local accommodations, a small ship visit provides easy access and low impact tourism that preserves the local customs and way of life.
The two main small ship operators in Fiji, Captain Cook Cruises (MV Reef Endeavour 130 pax) and Blue Lagoon Cruises (MV Fiji Princess 68 pax) operate comfortable boutique vessels that make occasional, longer forays each year away from their usual haunts in the Mamanuca Islands at the far western perimeter of the country. These specialist cultural and historical cruises draw travellers from all over the world and are unique in the Pacific. A third small ship operator, Tui Tai Cruises (AS Tui Tai 24 pax), based at Savusavu, sails a classic timber schooner on active trips that includes lots of diving, hiking, canoeing and even bike riding as well as numerous village visits.
Talk to your Travel Associates consultant about any of these unique Fiji cruise alternatives.