We like to stay in touch with grass roots tourism in Fiji and that means connecting with people who are in the trenches, doing the work. We recently interviewed Rusiate Ratakele, the founder of Nadi-based Ratakele Transfers and Tours (RTR ). Rusi, a big guy with a big heart, has a rather eclectic background. In addition to working 22 years in the tourism industry he’s also worked for the Fiji National Rugby League as an Administration Officer and an Operations Manager. In 2011 his priorities in life changed and he decided to take an entrepreneurial route which meant starting his own tourism company. In just a few years the company has grown and he now has a small fleet of autos and mini buses that provide pick up and drop off services from Nadi Airport to Hotels and any destination in Viti Levu. (He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on his mobile at +6799241351).
Q: Rusi, what are the most popular tourist attractions on the Coral Coast?
A: In most respects things are pretty much the same. Along the Coral Coast we’ll take people to Natadola Beach to go snorkelling. It’s by far the most attractive beach on Viti Levu both for visitors and locals who like to do picnics on the weekends. The sand dunes in Sigatoka are still pristine and the Sigatoka market is a perennial favourite with locals. Kula Bird Park is also high on our list and we suggest any visitor with an interest in natural history visit there. For those who want to play golf we’ll drop you at the Natadola Golf Course, which was designed by Fiji’s own Vijay Singh.
Q: What about the Lautoka area?
A: It’s a matter of visiting the usual suspects! There are a couple relatively new destinations that I’d like to recommend, in addition to old favourites. In the Sabeto area, which is just down the road from Nadi, there’s the Sabeto Zip Line and Sabeto Mud Pool & Hot Spring Bath. There are 5 short zip lines but you can go through as many times as you like. There are several spots to swim nearby and a waterfall. The walk out to the waterfall is fantastic and easy to do. The mud baths (see photo at the top of the page) are really an adventure that every visitor should experience. You get lathered in mineral infused mud (from a bucket) and after you’re dry you wash off in a cold pool. By then you can enter the hot springs pool. The water is quite warm but it’s really relaxing. It reminds me what I’ve read about at the Dead Sea. The result is that your skin feels soft and refreshed. You can also get a massage and there are a few markets stalls set up as well. While in the neighbourhood, you should not miss the Garden of the Sleeping Giant. (See photo below)
Q: Anything else you recommend?
A: There’s the typical tourist venues—the Indian Temple, the Lautoka Sugar Mill and for golfers, the course at Denarau. Nadi Town is worth strolling about too. You can see firewalking at Port Denarau. Of course you’ll want to see First Landing at Viseisei Village where our first ancestors Landed 1500BC. The Vuda Lookout is stunning. It affords a 360 degree bird's eye view of the West's mountain ranges, Nadi Bay, Nadi International Airport and the Yasawa Group.
Q: What about offshore trips?
A: Souths Seas Island Day Cruises has a few options. Snorkel with Sharks has become very popular. We'll pick you up from your Nadi or Denarau hotel and transfer you to Port Denarau where you’ll board the “Yasawa Flyer”, a high speed catamaran with two large observation decks, air conditioned lounge and a bar. You’ll cruise through the Mamanuca Islands and onto the Yasawa Islands and then you’ll disembark at Kuata Island, the closest in the Yasawa Group to Nadi.
Q: Any trends in Fiji tourism based on your experiences worth noting? For example are you seeing more in-bound people from other countries?
A: There’s a tremendous growth in the Chinese market. This wasn’t the case 10 years ago. It’s booming now.
Q: Do you have any advice for visitors?
A: My main advice for visitors is to do your homework. Check out the websites for the places you intend to visit. It may sound self-serving but I’d book transfers with smaller companies like ours. These are generally run by owner-operators and we have a real incentive to take care of our guests. We believe that happy customers equals a positive day in work which equals our company’s future success.
Photos courtesy of Skidmore College, Zip-Line Fiji, yourlandmyland.com, and Ratakele Transfers and Tours (RTR )