Saturday, March 2, 2019

South Pacific Anniversary Adventure ✈ Fiji

Our 5th anniversary adventure brought us through 4 seasons and 2 new countries within 2 weeks. Started our trip hanging out with friends in San Francisco, followed by a relaxing getaway in Fiji, and ended the trip with a 10-day road trip across New Zealand. I'll share more about our adventures in the next few posts. Follow along!

Thanks to Alaska Airline's generous stopover rule on award redemption, we were able to build in a free stopover in Fiji en route to New Zealand. As we had limited time this trip (New Zealand was the priority), we decided to stay around Denarau Island, which was close to the airport for 2 nights, and not waste time traveling to other nearby islands because our main purpose in Fiji was to chillax and do absolutely nothing. Besides, we are not 'beachy' people so a nice pool was good enough for us.

Nov 23 (Fri): San Francisco - Los Angeles - Fiji

After 2 nights in San Francisco, it was time to continue our long journey to Fiji. First...a short 1.5 hour flight from SFO - LAX on a legacy Virgin America flight. As mentioned in the previous post, we managed to fit everything for 16 days into two backpacks.

3-hour transit in LAX before the long flight. It has been awhile since I traveled through LAX, and it reminded me again that I'm not a fan of this airport. It was large, unorganized, no trains between terminals, and there was a lot of walking. 

My first time traveling on Fiji Airways. We had a row of 3 seats for the 2 of us and I was able to rest a lil'. However, the turbulence was pretty bad almost throughout the entire 12.5 hours flight so it wasn't very pleasant.

Spotted lightning in the air and covered myself in blanket (to block off the cabin lights) in attempt to take this! Landed at Nadi airport at 6am.

Nov 25 (Fri): Westin Denarau Island Resort and Spa

The airport was small and it was cool to hear live 'island' music as we went through immigration. Definitely put us in a holiday mood instantly. =)

After getting through immigration, the first thing to do was to get some cash from the ATM. The machines in the international arrival hall were out of service so I went over to the domestic terminal and found one ATM that was working and managed to withdraw FJD200 ($93) for food and transportation over the next 2 days. 

Nowadays when we travel, we only use our Charles Schwab debit card to 'exchange' local currencies from ATMs because this card allows us to take out cash from any ATM anywhere in the world with NO fees, and the exchange rates are good! Better still, we received $100 bonus for just opening the account. Highly recommended!! 

Taxi is the most common, quickest and convenient way to get from the airport to the hotel in Denarau Islands. But since it was still very early (7am) and were in no hurry to get to the hotel, we decided to take the local bus. Honestly, I didn't find a lot of information on how to take a bus from Nadi airport to Denarau island when I did my research online, so we were really just trying our luck. Here's what we did:

Walked 5 min and crossed the main street to the bus stop located in front of Fiji Gateway Hotel (directly opposite the airport) to catch the bus to Nadi town. We weren't sure which bus goes to Nadi town so we asked a local who was also waiting there. The Pacific bus finally arrived after 30 minutes (7.20am) and it actually looked better than what I expected. Paid the driver FJD 2 ($1) coins for the both of us and managed to squeeze our bag and ourselves into the tiny seats. The bus wasn't air-conditioned but it wasn't hot because the windows were open. We enjoyed the scenery with lively music blasting in the background. Fiji actually feels and looks a lot like Malaysia. 

I knew roughly where we needed to get off so I tracked our location with the offline map on my phone. Btw, we were definitely out of place because everyone else on the bus was local. When in Fiji, do as the Fijian does! Fortunately, the bus was never full so we were able to leave our bags on the seat. This option would have been tough with a luggage.

We were supposed to get off at the 'Queens Road roundabout' (of course roundabout doesn't have signs) to switch to another bus. I was dumbly following the instructions for the other way around so we missed the stop, and had to backtrack after getting off the bus. It wasn't too far of a walk but I should have known better to get off when everyone else in the bus got off. Those locals were also going to Denarau Island to work. Note: The journey from airport to the roundabout was approximately 25 minutes. 

The bus stop for 'yellow' Westbus (to Denarau Island) was not very clearly marked but it was easy enough to figure out. We just stood and wait wherever the locals were waiting (by the primary school). We were the only tourists!

Westbus runs every 15min and we only had to wait for less than 10 min. Westbus stops at all hotes in Denarau and costs FJD 2 ($1) for the both of us. If I remember correctly, the locals used a prepaid card to pay for the bus ride and it costs slightly more than FJD1/pax, but since it was obvious enough that we are stupid tourists, the bus driver took the FJD 2 coin without any questions. Similar to the last bus, seats were small, no air-con, windows were open, but no blasting music. The journey to Westin took about 20 minutes.

