I thought I would give an update, since things have evolved on our side concerning Australian visas (which was the main reason the OP was wondering if they should stop in Fiji
or not) and our experience was not as bad as some mentioned.
Last week-end, we went through the whole application process for both of us. This meant filling in the application forms for a Visitor (600) visa. That application is 18 pages long and it does take a bit of time, especially filling out all the countries you have been to in the last 5 years, and the dates of your stay there. Obviously for cruisers this can make for a fair amount of data entry. But we managed to get through it all.
Two important side notes. First, on one of the first pages, there was a code to group the application requests. That is : the first applicant creates the code, and then the other applicants type in the same code so that their applications are considered together. Indeed, later on, our files were processed by the same officer. Second, it is during this process that it is mentioned that we may have to go through a physical interview with an Australian official, and we had to select the most convenient place. As previously mentioned in this thread, we selected Nouméa as this was in the available options. Suva was NOT the only center in the South Pacific.
You then have to pay, which in our case amounted to AUD 130 per person, payable by credit card, which was easily done.
Then comes another long bit : we then had to provide supporting documents, and quite a long list was given. In fact, only a part of these applied to our case, and the applicant must decide which are relevant. Since we have digital copies of most of our documents, this was easy, but uploading just took a bit long because our Internet
connection was not fast. At this stage, not only did we provide copies of our bank statements, passports, boat registration
, etc., but we also made up two documents which we presented somewhat as a letter. First, an explanation of our financial means and how we intended to support ourselves, stating that while our present health insurance
did not cover our trip in Australia, we were planning on taking up such an insurance
policy shortly before getting there (we had answered 'no' when asked in the application if our health insurance
had already been arranged, and we felt a little more explanation was necessary there). Second, another document describing our planned itinerary in Australia, including significant dates and seasonal constraints, explaining we did not want to be forced into the wrong area in the middle cyclone season. All of this was uploaded, and yes it's true that it took us nearly a whole day to go through the whole thing.
That was the most painful part of the process, though. When having a look at the application status, there was a button "Get Health
Details", which was not really clear, but it looked as though a medical
exam was necessary, mainly because of a chest X-ray, so we started having a look at the process. You have to go through another application on their website, which enables you to produce a "HAP ID", that is an ID number for you to be recognized in their system, as well as print out a cover letter for the physician. I contacted the approved physicians in Nouméa, asking for the cost of the exams. It looked like the X-ray was about XPF 8000 (about AUD 100), and the medical
visit was about the same, so about AUD 200 total. If a blood and urine analysis was necessary, it looked like the bill would climb to a maximum of AUD 400 per person, just to give an idea, but it would most likely be half that for most cruisers.
In fact all this last part was for nothing, and thank God we hadn't started anything serious yet, because within 3 business days, we actually got a message each from the Australian immigration: our 12-month multiple entry visas were granted ! So for us this is great, and I wanted to share this experience with others wondering about this same process. I'm not sure why an X-ray was not necessary for us. Maybe it's due to the fact we have spent the last 30 months in New Zealand and New Caledonia
alone, or some other reason which might have put us in the "less at risk" category. Anyways, the bottom line is we got our visas within 3 days, without going through either a medical exam or a physical interview, while submitting only digital documents (no certified copies at all), and for a cost of AUD 130 per person. So not really a nightmare after all.