Book Review of the Week: Frommer's Fiji

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

As a Special Bonus, Frommer's has graciously donated a copy of Fiji, 1st Edition, to be awarded to a randomly drawn commenter on this article. Post your comments - you might win!  


When the weather gets cold here in Michigan, my thoughts turn to warmer places. I love snow, and love winter, but sometimes one longs for a break from the cold. I was so pleased when Frommer's came out with their new Fiji travel guide book! Authored by Bill Goodwin (who has authored Frommer's South Pacific and Frommer's Tahiti & French Polynesia), the guidebook has much to offer even the armchair traveler. I now completely long to head to Fiji, and explore much of what Bill has written about! I was lucky enough to sit down and talk with Bill about his new book. Here's what he had to say...



WE:  Please tell us about your new book, Frommer's Fiji...

BG: Frommer's Fiji is derived from Frommer's South Pacific guidebook, which I wrote in 1986-87 and which is now in its eleventh biennial edition. Travelers today tend to visit specific destinations such as Fiji, Tahiti, Samoa, and Tonga rather than jump around the region. Consequently we decided to publish Frommer's Fiji as well as Frommer's Tahiti & French Polynesia, which came out last year. In them I greatly expand the Fiji and Tahiti chapters of the South Pacific guide to include more islands, accommodations, restaurants, and attractions. We recently added chapters explaining the history and culture of each destination in depth.

Like all Frommer's guidebooks, Frommer's Fiji is written for travelers in every price category but always keeping value-for-money in mind. I give exact prices, tips for savvy trip-planning, advice about seeing the best sights, detailed maps, and candid reviews of hotels and restaurants in every price range.



WE:  What is your background in Fiji?

BG: Arthur Frommer, whose Europe on $5 a Day launched the series in 1957, told me once that he uses my unusual story to answer the question people often ask him: How can I become the author of a Frommer's guidebook?

In 1977 a friend and I quit our jobs in Washington, D.C., and sailed a yacht from Annapolis, Maryland, to the South Pacific. I got off the boat in Tahiti and spent the next year traveling with backpack and girlfriend to the Samoas, Tonga, and Fiji on our way to New Zealand and Australia. A few years later and back in Washington, I began exploring ways I could go back to the islands – and not have to pay for it! So I proposed writing Frommer's South Pacific. My proposal was accepted, and that's how I became the author of a Frommer's guidebook.

Since then I have often returned to this earthly paradise, both to update my South Pacific guides and for personal enjoyment. My research trips usually last between three and four months, including about six weeks in Fiji.



WE:  Why were you interested in Fiji? You've spent so much time there!

BG: As I explain on my website, I first thought of visiting the South Seas in my teens when I read a National Geographic article about Tahiti. The photos of soaring green mountains dropping into blue lagoons – not to overlook those beautiful young Tahitian women – were a bit grainy by today's standards, but they were enough to launch my lifetime love affair with the islands.

I am particularly enamored of Fiji since it is significantly different than Tahiti, Samoa, Tonga, Hawaii and the other Polynesian islands. At the border where Polynesia and Melanesia meet, its indigenous culture is a blending of these two great peoples. Physically the native Fijians appear more African than Polynesian. Their culture, however, is very much friendly Pacific Islander. Even if he or she lives in metropolitan Suva, Fiji's lively capital city, every Fijian can always "go back to the village" if times get tough. Indeed, the ancient communal village culture of share and share-alike is still the bedrock of Fijian culture.

A starkly different culture also resides in Fiji because about 38% of the population is of East Indian extraction, most the descendants of Indians imported during British colonial times to work extensive sugar cane plantations. When the British departed in 1970, they left 80% of the land in the hands of the indigenous Fijians, who rent a sizeable portion to Indian sugar cane farmers. Most businesses, however, are still operated by Indians.

The conflict of cultures contributed to military coups of 1987 and 2000 in which the Fijian-controlled army overthrew elected governments dominated by Indians. On the other hand, the Fijian army overthrew a corrupt Fijian government in 2006. Although the army is still in control, I saw no evidence of a coup during my most recent visit. Government travel warnings notwithstanding, I see no reason not to visit Fiji.



WE:  How can travelers best prepare, interculturally, for the Fijian culture?
Are there things we should or should not do?

BG: Tourism is Fiji's largest industry, and most visitors need make few preparations other than packing a bathing suit and sunscreen. Once you get away from the resorts and tourist traps, however, it's handy to know a bit about indigenous customs.

Fijian women may have gone topless in pre-European days, but the Methodist missionaries who converted most of them in the 19th century left modesty behind. While Western attire is now popular in the cities and towns, even there many Fijian women wear sulus (sarongs) and blouses, which together cover them from ankle to neck. In other words, skimpy attire is not advised away from the resort beaches. And topless or nude bathing is against the law.

