By our usually verbose standards this is going to be a relatively short blog. Our last few weeks in North Queensland were relatively hectic, so we’ve spent a week in Fiji doing very little beyond staring at beautiful beaches and sumptuous sunsets.
As we were drawing to the end of our Australia trip, and contemplating a return to England we both wanted to make sure our travels ended with a bit of a bang, not a whimper so Sam came up with the glorious cocktail of Fiji, Japan and Hong Kong!
We met a delightful Fijian, called Pranesh, on our flight to Nadi who told us that we would quickly get used to hearing “Bula” the Fijian greeting. Sure enough we heard “Bula Bula” constantly welcoming us over the next week. As we only had a week in Fiji we decided to stick to the main island, Viti Levu, otherwise we’d have spent all our time in transit trying to access some of the country’s 500+ islands.
We spent a couple of nights just down the road at Sonaisali Island which was a thin sandy peninsula accessible by a short five minute boat trip – that was as close as we got to Island hopping in Fiji!
It was a chance for some downtime and sitting by the pool contemplating….well contemplating nothing at all really, just relaxing – which is the effect Fiji and it’s very laid back people have on you.
We did have a burst of activity, keeping our running going. Sam wisely opted for the air-conditioned gym and treadmill, while I pounded the grounds of the hotel sweating buckets in the humid heat. My red-faced beleaguered puffing plodding figure elicited smiles of pity and disbelief from the Fijians I passed and I’m pretty sure I heard some suppressed guffaws of laughter.
After a couple days “acclimatising” it was time to collect our car and hit the road (that turned out to be an apposite expression). Apparently a lot of tourists visiting for just a week arrive at Nadi and don’t go much further than the all-inclusive resorts on the west coast at Denarau Island, but our plan was to circle the Island making four stops in total.
We had mentioned this to Pranesh during our flight and he said that it would be a great way to see the island. I asked if a SatNav/GPS would be wise and he chuckled – there is only really one main road that goes around island – about 500km in total. In the south section it’s Queens Road and the north Kings Road – so we had no excuse if we got lost (which we did of course).
We’ve hired a lot of cars on out trip and I always arrive at the desk braced for a hard sell of extras, especially exorbitantly priced excess policies (always buy your own beforehand – so much better value). However, in true Fijian fashion there was no pressure, just a helpful guy who sorted things out quickly and we were off on our way anti-clockwise from Nadi to Pacific Harbour.
To be honest, we were surprised that we didn’t get the excess policy treatment as although the roads in Fiji aren’t especially busy, the condition of them can at best be described as variable!
The immediate impression we got when leaving the airport was a return to our experiences of South-East Asia – a similar climate and a much poorer country than we had been used to in Australia. However, it doesn’t have the same vibe as S/E Asia. It doesn’t have the frenetic pace of places like Vietnam, it’s not in your face or high-tempo in any way, and crucially it looked very clean, especially on the beaches which are obviously key to the tourism economy.
Not long into our journey we were pulled over at a Police Check. A charming young officer asked for my licence and noted we were from England, with everything seemingly in order he smiled, handed back the licence and said “Blessed Day” while waving us off. As we’ve recently been binge watching The Handmaid’s Tale, his comment did remind us of the dystopian horrors of Gilead, which felt odd in the tropical surrounds!
Pacific Harbour is on the Coral Coast and is something of a magnet for divers and snorkelling. The scenery and beaches here are exactly what you imagine when you think of Fiji: quiet (remarkably quiet), picturesque and unspoilt.
We managed to drive past our hotel three times before spotting its very modest sign and soon found ourselves sat on our balcony admiring the adjacent river and marina area full of a mixture of luxury yachts and smaller boats that take you to dive spots. A number of these go to spots where Reef sharks can be found, which are said to be plentiful in these waters.
Unfortunately, snorkelling trips from the hotel weren’t running on the days we were there, however, on chatting to one of the hotel staff we discovered that you don’t need to travel far to find colourful sea-life.
