Rain was falling steadily as I landed at Nadi airport on Fiji's largest island, Viti Levu. We'd had beautiful, cloudless skies until our descent over this nation of islands but after all, we were heading to the start of the wet season. I was beginning to think that I should have put more thought into the weather when planning my trip (SE Asia in wet season, NZ in spring, North Australia in the heat and humidity of summer). I waited for my bags at the carousel and watched as the other passengers removed their damp luggage and went on their way. Suddenly the carousel stopped and about 10 of us looked around nervously. A fellow passenger went to make an enquiry. Apparently the rain had become heavy so the baggage handlers, not wanting to get soaked, decided not to go back to the plane to collect the remaining pieces of luggage. About 20 minutes later the rain calmed down, the carousel restarted and I finally got my bag. That was my first introduction to "Fiji time", the art of taking it easy.
I took a chance coming to Fiji a little unprepared. I hadn't booked any diving - I was still a bit tender from an ear infection - nor had I booked any accommodation. I'd heard that Nadi, being essentially a transport hub, is a bit rough around the edges, with the true beauty of Fiji being in the outer islands, so I hoped to stay in the hotel across the road from the airport and book a flight to a nearby island as soon as possible. Luckily I managed to get the last room in the hotel (a lot of passengers from my flight thought the same thing but managed to collect their luggage and get there before me), and found one of the last seats on an early morning flight to Savusavu on Fiji's second largest island, Vanua Levu.
In NZ I found it a little weird that their dollar coin looked exactly like a pound coin, Queen's head and everything, just half the value. In Fiji there was something odd about the currency. It took me a while to realise that my uneasiness arose from the fact that the Queen is looking directly at you and smiling. Not being an avid fan of the Queen's speech, or the royals in general, I don't think I've ever seen her face-on.
I walked to the airport the following morning (all of 5mins away), and checked in:
"Oh sorry, did you not get a call? The plane is delayed by 3 hours and we can't fly to Savusavu, we have to fly to Labasa and transfer by car from there."
Little did I know this was just the start of Fijian plane woes. Labasa airport was probably the smallest I've ever been to. We practically unloaded our luggage from the plane ourselves. From there it was a hastily organised shared taxi through to Savusavu on the other side of the island, which turned out to be a fun drive through tiny villages and tropical forests with an environmental scientist / spear fisherman (personally, I'd never heard of that combination before) who had to travel with wads of paper in his ears. Probably some horrific ear-drum popping accident from the fishing... I didn't ask as I would probably have been grossed out.
|High Street, Savusavu|
Encouraged to come over from India to work on sugar cane plantations in the time of colonial rule, Indian workers settled. As they were generally more business savvy than the native Fijians, many became wealthy and this has created tensions, leading to several coups and leadership struggles since the late 80s. Generally the ethnic Fijians I spoke to were tolerant of this sizeable community (over a third of the population are of Indian origin; Divali is a national holiday in Fiji) but occasionally some shopkeepers in the larger towns were keen to point out that a product was made by ethnic Fijians in real Fijian villages, rather than by "the Indians".
Aside from the underwater sights, Taveuni is famous for being a point of land that's crossed by the 180 degree meridian - an imaginary line where the international date line should be if it didn't formally weave its way around the island. The meridian was marked by a battered sign at the edge of an equally battered rugby pitch in the middle of nowhere. A very beautiful nowhere nonetheless.
|The rather shabby 180 degree meridian marker|
|Fringing reef between Vanua Levu and Taveuni|
|Diving in the Somosomo Strait, Taveuni|