Hotel reception or tour desks can make reservations for most of the Nadi activities and Mamanuca Islands day cruises. You will likely pay slightly more for Nadi-based activities than if you were staying on the west coast. On the other hand, you are closer to such activities as the rafting trips on the Navua River. You also can easily take advantage of the golf, fishing, and diving at Pacific Harbour and see the sights in Suva.
I have organized the attractions below from west to east; that is, in the order in which you will come to them from Nadi.
Off the Queen's Road 35km (22 miles) south of Nadi, the paved Maro Road runs down to Natadola Beach, the only exceptionally beautiful beach on Viti Levu. A big resort is going up here, although land disputes and other setbacks had stopped construction during my recent visit. It was to have included a golf course designed by Fiji-native Vijay Singh, but he reportedly has backed out. There's no telling what will be going on here by the time you arrive. One thing is for sure: A gap in the reef allows some surf to break on Natadola Beach, especially on the south end. Already here is Natadola Beach Resort (tel. 672 1001; www.natadola.com), a small Spanish-style hotel with a dining room and bar in a shady courtyard. Rather than drive here, I would take the Coral Coast Railway train from Shangri-La's Fijian Resort & Spa .
Robinson Crusoe Island
On Likuri, a small islet north of Natadola Beach, the backpacker-oriented Robinson Crusoe Island (tel. 628 1999; www.robinsoncrusoeislandfiji.com) has a lovely beach, a swimming pool, restaurant, bar, small bures (bungalows), and two dorms. It's a relaxing stop on the low-budget trail around Viti Levu. Jet Fiji has one of its high-speed jet boats stationed at the island. Snorkeling, water-skiing, tube rides, hair braiding, and massages are available to both overnight guests and day-trippers. Accommodations range from F$82 (US$53/£27) for a dorm bed to F$120 (US$78/£40) for a bure, double occupancy. Rates include all meals.
Coral Coast Railway
Based on the Queen's Road outside Shangri-La's Fijian Resort & Spa, the Coral Coast Railway Co. (tel. 652 0434) uses two restored sugar-cane locomotives for a variety of tours on narrow-gauge railroads through the cane fields, across bridges, and along the coast. The best destination is lovely Natadola Beach, where you swim (bring your own towel) and have a barbecue lunch at the beach. "Natadola BBQ Bash" trips (F$115/US$75/£38 including lunch) run daily, departing Shangri-La's Fijian resort at 10am and returning at 4pm.
A variation of the Natadola Beach trip includes a boat ride out to Robinson Crusoe Island for swimming, snorkeling, and a picnic lunch. These excursions cost about F$135 (US$88/£45), and water-skiing is extra. The boat doesn't run every day, so call ahead.
The other locomotive makes trips east to Sigatoka on the Coral Coast. A half-day version (F$59/US$38/£20) takes you to Sigatoka town for shopping and sightseeing. The train also makes all-day "Ratu's Scenic Inland" tours into the Sigatoka Valley (F$125/US$81/£42) and sundown tours (F$75/US$49/£25), which include a kava welcoming ceremony and dinner.
Children pay half fare, and all fares are somewhat more expensive if you are staying at a Nadi area hotel.
Kalevu South Pacific Cultural Centre
Well worth a visit if you're interested in island life and history, the Kalevu South Pacific Cultural Centre (tel. 652 0200; www.fijiculturalcentre.com), on the Queen's Road opposite Shangri-La's Fijian Resort & Spa, presents demonstrations of traditional kava processing, handicraft making, lovo (in a hand-dug pit) cooking, and fishing. The cultural exhibits include not just Fiji but Samoa, Kiribati (in the central Pacific), and New Zealand. The center offers 3-hour tours of the complex daily at 9am and 1pm for F$45 (US$29/£15), including a traditional island lunch cooked in an earth oven. Or you can take a 1-hour tour of the grounds and Fiji historical museum for F$15 (US$9.70/£5). Call for schedules and reservations. The center is open daily from 9am to 4pm. You can also get refreshments here, or attend a Fijian meke (traditional feast and dance performance) nightly, at Gecko's Restaurant.
Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park
The pine forests on either side of the Queen's Road soon give way to rolling fields of mission grass before the sea emerges at a viewpoint above Shangri-La's Fijian Resort & Spa on Yanuca Island. After you pass the resort, watch on the right for the visitor center for Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park (tel. 652 0243). Fiji's first national park protects high sand hills, which extend for several miles along the coast. About two-thirds of them are stabilized with grass, but some along the shore are still shifting sand (the surf crashing on them is dangerous). Ancient burial grounds and pieces of pottery dating from 5 B.C. to A.D. 240 have been found among the dunes, but be warned: Removing them is against the law. Exhibits in the visitor center explain the dunes and their history. Rangers are on duty daily from 8am to 5pm. Admission to the visitor center is free, but adults pay F$8 (US$5.20/£2.70), students F$3 (US$1.90/£1) to visit the actual dunes. Call ahead for a free guided tour. Note: You must go to the visitor center before visiting the dunes.
