The Islands of Opportunity
I start this article with a confession. One that I am very embarrassed about. I had never been to Fiji. Just 3 hours flight time from Australia. With an abundance of surf options. And not just good surf options – fabulous surf options. Having only just discovered the treasure trove of surf that is Fiji, I will try to explain the delights that await surfers without lecturing. Just know that you have to go……
The first challenge I faced was to come to grips with the geography of Fiji. It’s actually harder than it sounds. You fly into Nadi (pronounced “Nandi” – someone way smarter than me will have to tell you why). It’s on the West Coast of one of the two main islands. But it’s not the capital. Suva is the capital of Fiji. Suva is on the East Coast of Viti Levu, the largest of the Fijian islands. Nadi and Suva are on the same island, about 4 hours drive apart. The other main island is called Vanua Levu. These two islands account for nearly 90% of Fiji’s population.
It should be noted is that here are over 330 islands in the Fijian archipelago. If you had the time, money, equipment and inclination, you could find bucketloads of surf breaks in lots of tucked away places. For those of us who don’t have that combination of luxuries, there are two main areas to surf. The areas are commonly referred to as the “Cloudbreak” area and the “Coral Coast” area.
The Cloudbreak area is quite close to Nadi. The Coral Coast area occupies much of the southern coast of the island, between Nadi and Suva. While it would be logistically possible to surf one area in the morning and the other in the afternoon, it is not recommended. Organise your stay so that you have a few days in each area, so you can explore and enjoy each one properly. Apart from anything else, you will find yourself on “island time” not long after your arrival in Nadi…..
The Cloudbreak area is probably one of the most remarkable and magical surf areas you will find. Virtually on a par with the miracle of that famous 7 mile stretch of ocean in Oahu known as the “North Shore”. Within the greater Cloudbreak area, you will find Cloudbreak, Namotu, Swimming Pools, Restaurants, Desperations, Mini’s, Lighthouse and Wilkes Passage. If you stay on Namotu Island, you can paddle out to a couple of these breaks. But it is better to accept that you need a boat to access the Cloudbreak surf spots. That also frees up your accommodation options (more on that topic shortly).
Let’s talk about Cloudbreak itself. There are a number of remarkable things about Cloudbreak but possibly the most wonderful is that is works, and works properly, at 2ft to 20ft! It’s not one of those breaks that needs a certain size swell to fire. Nor does it just shut down when it gets large. It is simply a gem of nature. A very large flat reef that handles a huge variety of conditions. And what a setting!
I had heard much about Cloudbreak, especially when it gets big, before I ever saw it in the flesh. One of the things I had heard is that the peak shifts when it gets big. Which sounded terrible to me. Having now surfed it (no, not when it was huge), I understand what a benefit this shifting of the peak is. It helps to spread the crowd and provides you with options. You can choose to sit way up the reef and wait for a wave that looks like it will peel down the line. Or you can sit further over towards the channel and pick off the wider, larger ones. Either way, wave selection is important but surfing Cloudbreak is a pure delight. Definite bucket list material.
Staying on the mainland and accessing the Cloubreak area each day by boat is my preference. There is a variety of accommodation options, all within 20-odd minutes of the main boat launching ramps for Cloudbreak. Just make sure your boat operator will pick you up and drop you back. I particularly liked staying in the wharf area in Denarau and found that the self-contained apartment option works well. There are lots of food places nearby but being self-contained gives you the ability to feed yourself as and when you want. A great choice for families.
The Coral Coast area stretches for about half of the 4 hour drive from Nadi to Suva. Surfable breaks accessible direct from the beach can be found just 30 minutes or so out of Nadi. But the main surf breaks of the Coral Coast area start about an hours drive out of Nadi. The better, more reliable breaks are to be found during the second and third hours from Nadi. Like the Cloudbreak area, the vast majority are best (or only) accessed by boat. Like the famous Frigates Passage. A big rolling, powerful left-hander some 20kilometers offshore, Frigates is one of the other serious surf gems in Fiji. But there are also lots of hollow reef breaks scattered offshore along the coast that provide picture-perfect surf settings.
The range of accommodation options is wide along the Coral Coast. For a magnificent eco-resort, try Matanivusi. Built from scratch to have minimal impact on the environment, Matanivusi has fabulous food and great staff. It is one of very few Stoke Certified surf resorts. Cheaper options can be found nearby at places like Beachouse. There are lots of non-surfing things to do along the Coral Coast including dive trips, dive-with-sharks trips, snorkeling, horse-riding, visit a wildlife park, rafting, bird-watching and hiking. Regardless of how you spend a day on the Coral Coast, finish the day with a cocktail overlooking the beautiful ocean.
I do have a regret. I just wish I had gone to Fiji decades earlier. My bad.