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Hot Spots, Shopping Nadi and Denarau, Fiji

In this article, Canadian travel writer Susan Kurosawa savors the slow pace and unexpected shopping pleasures awaiting homeowners in Fiji's gateway town.  Just some of the many attractions on Denarau and Nadi. 

    My Indonesian friend Lina has been living in Fiji for three years and, maybe because she is the survivor of many a Jakarta traffic crush, or perhaps just fearless when it comes to approaching trucks, she steps off Nadi Town's Main Street and makes a dainty stop signal to a big, smoke-belching pick-up.

    Fijians are the friendliest people on earthThe truck pulls up with a squeal of brakes and she takes me by the elbow to hurry across the street. Nadi Town got its first pedestrian crossing with a traffic light earlier this year, she is telling me, although I can't see it.

    The truck driver and his passenger lean out and yell: "Bula". This is a word one hears in Fiji hundreds of times a day and it means hello (not "Look where you're going, you idiot pedestrian"). Even the most curmudgeonly of tourists ends up saying bula all day long and grinning like a loon in Fiji. If there is a friendlier, more greeting-obsessed destination on earth, I haven't found it.

    Nadi Town is the settlement closest to the airport on the main island of Viti Levu. It is easily bypassed on the way to the sleek resorts of Denarau, which is fast becoming such an all-embracing enclave that many tourists don't bother to venture back across its causeway to explore Nadi Town and the nearby port of Lautoka.  Denarau provides a great lifestyle for Fiji Island Real Estate investors however there are many other opportunities available in Fiji for Island Homes, Resorts, Condominiums and luxury waterfront living. 

    To be limited to Denarau with its properties for sale and resorts, shopping center and more is all the home ownership possible in Fiji would be a shame, because even a few hours strolling in Nandi, perhaps enjoying the buzz of its Saturday markets, provides a window into everyday town life, particularly of the Indo-Fijian community.

    Hindu Temple FijiBest approach: Stroll the seven-block Main Street, down one side and back on the other. At the southern end is Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple, regarded as the biggest Hindu temple in the southern hemisphere. It has intricate carvings and is painted in candy pink and joyous blue. Modestly dressed visitors are welcome to walk about and watch worshippers offering bananas and lighting musky incense.

    Best fossicking: In stacked-high supermarkets and emporiums there are quirky bits and pieces to buy, such as enamel plates and bowls in pastel colors from Big Bear on Main Street, ideal for picnics and less than $F1 (75c) each.

    Best shopping: Jewellery stores such as Anita on Main Street glitter with gold jewelry made in India and Singapore: matched sets of necklaces and earrings, simple gold bangles stacked like sets of quoits, rings set with colorful semi-precious stones and dazzling diamonds.

    A beautiful 22ct gold bangle, finely etched with scrolls and leaves, is priced at $F700 but I have a feeling that if I were in the mood, some serious seated "negotiation", discussion of my finances and bottles of lemonade with compliments of the management could ensue. It feels like a Delhi or Mumbai store but with none of the pushiness.

    Best Bollywood moments: The latest song-and-dance sari-rippers are shown at Galaxy Cinema on Ashram Road. Lina says it is reasonably clean and air-conditioned, which in itself is a blessing. (The humidity this April day is so high that we hop from one air-conditioned shop to the next, even when we don't want to buy. Which is why we spend 15 minutes inspecting pairs of men's running shoes the size of pieces of occasional furniture in a clothing store with arctic temperatures.)

    It's cool, too, at Little India, adjoining Jack's Fashion on Main Street, where there are twirling stands of sari lengths in jewel colors, some flecked with silver or gold thread, on special for $F15.

    Tapa cloth making in FijiThe quality is not great (a synthetic mix, I think) but the patterns are so gorgeous that tourists around me are scooping up the fabric, no doubt with cushion covers and summer tablecloths in mind.

    There are bejeweled slippers and sparkly bags, too, all at low prices. At nearby Tappoo, on the corner of Ashram Road, the top floor is stocked with full Indian skirts and gold-edged sari lengths from $F29.

    Best handicrafts: Jack's Handicrafts has the franchise when it comes to Fiji memorabilia, and amid the tack in its mall-like corner emporium are carved kava bowls that can be adapted to myriad uses (from diminutive salt containers to robust fruit dishes), fierce-looking wooden war clubs and "cannibal forks", woven placemats and baskets, coconut-shell wares and tapa cloth.

    Look for CDs of Fijian songs, bula shirts with hectic patterns and pretty sulu wraps. Noni juice, touted to promote vitality and sometimes known as South Pacific Viagra, is $F20 per liter and, appropriately, tastes like medicine.

    Be sure to declare shells and wooden or woven souvenirs to Australian Customs. Also show any item covered in paper pressed with fibers or petals, such as wrapped soap or notepads. Obviously cannibal forks and reproduction weapons are not on sale at Nadi airport as they would have to be carried as hand luggage oops.

    Best home wares: For cushions, quirky ornaments and the inevitable array of Balinese and Javanese statues and carvings, have a rummage at the large South Seas Treasures emporium (2 Queens Rd). On a much smaller scale, at the Westin Resort Denarau's arcade (about 10 minutes by car), Cocoon Home sells key rings hung with coins and shells, cotton tableware brightly patterned with frangipanis, and island-style jewelery.

