THE engine’s perpetual whirring was starting to send me to sleep and the hot sun, usually a welcome sensation on my milk-white skin, wasn’t helping.
But we were lagging behind – what had been a bold outline of a jetski in front of us had almost faded to a dot on the horizon. I sat pillion and Clara, my driver, tried to pick up the pace. She negotiated a small incoming wave as instructed – hitting it at an angle – but sliced in too hard and promptly treated us to a soaking.
I could think of better ways to stay awake. In fact, I could have positioned my bottom directly on to a white sandy beach after stepping off my 25-hour flight, but instead I opted to plonk myself on a jetski.
“You’d be surprised,” said Patricia Bell, marketing manager of Nadi’s Sonaisali Island Resort Hotel, Viti Levu island, and organiser of the afternoon’s activity. “A lot of people don’t want to sit on a beach all day every day, and there’s plenty of water sports to keep people occupied.”
Joining us on the excursion were a couple of newlyweds who’d just exchanged vows in one of the many hotels offering wedding ceremonies. Rather than shutting themselves away with a bottle of bubbly, they’d chosen to get out and see those parts of Fiji inaccessible by boat.
“We don’t know when we’ll be here again and want to see as much as possible,” shrugged the bride, swapping her wedding dress for a wetsuit.
They had the right idea. The water, now duck-pond calm, had become much easier to traverse, and the scenery was like something out of a Bounty advert. It was certainly a different way to experience the coastline, and – unlike my previous jetskiing experience aged 15 – more rewarding than circling a lake.
Hopping on a motorised vehicle for two isn’t the only way to enjoy a different side to this popular area of the South Pacific. As well as snorkelling, clients can enjoy scuba diving, white-water rafting, trekking, tubing, canoeing, surfing, kayaking and waterskiing.
On Viti Levu, the largest of the island group, and home to Nadi International Airport, the landscape is fertile ground for adventurous types with vast rainforests, mountain waterfalls and gushing rivers. Holidaymakers heading straight for the smaller islands not only miss the country’s lush jungle but its cultural heart, and while you wouldn’t want to spend more than a few days here, it’s well worth a visit. Who heads directly to Thailand’s Ko Phi Phi without first experiencing Bangkok?
It’s here where holidaymakers can trek through tropical scenery, bob across rapids while sat on rubber rings and cool off under waterfalls. The Matikimbals track in Viti Levu’s rainforest is a popular hike with travellers who spend up to three hours clambering down rugged mountain faces before enjoying a waterfall swim at the end of the Navua river. It’s not for the faint-hearted but the sounds of the jungle make it an exhilarating way to spend an afternoon.
Nearby, the capital town of Suva is a shoppers’ delight with bargain footwear and market stalls selling fruit, vegetables and hot snacks. We stocked up on warm peanuts from a cart before piling into a mini supermarket to buy pads, pens, rubbers and rulers for a local school where simple resources are scarce. The facilities weren’t up to much either, but the children seemed happy and sang in perfect harmony to thank us.
Even the colonial-style government building in the centre of town is richer in history than it is in grandeur but, as Fiji’s main income is derived from tourism, the hotels are comparatively luxurious and include air-conditioning – often unavailable on the tiny islands. My cool room was bliss after a day in the tropics, perfect for a deep slumber and ideal fuel for the next action-packed day.