Tuesday, October 19, 2010

bula birthday

my fiji route

For those of you still guessing....... yes, I DID get away again for my birthday.

It was very last minute.

Do you know that little glow of pleasure you get when you discover $20 you had forgotten all about in a jacket pocket? Well imagine it wasn't $20 but $550. That's what happened to me three of weeks ago. I had squirreled it away more than 18 months ago (I often keep a wad of cash at home for daily & weekly living expenses to save me constantly going to an auto-teller.) It was around the time I had to get ready to move from my old flat. With all the ensuing turmoil of the move it stayed hidden and forgotten all this time to emerge just before my birthday.

Great present eh?

So my original plan was to use my 'back-up' idea for a birthday celebration if I wasn't able to afford an overseas trip - and that was to skydive. Always wanted to but never got around to it. Once I actually got to the airfield, had practiced the rolling landing, but at the last minute the weather turned and we couldn't take the plane up. So I looked into doing it this year.

It was quite expensive to do it as I wanted to jump on my actual birthday - which was a Saturday this year. Weekends are pricier. But the predicted weather forecast was dour so I thought about other options. One was to fly up to see a mates new home out the back of Noosa in South Queensland.

That got me to the Jetstar website.

Then it was too late. Whilst browsing I saw an excellent fare for Fiji and it was booked before I realised what I was doing!

To get the cheap fare meant I had to leave on the Saturday and return the following Saturday. Even a day more, or a day less pushed the fare up by 50%.

Now Fiji has never been a 'must see' destination for me, being very much a resort island; hotels, swimming pools and Pina Coladas. But I was certain there had to be more to it than just that.

So I flew into Nadi on the West side of the main island and straight away caught a local bus from the airport to a small town to the north called Lautoka. Once here I changed to another bus which took me to the very north of the island to a town called Rakiraki. Here I hopped into a taxi for a short ride to Volivoli, a great little 'resort' on the northern most tip of the island.

on my volivoli verandah

birthday ritual

volivoli beach

donning dive gear

dive boat

I spent two night here and went diving in the interim. Really clear water and some of the best coral I've yet seen. And came face to face with my first shark. (Well first REAL shark - the guitar shark in Zanzibar was more a haddock in shark drag) I think it was a white tipped reef shark that was at least err ...12 metres long...

Fortunately, by the time my brain registered what it was it had swum on away from me disappearing into the distance.

Leaving Volivoli I caught another bus which took me down the Eastern side of the island, hugging the coast and at times venturing up into the highlands. It afforded me the opportunity to see a lot of the landscape. Several hours later I arrived in Suva, the capital, where I spent 2 nights.

Normally I am not a fan of capital cities, but there was something really nice about Suva. I suspect it has a lot to do with the Fijians. And the relaxed casualness about the place. Small, clean and comfortable. I saw almost no tourists there, and was not hassled by anyone even once.

The day after I arrived I took a local bus up into the hills north of Suva to a National Park, the Colo-I-Suva rainforest park. I spent about 5 relaxing hours wandering through the forest listening to the birds, occasionally getting rained on (well... it IS a rainforest) and searching out many of the small but attractive waterfalls.

in the rainforest



The rest of my time in Suva was spent wandering around the town, counting the mongooses (mongeese? mongi??) visiting the National museum and shopping for groceries. (I was making all of my own meals on this trip to keep costs down.)

Leaving Suva I caught another bus 3/4 the way along the south coast (called the Coral Coast) to a small resort near Sigitoka called Tubakula. I spent two nights here and the middle day I took a trip up the Sigitoka River into the highlands where I stopped in a small village to join in a kava ceremony; hopped on a bilibili (bamboo raft) to go up the river, and explored a small cave system.

tubakula beach

my hidden accommodation in tubakula

view from my bungalow, tubakula

kava ceremony

sigitoka river

sigitoka river

cave entrance

cave interior

cave formation

Leaving Tubakula it was only a brief bus ride to Nadi, where I arrived early afternoon on the day before I was to fly out.

Now Nadi is a bit of a flea pit I have to say. I would recommend to anyone planning on going to Fiji not to waste any time there. There are a hundred places within 2 or 3 hours bus ride from the airport to stay that are far more beautiful that it really doesn't matter what time you fly in, you would have time to get to somewhere else!

As it was I had the entire afternoon and evening to kill here as well as the next morning.

It is some indication of my feelings about Nadi that I chose to head to the airport at 10am for a 3pm flight rather than hang around Nadi.

My overall impression? The Fijians (or rather the Fijian-Fijians as opposed to the Indo-Fijians) were what really made the trip for me. I think I have to say, with 67 countries under my belt, that they were the most genuinely friendly people I have ever met anywhere. And (not wishing to get bogged down in the politics) the Indo-Fijians could take some valuable lessons from them...

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