    Frangipani flowers in FijiBest coffee break: Zig Zag Cafe adjoins Prouds (a department store selling lustrous black pearls from Savusavu, watches, perfume and make-up; also with a branch at Nadi airport) and has a menu of Fijian-grown coffee, fresh juices, pies and deli-style sandwiches. Republic of Cappuccino at Sheraton Denarau Villas (next to the Westin) has fabulous muffins and lattes (and internet terminals); there's a branch at the airport too.

    Best lunch: Daikoku is a very good Japanese restaurant on Main Street and part of a franchise that includes branches in New Zealand and Sydney's Double Bay. There are teppan tables for more elaborate meals, but a quick lunch here of, say, miso soup, rice, tempura, pickles and green tea costs less than $F20. However, the exterior is off-putting, with a heavy sliding door reinforced with grillwork and shuttered windows. There's no sense of what lies beyond and the wood-paneled decor is gloomy. About 2km north of Nadi Town is a McDonald's if you must be unadventurous: packs of fried chicken, not burgers, are the biggest sellers.

    Best dining: At Saffron restaurant in Sangayam Road the waitresses are wearing red Punjabi pants, long white tunics and red diagonal sashes. They are all young and pretty, possibly sisters or cousins, and look like a troupe of Misses India. Lina and I are here for dinner and the lighting is low. When one of the beauties appears at my elbow with a tray of what look like grains of food, I wonder if Saffron deals in the world's smallest appetizers. Just before I make a complete fool of myself I realize the specks are adhesive bindis, so Lina and I choose the most decorative and the waitress dots them on our foreheads.

    In mock-maharani style, we order a veritable feast of dishes (and are asked if we want mild, medium or "Indian hot"), and each is exceptionally good, with main courses averaging $F14 (up to $F42 for rock lobster marinated in lime, yoghurt and garam masala); a dessert of mango kulfi comes in individual pots with pull-off lids, like partyfavours.

    There is a tandoori kitchen the chef can be seen flipping and finger-spinning roti bread like a vaudeville juggler and the premises are spick-and-span. Lina tells me Saffron restaurateur Eugene Gomes also runs the nearby brasserie-style Chefs, and everything is linked, as seems inevitable, with the Jacks conglomerate.

    Best food in the wild: It's all very well to order crab masala at Saffron but if you want to catch and cook your own, it's best to join John the Cannibal on his "crab and culture tour". I'm not able to get a booking but am told the three-hour excursion (book at hotel tour desks) with the self-appointed cannibal (wearing a woven coconut-fibre skirt and wielding weapons) and, sometimes, his son (Junior Cannibal) is great fun and you get to eat the mud crabs.

    Pure Fiji Products for health and beauty, click hereBest Fiji freshener: The Pure Fiji range of body lotions, bath products, sugar scrubs and soaps has been a huge success and is found in many resort guestrooms and spas. Soaps (about $F4) in fragrances such as coconut, pineapple and starfruit make inexpensive gifts: available at Prouds, Jacks and smaller stores. Pure Fiji's latest brand, with similar packaging and products, is Reniu: it's based on cold-pressed coconut oil and includes a few extra fragrances, such as wild gardenia and watermelon. There's a limited array at Nadi airport shops if you don't want to carry purchases.

    DENARAU Island, 6km west of Nadi Town and about 20 minutes from the airport, is built on reclaimed mangroves overlooking Nadi Bay.

    Connected to the mainland by a causeway and developed in the enclave style of Queensland's Sanctuary Cove or Bali's Nusa Dua, the Denarau estate has developed into a self-sufficient satellite of hotels, residential villas, marina, golf and racquet clubs, and shopping village.

    Sheraton has two properties here the main, pink-painted resort and neighboring Sheraton Denarau Villas (with a new lagoon-style pool and units equipped with a laundry and kitchen, ideal for families) while its Royal (which was The Regent years ago) has just been rebranded as a Westin after an extensive refurbishment.

    Where once it was all dark woodwork, brown-patterned tapa cloth and orange bedspreads, the new Westin look is light and bright.

    The 271 guestrooms feature the hotel group's trademark Heavenly Beds (think sink-into bedding and pillows galore), double-head Heavenly Shower, flat-screen televisions and trimmings of warm timbers.

    There's a series of new pools, lily ponds lit at night by flares, revamped public areas and a fabulous Heavenly Spa, pictured, its high-roofed treatment bures, with ceiling fans and pull-down rattan blinds, set amid gardens, lap pool and relaxation decks.

    The Westin's new neighbor is the Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa, with the South Pacific's longest lagoon pool, chic dining options such as a sushi bar and tandoor oven at the alfresco Salt, top-to-toe therapies at the Mandara spa (even teeth-whitening treatments), and 296 sea-facing rooms with flat-screen TVs, beachy colors and contemporary decor.

    Sofitel also has family rooms with a queen bed and two bunks with play area, plus a Turtle Club providing lots of junior activities, water slide and a children's buffet at the Lagoon Restaurant.

    A free shuttle bus, with thatched roof and open sides, nips between all the resorts. Hilton and Radisson are opening on Denarau and sales of villas with private moorings or golf course views are booming; this is definitely Fiji's premier playground.  (2006/05/16)  More info here.


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