The friendly South Pacific island that’s actually easy to get to

Two paddleboarders in Fiji
Made up of over 300 islands, the nation of Fiji remains an idyllic paradise - Six Senses

“Bula!” It’s a cry that rings out all over Nadi airport, but this time it’s directed at me. A huge Fijian flashes me a megawatt smile, sweeps up my bags as if they were feathers and leads me off to the waiting car, chatting like an old friend.

This, all visitors soon learn, is just how it is in Fiji. “Bula” is variously translated as “hello”, “welcome” and “cheers”, and Fijians have a way of making you feel they really are pleased to see you. Before you go, you can see pictures of the pristine white beaches, sensational coral, turquoise waters filled with Technicolor fish – but it’s not until you get there that you realise that Fijians are probably the friendliest people on earth. No wonder UK visitor numbers have risen by 20 per cent in the past year.

Fijians are also very much islanders. At the last count, Fiji consisted of some 333 islands – though it could be more as coral atolls rise constantly to the surface of the Pacific. For the rest, there’s an awful lot of water, around 1.3 million sq km of it. Close to the islands, that water is crystal clear, warm and every shade from palest aquamarine to lapis lazuli, an open invitation to swim or snorkel. The islands themselves are scattered like pearls through the deep blue of the world’s biggest, deepest ocean, many of them uninhabited and reachable only by boat; others have villages not much changed to those Captain Bligh would have passed in his boat following the mutiny on the Bounty.

Navala village on the Viti Levu island in Fiji
Many of the local villages remain preserved and untouched (pictured Navala village, Viti Levu) - Shutterstock

For a place so apparently remote and untouched by the modern world, it might come as a surprise that it’s so easy to access. Fiji Airways runs daily flights from Los Angeles, Singapore or Hong Kong, landing at the country’s main airport, Nadi. Fiji has become, in fact, the undisputed airline hub for travellers to the South Pacific from the US, the UK and Europe. Once there, Fiji Airways can take you on to the most far-flung South Pacific islands; there are several ports of call for cruise ships and it’s also a yachtie’s heaven. All this is something I could never have imagined when I first visited 25 years ago.

Denarau Island – a 30-minute drive from Nadi Airport – was then a mangrove swamp. Now it’s home to a stretch of five-star beachfront hotels, a marina, boutiques, craft shops, restaurants and a rather magnificent golf course. It’s pristine and perfectly upmarket, but not what most of us would schlep halfway around the world for. No, that would be for an entirely different Fiji – and a touch of desert-island magic.

Fortunately, these days you don’t have to suffer the deprivations that Tom Hanks’ character experienced when he washed up on Monuriki Island – in Fiji’s Mamanuca archipelago – to film Cast Away. Far from it. A couple of islands away, Malolo has a Six Senses Resort where you can be barefoot as you like, with the luxury of your traditional-style thatched bure (including indoor and outdoor bathrooms, your own pool and a private sandy path down to the beach). Here, it’s all about your experience (in fact, you’re assigned a GEM on arrival – a guest experience manager) and besides all the water sports you could wish for and the finest of South Pacific dining, they can arrange for you to plant coral on the reef or spot some of the endangered crested iguanas that live in the local rainforest.

White ghost crab on the Fiji shores
Greet some of the more unique residents of Fifji such as this ghost crab - Shutterstock

Even more remote is the beautiful Yasawa archipelago, its uninhabited islands principally reached by boat, their immaculate coral reefs passed by migrating whales. You can spend a pleasant morning snorkelling here if you jump off the back (this is encouraged) of the Captain Cook expedition ship, Caledonian Sky. Or you can take the zodiac rubber dinghy to the beach to watch the ghost crabs scuttle on the sand and juvenile blacktip reef sharks feeding in the shallows (they’re shy and timid creatures). If you’re really lucky, you may see a turtle come ashore to lay her eggs.

If it’s that sense of isolated paradise you’re hankering after, the Yasawas are just the ticket – you won’t spot any big cruise ships around here. Not all the Yasawa islands are uninhabited, and the Fijian villages in this remote spot are much more welcoming than they were in Captain Bligh’s day, when he was chased by two canoe-loads of Fijian cannibals. (Luckily, he escaped.)

While a good deal friendlier these days, the villages of these remote islands are still very traditional, so you must cover up (no bare shoulders or knees) when you visit. You should also bring a very specific gift for the village chief: yaqona (pronounced “yangona”). Also known as kava, this powdered root of a pepper plant is Fiji’s national drink. The powder is mixed with water in a wooden bowl and served in a single cup to each member of the kava circle – who sit cross-legged on the floor – in strict order of importance. Before accepting the cup, you clap once, drain it in one go and then clap again. It looks (and, frankly, tastes) like dirty dishwater, but it is considered a great honour, and is one of the best ways of getting to know the locals. Its effect is a mild numbing of the tongue and lips, plus an urge to fall asleep – but you won’t want to do that just yet as there are still plenty more islands to explore.

The Six Senses resort
Starry, starry night at The Six Senses - Six Senses


Anna Selby was a guest of Six Senses Fiji , which has Beachside Pool Villas from £800 per night B&B; Captain Cook Cruises has seven-night expedition cruises to the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands from £4,049 per person.

Fiji Airways has daily return flights from London to Nadi, going via Los Angeles (with United Airlines and Fiji Airways) from £1,951, or via Singapore (with Singapore Airlines and Fiji Airways) from £1,349.

For more information on Fiji visit