Lautoka - Port Guide
Where is the ship/how to get to the sights?
Sunny and possibly rainy year round. Tropical storms are possible, especially September to November. Temperatures are usually between 24-30 degrees Celsius, and weather usually sunny.
Sights & Sites
- Mud Baths & Hot Springs – This is my top pick in the Lautoka area, where you can enjoy slathering healing mud all over your body from head to toe, letting it dry bake on in the sun, then wash it off and relax your whole being in a series of four hot springs pools, each less muddy than the previous one. Situated around a half hour drive out of the city, you have to take a tour, local or ship, or taxi to get here, but it is definitely worth the trip. See more info on this in the ‘My Experience Here’ section below. One other good point to note is that unlike many other mud baths (especially if they are sulfurous in origin), stain your clothes or leave them smelling less than fresh after being there. I did not find that with these mud baths at all. The mud itself is near scent free, just with a faint hint of clean smelling mud (if that makes sense) not dissimilar to that of a non-scented natural facial mud mask you could buy in stores (which I guess it pretty much is). I ddnt have to throw away or dread any smells from clothing worn either day I visited there mud pools.
- Garden of the Sleeping Giant – These incredibly beautiful looking and smelling gardens are home to over 200 species of orchid and are situated nestled under the shadow of the mountain locally known as ‘The Sleeping Giant’ due to the shape of its silhouette. It costs about $8 USD for entry, allow at least an hour to really enjoy them if you can, and wear a lot of bug spray and cover up if you are usually find youself mosquito fodder.
- Lautoka City – The city is busy as a working place with many small businesses constantly on the go and isn’t a real tourist hub as yet. Fiji store is good for local souvenirs, but a little more expensive than market prices. The Tapa City Mall is a new, shiny imposing building filled with international stores, high end shopping and a Starbucks. There are a lot of small local restaurants to sample local Fijian or Indian cuisine in town, but this isn’t the place to find fancy dining.
- Nadi town – A smaller town outside Lautoka, this is a place to find a small market with local handcrafts, buy fruit or vegetables or partake in a kava ceremony.
- Smuggler’s Cove Resort – A beach getaway spot that I haven’t visited but heard is a lovely sandy beach area, next to a simple beach resort which you utilize their small restaurant and bar in.
The town of Lautoka isn’t as set up for tourism as Suva is, and there are a lot less stores and stalls with local handcrafts, bula dresses, and oils and lotions than in Suva. Next to the ship there will be a few stalls, where you can buy the pure coconut oil products, like soap, body lotion, and shampoos. These are my pick of things to buy in Fiji, as they are 100% natural and are excellent quality and smell incredible. The noni fruit scent is my favourite. The Fiji store in town across the street from Tapu City Mall also sells these, and likely has the best selection of souvenirs here. The large new mall has a lot of shopping available, but it is more high street brands and upmarket brands, rather than local gems. Post cards can be found in the Post Office (that was the only place I managed to find them), but there were none of Lautoka or any of the attractions in its surrounding area here, only a few sort of faded general Fiji ones. Nadi town, about 20-minutes out from Lautoka has a small local market where you can source handcrafts and locally produced kava.
If you only have two hours
You can walk into the city of Lautoka and take a stroll around. You will be able to find local restaurants to sample some local Fijian or Indian dishes, check out the mall for shopping and probably the best Wi-Fi in town in their Starbucks. (Sorry, but it is true).
What is it known for?
Lautoka is known for the natural assets in the surrounding area. The mud baths, Sleeping Giant mountain, and The Garden of the Sleeping Giant orchid gardens beneath it, as well as beautiful beaches like Smuggler’s Cove Resort, and small towns such as Nadi out in the countryside, as the places to see. It is known for its lush green countryside, and beautiful plant species.
Food & Drink
In Lautoka, we ate at a small local Indian restaurant, called Mudaliar’s Curry House, which is on the edge of town, and pretty much the closest eatery to the ship (apart from the fast food tiny joint in the port, which serves only greasy burgers and the like and not Fijian goodies). We ordered fish curry and roti with chicken curry and took it back to the ship to eat. The roti bread was delicious and freshly baked, and the chicken had a pleasant dark curry sauce, which gradually burned your mouth the more you ate. While there were a lot of knuckles and just chunks of bone in it, making the actual edible chicken content of a rather low percentage, the taste was still worth trying. The fish curry was around the same heat level, and while the fish came with a lot of bones too, the spicy chilli covered fresh spinach and carrot were a welcome taste sensation.
