Friday, February 14, 2014

A Day in Fiji

I had booked round-trip tickets from Phoenix that were through Fiji Airways and had long layovers in Fiji. I was supposed to have a 12 hour layover in Fiji on the way to Australia and a 15 hour layover on the way home. My plane to Fiji had technical difficulties and never took off, but I was able to get booked on a Quantas Air flight that went directly to Sydney and then on the Melbourne.  I actually got in to Melbourne about 7 hours earlier than I was supposed to, but I missed Fiji on the way out.

My flight through Nadi Fiji did work on the way home. I had enough time to explore part of the island and my timing was great as I missed two days of heavy rain and flooding. After landing, I talked with a local travel agent. She set me up with a private taxi driver that she knew (Ronnie). He took me around the southern part of the island and showed me many sites. He was an excellent tour guide and provided me with much of the information in this post.

We went to First Landing which is where the first native peoples were thought to have arrived 3500 years ago from Melanesia. This was a very nice simple resort right on the beach, but there were no other tourists there. The resort had been evacuated for the past few days because of the flooding and it appeared that no one but the attendants had come back yet. The resort owners built up a small island just off the coast in the shape of a foot to commemorate the first landing. It gave a nice view of the shoreline.

Ronnie took me through the town of Nadi and we stopped at a market that was covered, but mostly open on the sides. This was a massive market that was full of fresh produce, local foods, and flowers. I saw a lot of roots being sold, so I asked about it. It is a native plant called kava whose root is ground and soaked in water as a drink that is usually shared with company in the evenings and morning. This variety was called waka which is made from the lateral roots. One of the stall workers made me a cup of it. It was good, slightly spicy, and seemed to make my tongue a bit numb. I felt like it would not be polite if I declined to drink, but I was a little concerned, because it was made from water out of a bucket and hand pressed in the water. As it turned out, I did not end up with any major gastro-intestinal issues which was a relief. In looking this root up on Wikipedia, I was surprised to find that it has sedative and anesthetic properties with active chemicals in the kavalactone group. It has been demonstrated to significantly improve short-term social anxiety over a placebo trial but has been banned in some countries because of its potential hepatotoxicity. That was an interesting cultural experience.

We went to Garden of the Sleeping Giant which was Raymond Burr’s house where he raised orchids and now it belongs to Fiji as a tourist attraction. The Sleeping Giant is the name for the mountain at the foot of which the property is located. It was a very nice landscape that had a great variety of orchids and also had a walk through native jungle. This was a beautiful property and was one of my favorite sites to visit. I spent about an hour walking through the trails and taking pictures of orchid flowers and other tropical plants. The property went up the hill slope into native jungle. This was the most natural area that I saw of the island because most of the rest of the area that I toured was cleared for agriculture and settlements. 

Ronnie said that the island gets most of its power from hydroelectric, but that they have diesel generators as a backup. We drove by this oil storage facility which was quite massive. There is also an active pulp wood industry on the island that is from an introduced pine tree which Ronnie called African pine. I saw some of these trees around the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, but did not identify the species.

Fishing is a major industry here and the locals where just preparing to go back out on the water. They had not been fishing for the last few days because of the storms that came through. Ronnie pointed out a series of houses that he said were from British occupancy. Each of these houses had an elevated water tank which was presumably filled by rainwater and provided the indoor water pressure for the house.

I also quickly visited the Sri Siva Subramaniya temple that was at the site of the original temple built in 1926, but was rebuilt in 1976 during its golden jubilee. This is one of the more popular tourist sites in Nadi, but I just stopped to see the temple from the outside.

We drove by two universities (The University of Fiji and Fiji National University) that were located near Nadi, although I did not stop to visit. The University of Fiji was established in 2005. I liked their objective statement. "The University’s objectives include providing higher education relevant to Fiji ‘s needs, but within a global framework and to support Fiji ‘s development as a sustainable, peaceful, inclusive and progressive society committed to good governance."

I visited three different resorts in my short time on the island and they all had some nice characteristics. First Landing was a nice secluded resort directly on the shore. It had some very nice dining areas and it looked like you could rent kayaks and other water sport activities. This was my favorite site which would be nice to visit if I return to the island. I spent about half of the day at Smuggler’s Cove which was mostly populated by young people that were out sun-bathing. This was also a nice location right on the beach. It was a small place with a bar and restaurant looking out over the water. Ronnie dropped me off here for lunch, so I stayed around there reading a book until it was time to go back towards the airport at 6pm. I took a taxi back towards the airport and had him drop me off at Russel’s resort which was across the street and walking distance from the airport. This was a very nice place, but was not on the coast. It was much more family oriented with swimming pools and many families walking around.  There were two guitar players that were playing and singing during my last hour at Russel’s which was a very nice treat.

Most of these places seemed to be fairly economical and also had day rates for people like me that were only staying during daylight hours on a layover. I did not get a room anywhere as I wanted to explore, but it would be nice to spend some time here if I ever come back this way. Interestingly, I asked many people where they liked to go in Fiji (including Ronnie the taxi cab driver); everyone indicated that they mainly leave the main island and go out to the more secluded islands off the coast. This would definitely be a nice place to explore more in the future, but it would be an easy place to come and relax on the way to Australia or New Zealand and it reduced the single flight time to about nine hours from Los Angeles.

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