The following travelogue was written back in 2010 when I visited Fiji, a cluster of islands in the South Pacific region. Besides, visiting some of the most famous tourist attractions, the article also briefly mentions about the people of Fiji, especially its vibrant Indian community.
By Promod Puri
Our years of build-up excitement of Fiji holidays began when we landed at the Nadi (pronounced Nandi) airport at 5.30 in the morning on June 14, 2010.
It was an overnight flight from Los Angeles, but for the time difference, it took an extra calendar day to reach our dream destination.
Nadi, which is on the west coast of Fiji’s biggest island of Viti Levu, is the entry point by air to this South Pacific country.
At the Nadi airport, we were warmly received by the loving relatives of our daughter’s in-laws. Our baggage was dumped in a pickup van, and in another vehicle, our three-week Fiji journey began as we started driving to the capital city of Suva on the east coast of the Island.
The highway from Nadi to Suva, called Queens’ Road, has its own majestic allurement, and it can genuinely claim to be one of the most dazzling drives in the world.
Lush green vegetation on small hills and flatlands intercepted with villages and small settlements; adorn the natural display on the left side of the highway. And on our right was an almost uninterrupted and extended panorama of the exalted and composed the Pacific Ocean, sometimes just a few hundred feet from the winding Queen’s Road.
The west-east Nadi to Suva journey took odd and visually-absorbing three hours when we checked in at the centrally-located Tanoa Inn, just a ten-minute walk from the downtown hub of the city.
After freshening up and with a heavy load of breakfast as we were starving, thanks to the extra-degraded frugal in-flight food service from the “friendliest “ Air Pacific Airlines, that we really re-energized ourselves to venture into Suva, the commercial, a cultural and political center of the South Pacific.
We were in Suva for three days. Despite almost continuous drizzle and rain, quite competitive with Vancouver, that we covered some interesting and highlighted city’s attractions. One of them was the favorite and brisk vegetable and fruit Municipal Market which gave us quite a glimpse of both Natives and Indian Fijians.
Another exciting and recommended place is the Fiji Museum which displays a stirring and adventurous brief history of Native and Indian settlements on the Fiji Islands.
While the migration of Natives to these South Pacific Islands happened centuries ago from Africa or Polynesian group of countries, the Indian settlement is comparatively a recent one which began in the 1800s. The latter was brought to the island of Viti Levu by Britishers as farm laborers under permit regularity called “girmit.”
Their lifestyles and early settlement challenges under the agreement with Britishers of providing temporary immigration and jobs on the vast sugarcane plantations in Fiji give a very fascinating history of Indian migration to this far-away land which was for sure never heard by them.
The “girmit” system, which became quite popular and acceptable, was a sort of an agreement between the British contractors and the poor and destitute Indian laborers. Since the Indians, who were mostly illiterate, could not easily pronounce the word “agreement,” the rhyming word “girmit” was thus coined.
Over almost two hundred years of the history of their establishment in this part of the world and considerably far away from their root country, the Fijian Indians have expertly carved out a distinguished community in itself. The most remarkable aspect of their culture is the evolution and establishment of the Fijian Hindi which is now a distinct and sweet Hindi dialect in itself.
Indians run most of the shops and small businesses in Suva. The city is a typical urban center with few shopping malls and a unique souvenir center to buy exquisitely carved and creatively crafted Fijian handicrafts. However, the most popular and useful item is the bold flowery print “Bula Shirt” which can undoubtedly draw equal attention in a summer outdoor party.
Besides wandering around in Suva, we made two trips to the nearby in-laws’ birthplace and hometown of Nausori. Cordial hospitality from the relatives as part of the Indian traditions over dinner invitations gave us more glimpse of the Fijian Indian way of life.
From Suva, we took a local trans-island comfortable bus to go back towards the west, in the Nadi direction, for our next holiday stopover. The Club Oceanus near the city of Pacific Harbor and nestled amidst a forest and beside a calm river, seemed to be a backpackers’ favorite. It is a superbly and divinely place but turned out to be not much excitement for us as it rained heavily throughout our one- day stay.
