Fiji is located in the South Pacific Ocean, about two-thirds of the way from Hawaii to New Zealand, or roughly 5521 miles from Los Angeles and 7978 miles from New York. It is an island group with a total landmass of 7054 square miles (18,270 square kilometers) and a population of nearly 850,000. The climate is tropical marine with only slight seasonal temperature variation. Cyclonic storms can occur from November to January. The terrain is mostly mountains of volcanic origin. The highest point is Tomanivi at 4343 feet (1,324 meters) above sea level.
Fiji gained independence from Britain on October 10, 1970, after nearly a century as a British colony. The country is a democratically governed republic with a legal system based on British law. It became a republic in 1987 and continues to be a member of the Commonwealth. The country is also an active member of the international community. On a per-capita basis, Fiji contributes more troops to United Nations peacekeeping missions than any other country. It's sent military forces to Kosovo, East Timor and Sinai as well as observer missions to Kuwait and Papua New Guinea.
Fiji's ethnic groups include Fijian, 54 percent (predominantly Melanesian with a Polynesian admixture), Indian, 38 percent, and small communities of European, other Pacific Islanders and overseas Chinese. Major religious groups are Christian, 52 percent (Methodists 37 percent, Roman Catholics nine percent), Hindu, 38 percent, and Muslim, eight percent. Ethnic Fijians are mainly Christian and Indians Hindu. The main languages are English (official), Fijian and Hindustani.
Notable Fijians include golfer Vijay Singh, who has won tournaments in many parts of the world and currently plays mainly on the US-based PGA TOUR. Singh, who is of Indian Sikh ancestry, was born in Lautoka, Fijiís second largest city, but grew up in Nadi, on the western side of the main island of Viti Levu. In 2004 and 2005 Singh spent a total of 32 weeks at the top of the Official World Golf Rankings, making him the only man to displace Tiger Woods as World Number 1 so far this century.
Fiji, endowed with forest, mineral, and fish resources, is one of the most developed of the Pacific island economies. Tourism, mining, energy, transportation and communications, timber and manufacturing are the fastest growing industries in Fiji. Sugar processing makes up one-third of industrial activity. Sugar exports and a growing tourist industry - with approximately 500,000 tourists on average annually - are the major sources of foreign exchange. Near-term economic prospects are good and overseas remittances from Fijians working in the United Kingdom, United States, Australia, New Zealand, Kuwait and Iraq have increased significantly.
The most important emerging sector is information and communications technology, where the government is offering generous incentives for investment and development. Another emerging sector is the film industry. The Fiji Audiovisual Commission is developing sound stages, and the government offers tax incentives to attract both high-end producers from Hollywood and lower budget producers from Bollywood. Tourism has grown rapidly since the early 1980s and is the leading economic activity in the Fiji islands. Approximately 550,000 people visited Fiji in 2005. Australians accounted for a third of these, but there are large contingents from New Zealand, the US, Britain and Japan. American tourists numbered over 70,000. In 2005, Fiji's gross earnings from tourism were about $729 million, an amount double the revenue from its two largest goods exports (sugar and garments). Gross earnings from tourism continue to be Fiji's major source of foreign currency. Fiji's tourism revenue yields a services surplus.