I was deep in the rainforest navigating a very steep muddy track, with twigs lodging themselves in my hair and millipedes crunching under foot.

This wouldn’t be the Fiji most people would envisage – a honeymooners’ paradise – but in a bid to explore a different side to the country, I’d embarked on trip navigating its ‘adventure triangle’.

This would lead me from the highest peaks, to rivers running through gnarled mangroves and paradisiacal islands frequented by sharks.

I was currently aiming to get to Fiji’s highest peak, Mount Tomanivi (1,324m), with adventure company Talanoa Treks. Its Two Peak Challenge spans three days and takes you to the two loftiest points in the country.

Sadie climbing Fiji’s Mount Tomanivi

It truly felt like I’d ventured off the beaten path as we bushwhacked our way to the top of Mount Tomanivi.

We had a guide called Meli from the local village (one of Talanoa Treks aims is to integrate more remote Fijian communities into the tourism industry) and we didn’t spot any other tourists along the way.

The sweaty hike saw us navigate overgrown trails, duck under fallen trees and clamber over giant boulders.

Near the summit, the guide and I spotted a Fiji Goshawk (a bird of prey endemic to Fiji) trying to eat a giant beetle that looked prehistoric given its enormous size.

The views on the way and at the top were spectacular, with bushy rainforest sprawling as far as the eye could see and the flat ocean calmly twinkling beyond.

Views from Fiji’s highest mountain over the virgin rainforest

Following the gruelling four-hour hike we spent the night with Meli and his family in their traditional home, built from timber with a corrugated tin roof.

Meli’s mother Paulini rustled up some delicious vegetarian treats in her simple kitchen kitted out with a kerosene stove, with favourites including roro (a dish containing spinach-like taro leaves and coconut milk), fried eggplant and chunks of creamy cassava (a root vegetable that is a staple in Fiji).

Later, we went to another family member’s house to try kava, a mildly narcotic drink made from the roots of the pepper plant. Be warned, it makes your lips and throat numb!

But I was told the numbness was worth it for the drink’s relaxing effect.

I don’t think I had enough of the murky water to feel the full impact, but I did sleep exceedingly well that night.

Sadie trying kava, a mildly narcotic drink made from powdered tree roots



What to pack for a Fijian adventure

I visited Fiji during the wetter season in January. The temperature hovered between 25 to 30 degrees Celsius. In village areas a more conservative dress should be adopted with shoulders and knees covered. Most people opt to wear a sulu (a Fijian sarong):

The second hike on our two peak challenge saw us reach the top of Mount Batilamu (1,110m) in Koroyanitu National Park where we spent the night in a well-built hut on the summit.

Just a short trek from the free-to-use abode was a viewing point from a cliff ledge and the sunrise from here was mind-blowing, with oranges and pinks swirling to form a hypnotic cocktail of colours.

I was joined on the two peak challenge with a chap from Spain who described the trip as ‘life-changing’ and one of the best things he’d done in Fiji as he’d seen the ‘real side of the country’ by spending time with locals.

From Mount Batilamu, I journeyed by car to Pacific Harbour which is described as ‘the adventure capital of Fiji’ with its wealth of activities on offer from zip lining and white water rafting to wild boar hunting.

After a long but beautiful drive to my destination on the south coast of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu (the country has 330 islands in total) I was ready for a bit of rest and recuperation.

Kayaking through mangroves at the Nanuku Auberge Resort

If budget allows, I can’t recommend the Nanuku Auberge Resort enough.

It was recently voted the number one resort in Australia & the South Pacific by Conde Nast Traveler for its sense of seclusion.

The boutique hotel, which has 37 well-appointed suites, villas, and private residences, also offers a mix of activities.

While there briefly, I took part in a Fijian cooking class where I learned how to cook shrimp in bamboo, signed up for a sunrise hike along the coast and kayaked along a peaceful river lined with gnarled mangroves.

I also spoke with the resident biologist about efforts around replanting mangroves and restoring coral beds.

A Fijian cooking course at the Nanuku Auberge Resort

It appears that these conservation efforts are taking place across Fiji in a bid to prevent coastal erosion and protect natural habitats and the results are encouraging.

The biologist at Nanuku says that green turtles have returned to the area along with a number of fish species.

To complete the ‘adventure triangle’, my last point of call saw me venture to Port Denarau, which is close to Fiji’s main airport Nadi.

This bustling manmade island on a former mangrove swamp is the gateway to Fiji’s dreamy Yasawa Islands.

If you’ve ever dreamed of playing Robinson Crusoe, then this certainly is the place for you with palm-fringed rocky outcrops waiting to be explored.

