Fiji is made up of 322 islands, however only 105 are inhabited. On our cruise, we visited three of the islands. The total population of Fiji is just under a million and the official language is English, although Fijian and Hindu are also spoken. The people of Fiji are the most multiracial and multicultural of all the South Pacific island countries.
Our first stop is Port Denarau located on Viti Levu, the largest island in Fiji. At the port there is a shopping complex with lots of high end shops and restaurants so we took a local bus to the nearest town, Nadi, about 10 km away. Unfortunately, it was Sunday, so most places were closed.
I didn’t really care much for this stop because basically there really wasn’t much to see. In our wanderings we came across the vegetable and craft markets and saw a Hindu temple. But that took less than an hour so we decided to take a bus back to Port Denarau and spent some time in the Hard Rock Café where Sanford was able to get wifi and check on his emails. To be honest, I was glad to get back on the ship and move on.
The next stop was Suva, the capital of Fiji which is also located on the island of Viti Levu. It is the political, administrative, educational and commercial centre of the country.
We decided to take a local bus to Colo-I-Suva, a lush rainforest park, about 25 km from Suva. The bus cost us $2.20 round trip each and the entrance to the park was $5 each. We spent a few wonderful hours here walking the trails along the cascading falls to both the upper falls and the lower falls. There were a number of natural pools formed at various levels of the falls and we stopped twice to go swimming. Unlike Turtle Beach where hardly anyone ventured to, this rainforest park was filled with other cruisers.
In the afternoon we wandered around the city and took in a few of their sites including the Thurston Gardens and the local market before heading back to the ship.
Our next stop was another island, this time Vanua Levu, to the small town of Savusavu (population 4,962).
We had heard from other cruise people who had been there before that there wasn’t much to do and some weren’t even going to bother getting off the ship. Our experience though was the opposite. We had a great time and a lot of fun. We explored the many shops along the main street and this was the only location, so far, where I was able to find the souvenir that I like to collect – a pin – yeah! We also stopped in a post office so I could mail off a postcard and that turned out to be very interesting. The clerk took my postcard and then got out the paste and brushed a thick layer of glue over the upper right corner. Next he pushed the stamp into the glue and then put the postal mark on top. The postcard was then put aside to dry before putting in the box.
The majority of Fiji’s islands are volcanic and interestingly on this island, there are a number of volcanic hot springs located around the town where locals use the steam that rises up to actually cook their food.
On all of our shore explorations we never stopped for any meals. However here we did go into a tiny restaurant frequented by the locals to have their chicken curry. Sanford has been to this country before and loves their curries. I have to say it was great, very flavourful and not too spicy hot.
In the afternoon we actually took a tour. I talked Sanford into it. I really wanted to take one so that we could have someone talk about their country and comment on all the interesting plants and sites we see as we travel along. The tour we chose was to the Waisali Rainforest Reserve for a walk through the rainforest. Much to my great disappointment, the tour did not live up to my expectations. We boarded a bus with 30 other people and the drive to the park was about 45 minutes. There was no commentary from our tour operators along the way. Once at the rainforest, another fellow guided us through the walk, again no commentary, then a silent ride back to the cruise ship. Although the walk in the rainforest was fun and we crossed a couple of spots where we had to walk through water, we did not actually learn anything from this particular tour. The cost of this tour was $119 per person. It was a colossal waste of money when compared to the $7.20 per person we spent the day before on our own to the rainforest near Suva.
Despite my complaints about the tour, I considered this the best day so far.
Our last stop in Fiji was to Dravuni Island, a very small island south of Vitu Levu (where Suva is located) and has a population of less than 200 living in its one village. The description given for this stop was “No vehicles to speak of. No department stores. No cinemas. In fact, nothing much that tells you we’re living in the 21st century.”
In my opinion this was the best stop of the whole cruise. There was surprisingly a lot to do. The island is easily walkable from one end to the other so of course we did that. At one end was a small “inland peak” that we hiked up that offered great views of the surrounding areas. One of the interesting things we came across while walking were their graves. Here the graves are covered with a large cement slab and then the slabs are decorated, either with other stones or with cloth and personal items.
The natives of the island also set up a number of displays for us. We had been hearing about breadfruit in the lectures we were attending about the various stops but had yet to see it. Here we were not only going to see it, but taste it too. Breadfruit requires a lot of preparation; it is not just picked off the tree and eaten, it must be cooked first. It is cooked in a fire pit that is first prepared with hot rocks and then pieces of coconut bark on top of the rocks. Next the breadfruit is placed on the coconut bark and then the fruit is covered with coconut leaves followed by a blanket followed by sand and dirt. The reason it is so covered is so that the smoke generated stays with the breadfruit to give it flavor. The fruit cooks for one to two hours depending on how hot the fire is. For all the preparation, the final product is a bit of disappointment. It is a starchy fruit, sort of the texture of a squash, and it really doesn’t have much flavor, except from the smoke. None the less, it was good to try something different.
Another demonstration showed the process of making woven mats. They showed us the plant that they used, how they prepare and cut the leaves, and how they wove the mats. There were also demonstrations of their dancing and a few other things.
The afternoon was spent in the ocean. Sanford loves to snorkel and this island is a good place to do that as the Great Astrolabe Reef surrounds it. While he snorkeled, I spent time in the water near the shore. The water was a wonderful aquamarine blue, clear and warm, and the beach had beautiful white sand and was edged with swaying palm trees. There was a lot of activity here, you could get massages or hair braiding, or buy coconuts to drink from.
All in all, a great day for a island that had supposedly little to offer.