A visit to a Fijian village is a highlight of any trip, but there are a few rules to follow.

An entire village is home to its inhabitants, not just their individual bures (houses). It's appropriate, therefore, to ask permission of the highest ranking person available before entering a village. Only Fijian chiefs are allowed to wear hats and sunglasses in a village, so take yours off. Keep your shoulders covered at all times, but remove your shoes before entering a Fijian home. Men sit cross-legged on the floor; women sit with their legs to the side. They don’t point at one another with hands, fingers, or feet, nor do they touch each other’s heads or hair.

No significant Fijian occasion takes place without the slightly narcotic drink yaqona (kava), including sevusevu (welcoming ceremonies) held for tour groups visiting Fijian villages. Mats are placed on the floor, the participants gather around in a circle, and the yaqona roots are mixed with water and strained through coconut husks into a large carved wooden bowl, called a tanoa.

The ranking chief sits next to the tanoa during the welcoming ceremony. He extends in the direction of the guest of honor a cowry shell attached to one leg of the bowl by a cord of woven coconut fiber. It’s extremely impolite to cross the plane of the cord once it has been extended.

The guest of honor then offers a gift to the village (a kilogram or two of dried kava roots will do these days) and makes a speech explaining the purpose of the visit. The chief then passes the first cup of yaqona to the guest of honor, who claps once, takes the cup in both hands, and gulps down the entire cup of sawdust-tasting liquid in one swallow. Everyone else then claps three times. Next, each chief drinks a cup, clapping once before bolting it down. Again, everyone else claps three times after each cup is drained.

Except for the clapping and formal speeches, everyone remains silent throughout the ceremony, a tradition easily understood considering kava’s numbing effect on the lips and tongue.



WE:  How can people give back, when they travel to Fiji? Are there
environmentally responsible businesses to support?

BG: As I point out in Frommer's Fiji, "Climate change and rising sea levels resulting from global warming are having a noticeable impact on all the South Pacific islands. Fijians I have known for more than 30 years tell me the seasons are now unpredictable (it's more likely to rain in the dry season, and vice versa), and the tides are higher than ever (in some places the lagoons lap directly on shore at high tide rather than on the beach). Indeed, most islanders don't want to hear any corporate-induced spin about their being no evidence of global warming and its consequences. They know it's true from firsthand experience.

"Although Fiji has been slack in allowing some resort owners to remove parts of the reef to create marinas and swimming holes, it has laws protecting its lagoons, reefs, and sealife. To the Fijians, lagoons are not just places where you swim around and look at beautiful corals and sealife; they are major sources of food. Protecting their lagoons and reefs is a matter of survival."

It is incumbent for us visitors, therefore, to be environmentally conscious when visiting Fiji. Among other things, do not deface the reef by breaking off coral. I do not even touch a coral reef these days. Do not remove live sealife. For example, that seashell of your dreams may still have a very live resident within it.

Some hotels and resorts are undertaking ecologically friendly practices, such as recycling their rubbish and waste water. Forefront among them is the award-winning Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort ( in Savusavu on Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island. The son of the late Jean-Michel Cousteau lent the resort his name in order to prove it could make a profit and still be friendly to the environment.



WE:  Please tell us about your website,

BG: Like the Frommer's guidebooks, I accept no advertising on my website, thus I am free to speak my mind. I maintain it to inform readers about my books and my background, but most folks click on it for the almost daily updates I post to the information in my travel guides.

In this day of 24/7 connectivity, some people think a travel guidebook – and especially a travel website – should be up-to-the-second accurate. I once told a complaining reader that if she wanted to pay me $190 a copy instead of $19, I might be able to republish it every time there was a change! This is impossible for logistical and economic reasons, but I do post developments as they occur on



WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

BG: Don't let a minute go by before you start planning your trip to Fiji!



WE: Thanks so much, Bill! After reading your book, I can't WAIT to get to Fiji. Add in your interview, and we should be packing our bags!


For more information, please see


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Please leave a comment on this book review to be entered into a random
drawing for a copy of Fiji, courtesy of Frommer's. Comments left until 11:59pm Monday, December 1, will be accepted.

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Comments (4)

  • G L Jackson

    15 years 6 days ago

    Very well written and informative review.  It includes a good reminder of the wisdom of the adage, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do."

  • Glinda

    15 years 1 day ago

    It is snowing outside right now, so I particularly enjoyed reading about Fiji and also about Bill Goodwin.  He makes me want to go to Fiji with book in hand!

  • Dr. Jessie Voigts

    15 years 23 hours ago

    Congrats to GL Jackson, our winner of the book giveaway for Frommer's Fiji!


    Jessie Voigts


  • Malva Wilkes

    14 years 7 months ago

    Fiji is a place I always wanted to visit.  This guide book sure would make the trip more enjoyable.

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