Aussie tourists furious over Fiji travel warning

Australians who have been forced to cancel holidays to Fiji are furious the Federal Government travel advisory websites did not make clear the severity of widespread flooding on the island nation.

The South Pacific island destination has continued to struggle with widespread flooding caused by category three cyclone Gene, which has claimed the lives of eight people including a 13-year-old boy.

Fijian authorities declared a state of emergency as heavy rain brought about by a tropical depression caused severe flooding over the northwestern area, from Singatoka through to Rakiraki.

Those tourists who decided to brave the wild weather have become stranded at Fiji's Nadi airport, cut off by the flooding, while holidaymakers on neighbouring islands are being transported by helicopter to the mainland, fijilive.com has reported.

Gianni Lucchi, 20, was due to fly from Brisbane to Fiji at 11.40pm last night for a long-awaited holiday in the sun.

Mr Lucchi, a fouth-year engineering student, planned to travel for two weeks around Fiji's islands with seven friends, but his anticipation and jubilation quickly turned to despair when he realised the tourist hot-spot was largely under water.

"I wish someone had made us aware of this sooner. We had been checking smartraveller.gov.au all week, but there was no serious warning. And news reports outlining how bad it was over there didn't start surfacing until late last night and this morning."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), responsible for issuing online travel advice, was adamant warnings relating to weather conditions in Fiji had long been readily available.

"Additional detail regarding the current flooding was added on January 11 immediately following advice from Fijian authorities that a State of Disaster had been called for the Western Division following heavy rains and flooding," the spokeswoman said.

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On smartraveller.gov.au this morning, Australian holidaymakers were advised to "exercise caution" when travelling to Fiji, but not to "reconsider their need to travel".

"In determining the (warning) level of a destination we consider the security risks and compare these to the general security threats in a large Australian city," the spokeswoman said.

Mr Lucchi had booked flights with Air Pacific and accommodation through Escape Travel.

"All up the trip cost me just over $3000," Mr Lucchi said.

He said Escape Travel had not made clear the severity of the situation in Fiji when the group contacted their agent yesterday, less than 12 hours before their scheduled departure.

"It was 8pm and we were about to leave for the airport when my aunt called and said we'd better check the news online," Mr Lucchi said.

"Once we saw footage of Fiji under water we realised we couldn't go.

"We were devastated. It would have been my first trip overseas."

Tourist numbers are expected to decrease further as the weather deteriorates, Tourism Fiji chairman Patrick Wong said.

Mr Wong told fijilive.com the industry body has been monitoring conditions on the ground affecting visitors holiday in parts of Fiji.

"The industry assures (me) that every effort and assistance is extended to those holidaying here," Mr Wong said.

"We understand restrictions of movement in certain parts of the main Tourism Belt heavily affected by rising flood waters especially at times of very higher than normal spring tides measuring in excess of 2.3 metres.

"Yesterday with the closure of the road into Denarau Island, boats were used to transport guests from Port Denarau to Wailoaloa Beach for connections onto their international flights.

"Our partners in major source markets are suggesting postponement of travel to Fiji until weather conditions improve."

The DFAT spokeswoman said the Australian High Commission in Fiji is in contact with the National Disaster Management Office (NDMO) and Nadi Airport.

"The Consular Emergency Centre has been contacted by a number of concerned persons who have been caught up in the floods in Fiji," she said.

"The travel advice for Fiji advises that cyclone season is November to April and may result in flooding, landslides and disruptions to essential services.

"Travellers should follow instructions from local authorities and monitor local media and weather reports."

Comment was being sought from Escape Travel and its insurance provider.

brisbanetimes.com.au

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