Our trip to Fiji was sandwiched between 7 months in Asia, and 4 months in Central- and South America. After getting to know Fiji’s laid back culture better at our village homestay, and it’s stunning landscape better on our island hopping trip in the Yasawas, we decided to book a holiday home for 8 days on the south coast of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. Add to that our first hire car of the trip, and it started to feel like a home-from-home. Our aim was to enjoy having our own space, cooking for ourselves again, and take some time out to plan (and get excited about) Central America, with a bit of low level sightseeing in nearby Suva.
We picked up the car after our boat arrived back from the Yasawa islands into Nadi
late on Fiji time. By 8.30pm we’d picked up our shopping, caught up with Mereonnie from our homestay who was visiting family on the mainland, and headed off on a 3 hour drive through the pouring rain along the south coast. We were grateful for our free upgrade to a 4×4, and especially grateful for Fiji’s easy road system: clockwise or anticlockwise.
Pacific Harbour is home to an Arts Village (which turned out to be more ‘shop’ than ‘art’), a couple of hotels, and a beach. The main attraction for us, though, was our cottage. We arrived late at night, so got to experience that feeling when you wake up somewhere new to discover where exactly you’d been stumbling about the night before; the road we’d come along turned out to be meters away from the ocean, with a view of Beqa island in the distance, that dark expanse around our cottage was actually a freshly mown lawn with our own swimming pool, and that looming shadow in the distance that blocked out half our view of the stars – our own avocado tree!
Pacific Harbour is a short drive from Fiji’s capital Suva. As the heavy winds and unseasonably stormy showers, that had begun since we left the Yasawas, had taken the beach off our agenda, we decided to head over to Suva. We were also curious to see how laid back Fijian life meets big city living.
Well, in some ways it looked as incongruous as we’d expected. Workers wore traditional Fijian sulu and sote to the office. Cars half-heartedly beeped whilst pedestrians nonchalantly wandered across the road regardless. The bus depot backed onto a narrow harbour where fibre bottom boats loaded up goods to take back to the islands. Of course there is that one constant all across Fiji – rugby; open spaces were used for training, colleges backed onto huge immaculate pitches, adverts along the highway encourage you (with slightly wartime rhetoric) to ‘support our boys!’ and the national stadium has pride of place on the way into town.
We first headed straight in to the main central fruit and vegetable market. Another bonus of self catering was being able to buy things to take ‘home’ from the local farm traders on the ground floor, and the spice market upstairs. Once we’d stocked up on our 5 a day, we followed the road around the edge of the peninsula, where most of the main attractions are.
The Grand Pacific hotel, built in 1914, has been recently restored and is a beautiful piece of colonial architecture with tall archways and a design intended to make passengers feel like they’d never gone ashore, it’s garden backing onto the (usually sunnier) South Pacific. Worth a quick walk around, but didn’t seem worth stopping for an overpriced drink.
Government House has Fiji’s answer to the guards at Buckingham Palace; soldiers outside wear traditional Fijian dress and stern, immovable expressions, and, if you come at the right time, you can even see the changing of the guards ceremony.
The museum was our Suva highlight. Multiple galleries cover natural history, religious and tribal history (including some fairly detailed descriptions of the role of cannibalism), well maintained examples of old Fijian (and other South Pacific nation) maritime artefacts, as well as galleries depicting Fiji’s colonial history from the first Dutch and British ships who, for a hundred years, decided to avoid Fiji’s treacherous seas and dangerous people, to the introduction of Christianity and the missionaries who ended up eaten, to the indentured Indian workers brought by the British, who led to the 40% Indo-Fijian population that still often suffer social persecution today.
Back in Pacific Harbour, when we weren’t lazing in the hammock by the lemon tree, watching bats swoop overhead in broad daylight, we headed out to walk along the completely undeveloped 2km stretch of beach starting at the minimalist, yet still somehow kind of stuffy, Pearl Hotel, which had been commandeered by camera crews that were filming in the area. Rumours at the Arts Village ranged from ‘yet another series of Survivor’, to ‘omigodjonnydeppisintown!!’.
At the end of the stretch of driftwood-scattered sand is Uprising Resort, with live music on Sundays and a tropical cocktail list revolving mainly around banana, pineapple, and coconut liqueurs.
Watersports are also on offer at Pacific Harbour; whilst we decided the whitewater rafting didn’t fit our laid-back plans, we were almost tempted away from our bubble by the sailing trip around nearby Benqa island. We did make it out onto the water when we hired a kayak from one of our neighbours for the tiny cost of 5 FJD per hour (£1.80 or so) to explore the inland waterways and mangroves.
For us, Pacific Harbour rounded off a perfect Fiji itinerary involving cultural immersion, stunning South Pacific scenery, seeing modern city life, and finally a week of doing very little at all. Next stop Cuba, via a couple of Californian vineyard visits during our 48 hour LAX layover at Ed and Virginia’s.