When I saw our son’s reaction to the first warm ‘bula’ greeting at Nadi International Airport, I knew we’d made the right decision to holiday in Fiji. Being such a social guy, he reveled in the attention and the warm embrace of the Fijian people. But choosing to holiday in Fiji wasn’t a simple decision – we knew its untouched beauty would come with access challenges.
My husband and I regularly visited Fiji before children. Our desire to share all we loved about the country and the warmth of the Fijian people trumped any concerns about accessibility. Instead of deciding it would all be too hard, we worked on the principle that knowledge is power. So we diligently researched all elements of the trip and packed for every possible scenario. All of our planning resulted in an exhilarating holiday.
“Don’t miss any puddles.”
This was the sage advice offered by our guide Bill on our Go Dirty Tours quad-bike tour. Since this was the first time my son was able to join a tour of this kind, my husband was determined to make the most of the unique opportunity. All puddles were hit! The resulting joy was infectious.
Unlike the majority used on tours, Go Dirty Tours’ quad bikes have a back rest. This allowed us to safely strap our son on behind my husband. I won’t lie – as the tour started and we joined the Nadi traffic, I was nervous. But we soon turned off and found ourselves bouncing along a rocky, puddle-filled road surrounded by lush green countryside. Locals wandered along with farming machetes in hand, goats skittishly ran away and the odd cat meandered along the roadside. We were seeing a different side of Fiji, which ultimately led us to the ‘wow’ moment of the tour: a clear view of the islands in the distance. As lovely as the view was, the novelty for our son was the ride, made all the more special because we could do it together.
As a couple we’d enjoyed many drop-and-flop stays on Fijian islands, but our on-the go son isn’t one for lingering poolside. Daytripping to the islands was our solution. A friend recommended Tivua for its pristine waters, activities and the practicality of a jetty. Captain Cook Cruises was honest about access, so we knew we’d need extra muscle to get around once on the island.
Equipped with a FreeWheel attachment, we hoped we could get the wheelchair across the sand and position ourselves close enough to both the delicious buffet lunch and pristine waters. Staff effortlessly lifted our son’s wheelchair on and off the boats, took over pushing the chair through the sand and checked on us regularly. Our son basked in the attention and loved the safe, shallow water for swimming. Our daughter loved having her hair braided and napped on a bean bag on the beach. Hubby and I took turns having massages under the cool of a bure to the sound of guitar strumming and the staff’s take on an Ed Sheeran song. The day was bliss and worth the extra effort it took to make it happen.
Riding the rails
After seeing Ali and Grant enjoying Ecotrax on a date in Bachelor In Paradise (don’t judge!), both my daughter and I were keen to give the experience a go. We enjoyed the 23 kilometre bike tour along an old and unused sugar-cane track on the Coral Coast. Given it was years since I’d ridden, I was happy to take advantage of the electric-assist bikes. They allowed us to pedal as much or little as we liked. The modified rail-mounted pushbikes are comfortable and allow families to ride together. Large butterflies danced in front of our bike, acting like unofficial guides while we pedalled through large rock cuttings and the beautiful tree-lined ‘tunnel of love’.
Locals along the Ecotrax route greeted us with a smile and a loud ‘bula’ as they worked their land or peered from their houses. Goats, cows and horses lazily moved off the tracks as we approached – they were clearly on Fiji time.
Our ride destination was Vunabua Beach (Frangipani Beach). We enjoyed a delicious plate of fruit including pineapple, paw paw and the sweetest bananas I’ve ever tasted. We drank from coconuts that had been purchased from locals from the nearby village. Refreshed and with full bellies, it was time for a swim. We had the beach all to ourselves. Except, that is, for a group of wild horses that galloped along the beach as though sent by a movie director to perfect the scene.
Dark looming clouds resulted in drizzly rain on our return ride, but nothing dampened our mood. Donning large yellow ponchos, we peddled and giggled our way back to Ecotrax headquarters. With stunning scenery, a unique ride and warm and funny guides, Ecotrax delivered an experience we’ll never forget.
Fiji delivered a holiday of adventure, new experiences and relaxation for our family. At the end of the trip, our daughter declared “Fiji is my favourite holiday ever!” – high praise indeed from our well-travelled teen, but it summed up our collaborative mood. While Fiji’s wheelchair access is not easy, we found what the country lacks in accessible infrastructure its people make up for with an inclusive attitude and muscle power.
This story first appeared in Family Travel magazine. To subscribe or read back issues of the magazine, click here.