The Independent Parent: We're after a family villa in Fiji close to local life. Any ideas?


Q. Can you recommend a place to stay in Fiji for one week with four children?

Q. Can you recommend a place to stay in Fiji for one week with four children? We are planning a short holiday there on our way home from four weeks' touring in New Zealand. We would like to get a feel for the islands and would prefer a villa or an apartment on the beach so that we can eat and shop like locals.
J Wright, via email

A. The South Pacific archipelago of Fiji is made up of over 320 islands, covering an area twice the size of France. Even if you just stick to the main island, Vitu Levu, it is a great place for a stop-over. With its combination of beautiful white sand, beaches fringed by azure water, coral reefs teeming with tropical fish, dense rainforests and towering mountains, Fiji is a good approximation to paradise. It is culturally diverse, with Fijian, Indian, Chinese, Polynesian and European communities. And there is plenty for families to do.

First though, a word about the climate. January is in the middle of Fiji's rain and hurricane season, which lasts from November to April. An average of five tropical storms hit the archipelago every season. If you manage to avoid these, you can still expect plenty of downpours. The short but intense showers are usually followed by brilliant sunshine. Temperatures will be in the upper 20s, as they are for most of the year.

Accommodation should be your first consideration. The main island is scattered with Americanised, all-inclusive luxury resorts. However, many of these do not cater for children and they can be very expensive. At the other end of the scale are backpacker-style hostels, which can be ideal for families on a budget, but often lack the little luxuries and some of the facilities you may be after. There are also smaller resorts and private apartments that can offer both value for money and a more interesting experience.

If staying in a traditional Fijian bure (a thatched cottage) appeals, consider the Seashell Cove Resort (00 679 670 6100; www.seashellresort.com). It is on the island of Vitu Levu, under an hour's drive from the main international airport at Nadi. A dozen or so bures are set in a tranquil location, which includes a tennis court and swimming pool, right next to the beach. The Seashell Cove specialises in watersports and if you would like to do some castaway-style exploration, the stunning Mamanuca Islands are a short boat ride away. The nightly rate is 220 Fiji dollars (£67) per night for a family bure with three bedrooms, kitchen and living room; the price also includes breakfast.

Fiji's second large island, Vanua Levu, is the obvious destination for a spot of island-hopping. You can fly there from Nadi airport with Sun Air (00 679 672 3555; www.fiji.to) or Air Fiji (00 679 672 2521/672 3189; www.airfiji.net). One-way fares start from around £44 per person and £63 per person respectively; children aged between two and 12 pay 75 per cent. The Daku Resort (00 679 885 0046; www.dakuresort.com), is in the middle of a coconut plantation close to the traditional town of Savusavu on the island of Vanua Levu.

You can get a taste for Fijian life here, with visits to both the open-air market and the hot springs where the local women can often be found doing their cooking. The resort still has availability for The Pool House, which has three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a kitchen, lounge, and verandah. It is the cheapest option at 175 Fiji dollars per night (£53) for the property.

If, however, you want to venture further away from the main islands, then the secluded setting of Matei Pointe (00 679 1 530 343 4973; www.taveuniresort.com) on Taveuni Island might be ideal - although you will pay more for the privilege. The main house has three bedrooms and two bathrooms, good views and private beaches. A week's rental of the property will cost US$1,600 (£950) based on six sharing.

Taveuni Island can be reached by a 90-minute scenic flight from Nadi Airport, again with Sun Air or Air Fiji. One-way fares start from around £56 per person and £78 per person respectively.

Bear in mind that demand for more individual properties like this can be strong, especially around Christmas and New Year.

You could reduce costs, and be rather more intrepid, if you travel on one of the ferry services between the islands. Pacific Navigator (00 679 725 504; www.pacificnavigator.com) runs ferries from the islands' capital, Suva, which is on Vitu Levu, diametrically opposite Nadi. The ferry to Savusavu costs a very reasonable 36 Fiji dollars (£11) for adults and 16 Fiji dollars (£5) for children under 12 each way, and takes 14 hours. The trip to Taveuni costs a little more and takes 23 hours. The boats offer the chance to rub shoulders with the locals, and are not too spartan - they have restaurants and air-conditioning.

For more information, contact the Fiji Visitors' Bureau (00 679 6722 433; www.bulafiji.com).

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