As of 1 December, Fiji instituted a quarantine-free travel policy to welcome vaccinated travellers from countries across the globe.W

When the pandemic forced Fiji to close its borders in March 2020, the effect was immediately devastating to the island-nation’s economy. In a country where the tourism industry accounts for 38% of GDP and employs more than 13% of the total population, the lockdowns meant layoffs, bankruptcies and permanent business closures.

“It was a rough and trying time for everyone,” said resident Leba Digitaki, programme manager for Rustic Pathways. “The one thing that I am thankful for as a Fijian living in Fiji during the pandemic was the land and the sea. Our forefathers lived off the land and the sea sustainably for many years before the arrival and introduction of Western goods by foreigners.”

By the time the second wave of virus cases hit the island, many residents had planted gardens, and villages and communities began to use barter systems, with platforms and groups on social media that helped people trade crops and seafood for goods from the shops like flour, sugar, rice and clothes.

Thankfully, the arrival of vaccines was a “game-changer”, said Digitaki, as the country made it mandatory to be vaccinated to go to work, to travel or to enter shops and restaurants. Cases drastically diminished. “Over 91% of our eligible adult population, including tourism frontliners, are fully vaccinated against Covid-19,” said Brent Hill, the CEO of Tourism Fiji. “It’s an amazing feat for any destination.”Perched on the west coast of Viti Levu island, Lautoka is Fiji's second-largest city (Credit: WestEnd61/Getty Images)

Perched on the west coast of Viti Levu island, Lautoka is Fiji’s second-largest city (Credit: WestEnd61/Getty Images)

Why should I go now? 

The huge success in vaccination has made it possible for the country to finally reopen its borders – after 20 long months. As of 1 December, Fiji instituted a quarantine-free travel policy to vaccinated travellers from its Travel Partner Countries, those with high vax rates and low infections.

Though the road ahead won’t be easy, Digitaki and other residents are hopeful in routine returning to the islands, even if it looks a little different than before. “It’s funny to say, but there is a sense of normalcy now with the wearing of masks, vaccination cards as a sort of ID and social distancing.”

Travel with no trace

Despite producing less than 1% of the globe’s carbon emissions, Fiji’s 333 islands are some of the most threatened by rising global temperatures. The nation has been a consistent voice in the importance of tackling climate issues globally but has also focused on sustainability initiatives on its homefront, especially within its tourism industry.

Duavata, a sustainability collective, brings together tourism businesses that have a like-minded mission to create visitor offerings that preserve the environment and integrate cultural heritage and communities, while also providing mentorship to the next generation of sustainability leaders.

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Visitors can also make informed decisions on where they stay on the islands. Digitaki recommends resorts that have either a marine biologist or environmental officer on staff or have a clear sustainability and environmental programme.

Namosi Eco Retreat is 100% Fijian owned and operated and gives visitors a chance to eat local food and sleep in traditional Fijian bures next to the Luva River – all without phones or electronics, as the retreat encourages a full digital detox. Oceanside, the Leleuvia Island Resort, located within the Lomaiviti group of islands, works to preserve its marine environment by coral planting and active monitoring of turtle nesting, whales and dolphins. The island’s abundant wildlife can be spotted snorkelling, stand-up paddle boarding or atop a traditional outrigger canoe.Some of Fiji’s most spectacular scenery is beneath the azure waters that surround the 333 islands and atolls (Credit: Darryl Leniuk/Getty Images)

Some of Fiji’s most spectacular scenery is beneath the azure waters that surround the 333 islands and atolls (Credit: Darryl Leniuk/Getty Images)

The pandemic highlighted the continued importance of embracing local ingredients and sustainable ways of eating here. Kanu is one of the restaurants doing it best, said Digitaki. “The farm-to-table spot gives some of our local dishes a gourmet twist, and explains to the public the importance of reverting back to how our ancestors used to eat,” she said. To see a local farm up close, Bulaccino Farm showcases native produce, sheep, ducks and chickens, as well as bees that produce medicinal honey for the farm’s companion cafe, just 15 minutes away.

Know before you go

Regardless of vaccination status, visitors over 12 must provide a negative PCR test three days before departure. Upon arrival, travellers must install and activate the careFiji app, which provides countrywide contact tracing. Most businesses require a check-in using QR codes within the app and proof of vaccination for entry, and masks are still required in public places like buses, restaurants and shops.

Travellers must also book at least a three-night stay at a Care Fiji Commitment (CFC) certified property, a World Health Organization-approved programme that ensures high health and safety standards. The CFC provides an updated list of all the abiding businesses, which must have a completely vaccinated staff.

Within 48 hours of arrival, visitors must take a mandatory rapid test at a CFC-certified resort – though you don’t necessarily need to stay at the resort for that whole timeframe, as long as you’re interacting solely with other CFC businesses and checking in with the app.

