There's a lot of Fiji. Besides the hundreds of out islands, there's the big island of Viti Levu with its capital city of Suva and its vigorous Indian culture.
Fiji is fairly accessible, really, as it's on the main air route between the U.S. and Australia. In fact, Qantas, Air New Zealand, Continental and Canadian Pacific Air make daily stops at Nadi's (pronounced Nandi) tiny international airport. It's a long flight -- five hours from California to Hawaii, six more hours from Hawaii to Fiji. The basic excursion fare is $840 round trip from Los Angeles or San Francisco, although prices may vary with the season.
Resort accommodations are close by the airport -- at most an hour away by taxi and boat -- but you can get way off the beaten track fairly quickly by Sunflower Air or the other domestic Fijian airlines. You haven't lived, by the way, until you've braved the island's towering cumulus clouds in a plane the size of a station wagon. On the neighboring islands, you'll land on a grass strip cleared from the jungle.
The island of Tavarua is tiny and private and has accommodations only at the Surfing Base, which books exclusively through Aquarius Tours of Torrance, Calif. Since they take a maximum of 20 people at a time -- only six who surf -- and have world-class waves, they aren't hurting for bookings. Rates are $100 per day for surfers, $60 per day for nonsurfers, including all meals. They suggest a two-week stay so that you can see all the wave conditions. By the way, you should have at least three years of surfing experience before you try the waves at Tavarua, and even then you should have good health insurance.
There are several places to stay on the island of Taveuni, from funky to wonderful, but none at budget prices. Divers should check out the bure accommodations at Dive Taveuni, where owner Rick Cammick can also supply tanks, equipment, dive guides and a boat to take you out to the reefs. The Qamea Beach Club, on its own tiny island nearby, is luxurious and gorgeous. For rates and other information, contact the Fiji Visitors Bureau, 6151 West Century Blvd., Suite 524, Los Angeles, Calif. 90045, (800) 621-9604.
It's very hot -- wonderfully so -- in Fiji during the months of North American winter, and I found it almost impossible to pack imaginatively enough. I took two pairs of long pants and wore each once -- on the plane and when scuba diving, to protect my legs from the coral. I hauled an idiotic sweater around the islands. I took hard shoes and had to buy sandals. Try to imagine summer when you pack.
Cuts and nicks can be a problem in this vital tropical climate. Bring Merthiolate, bacitracin ointment, lots of band-aids. Don't ignore any cut, especially ones you get on the reef.
Don't be dumb in the sun. Hide from it the first two days. Bring sun block and a hat with a wide brim. Wear a T-shirt when you snorkel. You'll get your tan anyway, and you'll avoid a serious burn.
And eat Mongolian barbecue. This sounds odd for Fiji, but you can find it here and there, and it's terrific. You're offered a smorgasbord of raw meat or fish, plus vegetables and spices, and once you've assembled your choices, you get it grilled on the spot and put over rice or noodles. This and Fiji beer are all you need.