The next day like opening a surprise gift-wrap, we saw a cloud-free blue sky as we checked in at the Uprising Resort right on the beach front. And true to its online praises on TripAdvisor and in the Lonely Planet the resort, a well- managed, reasonably priced and sitting on an enticing scenic property, reassured us that Fiji’s waterfront vacations were worth all the planning.
Here at the Uprising, we had our first experience of beachfront living in a “Bure” which is a sort of log house cottage built in traditional Fiji Native style with a thatched roof. It was spacious enough with kitchen, living and bedroom areas including a balcony in the front and back, all under one roof.
The spread-out and the far-reaching Pacific Ocean with gentle non-stop waves going back and forth on the clean, soft, sandy beach were merely some hundred steps away from our “bure.” And that was a real bliss of holidaying in Fiji.
As Uprising molded us with the joy of Fiji voyaging, we put in our next flag on another beach-front resort of Naviti, near the city of Sigatoka, where our daughter’s in-laws, Prem and Savita, joined us to spend one week together to explore and luxuriate more in Fiji’s coastal tourist favorites.
Naviti on the Queen’s Road is really a big resort, and the oceanfront room we got gave us quite a panoramic view of the sea, though the beach is not that big to have a long walk.
Our two-day stay at Naviti was among a large number of winter-escapee vacationers from New Zealand and Australia, who came in groups of large families including children. And at times the resort gave the impression that Disneyland has moved to an ocean-front on the Fiji Islands.
Our journey continued west-bound with next stop at the Sonaisali Beach resort near the city of Nadi.
The resort was just ok with the well-furnished and well-kept room we were in. But the overall stay here was a bit disappointing especially with the unrealistically expensive food and exorbitant extra charges on phone and internet services. The management seemed to be more interested in squeezing money at every step of the way from guests than providing services.
Anyway, a smart move on the part of Prem that he hired a taxi for just 10 Fijian dollars to buy the famous Fiji Gold and Fiji Bitter beer bottles from a nearby market. And we had our favorite Bombay Sapphire that we enjoyed our evenings at the Sonaisali.
In the spirit of having a good time we moved on to our next destination, Lautoka, Fiji’s second biggest city after Suva and just about half an hour drive pass Nadi.
In Lautoka, our stay was close to the downtown area at the Waterfront Tanoa Hotel along the well-maintained sea walkway.
One of the highlights of our stay in Lautoka, beside little shopping and inexpensive but very useful massage treatment, was a dinner visit to one of Prem’s Indian relatives. The freshly-cooked home-made food was indeed a welcome and excellent change, and which gave us the real taste of Indian Fijian cuisine. Another good food experience we had was in Nadi where a brother-in-law of Savita feted us with authentic Fiji treat of “Lovo,” the underground favorite Native Fijian cuisine but with a little Indian touch.
In Lautoka, our dinner host’s daughter and tour helper, Doreen, gave us a quick tour of the city, explaining that the two expensive neighborhoods here are named “Kashmir” and “Shimla.”
Lautoka is a historic town from the Indian point of view as it is here the migrants from India started working in sugarcane farms and sugar mills. But now it is a shopping town as well both for the locals and tourists.
The Lautoka Municipal Market which seems to be a landmark of every Fijian city or town was full of vendors selling locally-grown produce, incredibly cheap. And here one can get dried cava root which when powdered make the traditional and symbolic ceremonial Native drink of cava or nagona.
Another highway picturesque scenic drive from Lautoka to Rakiraki, on the way to our next destination of Nananu-i-Ra Island, was the King Road going from the west to the east on top of the Island.
Besides the ocean view and green mountains on the left and right respectively, the King Road passed thru many sugarcane fields. And we came across several Hindu temples and Indian schools on our way. We halted briefly in the town of Ba, which proudly displays on a big billboard as the “Football Crazy” town, where its landmark is a vast football-shaped structure in the city, perhaps housing a small coffee shop.
We reached Rakraki in about three hours and bypassed the city to reach the marina for our 20-minute boat ride, amidst soothing breeze, to the McDonald Resort on the island of Nananu-i-Ra.
