Fiji, Land of the Bula Spirit

Fiji, Land of the Bula Spirit

» Featured Columnists | By Steve Winston | November 1, 2012 8:00 AM ET

Picture a verdant, 333-island Polynesian archipelago of incomparable beauty, spread over nearly a half-million square-miles of the South Seas, with a mystique as thick as the tropical jungles enveloping it. And you're picturing Fiji.
The Bula Spirit?
It's a feeling as much as it is a definition. It's an ancient tradition here. In the dictionary, "Bula" is defined as the Fijian word for "welcome" or "hello." But in the real world, "Bula" is much more than a mere word.
It's really a state of mind, perhaps best-expressed in the smiles on the faces of the people here - often called the world's friendliest - and their delight in sharing their tropical paradise with their visitors (600,000 every year).
Conde Nast Traveler listed the Fijians as the friendliest people in the world. Travel & Leisure ranked Fiji one of the top five romantic destinations in the world. And Modern Bride ranked the country in the top ten in several categories.
Fiji has three types of islands - volcanic, coral, and limestone. There are several inland rivers, mountains over 5,000 feet, and tropical rain forests that have often been turned into parks rather than logging camps. And, of course, the white-sand beaches are world-class, wonderfully uncrowded and dotted with scenic coves and lagoons.
Resorts here run the gamut from the Sheratons and Westins to native resorts like Nukubati and Matangi, each known for its authentic "Fiji" experience.
Feasting is a prominent part of Fijian culture. It often takes place around a traditional "lovo," an underground oven of smoldering rocks upon which are cooked foods wrapped in banana leaves. But the modern dining experience here is nothing if not international, incorporating cuisines such as Indian, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, and even American.
In Fiji, you can explore caves in the morning, and play golf in the afternoon. There's water everywhere, of course, and with it a variety of sailing, fishing, rafting, canoeing, and kayaking adventures. There's forest and mountains ideal for biking, hiking, or just exploring. There are river safaris and helicopter rides. And Fiji's known for its diving spots and its brilliantly-hued coral reefs. People come here from all over the world to dive these clear waters and explore these reefs.
Its Colonial past and its isolated location have endowed the islands with some interesting places to see. The capital is Suva, filled with the trappings and the architecture of a Colonial past. The previous capital was Levuka, a well-preserved town that still exudes the air of the thriving 19-Century seaport it once was. Orchid Island, just west of Suva, is an excellent re-creation of early Polynesian village life.
The Pacific Harbour Cultural Centre is home to the Dance Theater of Fiji, the famous Beqa firewalkers (don't try this at home!), and a unique gondola tour taking you through the various periods of Fijian history. And the country is filled with natural wonders such as Kula Eco Park, Sigatoka Sand Dunes (archaeological digs), and the Garden of the Sleeping Giant.
Nowhere is the Bula Spirit better exemplified than in the traditional ceremonies integral to Fijian life. The "Kava" or "Yaqona" ceremony is an ancient way of welcoming visitors, with a drink made from the root of the pepper tree. And the "Meke" is a traditional Fijian dance that tells a story.
There's no place on Earth quite like Fiji. Here, there's no such thing as a "visitor"...only a "guest."
And when you come, you'll know the true meaning of "The Bula Spirit."

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