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Nadi Airport , the hub of tourism in Fiji , falls short of the lusty expectations of most holiday makers - the sprawling tourism centre stretches along a mundane ten kilometre suburban highway between Nadi Airport and Nadi Town with a random collection of hotels, offices, shops and restaurants dotted intermittently between residential houses and sugar cane fields. Unless you stay at glitzy Denarau Island or down- to- earth Wailoaloa Beach there are no sunset views through palm trees and no sand between the toes.

Where Nadi excels though is in its sightseeing - the stunning offshore islands of the Mamanucas, Fiji ’s tourist gem, are a stone’s throw away, accessible on numerous day cruises with sailing, snorkelling, diving and island hopping trips. Inland, the serene mountains of the Nausori Highlands and Koronayitu National Park make a fabulous alternative adventure visiting tropical waterfalls and traditional villages and with some breathtaking walking trails on day or overnight tours. With a fantastic choice of affordable accommodation and a good variety of tours, lackluster Nadi makes an excellent base for exploring its beautiful surroundings.

Nadi Airport , Namaka and Martintar

The dreary fifteen minute run from Nadi Airport through Namaka to Martintar is brightened only at night when Nadi’s liveliest bar and several good restaurants open along the main road. Otherwise, it’s a practical suburban highway with hardware stores, supermarkets and offices and a few light industries - not much of an inspiration to tourists staying in the hotels and inns along the road.

Nadi Town

Nadi Town lies across the soiled waters of the Nadi River at the southern end of Nadi. The northern side of town closest to the river is by far the most pleasant, with several excellent restaurants and interesting boutique handicraft stores. The farther south you walk along Main Street , the more seedy town becomes with sidewalk touts hassling tourists with “Bula mate” followed by a “smoke weed” or “best prices in my shop”. Opposite the arcade in the Children’s Park is the Nadi Handicraft Market where you can pick up reasonable craft but you’ll need to negotiate on prices. At the far southern end of town stands the impressive and vibrantly colourful Hindu Temple (tourists are charged $3.50 to enter and take photographs).

Most shops are located on Main Street , the Queens Road section passing through Nadi Town with the cheapest supermarkets at Namaka and boutique shops at the modern Port Denarau shopping mall. General shopping hours in Nadi Town are from 8.30am to 5.30pm weekdays, and 8.30am to 1pm on Saturday. Most shops at Port Denarau open daily from 7.30am to 7.30pm. Some supermarkets in Namaka open until 7.30pm weekdays and Saturday and from 10am to 3pm on Sunday.

Clothes shopping in Nadi Town is cheap and of reasonable quality with several large labels manufacturing in Fiji , although most clothes items are imported but still good value. Jewellery is another popular item though many jewellers cater to the Indian community with bright shiny and laced gold items being most desirable. Black pearls are harvested at several places in Fiji  and make fine necklaces and earrings but quality and prices vary immensely - the cheapest disfigured black pearls, which have their own peculiar charm, cost as little as $20; perfect ones, opaque, smooth and of a deep colour fetch as much as $1,000. Some pearls are imported from Cook Islands and Tahiti , the major producers of black pearls in the world.

For many, wood carvings or woven craft are the choice souvenir and these are available from many handicraft stores in town. War clubs, tanoa bowls and priest dishes are authentic designs although wood quality may not be as heavy as once used. Woven mats, baskets and fans are other nice traditional items to take home. Face masks and other tourist gimmicks and mostly imported from Asia . Nad’s and Jack’s, both at the north end of town and the latter also at Port Denarau, have good quality workmanship and will pack and post worldwide although if you’re a good negotiator you may find better bargains at the local Handicraft Market beside Koroivolu Lane.

Wailoaloa Beach

Although Wailoaloa Beach has neither gleaming white sand nor an aquamarine lagoon, it does have tranquil ocean views and makes an excellent spot for a beach stroll. And this alone sets it apart from the rest of Nadi making it the best place to stay for budget travellers.

The picturesque beachfront at Wailoaloa stretches for three kilometres in the heart of Nadi Bay but has surprisingly little development. The backpacker resorts and affordable apartments congregate around Wasawasa Road in Newtown and here you can enjoy a quiet beer at Smugglers Cove or watch Polynesian dancing on Friday, Saturday or Sunday night. There are no independent restaurants but you can eat at five of the ten small resorts here. The sea is OK for swimming, although the murky lagoon is rather off putting, blackened from the surrounding muddy mangrove estuaries - unfortunately there are no water activities along the beach. The north side of the beach ends at the public golf course of Nadi Airport Golf Club.

Boat Excursions The Mamanucas are easily assessable on day trips from Port Denarau either on a slow elegant sailing cruise or a fast catamaran jet boat. Complimentary pick- up and drop- off are provided by operators from all Nadi hotels. For those staying at the north end of Nadi near the airport, the journey to Port Denarau takes over an hour meandering around Nadi picking up other guests. To save time, you may want to hire a taxi which will cost $18 one way from Nadi Airport and takes 20- minutes. Golf and tennis Visitors to Nadi have three public golf courses to choose from. The Denarau Golf Club managed by Troon has slightly discounted rates for guests staying at any of the Denarau resorts. It’s a long flat course, well manicured with virtually no rough but lost of fish shaped bunkers, canals coming into play and large fast greens. The course is under utilized making it a joy to play. The public 9- hole Nadi Airport Golf Club is at Wailoaloa Beach . This slightly undulating course is quite challenging with rough and tricky greens. There’s a pitch and putt 9- hole course at the Novotel Nadi at Votualevu.

The Denarau Golf and Racket Club has four all weather synthetic tennis courts and six grass courts, with lessons available by the hour. The Nadi Sports Club at Navakai has one hard court available to non- members and two squash courts.

Nadi has the country’s widest selection and best value accommodation although daily rates are fixed with no seasonal fluctuations. The only time you may find it difficult to find a room is when a large business convention is taking place.

To get a view of the ocean, you need to stay at the more isolated regions of either Wailoaloa Beach , Denarau Island or Vuda Point, all several kilometres off the Queens Road on Nadi Bay . Wailoaloa Beach, the budget and backpacker centre, is the most central of these and has a laid back holiday atmosphere with stunning views along the coast towards the Sleeping Giant and Castle, but the beach itself is by no means postcard- worthy with greyish sand and murky water. The opulent man made creation of Denarau Island , five kilometres west of Nadi Town with its ten upmarket resorts, lifestyle homes and a modern shopping centre has an intuitively hollow, plastic feel. Otherwise, there are a handful of affordable motels along the main road between Nadi Airport and Nadi Town . Vuda Point , twenty minutes drive north of the airport, has a couple of midrange boutique beach resorts and is closer to Lautoka City .

Catering to a tourist town, Nadi’s restaurants offer almost every style of international cuisine although only one distinctly Fijian restaurant. Prices at all independent restaurants are very reasonable, with mains seldom topping $35, although resort restaurants tend to be over- priced. Most of the resorts on Denarau Island offer themed buffet dinners for between $50- 70 per person but only two offer Fijian lovo nights, traditional food cooked in an underground oven: Sofitel Fiji Resort on Thursday and Sheraton Fiji Resort  on Saturday.

Traditional dance shows are held at several resorts and are usually free to watch, with a blend of animated Fijian war mekes, elegant Polynesian style hula and enthralling Samoan fire dancing, and some are combined with lovo buffet dinners. Times may vary so it’s worth calling ahead.

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