Normally I hate a long layover. It doesn’t matter what airport it’s in, there are few things more tedious than wiling away hours on uncomfortable seats, eating terrible food, and wishing more than anything to be tucked into a nice warm bed or taking a hot shower.
For my recent trip to Australia, I didn’t discover until after I had purchased my steal-of-a-deal ticket that I had two long layovers at the Nadi, Fiji airport: one for 15.5 hours, the other for 17.5 hours.
Now I love many things about Fiji – the people, the climate, the beauty – but the airport is definitely not one of them. There is one waiting area surrounded by the ubiquitous duty free and souvenir shops that at best can occupy about an hour of your time. The few places to eat may or may not be open and if you request anything hot, be prepared to wait at least 30 minutes while it is cooked elsewhere and brought bound tightly in plastic wrap by frazzled but smiling women.
It is not the place to spend 17.5 hours.
Thankfully that is not the only option.
When you exit any international flight in Nadi you are greeted by a jolly group of Fijian men in flamboyant shirts singing their hearts out in joyous welcome. At this point you can take a left to transit to your next flight or hang a right and get in line for Customs. Take the right. As the musicians serenade you, make sure you have your passport and Customs card handy. Once your passport is stamped simply pick up your luggage, get some Fiji dollars from the handy bank machine near the luggage carousel, head through Customs and grab a taxi. You’re all set for a mini-Fiji adventure.
Fiji has numerous 3 and 4 star resorts a short taxi ride from the airport. Many of them have day rooms available for a reduced rate. This will allow you full use of a room and the resort facilities (including beaches, swimming pools, and restaurants) during your stay. Since most international flights to Nadi are red-eyes arriving around 5 a.m., the use of a day room is pure bliss, giving you a chance to sleep, shower, eat real food, and explore the beaches and countryside of Fiji before continuing your journey. Make sure you call ahead to specifically reserve a day room since availability is limited.
I stayed at two resorts on my layovers.
The first was Sonaisali Island Resort, about a 30 minute drive from the airport. I stayed in an Oceanview Bure for $252.00 Fiji dollars, which works out to about $138.60 US. The taxi ride from the airport was about $35 Fiji dollars ($20 US) each way. The short boat ride to the island was free and made a crossing every 15 minutes.
View from the front porch of my room at the Sonaisali Island Resort
(it was pouring rain at the time, but you really could see the ocean when it stopped).
The second was The Westin Denarau Island Resort and Spa, about a 25 minute drive from the airport. I stayed in a Tropical Garden View Room for $200 Fiji dollars, equaling about $110 US. The taxi ride to and from the airport was also $35 Fiji dollars (about $20 US) each way.
The view from my room at The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa.
Both resorts were beautiful and graciously let me into my room around 7 a.m. (normal check-in time is 10 a.m.) and let me stay until 6 p.m.
Eating out at Fiji resorts is really expensive. I made sure to eat on the airplane beforehand and get a cheap bite at the airport after, only splurging on one good meal.
I settled on breakfast at the Sonaisali Island Resort. For $38 Fiji dollars ($21 US) I had unlimited trips to a buffet breakfast that included fresh fruits, cereals, made-to-order omelets, and a large hot food section with items such as baked tomatoes, baked beans, potato cakes, and ham, plus chutneys, sauces, and lots of juice and coffee. The dining room faces the ocean with beautiful views of the pool, palm trees and rolling waves.
At The Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa I opted for lunch, ordering room service for the first time in my life. 🙂 I had succulent ahi tuna with Fijian green beans, rice with crispy shallots, and a smidge of lettuce for around $80 Fiji dollars ($44 US). My dining room was my patio where I could eat in happy solitude with views of the ocean and tropical plants.
The grand total for two full days in Fiji was about $400. That may seem like a lot, but it was worth every penny, worth every restaurant dinner, movie ticket, and shopping trip I gave up in order to save enough. It was much better than two days in an airport, spending nearly $200 on crummy food, feeling exhausted and dirty with nothing to do but wander the same halls for over 30 hours.
Instead I had two glorious days in one of the most beautiful places in the world. In addition to comfy beds, hot showers, delicious food, and first class treatment, I also got to stroll gorgeous beaches, walk through the exquisitely beautiful Fijian countryside, swim in the South Pacific, snooze in a hammock, and meet some of the loveliest people imaginable.
What would be your ideal way to spend a one day layover?