Fishing is still one of the largest industries in Fiji, and this is very evident in the cooking. You can find seafood on almost every eatery and street vendor’s menu. Fiji’s populace is made up of about 50% native Fijians, and about 50% Indian people (most of whom are at least second or third generation). This makes the food of Fiji very tasty and varied, with the Fijian dishes being mostly based o seafood and using the local plants like cassava as the main starchy vegetable used, and also Indian dishes like curry and roti being mainstays. Both culinary routes have influenced the other with some Fijian dishes being spiced up a little more, and more fish and cassava making an appearance within the Indian dishes. This makes for some really tasty local foods to try. Fruit is everywhere in Fiji, and therefore so is fresh fruit juice, such as mango and pineapple, with smoothie stores around in the city. The local beer to try is ‘Fiji Bitters’. A must to try while in Fiji is the extremely popular local cold drink called kava. The drink is made from the ground up roots of the kava plant, then sees the powder sieved through a muslin cloth into a special wooden mixing bowl, then cool fresh water is gradually added into the mixture to make the liquid. Kava is drank at almost every occasion in Fiji, from welcoming new guests, or visiting friends and relatives, so special ceremonies for coming of age or at weddings and birthdays. It looks, and sort of tastes, like mud water, and is a rather acquired taste. After drinking it, your tongue will likely feel quite numb and a little fuzzy, as it has a relaxing effect, which explains its popularity. I definitely recommend trying it at least once while you are in Fiji. You can buy bags of it to take home for family or friends to try, buying it in the tourist souvenir shops or in the local markets. You’ll get a better bargain procuring it from the local markets, with it costing probably about half of in the shops. Be wary though about being able to bring it out of the country, as rules on bringing non factory sealed products out of Australia and New Zealand especially are very strict, so if you leave from these countries in particular, it might be best to pay a bit more for the shop one, so you don’t risk potentially losing it or getting told off by customs authorities.
Do not hope on finding decent Wi-Fi in Lautoka. Local businesses are very unlikely to have any. The only places I saw Wi-Fi in town were; the Starbucks coffee shop in the mall, and fast food joints McDonalds and Burger King. In the reception area at the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, there was free Wi-Fi, but my group struggled to open emails or Facebook.
There are a few money exchange places in the city, and any ANZ Bank, which there are a couple of branches or, but not as many as in Suva. If you book a tour with any of the companies from the pier, they will accept USD, AUD, and NZD, as will some larger businesses in town. However, if you are in Suva or Savusavu before coming to Lautoka, I’d recommend exchanging your Fiji dollars in one of those, on the ship, or before you get to the ship.
Karen’s Top Tip
Go to the mud baths! They are wonderful, fun, a natural beauty and you see the lovely scenery of the countryside on the way out there. The actual baths are relaxing, great for your skin, and a fun activity to do with your loved on or friends. You can book the tour on the pier with Aiyisha from Moana Tours (blue Bula outfits) for a lot cheaper. If you book it shore side, whichever company you use, as if the price of your ticket includes entry to the mud baths (and/or the Gardens of the Sleeping Giant if you’re going there), as if not, know the prices for the Mud Baths on site is $15pp, and the Gardens are $8pp, both USD.
My experience here
I have been to Lautoka twice, two years apart, once in November 2015, and once December 2017. Both times I did very similar things as I enjoyed it so much the first time.
I booked a tour pier side in Suva with Moana Tours both times and arranged it for myself and friends to go out with the following day in Lautoka. I booked the mud baths tour. The first time, we visited the mud baths, and peeked in at the entrance of the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, but didn’t go in as we were pushed for time.
The mud baths were a most enjoyable experience. Both times I went bringing a group of crew friends with me, managing to wangle a very good deal for our group, since there was a lot of us, and being crew, and promising to tell others of the good experience, which I have done, they in turn gave me a good deal. We paid $30 USD pp for the mud baths, including entry to the baths, and they also took us to the gardens the second time around as we had a little more time.
When you arrive at the mud baths, you are given a tour around of how it all works. A very friendly local lady called Buna showed us the ropes, learning the names and nationalities of all 16 of our total group in the meantime. Buna showed us the main hot string reserve, a small 3 meter in diameter, round pool which has had the underground thermals tapped into it, with temperatures of around 800 degrees Celcius inside. The venue siphons off the way-hotter-than-boiling water along pipes into the various pools around the site to provide the complete mud bath and hot springs experience. There are rest rooms and changing rooms if you’re not already in your bathing suit, then the real fun begins at the mud pots. Large almost a meter high pots filled to the brim of cool, liquid almost black thick mud is there for you to slather all over your body from head to toe. (See my Karen’s Quick Guide to Lautoka below to watch the action). We began lathering and slathering to the sounds of giggles and squeals from around the group. I started with my arms, then legs, being the easiest places to cover. While I was preparing a layer for my face and debating if I’d put any on my hair or not, my friend Lorna splatted a large dollop of mud right on top of my head. Ok, decision made, the hair was getting muddy. We all continued in this fashion “helping” each other get muddied until a group of veritable mud monsters were walked out of the preparation area. Buna invited us to peruse the local stalls while we waited for the mud to dry. There were local handicrafts, necklaces, plates, bracelets, trinkets, magnets and key chains on offer at reasonable prices with some local ladies, and Buna’s own stall too. The obligatory ‘mud monster photo session’ ensued with our group of 14 different nationalities, aged between 24 to 59, and jobs as varied as dancer, spa worker, jewelery specialist and musicians to Staff Captain, all reverted to being fun loving children, giggling as we pranced about for the amusement of each other and their cameras.