As we had plenty of grocery supplies, including the now addictive Fiji Gold and Fiji Bitter, the self- cooked food by the ladies and washing the dirty dishes by men became a delightful past time activity besides walking around the island and feeding the colorful fish at the resort’s beach.
However, one significant activity was when Prem did some acrobats by impressively showing his revived skill of climbing a tall coconut tree and grabbing a big prized coconut with his two bare hands which we really relished.
Prem and Savita departed from us as they took a bus from Rakiraki in the north to their hometown of Nausori. And we carried on with our journey back toward Nadi to a place called First Landing, where it is said the first people who settled on the Fiji Islands landed here centuries ago and thus reserved their title of being Native Fijians.
We stayed at the Anchorage Resort at First Landing for two days. The narrow-gauge train carrying sugarcane from the fields passes thru the resort which otherwise offers a vast view of the Pacific Ocean as well as the city of Nadi across the bay. Anchorage is another laid-back resort to enjoy activities like light reading while gently swinging in a hammock, walking around or to watch the train pass by with its own rhythm.
The grand final of our Fiji sojourn was on the Bounty and Walu Beach islands, the two among the several isles forming the famous Mamanuca Group of islands in the South Pacific.
Staying at the Bounty and Walu for four and three days respectively was a definite change to experience the taste of island living, which was unlike the big Nananu-I-Ra island or at mainland beachfront hotels in Fiji.
Bounty that was it! The ultimate in relaxed holidays.
In the middle of the ocean, but only 25-minute boat ride from the Nadi Bay, Bounty is a small island with soft sandy beach all around and plants and shrubs in the middle, like a round pizza with all the toppings in the center. The island is so small that one can leisurely walk around it in 20 to 25 minutes.
However, smaller than the Bounty is the Southsea Island, which can be covered in three minutes, but if one takes a brisk little walk, it can be done in just two minutes.
Those seeking real solitude and bountiful of tranquility in the company of crystal clear beach with soothing waves Bounty Island is the place worth coming. And for those looking for adventures in the water sports like scuba diving or snorkeling Bounty offers free equipment and services. We did not indulge in any of these activities. Age factor!
A smooth ride from Bounty to nearby Walu Beach Resort on the Malolo Island, the biggest in the Mamanuca Group, gave us the chance to briefly touchdown the other famous islands like the Beachcomber, Treasure, Castaway (of the film fame ) and Mana. The Walu Beach Resort with its spectacular view of the ocean was our final holiday spot.
And from the Walu Beach, we returned to the real world to Nadi to catch our Vancouver flight.
Well, besides the natural beauty, Fiji is a place to have a good feel of India, but entirely away from India. The shops, the bazaars, the markets, restaurants, and hotels, everywhere you’re roaming about, the Indian presence and influence are all over. Indian programs of news, music, and entertainment are prominently featured on Fiji radio and TV.
The Indian immersion is so much that visitors, especially with the Indian background, feel like if they are touring India, except that Fiji is spotlessly clean.
Fijian people, both Natives and Indians are amiable and cheerful. They love talking, asking questions, want to know “where you’ve come from,” perhaps to relate to their many relatives and friends who have migrated from Fiji to other countries like Canada, the USA, New Zealand and Australia.
Bula is the greeting word to make an acquaintance and start a conversation. With a genuine smile on their faces, they say Bu—–la in an extended and pleasing tone.
Fiji is a relaxed and laidback country, and so are its people. It seems “take-it-easy” is the guideline of Fijian living which was aptly captured by a wall clock we saw in one of the hotel lobbies. It displays in bold print “Fiji Time” as its second, minute and hour hands were missing and all the numbers were jumbled up.
In the relaxed and carefree “Fiji Time” and with Bula smile our rousing Fiji tour was an exciting and enjoyable vacation.
Bula Fiji! We’ll be back.
Thank you Note: Our special thanks to Chandar Prakash and his team of Doreen and Raju of Awesome Holidays in Nadi who arranged all our Fiji resorts stays, some local transportation and boat ride to different islands in Fiji.