When? September 2012 – coming from Vanuatu. Next stop Hong Kong/Macau.
How? Taxis, buses, fast ferry, boats, walking
Finally arrive in Fiji but in unscheduled Suva. Only an hour late. Then a taxi ride across the island back to Nadi (say it Nandi) with 2 other stranded passengers. It’s really very pleasant, the sun is shining and there are great views of coral beaches and the reefs and islands all along the coast road. About 330 islands here. We’re speaking English or Fijian or Hindi. About 40% of the people are of Indian origin – their ancestors were brought over by the British to work the cane fields. There’s a little sugar train that runs along the side of the road.
It all looks very urbanised after my previous sojourns. People mainly live in houses rather than huts and there’s quite a lot of manufacturing industry. And malls. And McDonalds. Though it’s still relatively poor.
One of the passengers is a bit of an odd ball. An Anglo Indian who lives in the U. S. We talk about travel a lot, but every time we mention a country he starts to talk in the relevant accent. Quite unconsciously I think. Very weird. His English accent is terrible.
My hotel is quaint and traditional, with thatched bungalows called bures. The odd mongoose skittering about. Pathways littered with cane toads and lizards, who hop out of your way as you wander along. The staff shake hands and bellow ‘Bula’ (welcome) at me every time I meet them. Most of the men wear loud tropical shirts and sarongs called sulus and both men and women decorate their hair with hibiscus flowers.
Boat trip out to the Manamuca Islands. All idyllic little islands with improbable names like Treasure Island, Beachcomber, Bounty and South Sea. Bounty is where they filmed Celebrity Love Island. We sail on to Monriki for swimming and snorkelling. This one is more commonly known as Tom Hanks Island as its where they filmed Castaway. It’s all impossibly perfect. The water is cobalt, the reef is gaudy and the fish are psychedelic.
An island village in the afternoon where the chief welcomes us with the local drink – kava. It’s what set the locals crawling home on Tanna. Though we’re told they have marketed it as an antidepressant in Europe.
The port area is very developed and manicured. A line of luxury hotels and a golf course. You could be in Florida.
Today another group of islands called the Yasawas. Volcanic rather than limestone but just as idyllic. The film set for today is The Blue Lagoon (Brooke Shields). Amazing reefs just off the beach with excellent coral that just went on and on. Shame it rains. Yes the blinking rain seems to have followed me – again. And yes, it’s the dry season – the guide books say so.
Sep 5 The dry season
It’s still raining, bucketing down. The toads are enjoying it. Not much to do except read, watch the palm fronds blowing around, have a massage and a leisurely lunch. This is enforced by the speed of the service. The Fijians are lovely, but initiative is a foreign concept and they take everything you say absolutely literally. So if you ask for a bottle of water that’s what you get, no glass unless you specifically request one.
The evening is definitely not quiet, however. As I had wiled away the day with a huge (and leisurely) lunch I decided that I would just have a couple of cocktails for supper. Enter two Aussie guys in their mid thirties on their way to a wedding on Treasure Island, but marooned on the mainland by the weather. Not only could those guys drink but boy did they have the gift of the gab. Before very long I am married (they had the requisite shell necklace) and have been invited to go to the wedding with him. He is even choosing the outfit I am going to wear and planning the house he is going to build for me. All absolutely hysterical and keeps the whole bar entertained. There is a bit of a tussle when he decides he wanted to claim his conjugal rights. Can’t pretend I’m tempted. He is six foot three, fit and plays rugby league. But I manage to get into my bungalow and lock the door. He sits on the step for a while calling out, ‘Wifey, wifey’ in a plaintive voice before he gives up. Nice to know I’m not yet too old.
When? August 2013. The BIG Trip. Coming from Tonga. Next stop -Vancouver.
I had forgotten how friendly the Fijians are, and how wearing it is playing games of guess which country I’m from in reply to the inevitable question. They never seem to think of England as a possibility. On the ferry, partly retracing last year’s steps (or should I say wake?) through the volcanic Yasawa Islands. Chatting to an American guy who runs the/a university in Tonga. He offers me a job teaching psychology there. Out to Nanuya Lailai, actual scene for The Blue Lagoon this time. The water is indeed blue, no more azure than Bora Bora or Aitutaki, but more ultramarine with swirls of jade. It’s still stunning and I’m not complaining. This is my last tropical paradise.I have a typical lofty roofed wooden Fijian house, a bure. it has great views across the lagoon and I indulge in my last South Pacific sunsets.
One of the reasons I returned to Fiji was because the snorkelling was so good last year on the inner islands. This does not disappoint, the coral is far superior to anywhere else on this trip and I go out in a boat and then zoom up and down the reef off the beach at low tide and then high tide till I go all wrinkly. I’ve been trying out my new underwater camera, with some success. The visibility is good, but attempting to capture images of fish is a little trying. They zip about far too quickly and if I do catch one off guard then you can guarantee that the current will waft me away. Nevertheless, there is one patch with several shoals of them all intermingling. Great photos, though the fish clearly expect to get fed at this spot and in their disappointment several decide to nip me instead. As someone then shouts out ‘ sea snake behind you’ retreat seems expedient. It’s a krait- highly poisonous, though they are considered very docile and have tiny fangs. Even a small venomous bite doesn’t sound that appealing.
