Tranquility drips from every lazy palm, the placid Pacific paints the horizon in every direction and a breathtaking gradient of red illuminates the skyline every sunset. It’s little wonder that Fiji is high on the bucket list of most Australian travellers.
It may be easy to let worries wilt when your world becomes a beachside hammock, but like anywhere in the world, there are a few hidden dangers to keep in mind. We want your tropical getaway to be postcard-perfect, so we’ve curated the most important things you need to know when staying safe in the islands.
Weather in Fiji
Chances are your Fijian getaway will see nothing but the tropical tranquility we described. But while Fiji is a place of immeasurable beauty, it also wears the occasional anger of the Pacific Ocean on its shoulders.
In late February 2016, Tropical Cyclone Winston devastated the island nation. The cyclone was the strongest of its kind on record to ever make landfall in the southern hemisphere and dispossessed thousands of Fijians.
70 of our customers were affected by tropical Cyclone Winston, with claims payouts totaling $72,400.00. The majority of the claims were for cancellation of holidays. Cruises to the islands were unable to call in at the port, meaning passengers could not disembark. Other customers were stranded in Fiji for a couple of days until it was safe to fly home.
Unfortunately, Fijians are no strangers to natural disaster - severe flooding in 2012 also ravaged the country and left thousands without shelter.
The cyclone season in Fiji extends from November to April, and it’s advised that travellers use extra care when visiting in these months.
It’s all fun and games until someone gets sunburnt
No matter how luxurious your resort room may be, it’s likely a lot of your Fijian holiday will be spent soaking up the sun. Whether it’s world-class snorkeling, picturesque parasailing or just lounging with a book on a beautiful beach, you’re bound to be feeling the tropical heat.
Sunburn is nothing to scoff at when you’re this close to the equator - the searing Fijian sun will have you bubbling in places that have never bubbled before. Even a hat-less half hour can mean the rest of your trip is spent in an uncomfortable and unsightly state of crimson.
Be particularly thorough with your sunscreen when hitting the water, even when wearing a hat. Bobbing in a crystalline sheet of clear water may be beautiful, but it acts as a very effective mirror for the sun to reach every part of your face. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen thoroughly all the way to your hairline - it’s an often-overlooked patch of pain!
Local laws and customs in Fiji
Fiji is considered a highly tourist-friendly destination - just ask the half a million travellers from Australia and New Zealand who visited in the past year. But like anywhere, local laws can mystify unwary holidaymakers.
For example, did you know it’s illegal to be under the influence of alcohol while at the airport or on a plane in Fiji? Travellers can even be detained by the police on arrival to the country, so save the mid-flight gin and tonic for watching the sunset at the beach!
Fijians are renowned for their warm generosity and high regard of international visitors, so come prepared to offer an enthusiastic greeting of “Bula!” countless times throughout the day. The dress code is conservative, but it’s unlikely this will apply if you’re destined for one of the many resorts dotting the coastline.
Scams in Fiji
Despite its glowing reputation as a traveller’s paradise, there have been the odd occasion where tourists have been stung by opportunistic scammers in Fiji.
Below are three situations to keep an eye out for on your holiday so you can avoid being ripped off.
Dinner at my place scam
In this scam, a friendly taxi driver may invite you to what seems to be a free family dinner at their home. Offering you a great local meal and even a ride back to your hotel, you’ll be surprised to be given a hefty bill at the end of the night.
Like anywhere in the world, if the offer sounds too good to be true, it often is.
Name carving scam
This crafty ruse involves a local asking your name in friendly conversation on the street. You answer, and before you know it they’re carving it into a cheap wooden sword. They then demand a hugely inflated price for the low quality and unsolicited souvenir.
The name carving scam has been reported in Suva and Nadi.
Tour guide scam
You may think the enthusiastic commentary from your taxi driver is just chummy chat, but you’ll be surprised when they charge you an expensive extra fare for the ‘tour guide’ service. This type of scam also occurs in markets, outside resorts and around bus terminals.
Locals will offer to help with your bags and ‘guide’ you around, asking for money if you oblige.
Always remember to keep your luggage on you whenever possible and be on the lookout for opportunists.
Safety in activities
AU lead: One of our highest claims of 2015 came from an unfortunate gentleman who suffered a fractured hip while holidaying on a tropical island. He needed immediate repatriation back to Australia via air ambulance!
While the true seclusion of the Fijian islands is one of its best assets, try to consider your remoteness from a safety point of view, too. After all, it’d be a shame for a careless slip by the pool to transform your tropical holiday into tropical disarray.
Your Fijian adventure may revolve around challenging yourself in its world-famous surf, but before you take on that three-meter behemoth, remember this; if things go wrong, you’re a long way from help.
The majority of Fiji’s premier surf spots, like Cloudbreak, Wilkes and Namotu, are only accessible by boat from most of the resorts in the area.
Mosquito-borne illnesses like Dengue and Zika are potential risks for travellers in Fiji. Simple bug-beating precautions will give you the best chance to avoid these. If you are concerned, it’s a good idea to check with your GP before travelling. Pregnant women should consider destinations that are not affected by the Zika virus.
The traditional Fijian drink, Kava, is a popular experience for visiting tourists and is often served during cultural displays. Usually served as a tea, the ground roots of the pepper plant cause inebriation similar to spirits we enjoy at home. However, there have been cases of worrying health impacts from Kava, particularly in pregnant or breastfeeding mothers.
The Australian government has a useful Kava fact sheet with more detailed information for those travelling to Fiji.
There have been incidents of tourists falling victim to local crime in Fiji. Robbery, assault and home invasions have been known to occur in downtown Suva and Nadi.
Travellers are advised to avoid these areas where possible, especially at night. Keeping your valuables out of site, such as smartphones and jewellery, is also recommended.
Unfortunately, there has been a rise in credit card fraud in Fiji. Visitors should take special care to conceal their PIN number when using ATMs, and check bank statements carefully following any spending on your trip.
What happens if things do go wrong?
With all TravelCare policies, you gain access to one of the world’s largest medical care and resources network.
If you require medical care or incur medical expenses overseas that are likely to exceed $2,000, you or someone acting on your behalf will need to contact Southern Cross Emergency Assistance for prior approval as soon as practicable on +61 2 9191 1180.
We will be able to review your claim, organise emergency evacuation if necessary, provide the hospital with a payment guarantee so you don’t have to pay up-front (subject to you meeting the terms and conditions of your policy), and keep your family back home informed of your situation. Keep hold of your receipts and any doctor’s notes as we will need to see these alongside your claim.
If you need to visit a GP for a minor medical reason, you don’t need to contact Southern Cross Emergency Assistance. Instead, simply pay your account and claim.
If you need specialist treatment (including physiotherapy and chiropractic treatment) you must get a referral from a registered medical practitioner.