Fiji (29 May 1999 - 25 June 1999)

And so begins the second half of my trip, from now on I need to move quicker,  I need to be more of a traveller, and less of a "resident".  I really must try and lighten my load, since leaving the UK the amount of "stuff" I have been carrying has grown. Looking at all the other backpackers coming through the airport I am definately overburdened. 

Viti Levu

I lost a day crossing the dateline and arrived in Fiji about 6.00am.Thankfully it is neither as hot nor as humid as I had been expecting from comments of travelers I had met in Hawaii. For the first few days I stay at The Cathay Hotel in Lautoka in a dorm room for F$9.00 a night. The hotel is clean, has a good restaurant and even has a small pool.   Its noticable that although only six hours  from Hawaii I have definately left the influence of the USA.  The most obvious difference is that for the first time in six months I am not spending US $, however there are other differences, the TV shows rugby and cricket rather than baseball and American Football; cheap beer does not mean Budweiser or Miller, but either Fiji Bitter or Victoria Bitter.

I took a trip into the highlands above Lautoka to Abaca village, about a 45 minute journey ona rough gravel track into the hills above Lautoka. Once there I did a one hour hike through the forest to some waterfalls, on the way back we crossed some grassy plains and had some good viewsback across the island to the sea. The temperature was slightly cooler and there was a gentle breeze blowing, which made for a pleasant change.  There is a lodge in Abaca where you can stay, and had I more time in Fiji it would have been nice to stay here and do some more walking

Tavewa Island

The first of June dawns, it is now six months since I have left the UK, although it does not seem so long ago. The day was spent traveling to Coralview Resort on Tavewa island, which lies 60km off the north west coast of the main island of Fiji. We were collected from our hotel at 1.30 and twelve of us caught the boat at 2.30pm to go to the island. After about 20 minutes it became apparent that there was something wrong with the engine, and the boat turned back to Lautoka.

After a lot of messing about, trying to fix the boat or find another one, eight of us finally left at 5.15pm (the other four having had enough and decided not to go). After two and a half hours we reached the island, well past the time when we should have arrived. Mind you, we counted ourselves lucky as the previous week one boat traveling out to an island sunk, and apparently the guests were in the water for almost 20 hours!

I spent what was left of the evening chatting to fellow guests, and amazingly one of the people on the boat came from my home town, and one other came from a small village only five miles away!

The first full day at Coralview was OK, the weather was good and we took a boat over to another island in the morning and did some snorkeling. The corals were in amazing condition and there were lots of small fish.

On the second day it rained for most of the day. One member of the staff did do a demonstration of how to make a basket from a coconut leaf, and how to extract all the flesh from a coconut, but that was about the highlight of the day. For the remainder of the time the only option was to read or play card games. I managed to get a copy of “The Beach” by Alex Garland, which seems to be the most popular book with backpackers at the moment. I read the first hundred or so pages and was hooked.

Viti Levu

On Friday June 4 I left Coralview and had a fairly uneventful trip back to Lautoka. I can't say I was sorry to leave. I felt that for the price of F$35 we did not get much and that the food was of poor quality. People who had also stayed on other islands seemed to prefer them. I checked back into The Cathay Hotel for one more night, and was later joined by Nick, Bruce, Davina and Clare, all of whom I had met at Coralview. My original plan was to leave to go to Suva the following day. However Fiji were playing Japan at rugby in Lautoka and the opportunity to see an international rugby match for F$12 was too good to miss, so I decided to stay another day. It was I thought rather a slow game, Fiji won 13 to 6.

On 6 June I caught the bus to Suva, arriving just before 5.00pm. The journey was fairly scenic along the southern coast of Viti Levu. I checked into The South Seas Private Hotel which is just outside the main downtown area of Suva. In the evening I walked back to the town center and had a meal. Over the next two days I walked around downtown Suva and visited the Fiji museum. The Fijians seem very friendly and, despite warnings from fellow travelers, I have not been as bothered by souvenir sellers as I had expected. On both the Monday and Tuesday nights I went to the cinema and saw “Pushing Tin” and “Notting Hill”, both two good films.

Ovalua

On 9 June I spent the day traveling to the island of Ovalua. The journey involved a bus, a ferry, and another bus trip, taking just over four and a half hours. The island is located off the eastern coast of Viti Levu, the main town of Levuka used to be Fiji's capital, and appears to have changed little in the past one hundred years. The main street is fronted by timber buildings and the pace of life is definitely slow. Behind the main street lies The Royal Hotel, Fiji's oldest hotel, where I was staying in a dorm for F$10 a night. Nearby the colonial feel is enhanced by the presence of the bowling club, the old Masonic Lodge, and the rugby pitch.

The next day I join a party of five others on a trek to Lovoni village. We were taken by minibus to the south of the island where we started our three and a half hour walk to Lovoni. On the way our guide Epi pointed out a number of plants with medicinal properties. We also pass breadfruit and mango trees, coconut palms, banana plants, ginger bushes, and yam and taro plants, all growing in the forest. After about two hours we reach the rim of the extinct volcano which forms the island of Ovalau, and then descend down in to the caldera where the village of Lovoni is situated.

On arriving at the village we had a meal of local food, fish with taro leaves and coconut cream, stir fried ferns, watercress with coconut cream, and yam. Unfortunately the chief was busy so we could not join in a kava ceremony, but we leave our packets of powdered kava as a gift.

A few days later I'm back on the main island on the south coast near Sigatoka. I'm staying at The Tubakula Beach Resort which, as its name suggests is right on a beach, although a lovely sandy beach it is not great for swimming because of the coral reef which extends for a few hundred metres off shore. My original intention was to stay only one day and visit the Tavenui Hill fort, but I enjoy the location and the fellow travelers and extend my stay to three days. In order to still see other parts of Fiji I change my flight to Auckland and put it back four days.

Mana Island

After Sigatoka I took the bus up to Nadi just to stay one night before going to the island of Mana and Ratu Kini's resort. This was the same price as my stay at Coralview earlier in the month, but the experience could not have been more different. I originally planned to stay three nights, but soon changed this to five. Each night there was a different event, one of the two most memorable was “local night” where we had fijian food, signing and dancing. The Fijians (in common with many pacific islanders) have wonderful voices, and whether they were signing in groups, or whether it was just Sam and his guitar, it was always good to hear. The other memorable night was when we had a party on the beach, again with Sam leading the entertainment well into the early hours.

The island itself was beautiful with lovely beaches, fringed with coconut palms, and a few small hills from where you could get a view of the whole island and the reef. Of all the islands in the Pacific I have visited so far it comes closest to my view of a tropical island: a small, low lying island, fringed with palm trees and encircled by an outer coral reef.

Another memorable experience was spear fishing with Sam, we went out snorkeling with Sam's speargun (which consisted simply of a piece of sharpened metal rod and a length of elastic). After catching thirteen fish it was back to the beach where we lit a fire and cooked the fish.

Also helping to make my days and nights on the island a pleasant experience was the company which I kept. Our small group consisted of Michelle, Nick, Evelyn, and Kim, and although most of us had not met prior to reaching the island we all got on well, sadly for them most are now soon to be back in England and Ireland. We dragged our stay on Mana out as long as we could, but eventually it was time to leave and return to Nadi. It is not the most attractive town, but it did allow us to get those essential souvenirs to remind us of our time in Fiji.