PHOTO: A visit to a Fijian school on Yasawa Island. (Photo by Monica Poling)
Monday, March 20 is the International Day of Happiness, which means for one day we should put away the things that vex us and just celebrate the act of being happy.Officially, the International Day of Happiness is a United Nations initiative that was introduced in 2011 to recognize “the pursuit of happiness as a fundamental human goal.”
This week, Tourism Fiji has announced that it has become an official partner of the celebratory day, making it one of the first countries in the world to achieve this designation.
Fiji is the place where happiness finds you and the hospitality extended to its visitors is world renown,” said Matt Stoeckel, CEO of Tourism Fiji. “...through this partnership [Tourism Fiji] will showcase to the rest of the world what makes Fiji such a happy place."
If you’ve been to Fiji, you know the partnership is a good fit. The warmth of the people and the slower pace of life are the perfect combo for achieving a state of “instant happy.” If you’ve never been, Tourism Fiji is giving away a happiness-inducing trip for two people.
And while the 300+ islands that make up Fiji offer a nearly infinite number of activities like diving, snorkeling, hiking, kayaking, etc., to help keep your endorphins up and too-many-to-list fantastic hotels, resorts and accommodations worth exploring, here’s our list of activities that will definitely keep you happy while visiting Fiji.
Flavours of Fiji Cooking School
Rain in the tropics is inevitable, but it could put a wrench in your pursuit of happiness. In the Nadi area, the Flavours of Fiji cooking school is an excellent way to spend a rainy or sunny day. Through half-day cooking classes, you’ll create a traditional meal using authentic Fijian flavors. And enjoying the fruits of your labor is a pretty great way to stay happy.
Fiji Orchid Hotel
While this isn’t a list for hotels—there are just too many to include here—one exception is the Fiji Orchid Hotel. which makes the list because of its convenience to Nadi International Airport. And because of Fiji’s inter-island flight schedules, connecting passengers will almost always need to park somewhere for at least a few hours before catching their international flights. So, skip the somewhat disappointing airport hotels and instead visit the tranquil Fiji Orchid Hotel. Day rates are available at this Fijian-owned property, which is located on an estate once owned by Raymond Burr. Plan to dine here, the Orchid has developed a reputation as a place where locals go to eat. Or nap in your day room, hang out by the pool or book a spa treatment. Killing time has never been so enjoyable.
Essence of Fiji Rejuvenation Center
Another excellent option for transit passengers is the Essence of Fiji Rejuvenation Center. For about USD $19, you can purchase the “Transit Entry Pass,” which includes free WiFi, luggage storage, roundtrip transfers to nearby Nadi Airport, and a spa foot ritual and foot massage. You’ll also have access to lockers, showers and a movie room. But a better bet is the Rejuvenation Pass (about $50) which includes all of the above options but also buys you a one-hour massage or credit towards a similar treatment. In addition to the spa, there's an excellent coffee shop on site (not yet a common occurence in Fiji), a salon and a Made in Fiji retail center.
Kula Eco Park
If you're heading to Fiji’s Coral Coast, get a first-hand look at Fiji's wildlife at the Kula Eco Park. Originally established as a sanctuary for birds, the park is now home to sea turtles, iguanas, snakes and the super-cute Flying Fox fruit bat, Fiji’s only naturally-occurring land-based mammal. This is Fiji’s sole wildlife park and it is also home to an endangered species breeding program. Guests can take a quick tour or stay for a longer period and explore issues like how urbanization is affecting climate change. Kula Eco Park partners with a number of worldwide conservation organizations, including the The Endangered Species Recovery Council of San Diego.
Sigatoka River Safari
Very near the Kula Eco Park, the Sigatoka River Safari is a fun and sometimes adrenaline-inducing way to explore “real Fiji.” The trip up the Sigatoka River is a gentle ride via jet boat, which delivers guests into one of the villages along the way. You’re greeted by village elders with a traditional kava ceremony, after which you're invited to take a tour of the village. The experience includes a meal with the locals before you return to Sigatoka. Willing passengers can then opt to experience Sigatoka spins, 360 degree turns that will leave you screaming with joy.
Fire Walking, Arts Village
In Fiji, fire walking is a tradition that is limited to residents of Beqa Island. So while fire walking demonstrations aren’t exactly rare, they’re not commonplace either. A great place to see fire walkers is at the Arts Village in Pacific Harbour, located not that far from Sigatoka. (Pacific Harbour is a common departure point for Beqa Island.) The fire walking show is actually a re-enactment of ancient Fijian legends, which blends music, dancing, storytelling and athleticism. While at the Arts Village, enjoy a boat tour through the facility or stop by the Tiki Bar for a fresh juice or something stronger. Arts Village is also home to Fiji’s largest swim-up bar, so plan to stay awhile.
While all of the above-mentioned attractions are located on Fiji’s largest island, Viti Levu, there are also plenty of activities to make you happy on Fiji’s second- and third-largest islands, Vanua Levu and Taveuni. A favorite is the ability to stand in the present and the future at the same time. Taveuni Island is the only land mass in the world divided by the International Date Line. A simple sign marks the location, but the experience feels bigger, as you ponder the realities of global geopolitics or possibly the mechanics of time travel.
Yes, this is a somewhat touristy way to explore Fiji. But if you’re looking for pure joy, you’ll find it in the faces of Fiji's schoolchildren. At this particular school, half the children have to cut their way through miles of jungle every day, just to attend school, but still they’re joyful. Which kind of puts things in perspective. Depending on the school, some kids will sing for you while others will talk about their lessons, but no matter the program, your happiness meter will get an instant boost. Don’t just wander into a school, though, that’s a no no. Pretty much any resort or hotel can plan a visit for you.
For more information on finding your happiness in Fiji, visit www.fiji.travel.