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You won't see much of the real Fiji if you spend your entire vacation in Nadi, but this area has more to keep you busy than any other part of the country. That's because the international airport and a dry climate combine to make it the country's main tourist center, with the multitude of activities that entails. The lagoon off Nadi is usually murky from mangrove forests and runoff coming from the area's sugar-cane fields, however, so this is not the ideal place in Fiji for a beach vacation. On the other hand, it is the most convenient base from which to explore the rest of the country, and a vacation here means you don't have to spend extra money to get elsewhere in Fiji.

Despite the cloudy waters, many visitors spend their entire holidays on pancake-flat Denarau Island, the country's largest tourist development with several resorts, a golf-and-tennis center, and a shopping complex at Port Denarau, the marina from whence shuttles and cruises depart to the Mamanuca and Yasawa islands. In a matter of seconds, the short bridge from the mainland onto Denarau whisks you from the Third World into the First World.

By "Nadi" the locals mean the entire area around the international airport. It's the fastest-growing part of Fiji. New homes, stores, shopping centers, and office buildings are popping up along the 9km (5 1/2 miles) of traffic-heavy Queen's Road between the airport and Nadi Town, a farming community stocked with handicraft, souvenir, and other stores as well as some of the country's better restaurants.

Rather than fight for parking spaces in town, many locals now do their shopping in Namaka, a rapidly developing commercial strip between Nadi Town and the airport. Martintar, another Queen's Road suburb, has a number of hotels, restaurants, and bars. From Martintar, a paved road leads to Wailoaloa Beach, a 1.5km-long (1-mile) stretch of grayish sand, where a development known as Newtown Beach has several inexpensive hotels and hostels.

From Nadi, it's an easy 33km (20-mile) side trip to Lautoka, Fiji's second-largest city. Lautoka offers a genteel contrast to tourist-oriented Nadi Town.