Long before big jets began bringing visitors to Fiji, many affluent local residents built cottages on the dry southwestern shore of Viti Levu as sunny retreats from the rain and high humidity of Suva. When visitors started arriving in big numbers during the early 1960s, resorts sprang up among the cottages, and promoters gave a new, more appealing name to the 70km (43-mile) stretch of beaches and reef on either side of the town of Sigatoka: the Coral Coast.

The appellation was apt, for coral reefs jut out like wide shelves from the white beaches that run between mountain ridges all along this picturesque coastline. In most spots the lagoon just reaches snorkeling depth at high tide, and when the water retreats, you can put on your reef sandals or a pair of old sneakers and walk out nearly to the surf pounding on the outer edge of the shelf.

Frankly, the Coral Coast is now overshadowed by other parts of Fiji. Its large hotels cater primarily to meetings, groups, and families from Australia and New Zealand on 1-week holidays. Nevertheless, it has dramatic scenery and some of the country's better historical sites, and it's a central location from which to see both the Suva and Nadi sides of Viti Levu. Pacific Harbour's river rafting and other adventures are relatively close at hand.

The Coral Coast is divided into three natural regions. Its only town, Sigatoka serves as both commercial and administrative headquarters. A primarily Indian settlement, it earns its living trading with farmers in the Sigatoka Valley, Fiji's breadbasket.

The area west of Sigatoka is dominated by Shangri-La's Fijian Resort & Spa, the country's largest hotel. Across the road are the Coral Coast Railway and the Kalevu South Pacific Cultural Centre.

East of Sigatoka, the central area is anchored by the village of Korotogo, where several hotels, restaurants, and the Kula Eco Park are grouped around the Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji, another major hotel. Many of the properties are on Sunset Strip, a dead-end section of the highway that was rerouted inland around the Outrigger.

To the far east, more resorts and hotels are dispersed on either side of Korolevu village.

The Coral Coast beaches aren't the best in Fiji, but they get better the farther east you go.