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Trip tips: family-friendly Fiji

Trip tips: family-friendly Fiji

With hospitable locals, a well-established tourism infrastructure and unbelievable deals at the moment, there's never been a better time to take the family to Fiji. Here are just a few ways to make the most of the main island, Viti Levu, and tourist island Denarau, with the littlies.

Sigatoka River Safari

I must admit to being automatically dubious about any tour or activity that markets itself as offering an authentic, local experience. Cultural tours are, by and large, naff, play to stereotypes and make me, as a punter, feel uncomfortable. Well, let me say how blown away I was by the experiences on the Sigatoka River Safari; it's far and away the most exciting cultural tourism option on Viti Levu, for both young and old.

Start off by driving 16km through the interior of the island to get off the beaten track to a dock, where you'll don lifejackets and board your jet-boat. If you've been to New Zealand and done the Dart or Shotover jet boats, they're the same — they're even made by the same bloke. Helmets might be more practical (the river is about 8cm deep), but never mind. And then the adventure begins.

Catch the kids grinning like dopes, and occasionally letting out a squeal or two on the unexpected 360s your captain will, no doubt, pull on the water. The journey to a Fijian village as exciting as the destination ahead.

After about half an hour you'll arrive at a village, then meet the chief and check the place out. Be assured that the tour company rotates visits daily between 12 different communities to ensure a more genuine encounter and to spread the tourist-dollar love between more locals. There is a welcome ceremony, songs are sung and kava, or Fijian moonshine, flows freely amongst the adults. Your hosts bring out a spread of Fijian food for the dozen or so of you on the trip: a chance for the little ones to wrap their taste buds around taro, cassava and curries. This is not a hotel style buffet put on for the tourists, but the food the villagers eat themselves — it's not fancy but it tastes good.

Then you've got the chance to get to know your hosts. The local kids are keen to romp and play with your own, and the adults will encourage you to sit down with them, share snippets of language lessons, clap and sing their traditional songs. Speaking as an industry expert and cynic from way back, you truly can forget you're on a tour and instead find yourself gobsmacked by the real Fiji.

Educational? Check. Exciting? Check. Kava? Not for the kiddies, but thank you very much. Here's a video of the jet boat, shot from the shore with some hospitable locals:

The half-day excursion operates daily, and costs from FJ$99 (about $60) for kids aged four to 14, FJ$210 (about $130) for people over 14, and under-threes are free. This activity is weather-dependent.

Zip Fiji

One of the newest family-friendly activities on the island is to zip-line over the rainforest canopy on Viti Levu's Pacific Harbour. Kids from the age of five can be strapped in to super-safe harnesses and helmets, and then take to the skies.

There is 200m of line to explore, and as you travel the course expect to encounter cool creepy crawlies on the trees as you're entertained by your incredibly accommodating and child-friendly guides.

Safety is of paramount importance on the canopy course; rest assured you're in good hands, as director Daniel Metcalf and his company has been behind the most well-known zip courses the world over. His guides are trained professionals, the groups are kept small and equipment and lines are inspected every day. Some tykes may be hesitant on their first flying fox, but the fun free-flows once they've found their feet.

A big plus? This is one of the few island activities that can be even more fun in the rain.

Check out this video of the canopy tour. The guy in the yellow T-shirt at about the 20 second mark is director Daniel, fitting the helmet on his daughter, an absolute tree-monkey on the lines:

Kids can "fly" from FJ$65 (about $40) each, adults from FJ$125 (about $65). Tours last approximately two hours and operate rain or shine, seven days a week.

Hotel kids' clubs

With competition steep on Viti Levu and Denarau, every major hotel and resort catering to families has a kids' club available, and enrolment is often included in the package price. And after taking a glance at the to-do list generated for your ankle-biters each day by the caring, trained staff, you might want to ditch the hammock and join in.

Here's a snippet from a normal day's activities at the Sheraton Denarau Kids' Club:

  • 10am: sandcastle building
  • 10.30am: mini-beach volleyball
  • 11am: ice-cream eating competition
  • 11.30am: Fijian arts and crafts
  • And the day just gets better and better.

Gone are the days of a parent's remorse for dumping the wee ones in on-site day care; rest assured your kids will have a far better time bulaing the day away with their new mates and minders than they would with you, and you'll appreciate them all the more after some time away.

Kids' club activities and prices vary by resort; contact your accommodation before booking to negotiate the best possible rate and enquire about club activities and inclusions.

Tried any of the family-friendly tips mentioned above, or have a few of your own?

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