Cyclone Winston: What tourists travelling to Fiji need to know

Cleanup after Cyclone Winston begins in Fiji
TWITTER/Naziah Ali

Cleanup after Cyclone Winston begins in Fiji

Resorts and tourism operators in Fiji are picking up the pieces following Cyclone Winston, the most powerful storm on record in the Southern Hemisphere.

The storm tore through the popular tourist destination on Saturday with winds gusting to 325 kilometres an hour and waves up to 12 metres high.

Entire villages were destroyed and at least 10 people were killed, but the death toll could rise as the island nation works to repair severed communications with badly affected areas. 

The New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade's SafeTravel website was still advising against all tourist and other non-essential travel to Fiji on Monday.

Meanwhile the Fiji government has declared a 30-day state of natural disaster.

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Air New Zealand resumed flights between Auckland and Nadi on Monday, with additional capacity.

Customers with tickets issued prior to and including Thursday, February 18 for travel to and from Nadi, Apia, Niue and Tonga prior to and including Tuesday, February 23 had until Monday, February 29 to defer or bring travel forward to a different flight.

These customers could also change their travel to another Air New Zealand destination, or apply for a refund based on the normal rules.

Fiji Airways was also operating scheduled and supplementary flights between Auckland and Nadi, Auckland and Suva and Christchurch and Nadi on Monday.

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Fiji's Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism, Faiyaz Siddiq Koya, said there had been no reports of any significant structural damage to the majority of hotels in Viti Levu, except for some properties in the Rakiraki area.

The cyclone had caused extensive damage to the communications infrastructure so mobile and internet communications in some parts of Fiji may be affected, however, communication was active in Suva, Nadi, Denarau and along the Coral Coast.

The minister said tourism remained a key and important industry for Fiji and this setback would not curb the enthusiasm and the warm hospitality Fiji is renowned for.


Cyclone Winston wreaked havoc as it passed over Fiji. Image: Twitter/@Cayla Tikaram

Tourism Fiji was providing updates from individual resorts on Twitter, with many reporting minimal damage and saying they would reopen this week.

But Naigani Island Resort, located in the Lomaiviti group said on Facebook the cyclone had caused  "extensive damage to many of the buildings and the grounds", and the resort would be closed for "sometime".

The Sigatoka River Safari, a popular tourist attraction in Viti Levu that takes passengers on a jet boat to visit Fijian villages, said there had been no structural damage to any of its buildings or vehicles.

"We are now trying to contact our families in the villages to establish how they have fared from Tropical Cyclone Winston," it said in a post on Facebook.

House of Travel commercial director Brent Thomas said if tourists heading to Fiji had the ability to postpone their trips, they should consider doing so.

While some resorts would be back up and running very quickly, others could be out for several weeks, he said.


The new hospital in the town of Ba lays ruined after Cyclone Winston swept through Fiji's Viti Levu Island. Image: Handout

Those who went ahead with their travel plans should be prepared for conditions to be less comfortable than normal, as amenities like air conditioning may not be working.

Phil Sylvester, travel safety expert for Travel Insurance Direct, said New Zealand customers who had purchased policies before 7pm on February 19 were covered for cancellations and delays caused by the storm.

They could also claim back any pre-paid travel, such as rafting trips that required non-refundable deposits.

Sylvester said while resorts and major tourist areas were well-versed in dealing with cyclones, travellers needed to be conscious of the drinking water and the risk of landslides in rural areas.

Even if travellers had missed out on coverage for Cyclone Winston, it was still worth buying travel insurance for any upcoming travel, he said.

"Sadly, it is cyclone season, so everybody takes the risk."

 - Stuff

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