We took a kayak across the river and walked a short distance along the beach to find the perfect snorkelling spot just yards from the shore.
Here a mixture of brightly coloured fish could be found darting about and there was just about enough water (if I kept my tummy taut!) to float about without grounding on the rocks.
Pacific Harbour and the Coral Coast area on the south coast was one of the highlights of the week – more beautiful and accessible coastline than in Nadi (or to follow in Suva) and it would have been lovely to stay here for a bit longer.
However, after a couple of days it was time to move on to the capital Suva. As we drove along the Queens Road we enjoyed the views of the coastline that we were hugging, but you really have to keep your eyes on the road – not for other traffic, but the potholes. Things never got as bad as our Sumatra experience which was like driving on the surface of the moon. The problem here is that every now and then the road surface improved markedly and was smooth and untroubled lulling you into a false sense of security. I can’t recall how many times I said to Sam “I think the worst is over now” when out of the blue a crater would appear necessitating wild swerves and equally wild swearing. For the most part we successfully negotiated our way around the holes, however, there was one I didn’t see and the sound and feeling of the front wheel crashing into the pothole was horrendous and I was convinced the least we would have was a flat tyre, but it could be a lot worse. Happily robust German engineering prevailed and on inspecting the front of our VW there was no discernible damage. Panic over we gingerly made our way into Suva, although not before hearing a bizarre grating noise under the car that had me convinced that the exhaust had fallen off (it hadn’t). But just when you start panicking and feeling sorry for yourself there is always a sign to remind you of how relatively unimportant your worries are…
Now we have to be honest about Suva and say that it’s not the most beautiful place. Compared with other capitals of the world it probably fares quite well for looks, but compared to the other beachside paradises to be found on the island, let alone Fiji generally, then it’s a bit of an ugly duckling. Having said that it still provides a stunning sunset view…
We were booked into the Grand Pacific Hotel, a magnificent old colonial building that had hosted many a glamorous visitor such as Noel Coward back in the day, fell on hard times but has since been lovingly restored. In fact so much so that it recently hosted a visit from a pre-sprog Prince Harry and Megan Markle.
It’s always nice to have the opportunity check out first hand where our taxation is being spent by the Royals and we can confirm that Harry and Megan would have been extremely comfortable.
Suva isn’t really a beachy place so we checked out the pretty local botanical gardens nearby and the remarkably small Fiji Museum. This had very little to recommend it until we came across a small area tucked away in the museum that had artefacts and stories about ancient Fiji beliefs, practices and witch doctors. Fascinating stuff to see and read about. Along came christianity and Islam to put paid to those old mystical ways, but not before a missionary or two met a grisly end.
For all the grandeur of the hotel and the faded colonial charm of Suva we weren’t sad to leave it and head for our final stop at Volivoli, near Rakiraki (both so good they named them twice). As we journeyed to the north coast the scenery grew a bit more rugged….
Volivoli really is quite remote and after turning off the Kings Road, we made our way along a track dodging potholes, children and various livestock to find our resort. Having parked up and checked in we wandered down into the grounds and adjacent beach.
What we found were ridiculously stunning views of palm, sea, islands and crystal clear water which like Pacific Harbour acts as a base for local diving and snorkelling trips.
It’s difficult to exaggerate how beautiful this stretch of Fiji is. Everywhere you turn makes you gape in wonder at how perfect and unspoilt the view is.
We took the opportunity for another dip to snorkel, but as we walked down steps that take you into the sea we found lots of colourful fish swimming about the steps, so much so that we ended up spending more time looking at them sat on the steps than we did in the water.
Our last few hours in Volivoli were spent of the hotel balcony drinking an ice cold local beer watching yet another stunning sunset over the Pacific.
It was the ideal way to sign off on this wonderful week in Fiji. Apart from our circumnavigation of the island and a bit of swimming and snorkelling we didn’t really do very much, but that’s exactly as it should be in Fiji. Put your feet up, enjoy the heartfelt hospitality, and drink in this superb tropical paradise.
Next Up: Turn It Up To 11: It’s Tokyo!!