A farewell snorkel, trying not to think about snakes, and then a challenge, while I wait for the boat back to the mainland. A round the island walk billed at an hour and a half sounds just the ticket. It’s low tide so the staff say it will all be passable. They don’t tell me about all the lava I have to scramble over, or the yapping dogs that will accompany me or the swampy mangroves I have to wade through with ominous squidging beneath. They would have told me if there was sinking sand. Wouldn’t they? And all the time hoping I’m not going to get lost. I don’t want to miss the boat. I keep telling myself that you can’t get lost going anti clockwise round an island. I hope. In the event I make it in record time, scurrying along like the crabs.
Back to the mainland and another brief glimpse into how the other half live at the Hilton. There’s a huge bath marooned in the middle of my room. And a non stop party going on outside. Fiji and the World Cup feature, though I’m not sure how. Just time to attend to hair etc – the first time I’ve seen a hair salon that looked approachable for 5 weeks.
My South Sea Bubble is about to burst. Canada beckons.
When? July 2017 – coming from Kiribati. Next stop Wallis and Futuna.
Here I am again in Denarau. Last time the Hilton, this time the Westin. The hotels on this bit of reclaimed land all look pretty much the same nowadays – dull, cream and brown and a little careworn, though with all the amenities and fittings one could possibly need. The view is a little dull too. There’s a few palm trees on another bit of reclaimed land but it’s nowhere near as pretty as the islands I know are lurking not far offshore. As I’ve said before, it’s reminiscent of the dullest manicured bits of Florida. My driver says he’s never been to the Mamanucas or Yasawas and he lives in Nadi. He says he’s too busy.
I manage a decent rib dinner at the Waterside Grill so that’s all right after the relentless soy and MSG Chinese style diet of Kiribati.
A late breakfast and a seat in the sun admiring the reclaimed beach and I’m back at the airport again. Much too early, as the transfer that had been arranged had more important folk to pick up and transport elsewhere and especially annoying as my plane to Wallis Island is delayed. It hasn’t left Noumea yet. It’s going to be another long day.
At least every single file on my computer is now up to date.
When? August 2017 – coming from Nauru. Next stop Tuvalu.
How? Taxis, walking
Fiji feels wonderful after Nauru. And I’m at the Grand Pacific in Suva, which has been totally refurbished and reopened –one of these great white colonnaded colonial hotels in the mould of Raffles. It’s incredibly comfortable if still somewhat soulless. They just don’t seem to manage to capture atmosphere in Fiji unless it’s proper traditional with bures. Minimalist design doesn’t quite come off in the humidity.
There’s a great view of the harbour, cargo ships dotted in front of mountains, from my balcony, but it’s a grey one. It’s raining.
It’s too cool (and wet) to sit round the very lovely pool so I wait for a break in the weather and set off for town. Taking my cagoule more or less guarantees the sun will appear, though it’s still gusty. The capital of Fiji is pleasant, but it doesn’t set the pulse racing. Most of the Fijians say they prefer Nadi. Lonely Planet has contrived to turn a tour of the town into a two- four hour walk, but that’s really pushing it, unless a great deal of shopping and drinking coffee is involved. It’s vaguely colonial. There’s an imposing grey government building with a clock tower, some more modern administrative structures and a brown stone cathedral. The shops are an up market India- higgledy piggledy but not chaotic -displaying saris and Indian food. In fact there is a very small ‘Little India’ at one end of the main street. Opposite the hotel there’s a large sports ground and a botanic garden with very little of note between the ubiquitous palms, except for another clock tower and some bedraggled crotons. Perhaps it’s the wrong time of year. Even the views across the bay are uninspiring. There are too few ships in too large a stretch of water to create a real impact
I’m back in an hour. I might have been quicker, but I am greeted at every step by a good half of the Fijian males out walking and I have to smile and ‘Bula’ back.
When? August 2017 – coming from Nauru. Next stop Tuvalu.
How? Taxis, walking
Back to Nadi via Suva. That’s another day spent mainly in airports. Today I’m chatting to a thirty year old from Tahiti and two more bankers, from Bangkok and Wellington. At least this is the last of the small, more likely to wobble planes. My last leg today is in a 42 seater ATR.
Back at the airport again. This time I’m on my way to Apia, Samoa, en route to American Samoa. The good news, if anything is good news, at 5 o’clock in the morning, is that there is no-one else at all in security and immigration. The bad news is that I’m flying on another ATR – all the way to Samoa. The man at check in tells me that my boarding card says Gate 9, but there are only eight gates so we will actually go from Gate 8. Perhaps it will make more sense when I’ve woken up.
I booked into a hotel ten minutes from the airport, thinking that I would get as much sleep as possible before my early start. The hotel had other ideas and played loud music until midnight. It’s an odd way for an airport hotel to behave.
When I arrive at Gate 8/9 there’s another, unexpected encounter with the Gang of Three who are on my flight to Samoa. Roy and Nigel have colds and are peevish. That has to be the last farewell.