This second visit was quite cloudy and not too hot (it had bee on my first trip here), so the mud wasn’t going to dry fully without having an extra hour or two to spare, as we’d all put thick layers of it on our skin. So, after around 20 minutes of posing and laughing, we emerged ourselves in the first warm cleaning pool to take off the mud. The bottom of this pool was filled with a thick layer of mud that went all the way up to your knees at points. The bulk of the mid was washed off here and we lay around with most people enjoying the feeling of the squishy mud beneath their toes, before leaving for pool number two. The second pool was a little more watery and little less muddy, and hotter version of the first. There was still some mud on the floor of it to squish your toes in, but it was only about ankle high at the deepest mud points. Here we took of the rest of the mud, relaxed in the larger, grass surrounded mud pool, before moving on the the next part. Before entering pool number three, there is a hose – and gentleman there to hose you – in case you have any further mud left on your person. Pool four is in a swimming pool structure and is filled with cool spring water and is the refreshing one. With an underwater bench all around the tiled sides of it, and a cool temperature to contrast with the previous hot string, this pool became my favourite. The fourth and final pool is another small swimming pool affair with tiled underwater benches at all sides, and feels like walking into an uncomfortably hot bath, the temperature being akin to the temperature that a mum pours, and it takes a few minutes to get used to it. This one I could only stand for around five minutes, then came out to cool off and enjoyed the coolness of pool number three for a few minutes more before our group all dried off and prepared to get going. If you have time here, there are also massages on offer, which a few friends took advantage of and spoke very highly of. $10 USD gets you ten minutes of thorough back and shoulder pummeling and kneading. Thirty minutes for $25 if you have a little more time. We all tipped the helpful kind Buna before heading out in the mini van. Once i made it back to the ship and had showered off properly, I could feel the benefits the mud had done to my skin on my body and face. I am writing this the morning after this experience and my skin is still soft as a baby’s bottom, and is glowing with health, so the mud definitely has health benefits.
The second Lautoka trip, I also visited the Gardens, having half an hour to take in the sights and scents of their 200 plus types of orchids. The entrance fee seems to vary depending on what it loks like you’ll pay, as we were told $8 AUS (about $6 USD) in the van on the way over, which changed to $8 USD, $12 AUD, $15 NZD or $18 Fijian dollars once we arrived (which all don’t even equate to each other). Being money conscious crewmembers, we did ask if they gave a crewmember or group discount, or discount as we only had thirty minutes total to spend viewing the gardens. They did not, but once we went in and started walking around, I didn’t mind at all and felt a little bad for even asking, as the gardens are stunning and really worth seeing. It is home to over 200 species of orchid and does not disappoint. The whole place looks and smells divine with flowers, plants, banyan trees, ferns, lily ponds, orchids, bugs and bees everywhere you look. If you have time, allow at least an hour to experience the gardens as they are really something. However, those of you popular as mosquito lunch, be warned, this is prime mossie territory, so take an anti-histamine at least half an hour before entering the gardens, as well as spraying yourself with a healthy dose of bug spray. If you are prone to mosquito bites, take vitamin B12 from at least two weeks before coming to Fiji, and take it every day while there, and a week after leaving too, to assist in deterring the little blighters.
Once the tour came back to the port, the other friends tipped our guide and left, and Nick and myself decided to try some local food before leaving. The driver took us to the nearest local Indian restaurant, Mudaliar’s Curry House, situated in the firs main street on the left once you hit the start of town from the ship. We had fish curry, and roti with chicken curry which we ate back on the ship. See Food & Drink section for the full details.
My Most Memorable Moment
Both times, I loved being covered in mud, with a group of my mixed bag, different nationality, different ages, different professions, friends all being silly taking photos of each other as mud monsters feeling the natural clay soften my skin underneath.
This is my Quick Guide to the Sabeto Mud Pools in Lautoka in Fiji. I had a dirty good day being mud monsters with a bunch of shipmates. Mud pools, hot springs, and a visit to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant stunning orchid garden. Dirty good day!