Tuesday, 14 June 2016

A day in Suva

Fiji, the jewel of the Pacific. Endless white sand beaches, leaning palm trees, pineapple plantations and tropical sunsets.

Suva, the capital city, is not like the Fiji of picture postcards. It's more of an industrial and Government centre and, on a Sunday, we quickly discovered that every shop is closed. The malls and a few outlets opened especially to extract tourist dollars from us cruisers – and fair enough. Opportunities to capitalise on tourism dollars in this part of the country are rare as tourists flock to the more popular resorts on the other side of the island. It's quite surreal to realise that your cruise liner has more storeys than any buildings in the CBD; its presence in the harbour is obvious.

Overlooking Suva harbour
After a quick look around downtown Suva, we returned to the port in search of a local tour. This is more challenging than you'd imagine. We ran the gauntlet of independent tour operators eagerly shoving laminated posters of tropical scenes in our faces while shouting 'deals' until I gathered enough staunch to forge an escape path through them. We settled on a small operator who promised three hours looking at historical sites, a traditional Fijian village and a visit to a watering hole at the bottom of a waterfall, saving beaches for another day. They thanked us repeatedly for supporting locals by coming to them directly for a tour (something I prefer to do when travelling) and were lovely hosts.

We set off in an air conditioned van – pure luxury on a 28°C day. (Yes, we kiwis are only used to highs of 15°C at this time of year.) We stopped for photo opportunities and sunshine at various sites before making our way to a traditional Fijian village, Orchid Island. This village was hit pretty hard by Cyclone Winston earlier this year but they've done a fantastic job cleaning up the damage. The village lives independently of government funding and tourism helps generate some income.
Thatched village hut
Hand woven roof over a walkway
We were shown inside a 100 year old traditional temple with a hand-thatched ceiling and Tiny shells on the walls represented the fingers of deceased chiefs' wives. Apparently when a chief died, their wife was required to chop off a finger. (I'm not sure why.) If she refused, she would be burned alive so usually chose to go along with the plan. It was an eerie story.

A traditional Fijian temple
Weaving and carvings. The tiny white shells represent dead chiefs' wives' fingers.
Looking up towards the temple roof
Our guide then showed us through the gardens to a turtle pond, where two horn-billed turtles swim around in the shade. Sadly, they are the last remaining animals in this village. The rest had to be set free during Cyclone Winston as the water and mud levels rose higher than their outside enclosures.
Home to two horn billed turtles
Next, we were guided through beautiful tropical trees and plants and made our way to a museum-type enclosure where we heard about the history of how Fiji and Fijians came to be. We were allowed to take photos and touch the artifacts, including these tools and weapons that were used in combat.
Traditional weapons
Orchid Island cultural centre
We finished off our tour with a visit to a popular water hole at the bottom of a small waterfall. The long rope casually tied around a tree limb is a throwback to idyllic kiwi waterholes of the past, before health and safety laws kicked in. It's refreshing to see that sometimes life's simplest pleasures, like jumping into a waterhole on a hot day, really are the best.
Waterfall and watering hole

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