Insel | Island

Island #4: Fiji – the South Pacific’s urban hub

Fiji is a quite touristic place, but the tourists are prevalent only in some resort areas. This leaves a lot to discover. Fiji is the most urbanized and developed nation in the South Pacific – a good break in between all the remote islands.
Matanitu Tugalala o Viti
Capital: Suva
Inhabitants: 899.000
Area: 18.274 km2
Inhabited islands: Ca. 110
Languages: English, iTaukei (Fijian), (Fiji) Hindi, Rotuman, local dialects
Around the island: 468 km (Kings Road and Queens Road around Viti Levu)

 

Fiji ed

The Passport Party

Fiji is the hub of the South Pacific region. I entered and departed Fiji four times, resulting in eight passport stamps. The border crossings were not memorable. Nadi, Fiji’s main airport, is the only airport in the whole region which truly looks like an airport on other continents, with a serious security check and several gates. The capital Suva’s Nausori airport is tiny. I did not like it: The weather was horribly humid, the waiting area crowded and no air-condition in sight.

P1180728Nadi International Airport

What makes Fiji unique

  • Fiji has a 7-Dollar-banknote (see photo below). It is a commemorative banknote on the occasion of Fiji’s gold medal in Rugby Sevens at the Olympic Games in 2016. Surprisingly, I found several specimens in circulation, so apparently it is not only for collectors.
  • Fiji is the most urbanized nation in the South Pacific. Suva, Lautoka and Nadi indeed feel urban, with a heavy Indian influence. Boasting mainly 60s and 70s concrete architecture and little of historic value, they aren’t overly attractive. I enjoyed spending my time there nevertheless, just for the range of cosy cafés, good restaurants and shops.
  • One third of Fiji’s population have Indian origin. They had arrived as workers on the sugar plantations during British colonial time. Now Hindu temples, Indian restaurants and many Indian-owned shops and companies abound in Fiji. The relations with the indigenous Fijians (iTaukei) are somewhat complicated and the issue of political controversy.
  • Fiji is a picturesque tropical island nation, but when it comes to coups d’état, it rather resembles a Latin American banana republic. Reason for the political instability is controversies about the position of the Indian minority. The Fijian military forcibly took power in 1987, 2000 and 2006. Only since 2014, Fiji finally has a democratically elected government, led by Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.
  • The South Pacific is no destination for city trips: Most towns are charmless at best and outright appalling at worst (e.g. Honiara). The one exception is Levuka on Ovalau Island. Fiji’s first colonial capital is a true colonial beauty. The colourful wooden façades of the main streets remind Wild West movies, and many more historical buildings have been preserved. Levuka’s setting in a lush and steep coastal forest is amazing. Just a pity the whole town stinks of fish due to the canning factory in the middle of the town.

P1200381Levuka

My best experience

…was spending a horror movie night in the South Pacific’s oldest hotel. Hotel Royal in Levuka was built in 1852 and hasn’t seen much change since then. The rooms have a Victorian air, but are Spartan. There are not even glass windows, just wooden blinds. From my room I therefore heard all noises from outside and inside the hotel, even the creaking of the wood. The highlight was my second night, when a heavy thunderstorm poured down on Levuka for hours. The setting, light and especially the sound were truly like in a horror movie. Just the suspense music was missing – and so it felt not a bit thrilling.

P1200241.JPG My room in Hotel Royal

My worst experience

Reckless driving is one of the biggest dangers of travelling in poor countries. Unfortunately, bus and taxi drivers are even worse than average drivers. So many times I have been in taxis and buses that took big risks in unnecessarily overtaking other vehicles, and so many times I have already expected an accident to happen which in the end luckily didn’t. Well, in Fiji, it finally did. It was the classic situation: My bus overtook a car in a curve; another car on the other lane approached and couldn’t avoid hitting the bus. Apart from a little shock, no one was hurt in the bus, but the car looked rather demolished. I soon continued on another bus, so I never saw what happened to the passengers of the car.

National symbols

171027 FIJ Suva Nausori Airport     171023 FJI Suva Nausori AirportPassport Stamps of Fiji.

P1220633Fiji Dollar (FJD) banknotes and coins. 1 USD equals about 2 FJD.

P1200184Flag of Fiji on a bus from Suva to Levuka.

P1200124Fijian car plate.

Did you know that…

…the writing of the Fijian language is quite misleading? The letter “g” is pronounced as “ng”, “b” as “mb”, “c” as “th” etc. So King Cakobau is actually pronounced “Thakombau”.

…the local council of Rabi, an island in Northeastern Fiji, also administrates the island of Banaba in Kiribati? Its population had lived on Banaba originally and still holds the rights on the now sparsely populated island.

…Fiji has the worst payment system in public transport? Bus drivers neither accept cash nor credit cards – just the money cards of the bus system. It is very time consuming to buy such cards, and many times they do not even work. And forget about buying them spontaneously, just before taking a bus – you’ll miss it. Why not simply use money?

…security in Fijian cities is surprisingly poor? After dark, the city centres immediately become deserted, and it is advised to move around only by Taxi.

…Fijian pop music is quite popular in all nations of Oceania? To give an impression: During my visit, the most played song was “Nasi Dredre Ga” by Voqa Kei Valenisau.

…there is a shop chain in Fiji with the curious name Rups Big Bear? Indeed, all branches feature an enormous bear statue above their entrance. And the bear looks like out of a child painting.

P1200538

Practical Information:
International transport: Fiji is the transport hub of the South Pacific and thus easily accessible. The main airport is in Nadi, with connections to most Pacific nations, Australia, New Zealand and “overseas” destinations. The airport of Fiji’s capital Suva is much smaller, but the planes to Tonga and Tuvalu leave from there. There is only one international link by sea: The ferry to Tuvalu, which leaves approximately monthly on a somewhat unpredictable schedule.
Inland transport: Buses are frequent and rather slow on Viti Levu’s main roads, the Queen’s Road and the King’s road. They neither accept cash nor credit card, only the cards of an own payment system (prepaid cards do exist). This makes every payment a cumbersome challenge. Sometimes the drivers simply let me in for free, other times they turned me away and left, and in some cases I even managed to provide the required plastic cards. But they are only available in major bus stations and the reader does not always work… A horrible innovation. Buses also commute on Vanua Levu island, but not on the minor islands. Domestic flights and ferries provide the link between the islands, the ferries are recommended as they provide more insight in everyday life. Manuka and Yasawa, two island groups popular among backpackers, are accessible from Nadi with catamarans.
Accommodation: Fiji has a developed tourist infrastructure and offers accommodation of all price ranges. Most hotels and resorts, however, are far away from urban centres, in rather remote locations. In the cities, particularly in Suva, accommodation is scarce and overpriced.
Food: The traditional cuisine of Fiji is rich in seafood. Due to the Indian origin of many Fijians, there are many Indian restaurants. Both options are excellent, so most towns offer a good range of restaurants. Just don’t go out too late, as they tend to close very early. Due to the remote location of most resorts, the tourists there are at the mercy of the hotel cuisine, which is not always satisfying.
FJI Suva Chicken Tikka Masala.JPG
British or Indian legacy? UK’s national dish Chicken Tikka Masala is very popular in Fiji.
Money: Credit cards are widely accepted and ATMs are frequent, so money supply gives no headaches.
Communication: Roaming with foreign SIM cards works well in Fiji, at a cost. As usual, it’s cheaper to get a local SIM card and buy some airtime and data.

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