Mission accomplished, our local bus adventure was a success!! Made it from Nadi airport to Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa for a total of $2 (instead of $24) for the both of us. =D

It was only 8.15am when we arrived. Still quite early but the staff graciously let us check in early. Our room wasn't ready yet so they guided us to the Adults-only pool area to freshen up and get changed. The staff also helped to store our bags and gave us vouchers to enjoy complimentary buffet breakfast at the restaurant. I opted for the complimentary breakfast for my Platinum welcome amenity and was supposed to get only one complimentary b'fast for the next morning so this was a good surprise. Thumbs up for the excellent service!! Pardon our haggard look, it's been a long journey from San Francisco. 

Excellent variety for the buffet breakfast!! You can definitely make a brunch out of it. They also had egg station and fresh-pressed juices (and sparkling wine!). The buffet breakfast would have cost FJD47.50 ($22) per pax, that means total savings of $88 for our stay.

Received a call from the front desk at 10.30am that our room was ready. I used my SPG 50-night benefit to redeem for 1 free night, so the room I booked originally was a Tropical Garden Room. We received an upgrade to an Ocean View room...nice!!

The excellent services continues with sparkling wine and a set of Pure Fiji goodies welcoming us in the room. We also received a whole lot of complimentary Fiji water. =P

Definitely appreciate the elite recognition! 

Love all the palm trees around the hotel grounds...island mood ON!

As mentioned earlier, our main goal in Fiji was to chillax and do absolutely nothing. The only thing on the agenda was chillout and relax by the pool/beach. We chose to go to the pool at the Adults-only area as it was more relaxing.

Main pool area (which we didn't use at all), and the beach volleyball court.

Continued chillaxing by the 'beach'. If you're looking for white sandy beaches, Denarau island is not the place to be, you've gotta go to the other islands. We knew this beforehand so we had zero expectation for the beach. As you can see, it's just a sandy area. =P

Our one-and-only successful attempt of working out during this 2-week trip was on the first!

Our original plan was to walk to Denarau port for dinner, but was informed at check-in that we had a food and beverage credit of FJD 250, so we decided to eat-in. Had dinner at the Ocean Terrace restaurant, and received a pleasantly embarrassing surprise when all the restaurant staffs (10 of them) surrounded our table and sang 'Happy Anniversary' for 3 mins...oh my!! I was secretly hoping that the song would end soon but they just kept going on and! Anyway, I definitely appreciate the warm hospitality!

Evening performance to wrap up a beautiful day.

Nov 26 (Sat): Westin Denarau Island Resort and Spa - Hilton Fiji Beach Resort and Spa

Woke up at 5.30am to enjoy some solitude and silence (and full moon).

Went for a walk around the hotel to take some photos with nobody in the background.

BULA from Fiji!

Spotted this cute lil' church with an awesome sea view beside the hotel.

Enjoyed our complimentary buffet breakfast brunch at the hotel restaurant. 

We still had some credits left after dinner the day before so decided to order room service for late lunch before checking out and switch to the next hotel.

Booked Hilton Fiji Beach Resort & Spa for our 2nd night in Fiji for 37,000 Hilton points. We decided on this hotel after some 'serious' cost-benefit analysis...see below...

We had two choices - DoubleTree Fiji vs. Hilton Fiji. We eventually landed on Hilton Fiji for the convenience, even though it required 16,000 more Hilton points. Overall, we were happy with our choice because it would have been too much of a hassle trying to find our way to DoubleTree just to stay a few hours. And yes, we walked for 13 minutes from Westin to Hilton with our!! (P.S. Evidence of me being too much of a planner)

The check-in area was surprisingly open air and not air-conditioned (poor staffs). The hotel compound was so huge they had to use a golf cart to take us to our 'villa'. Not a fan of fruits but still thanks for the welcome platter! =)

We received a complimentary upgrade to this 1-bedroom beachfront suite with kitchenette and laundry...sweet!! The laundry came in handy as we were able to do a round of laundry before continuing our journey to New Zealand. The kitchenette was fully-equipped with pots and pans, plates and silverware, but we didn't get to use it. 

Awesome ocean view from our suite!

Went for a stroll around the hotel after dropping our bags.

More chillaxing by the pool. We preferred the pool in Hilton over the one in Westin. 

Dark clouds started rolling in late afternoon and we decided to call it a day. Overall, we had been very fortunate to have beautiful weather during our short time in Fiji. 

Nov 27 (Sun): Fiji - New Zealand

Enjoyed our complimentary breakfast at the hotel before checking out early to head to the airport for our 9.30am flight to Christchurch, New Zealand.

Goodbye Fiji!!

We chose to take a cab from the hotel to the airport this time around, instead of going on another bus adventure. Cost a lil' more ($25) but we didn't mind splurging a lil' as we had a long day ahead in New Zealand and certainly didn't want to start the day sweating. =P

That's it for our 2 days in Fiji! Vinaka Fiji for the beautiful weather and warm hospitality!! 
Next stop...New Zealand!!

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