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The Fiji islands are situated in the South Pacific, midway between Melanesia (Solomons, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea) and Polynesia (Tonga, Samoa, the Cooks and French Polynesia). They are south of the equator, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn and west of the International Dateline. The territorial limits enclose an area of 1. million sq km (half a million sq mi), but only 1.5% of this is dry land. About 00 islands make up the nation.

Viti Levu at 10,0 sq km (405 sq mi), and Vanua Levu at 558 sq km (160 sq mi) are the biggest islands. Suva, the countrys capital is on the south-western coast of Viti Levu, and the island also has the countrys highest peak - Mt Tomanivi (Mt Victoria) at 1m (4ft). Taveuni and Kadavu are also substantial islands, but the rest of the country is made up of small islands divided into the Lomaiviti, Lau, Moala, Yasawa, Mamanuca and Rotuma groups. Many of these islands are relatively untouched and there are many beautiful reefs, lagoons, harbours, as well as natural vegetation.

Since the 160s, around 15% of the countrys forests have been cleared and erosion is a problem. Management of the environment has been poor, and pollution and waste continue to sully the waterways and lands around the urban areas, particularly around Suva. In some areas, fish consumption is a health hazard.

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Of the 000-odd plant species identified on the Fiji islands, around one-third are endemic. Fijians developed uses for much of the native flora for food, medicine, dyes, implements and building materials. Around 500 years ago the first settlers brought poultry, dogs and pigs, and this coincided with the extinction of at least three of the indigenous bird species - two megapodes and a giant fruit pigeon. Bats are the only remaining indigenous land mammals but introduced animal species have taken to the local habitats with relish. Happy and established interlopers include the Indian mongoose (introduced to control rats in the sugar-cane plantations), feral dogs, cats, pigs, goats and rats. The 0 species of land-dwelling reptiles include turtles and sea-snakes, but the migration of the crested iguana from South America is a bit of a mystery. There are about 100 bird species, of which are native. Sea life is abundant and varied, and many species of coral, sponges, tropical reef fish, rays, sharks, dolphins and whales call the Fijian waters home (or call in on their way home).

Fiji enjoys a mild and stable climate most of the year, due to the large expanses of open water that surround its islands. The prevailing winds are easterly and south-easterly; the mountainous spines of the larger islands produce clouds and greater rainfall on their windward sides. The wet season extends from November to April, but rain falls throughout the year. Daytime temperatures average around 5°C (77°F), and humidity is generally high. Tropical cyclones can blow up between November and April, although they are rarely dangerous.


Getting There & Away

Centrally located in the mid-South Pacific, Fiji (along with Hawaii) is one of the main airline hubs of the region, and its well serviced by international carriers. From Fiji you can fly direct to anywhere around the Pacific Rim. Many people come on a round-the-world ticket or as a stopover between Australia or New Zealand and North America.

Although Suva is the capital, Nadi International Airport is where most travellers arrive and it is km (6mi) from the Nadi city centre. Nausori International Airport is Fijis second international airport, km (14mi) north-east of Suva and accessible by taxi. A US$.50 departure tax is levied on all international departees over the age of 1 years.

Getting to Fiji by sea nowadays is very difficult unless youre on a cruise boat or a private yacht. Fiji is a popular destination for yachties sailing around the South Pacific. Fijis designated ports of entry are Suva, Lautoka, Savusavu and Levuka; other marinas include Vuda Point Marina (between Nadi and Lautoka) and Musket Cove Marina on Plantation Island in the Mamanucas.

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Getting Around

There are good transport connections in Fiji making internal travel easy and relatively inexpensive. Clearly, the most expensive way to travel between islands is by plane, and there are many domestic operators servicing all of the island groups, but unless youve got no time and heaps of money youre probably better off looking at ferries and small local boats.

Ferries are inexpensive, frequent, reliable and very seaworthy, and rubbing shoulders with the local people while travelling between islands is a pleasant and interesting part of the Fiji travel experience. Ferry routes connect most major coastal areas of Viti Levu and Vanua Levu with all the major islands. You can charter boats as well, or catch one of the smaller unscheduled local boats between islands (although the latter are best avoided in heavy seas).

The larger islands have good bus networks, and outside the towns you can often just hail down a bus wherever you see one. Express buses travel between major centres and local buses seem to stop at every village they pass, but by either means bus travel in Fiji is a pleasant way to meet local people and an effective way to get around.


Further Reading

My Twenty-One Years in the Fiji Islands, by Totaram Sanadhya, is an interesting first-hand account of the indenture system that brought so many Indians to the Fiji islands and changed the country for ever after. It was first written in 110, but has had several new editions since - its out of print at the moment, so its a bit hard to get hold of.