Boats operated by South Sea Cruises run regularly to the Yasawa Islands

Boats operated by South Sea Cruises run regularly from Port Denarau to the string of volcanic islands and back again.

I had booked to stay on Barefoot Manta for two nights, followed by two nights at its sister property, Barefoot Kuata. They are a two to three hour boat ride away from the main marina.

Both properties offer rooms to suit all budgets from basic dormitories to ocean facing safari-style tents decked out with outdoor showers, private hammocks and comfortable double beds.

The snorkelling at Barefoot Manta was unreal, with a vast mix of fish greeting me just a few feet from the shoreline.

There was a rather aggressive triggerfish however, which kept nipping away at my toes and eventually drove me out of the glassy water.

Diving with bull sharks from Barefoot Kuata



Combine a trip to Fiji with a weekend in San Francisco

Travelling from Europe to Fiji is an extremely long journey. On my way back to the UK, I decided to break up the voyage with a short stop in San Francisco. Here are some spots to explore in the Golden City:

  • Yotel – A hip hotel housed within a historic building and centrally located. Rooms categories to suit all budgets, with a rooftop bar set to open this year. Gym, lounge area and free coffee station
  • BART train – An easy-to-navigate train system, running from the airport to the city centre and beyond
  • Laszlo – A lowkey bar in the hipster Mission District area with a $7 happy hour and free snacks. The punchy margaritas come recommended
  • Foreign Cinema – A magical dining venue, with five different spaces including a projector room and art gallery. A fun menu with a delicious spread of shellfish, seafood and dishes marrying Californian and Mediterranean flavours. The grilled Kobe steak is a popular pick with diners
  • San Francisco Museum Modern Art – Recenty expanded, the museum features more than 33,000 works. There is free entry for visitors 18 and under
  • Museum of Ice Cream – For sweet-toothed tourists, the MOIC San Francisco is a dream come true. There are ten exhibition spaces including a plunge pool filled with (non-edible) ice cream sprinkles. There is a cafe too, serving up… you guessed it!
  • Golden Gate Park – Celebrating its 150th birthday this year, the Golden Gate Park has a range of activities on offer including archery, golf and roller skating

Unfortunately it wasn’t the right time of year to see the manta rays which congregate in a channel right next to the island. This is a major draw for visitors between the months of May to October.

But I got my fill of underwater magic when I ventured on to Barefoot Kuata, which is an hour from Barefoot Manta heading back to towards Port Denarau.

This is one of the few spots in Fiji where you can dive with bull sharks, which are said to be one of the most dangerous shark species because of their unpredictable behaviour.

To say I was nervous about the dive minus a cage was an understatement but I tried to keep calm as we went by boat to where the sharp-toothed fish lurked.

After jumping into the glistening blue, we slowly swam down 12 metres to a bed where we sat behind a manmade low-laying wall built out of coral.

Snorkelling with black tipped reef sharks at Kuata

Two men put out some tuna heads on a metal stand and immediately a swam of bull sharks appeared, circling directly in front of us and above.

My heart was pounding as the giant fish came to say hello.

I clung to the coral to keep myself attached to the sea bed, with a current in the water causing me to sway around.

After 30 minutes or so we swam to the surface.

I was worried the sharks might come for us as we turned our backs, but they appeared to have vanished into the deep blue.

One of the beaches at Barefoot Kuata

For those who don’t fancy bull sharks, which can reach more than two metres in length, there is the opportunity to snorkel with black and white tipped reef sharks while at Kuata.

This is a truly magical experience with the smaller species curiously coming to greet you with their harem of fish friends following suit.

Fiji prides itself as a place where ‘happiness finds you’ and in ten days I’d been swept away by its relaxed and friendly atmosphere.

I felt I’d just scratched the surface of the place, as there’s so much to explore.

The scattered archipelago, covering 18,333 km², certainly is a honeymooners’ paradise, but also a dreamy spot for the more adventurous traveller with land and water-based activities set to get the pulse racing…



Planning your own Fijian adventure:

Fiji Tourism has a recommended list of travel specialists who can help tailor a trip to suit all tastes.

Regular flights with British Airways run between London Heathrow and San Francisco with prices starting from £279. From there, Fiji Airways has direct flights to Nadi Interntional Airport. To use lounge facilities during extended stopovers, use PriorityPass. There are accessible lounges both in San Francisco and Nadi.

Top tips: Currency is the Fiji dollar and credit cards are accepted in most resort areas. ‘Bula’ is Fijian for ‘hello’, while ‘vinaka’ is ‘thank you’.





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