Insider: Viti Levu

1 GET WILD Kula Eco Park, Fiji's only wildlife park, is set in a rain forest on the Coral Coast. Go to traverse streams via rope bridges and see rare bright-green iguanas and boisterous native parrots. Meander past immense native trees - dawa, ivi, vutu, and vesi among them - and look for honey eaters, Fiji peregrines, and "flying fox" fruit bats, Fiji's only native land mammal. The 10-acre park is located five minutes west of Sigatoka.

2 MY (FORMERLY) ACHIN' BACK Tired and sore from too much surfing, sailing, hiking, swimming, snorkeling - or too much nothing at all? A bobo, or Fijian-style massage, is just what the doctor ordered. Similar to Hawaiian lomilomi, a bobo features deep rubbing with continuous, flowing strokes enhanced by traditional massage oils and local plant essences. The larger hotels have the best bobo, and at some places, like the Outrigger Reef Fiji on the Coral Coast, you can enjoy the stress relief in a cabana by the sea.

3 AERIAL TOUR If time is short and you want to see as much as possible of the gorgeous island-studded sea around Viti Levu, head for the sky. Island Hoppers (672-1410) takes off on 25-minute flights that offer spectacular views of the Mamanuca Islands. You'll get a good look at Musket Cove, Plantation Isle, Malolo, Castaway Isle, the Navini resorts, Vuda Point, Sabeto Hills, and Monuriki, the island location for the film Cast Away.

4 FIJAN RENAISSANCE Fiji and frescoes may seem an odd pair, but on a full-day trip along Viti Levu's rugged, beautiful, and sparsely populated north coast, you can take in a striking example of the form at St. Xavier's Catholic Mission in Naiserelagi. Painted in 1962 by French artist Jean Charlot, the three-panel painting behind the church's altar features a black Christ on a cross; he wears a bark-cloth sulu and is attended by Fijians offering mats and tabua, and Indo-Fijians offering flowers and a sacred bull. In nearby Rakiraki, a reminder of Fiji's pre-Christian history, the tomb of Udre Udre - Fiji's most infamous cannibal - is also worth a visit.

5 SPICE UP YOUR DAY Indian food is a bonus on Fiji, a spicy complement to the intriguing indigenous Polynesian fare. To start the day right, visit the Hot Snax Shop on Naviti Street in Nadi. The breakfast bread of India is deep-fried puri, a kind of pancaketortilla hybrid served with spicy chutney. Also good in the morning are idli, little steamed discs of fermented rice flour served with fiery coconut sambal; and masala dosa, a rolled pancake filled with curried vegetables. The authentic accompaniment is a cup of sweet, milky tea, but Hot Snax has coffee, too.

6 TOWN BY THE RIVERSIDE Some 35 miles southeast of Nadi (nearly everyone's point of arrival in Fiji) at the mouth of the Sigatoka River is Sigatoka, the island's most colorful town. Check out the pastry and souvenir shops set in tin-roofed colonial buildings and wander the market, open Monday through Saturday. A threemile car or bus ride upcountry will get you to Tavuni Hill Fort, which sits on a 300-foot ridge and boasts remnants of ancient house foundations, a lookout tower, a sacrificial site, and more. Back on the Nadi road, take the turnoff to Sigatoka Sand Dunes. Bring water, a hat, and sunscreen: A hiking trail beginning behind the visitors center leads over the dunes to a huge beach.

7 BIG ON ORCHIDS The Garden of the Sleeping Giant is an orchid-lover's paradise - and just a 10-minute drive from Nadi. The 50-acre property (founded by actor Raymond Burr in 1977) is home to some 150,000 orchids representing 1,200 species. Join a guided tour or set out on your own to discover orchids beside lily ponds, in landscaped gardens, and in a small forest. Keep an eye out for the immense Angraecum eburneum, with its five-foot leaf span, and the striking yellow-and-white Aspasia.

8 CRUSOE FOR A DAY You don't have to stay at Castaway Island resort to enjoy it. Accessible by seaplane or ferry (the Port Denarau Tiger IV ferry leaves Nadi in the morning and picks you up in the afternoon), the resort covers only one-eighth of the island, so there are plenty of sandy beaches to roam and rocky coves to explore. The thatched-roof indooroutdoor restaurant sits on a rocky point and has inexpensive lunches. The resort's snorkeling is superb, so bring your gear or rent it when you arrive.

9 BAMBOO BOAT When some upcountry Fijians need to make a rare run to town, they do so on a bamboo raft called a bilibili. (The rafts have the nickname HMS. No Come Back because they are abandoned at the mouth of the river.) Sign up with Adventures in Paradise (652-0833), and you'll be driven upriver, then spend 45 minutes riding a bilibili back down over warm shallow waters and past cool bends in the river covered in lush green tropical bush.

10 GIDDYAP A horseback ride on the beach is just the thing to help you decompress after a bout of hard bargaining for souvenirs in Nadi. Babba's Horse Riding at Wailoaloa Beach in Nadi (672-4449) has easygoing one-hour beach rides for about $8.75, or 90-minute crosscountry rides - attractive to those who like dirt roads, narrow trails, and galloping across cane fields - for about $11. Ratuva's Horse Riding (650-0860), near Sigatoka, offers Coral Coast rides for about $8.75 an hour.