All the ingredients are there to make Fiji the ultimate family holiday destination – it's a short flight from Australia, there are terrific family-friendly resorts, wonderful kid's clubs and warm, welcoming locals. And in Fijian society kids are the most precious things in the world. At one resort, we watched as a mother of three children under five waved her kids and their nannies goodbye as they headed off on a snorkelling trip. "I'd never do that in Australia, but here I feel they are in completely safe hands," she said. And it's true. From the moment you arrive, children are scooped up and become immersed in the fun, warmth and security of the Fijian way of life.
Fijians, it seems, have an inbuilt ability to relate, nurture and have fun with children and often come from big families. Babysitters and nannies employed by hotels and resorts treat foreign children as their own while everyone from wait staff through to the guy running the sports desk fosters a genuine fondness for littlies. Some say this is because Fijians are naturally gifted carers, which sets them apart from other cultures.
A visit to a Fijian village helps you understand why Fijians are unique in this way. In villages, doors are never locked and children and adults move freely from one house to the next. If anything should happen to a child's mother or father, Fijian children are absorbed into the village so it's rare to hear of Fijian children being abandoned or adopted out. The whole Fijian culture is built upon the concept of family unity and community, and they have a very broad sense of what constitutes "family", which is perhaps why they are so friendly and hospitable to visiting guests from overseas.
There are many resorts in Fiji that cater to families, with fantastic kids clubs and fun activities ranging from crab hunting, beading, fish feeding, traditional costume making, face painting, Fijian language and meke lessons. In terms of cultural activities, many resorts offer trips to local villages and schools and visits to church on Sunday where the harmonies of the Fijians are pitch perfect despite often having no accompanying musical instruments. In spite of having relatively few material possessions, the Fijian people are among the most happy and joyful people you will ever meet, and this is perhaps due to their strong sense of community values.
Beyond the activities offered by resorts there are many other ways to experience aspects of Fijian culture. Take a day trip to Suva and visit the bustling Suva spice markets where kids can see colourful exotic fruits on sale by farmers that have travelled from inland farms to sell their produce. The Suva Museum, located in Suva's Botanical Gardens, houses an archaeological collection dating back 3,700 years and cultural objects representing Fiji's indigenous inhabitants such as war clubs and cannibal forks.
On the Coral Coast you can see the remains of a fortified village at the Tavuni Hill Fort at Sigatoka. Sitting atop a 100-metre ridge it features remnants of ancient house foundations, a sacrificial stone and even human remains (bodies used to be buried by relatives underneath houses). Across the road, the Kula Eco Park, which breeds two types of Fijian iguanas, colourful native birds and turtles is also worth a look. Further down the coast at Fiji's 'adventure capital', Pacific Harbour, kids can go ziplining, hike to a waterfall for a swim and a picnic, go glass-bottom-boating at night, or join mum and dad in fun off-road vehicles that take you into Fiji's wild interior.
Closer to Nadi, the family can experience authentic Indo Fijian cuisine at Sitar Indian Restaurant, for terrific biryani and duck curry. At Denarau Marina, a 20-minute drive from Nadi town by taxi, Nadina Restaurant serves up a truly authentic experience, with a traditionally prepared iTaukei (Fijian) menu. Wash it down with a bowl of kava, or the local beer Fiji Gold and then take a walk with the kids at dusk around the villages dotted around Nadi. Here you'll see games of rugby, volleyball and soccer going on (more than likely you'll be asked to join in), Fijians and Indo Fijians swimming and bathing, mothers cooking and farmers heading home after a long day in the hot Fijian sun. This gives you a sense of how the locals live and play and won't cost you anything but your curiosity and time. As you head for home, the haunting sounds of the farewell song Isa Lei ringing in your ears, you'll be already planning your next family holiday back to Fiji. Guaranteed.
Sheriden Rhodes is a travel writer and photographer who travels the globe with her 'frequent small flyer', Ella. You can follow their adventures and pick up family travel tips on the Frequent Small Flyer Facebook page.
Brought to you by Tourism Fiji