More general historical works include Fiji in the Pacific - A History and Geography of Fiji by Donnelly, Quanchi & Kerr (which is more of a school text than anything), Fiji Times - A History of Fiji by Kim Gravelle, and an interesting work called Beyond the Politics of Race, An Alternative History of Fiji to 1 by William Sutherland.

For some discussions about the first military coup and the post-coup era look for Power and Prejudice - The Making of the Fiji Crisis by Brij V Lal, More Letters from Fiji, 10-14, First Years Under a Post-Coup Constitution by Len Usher, and Rabuka - No Other Way by Eddie Dean and Stan Ritova.

A Lady (Mary Davis Wallis) penned Life in Feejee, or, Five Years Among the Cannibals way back in 1851 - its the memoirs of an American trading captain.

Fiji, by Daryl Tarte, is a trashy novel that is an easy read and covers a wide range of historical topics. The book covers over 100 years of Fijian history and looks at the experiences of a plantation family - its out of print at the moment.

Works by Fijian writers include Joseph Veramus short-story collection The Black Messiah and his novel about Suva teenagers called Moving Through the Streets, and Jo Nacolas play I Native No More.

Fiji Off the Beaten Track

By John Penisten

There are few places in all the South Pacific as alluring and inviting to visit as the sunny isles of Fiji which stradle the 180th meridian and where the new Millennium is slated to begin as dawn cracks that imaginary line come January 1, 000. Fiji is simply a fun place to visit. The warm and friendly nature of the islands mixed Indian and Fijian cultures combined with the tranquil tropical climate and beautiful countryside provide a relaxing, unhurried atmosphere. While Fijis visitor industry is centered on the main island of Viti Levu, the outer islands of this far-flung archipelago provide excellent accommodations and facilities for adventurous travelers of all types, from budget to luxury. And while Viti Levu is a great place to visit, the real Fiji awaits discovery in the outer islands, small towns and villages of this once British colonial outpost. For adventurous visitors who want to see and experience the real Fiji, its necessary to get-off-the-beaten-track. And two of the best places to discover the real Fiji are Savusavu and Levuka. Bula mai Viti!

Take an incredibly beautiful bay surrounded with rugged rain forest clad hills, add acres and acres of copra plantations, ageless Fijian villages, a languorous tropical ambience, general stores run mostly by Indians and Chinese, a colorful town market, a boat wharf, assorted government offices, and a town that appears to still have one foot in the 1th. century, and you have the essence of what Savusavu, Fiji is all about.

It bills itself (thanks to the local Savusavu Jaycees Club anyway) as Fijis Hidden Paradise. The town has a charming, unassuming character totally in tune with its isolated off-the-beaten-track location. Savusavu, the provincial center of Cakaudrove Province, is located on the southeast peninsula of Vanua Levu, Fijis second largest island.

The locals have an unpretentious and detached attitude toward visitors and the outside world in general. I arrived on a late Sunday afternoon at the small, little-used Savusavu Airport, a mere swath through the coconut trees. I was one of just a handful of passengers on the small Sunflower Airlines plane from Nadi International Airport on Viti Levu.

But mass tourism its not and its still a pretty quiet, laid-back country place. The town and surrounding environs have only a handful of small resorts and inns. One of the more noted is the scuba-dive eco-tourism oriented and pricey Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort just outside the town proper.

In town are the more moderate Hot Springs Hotel and other budget guesthouses and backpacker inns. Savusavu Bay is not known for white sandy beaches. Its shores are covered with thick mangrove swamps and muddy flats.

There are some fine beaches for swimming and snorkeling, however you will need some local transportation as they are anywhere from 4-5 miles out of town. Nukubalavu (which means long sand in Fijian) is near the airport and has a nice sandy beach. Just west of Nukubalavu is Lesiaceva Point which also has a nice sandy beach area.

The point is at the end of the peninsula south of town and is next to the Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort. Other activities that visitors can enjoy are mountain biking, sailing, ocean kayaking, waterfall and rain forest hikes, and visits to local villages are easily arranged. Volcanic hot springs still seep and steam along the bayshore.

One small spring is located just below the Hot Springs Hotel (thus its name). The Hibiscus Highway extends some 40 miles eastward from Savusavu to Buca Bay. Its a scenic day excursion drive through copra plantations, virgin rain forest country, and along meandering coastline with several Fijian villages en route as well. Vanua Levus terrain consists of lush green jungle-clad hills and a mountainous interior.

From Buca Bay, boats can be hired for excursions over to Taveuni Island or even stops at Kioa. Another easy day excursion from Savusavu is the drive over to Labasa on the far west side of Vanua Levu. Its 60 miles from Savusavu to Labasa, about a .5/-hour ride by car or bus over the mountains.


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