Northern & Regional Islands, Fiji
The Friendly North. If this is how the locals describe the people of Vanua Levu then you’re in for a treat. You will find friendly faces all over Fiji but there is something about the Northern islands that seems…’friendlier’. Perhaps it is that life here is slower-paced, simpler with a strong sense of community even in the ‘urban’ centres of Labasa and Savusavu.
Labasa, in Vanua Levu’s drier north, is the largest town on the island and the commercial and administrative centre for northern Fiji. This agricultural town is off the regular tourist track, but you will still find a handful of modestly-priced hotels within the town’s boundary that are excellent bases for trips in and around Labasa.
The Great Sea Reef borders the entire northern coast of Vanua Levu through to the Yasawa Islands in western Fiji. It is the third longest continuous barrier reef in the southern hemisphere with many uncrowded dive, snorkelling and surf sites to explore. Two of the more noteworthy resorts in the area - Palmlea Farms and Nukubati Island - are the best places to stay at to access the reef. Both resorts are small, remote and pride themselves on being eco-friendly for their use of local building materials, solar power and spring water as well as growing a lot of their own food for their restaurants. Yachts are encouraged to berth offshore and use the resort facilities, restaurants and as a restocking area.
The scenic Hibiscus Highway cuts through the mountainous middle of the island providing the main link between Labasa and Savusavu towns. The Waisali Rainforest Reserve, about 20 mins out of Savusavu town, is a delightful little detour off the highway. The reserve has maintained trails, information signposts for the native flora and fauna and a small waterfall.
Savusavu, a small town in Vanua Levu’s south-east, enjoys a wetter climate brought on by the prevailing south east trade winds. Once a copra town, it is now also Vanua Levu’s tourism hub and it’s picturesque, sheltered harbour is particularly attractive to yachts cruising the remote northern islands. Marinas located along the town’s waterfront offer a berth from which the yachts can repair, refuel, and restock their food and water supplies. Numerous resorts (like Jean-Michel Cousteau, Namale and Koro Sun), guest cottages and home rentals hug the coastal road leading out of town. Visits to the mineral baths at the Savusavu Medical Centre, Savusavu market and the area’s black-lipped oyster pearl farms are a must when visiting this picturesque northern town. The pearls produced by J. Hunter are coveted for their unusual multi-hued lustre and can be purchased in their showroom. If you’re crazy about plants, Flora Tropica Gardens, is just a short distance out of town and boasts over 200 palm species amongst other tropical plants.
The Somosomo Strait separates Vanua Levu from Fiji’s ‘Garden’ island; Taveuni. This calrm, narrow body of water boasts some of Fiji’s best dive sites. Dubbed the ‘Rainbow Reef’, the area is named for the colourful ‘Dendronephthya’ soft coral species which thrives there.
Taveuni, just south of the Savusavu peninsula, is a eco-lovers paradise. Despite its remoteness, Taveuni attracts its share of tourists and there are many boutique resorts, private villas, budget cottages, homestays and backpacker accommodation to suit all budgets. About one third of the island is a National Heritage Park (Bouma) boasting a landscape of lush jungle-clad peaks, abundant waterfalls, rugged coastline and offshore coral reefs begging to be explored. The trek up to Lake Tagimoucia - Fiji’s only crater lake - is a sweat-inducing hike but if you’re lucky, you might be rewarded with a glimpse of the endemic ‘Tagimoucia’ flower in bloom and other native wildlife like the Pacific boa, orange dove and barking pigeon. Lavena Coastal walk winds along the scenic coastline and can be done in a combination of kayaking and walking tours to experience the beauty of this rugged coastline. Numerous waterfalls are also visible along the track.
Both Vanua Levu and Taveuni are relatively easy to get to. There are ports at Savusavu and Nabouwalu (in western Vanua Levu) and ferries from Suva and Lautoka make multiple visits throughout the week. The largest airport on the island is located just 10mins outside of Labasa town and welcomes flights from both Suva and Nadi on a daily basis. Small airports in both Savusavu and Taveuni (Matei) cater to light aircraft. Luxury resorts also exist on nearby Matagi, Qamea and Laucala islands. To get to these islands, speed boat pickup from Naivakacoa Landing in Taveuni can be arranged with them upon booking. Laucala Island Resort also has its own runway for private and chartered light aircraft.
Tip Many great dives here are tide and current dependant. The ‘Great White Wall is a world-famous dive site that consistently attracts divers the area. Optimum conditions for viewing and photographing the white coral spectacle in full ‘bloom’ is at low, slack tide.