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ADVERTISEMENTADVENTURE & EXPERIENCE | ROAD TRIPS | ENGLAND | GREAT BRITAINThe Hardknott Pass: Britain’s wildest roadShare using EmailShare on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Linkedin(Image credit: Howard Kingsnorth/Getty Images)

The Hardknott Pass: Britain's wildest road (Credit: Howard Kingsnorth/Getty Images)

By Simon Heptinstall5th January 2022Built by the Romans and considered one of Britain’s most “outrageous” roads, it’s filled with sharp hairpin turns and is the width of a bridleway.I

If I’d steered hard around the hairpin bend, I’d have driven straight into a frightening gradient of crumbling road, rearing up like a tidal wave in front of me. Rainwater poured down the middle of the rough carriageway like a mountain stream. I reached to change gear and realised I was already in first. Just then, a nonchalant sheep strolled out in front of me, causing me to slam on the brakes.

Hardknott Pass in England’s north-west Lake District is, technically, the most direct route from the central Lake District to West Cumbria, but it is so steep and difficult that outsiders are often warned to take hour-long detours to avoid braving its twisting, single-track slalom up a mountainside. It was described as one of Britain’s “most outrageous roads” by The Guardian, and locals are full of tales of cars suffering brake failures, drivers freezing with the challenge and of skids and misjudgements causing cars to plunge off the narrow carriageway. 

This leaves some asking: should this extraordinary 13-mile stretch between the towns of Boot and Ambleside be closed to traffic – or celebrated as a national treasure?Hardknott Pass has been called Britain's "most outrageous road" (Credit: Steve Fleming/Getty Images)

Hardknott Pass has been called Britain’s “most outrageous road” (Credit: Steve Fleming/Getty Images)

Each year, visitors set off westwards from genteel tearooms in the tourist hub of Ambleside, hoping for a pretty potter through the England’s largest national park, the Unesco-inscribed Lake District. Instead, they run straight into the most challenging stretch of road available to British drivers; a sequence of steep switchbacks climbing a bleak mountainside. 

Appropriately you’ll find this “most outrageous” of roads snaking around England’s highest peak (Scafell Pike) and deepest lake (Wastwater) in the mountainous wild west of the Lake District. Many consider Hardknott a hazard. “We put guests off from coming over Hardknott Pass,” said local holiday-home owner Greg Poole, matter-of-factly.

The Institute of Advanced Motorists‘ spokeswoman Heather Butcher said: “Depending on the rider or driver’s experience, it could be one to avoid. We don’t recommend putting yourself or others in danger… You can read reviews online from various sources confirming that it’s a challenging road, a thrill, etcetera, but we would advise all riders and drivers to approach roads like this with caution.” And Neil Graham, a communications officer for the Cumbria Police added, “People shouldn’t seek out the road to challenge themselves.” 

And yet, to others, this daunting route is a landmark to be celebrated; a challenge to be attempted.The Pass twists, slaloms, dips and climbs for 13 miles through the Lake District (Credit: Westend61/Getty Images)

The Pass twists, slaloms, dips and climbs for 13 miles through the Lake District (Credit: Westend61/Getty Images)

Owner of nearby Muncaster Castle, Peter Frost-Pennington, has driven Hardknott hundreds of times and calls it “one of the most exciting and incredible roads to drive, cycle or walk in the whole world. It should be on everyone’s bucket lists.” And while Poole may warn his holiday guests away, he chooses to take the route himself, saying, “I love the drive. It’s exciting, challenging, beautiful, sometimes scary but never boring – you won’t fall asleep at the wheel for sure.” 

What is this notorious stretch actually like to drive? As Hardknott and its preamble, Wrynose Pass, climb from the gentle lakeside Greenburn Beck, signs warn drivers: “Narrow road. Severe bends”. But if you’ve come this far, there’s no alternative route or turning back. You’re about to face a sequence of ridiculous hairpins the width of a bridleway, a constantly disintegrating road surface and unguarded drops plummeting hundreds of feet down the mountainside towards rough moorland, rocks and scree. 

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Hardknott’s hardest section, towards the top, lasts less than a couple of miles but rises 1,037ft. A few hairpins reach 25% gradient, and the final cliff is a breath-taking 33%. The “Unsuitable for caravans” sign is a humorous understatement. 

These gradients are steeper than most alpine routes and exceed the famous extremes of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Europe’s other grand cycling tours. The fitness of the few elite cyclists who manage to scale the pass is put into perspective by a 2019 Eurosport documentary called England’s Toughest Climb. An “average” cyclist was given a strict six-week expert training regime as preparation for tackling Hardknott. To the programme maker’s horror, he still failed to make it up the pass.Hardknott Pass' sharpest sections are steeper than the Tour de France and Giro d'Italia (Credit: Steve Fleming/Getty Images)

Hardknott Pass’ sharpest sections are steeper than the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia (Credit: Steve Fleming/Getty Images)

My first experience of the Hardknott Pass was as a passenger alongside a super-confident team from the Royal Air Force. We were heading for Scafell Pike as part of the Three Peaks Challenge, in which participants attempt to climb the highest peaks in England, Scotland and Wales in 24 hours. Like many unsuspecting tourists, we were shocked to discover the true nature of the road, and we hit the hairpins amid torrents of water in the dark early hours of a stormy morning. The driving officer struggled to cope and the engine screamed as the wheels repeatedly lost traction. 