About 3km (2 miles) from the sand dunes visitor center, the Queen's Road enters Sigatoka (pop. 2,000), the commercial center of the Coral Coast. This quiet, predominantly Indo-Fijian town is perched along the west bank of the Sigatoka River, Fiji's longest waterway. The broad, muddy river lies on one side of the main street; on the other is a row of stores. The river is crossed by the Melrose Bridge, built in 1997 and named in honor of Fiji's winning the Melrose Cup at the Hong Kong Sevens rugby matches. The old bridge it replaced is now for pedestrians only.
From Sigatoka, you can go inland along the west bank of the meandering river, flanked on both sides by a patchwork of flat green fields of vegetables that give the Sigatoka Valley its nickname: "Fiji's Salad Bowl." The pavement ends about 1km (1/2 mile) from the town; after that, the road surface is poorly graded and covered with loose stones.
The residents of Lawai village (1.5km/1 mile from town) offer Fijian handicrafts for sale. Two kilometers (1 1/4 miles) farther on, a small dirt track branches off to the left and runs down a hill to Nakabuta, the "Pottery Village," where the residents make and sell authentic Fijian pottery. This art has seen a renaissance of late, and you will find Nakabuta-made bowls, plates, and other items in handicraft shops elsewhere. Tour buses from Nadi and the Coral Coast stop there most days.
Unless you're subject to vertigo, you can look forward to driving past Nakabuta: The road climbs steeply along a narrow ridge, commanding panoramic views across the winding Sigatoka Valley with its quiltlike fields to the right and much smaller, more rugged ravine to the left. It then winds its way down to the valley floor and the Sigatoka Agricultural Research Station, on whose shady grounds some tour groups stop for picnic lunches. The road climbs into the interior and eventually to Ba on the northwest coast; it intersects the Nausori Highlands Road leading back to Nadi, but it can be rough or even washed out during periods of heavy rain. Unless you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle or are on an organized tour with a guide, I would turn around at the research station and head back to Sigatoka.
Tavuni Hill Fort
A dirt road runs from Queen's Road at the eastern end of the Sigatoka River bridge inland 5km (3 miles) to the Tavuni Hill Fort, built by an exiled Tongan chief as a safe haven from the ferocious Fijian hill tribes living up the valley. Those highlanders constantly fought wars with the coastal Fijians, and they were the last to give up cannibalism and convert to Christianity. When they rebelled against the Deed of Cession to Great Britain in 1875, the colonial administration sent a force of 1,000 men up the Sigatoka River. They destroyed all the hill forts lining the river, including Tavuni. Part of the fort has been restored as a Fiji Heritage Project. The visitor center (tel. 650 0818) has exhibits explaining the history, and park rangers will lead 30-minute tours if you ask. The fort is open to the public Monday to Saturday 8am to 4pm. Admission is F$12 (US$7.80/£4) for adults and F$6 (US$3.90/£2) for children.
Kula Eco Park
Off the Queen's Road opposite the Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji, Kula Eco Park (tel. 650 0505; www.fijiwild.com) is Fiji's only wildlife park. Along the banks of a stream in a tropical forest, it has a fine collection of rainbow-feathered tropical birds and an aquarium stocked with examples of local sea life. Allow 2 hours here, since this is one of the South Pacific's best places to view local flora and fauna in a natural setting. Children will love it. It's open daily 10am to 4pm. Admission is F$20 (US$13/£6.70) for adults, F$10 (US$6.50/£3.30) for children 11 and under.
Waterfall & Cave Tours
You won't soon forget the waterfall and cave tours offered by Adventures in Paradise Fiji (tel. 652 0833; www.adventuresinparadisefiji.com), near the Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji. The waterfall tour goes to Biausevu village in the Korolevu Valley. A tour bus takes you to the village, where you'll be welcomed at a traditional yaqona (kava) ceremony. Then comes a 30-minute hike along a rocky stream to the falls, which plunge straight over a cliff into a swimming hole. The sometimes slippery trail fords the stream seven times, so wear canvas or reef shoes or a pair of strap-on sandals. Wear a bathing suit and bring a towel if you want to take a very cool and refreshing dip after the sweaty hike. You'll be treated to a barbecue lunch.
On the other excursion, you'll spend 45 minutes inside the Naihehe Cave, which was used as a fortress by Fiji's last cannibal tribe. After a picnic lunch, you'll return via a bilibili (bamboo) raft on the Sigatoka River (the cave is a 35-min. drive up the Sigatoka Valley).
The cost is F$99 (US$64/£33) per person for either tour; they run on alternate days and can be booked at any hotel activities desk. Add F$20 (US$13/£6.50) from Nadi.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.