We made it up, amid a tsunami of special force swear words. The driver stayed in the car to recover while we scaled the peak. Afterwards, he took the longer route back. 

My second visit was with an elderly businessman in his proud new Jaguar. I’d warned him about the descent but was overruled. Surely, he stated, his gleaming Jag could cope with a little Cumbrian slope. 

Within seconds of cresting the brim of the pass, however, he was tackling a sort of road he had never seen before. His wide, softly sprung luxury saloon was completely inappropriate. Red-faced and gasping, he pulled onto a rocky verge to regain breath. We proceeded to the foot of the hill at single-digit miles per hour.A missed gear can leave drivers rolling backwards (Credit: Ashley Cooper/Getty Images)

A missed gear can leave drivers rolling backwards (Credit: Ashley Cooper/Getty Images)

Then a few years ago, I set out to tackle the pass in my own car – a humble 20-year-old Volvo. 

Yes, at times it felt like I might have toppled over backwards, but if your car is 100%, the weather is fine and you get your revs and gearchanges right, I found it to be completely possible. (My main tip: even when the road seems to rise like a wave in front of you, don’t hesitate. A missed gear change can have you rolling back off the carriageway.) 

In this age of smart motorways and self-driving cars, for driving-lovers like myself, Hardknott represents a flashback to a time when you had to concentrate on the road as if your life depended on it (it does) and wonder if your car will make it (it might not). Unlike the vast majority of Britain’s roads, this short track offers a memorable driving experience every time. It’s England’s ultimate motoring anachronism. 

Indeed, the little road has a long, colourful history. The original route was laid by the Romans around 110 AD and led to a dramatic stronghold at the top of the pass known today as Hardknott Fort. The remaining stone walls of the fortress are an English Heritage site with sweeping views across the fells and are all that’s left of one of the more remote Roman outposts in Britain. After the Romans left in the 5th Century, the road lingered on as an unpaved horse and mule route until the local hoteliers association paid for improvements to the road in the 1880s, hoping to encourage scenic horse and carriage trips. A few years later, the scheme was abandoned.The Pass leads to Hardknott Fort, a remote Roman fortress (Credit: 221A/Getty Images)

The Pass leads to Hardknott Fort, a remote Roman fortress (Credit: 221A/Getty Images)

It wasn’t until 1913 that the first motor vehicles drove over the pass, from the easier Eskdale side. Later, Hardknott’s steep gradient was used to test tanks during World War Two. Their steel tracks chewed up the road so much that it had to be rebuilt. 

Today, the road is best tackled on a sunny day – but that’s rare in the West Cumbrian fells. An average day features horizontal rain, buffeting side winds and slippery surfaces. On a bad day, the road becomes impassable. 

The driver’s reward for all that steering and gear changing, however, is access to an untouched mountain landscape of rare, wild beauty. The waterfalls, sheer rock faces and sudden stunning views across the fells must be much as the Romans saw them. Cliffs soar into the clouds on either side while hardy sheep wander confidently across the road. They don’t worry about the traffic. After all, cars are the outsiders here.

Join more than three million BBC Travel fans by liking us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter and Instagram.

If you liked this story, sign up for the weekly features newsletter called “The Essential List”. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.Continue readingADVERTISEMENTADVERTISEMENTADVENTURE & EXPERIENCE | BIKING | CANADA | NORTH AMERICACanada’s village that bought a forestShare using EmailShare on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Linkedin(Image credit: Brendan Sainsbury)

Mountain biking in the forests around Cumberland, Vancouver Island

By Brendan Sainsbury23rd December 2021Cumberland on Vancouver Island has evolved from a grubby coal town to a mountain biking mecca, all thanks to passionate locals who claimed control of their landscape.I

It was a crisp and unusually sunny November morning and I’d just cycled up a steep switch-backing trail outside the village of Cumberland on Canada’s Vancouver Island in the muddy slipstream of local mountain biker, Jeremy Grasby.

We stopped for a breather where the dense trees gave way to recently planted saplings and took in the expansive view: the muscular ramparts of the Beaufort Mountains behind us; a lush green forest canopy backed by the glittering Strait of Georgia below. The indigenous K’ómoks people called this place “the land of plenty” and it’s not hard to see why. I could have stood there all day absorbing the autumn sun, but Grasby had other plans. He’d promised to take me back down to the village on a web of twisting mountain bike trails built and maintained by a local non-profit called the United Riders of Cumberland (UROC)

“Each trail reflects the personality and riding style of its builder,” Grasby explained as we crested a final hill and got ready for our first descent. “There’s raw, unrefined trails like Roughneck, and smooth, flowing ones like Vanilla.”

We were poised at the top of a winding root-covered trail called Blueprint, whose bone-rattling course seemed to have been designed by someone with a sadistic streak. After a brief pause for water, Grasby took off, catapulting fearlessly through the trees. I brought up the rear, descending clumsily in stops and starts like a baby learning to walk. I found him waiting for me charitably on a logging road several hundred metres below, a satisfied grin on his face.