Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Fiji adventures

Mum, Dad and I headed to Fiji for Cat and Mat's wedding, and went in search for my great-great grandfather's grave on the way there.

Levuka town

Levuka is the place to go to see the real Fiji. It used to be the major trading port for all the pacific in the 1800’s. Now it’s more of a ghost town. Most of the shops along the formerly thriving sea front are boarded over. A few small stores survive, along with a couple of food markets and ‘amusement’ centres (i.e. pool tables). And a few restaurants support the small tourist population. The town survives due to the Tuna canning factory, which employs most of the locals.

We really enjoyed walking down the main street. Everyone is so friendly, and if you feel friendly, greet everyone with ‘Bula’ as you walk around, and you are sure to be met with a big smile and ‘bula’ in return. There are lots of rustic colonial buildings to see, and heaps of schools and churches.

The little Levuka museum is worth a visit, even if it only takes you 20mins to read everything in it.

We spent a day walking around the village, and I think that was enough. There are quite a few tours you can do that show you more of the town and its history, and we all thought they would be great to do if we went back again. You could easily spend 4 days in Levuka, and by the end of that time you’ll be feeling like it’s 1900 again.

Ovalau divesports can organise your accommodation, transfers and tours, and are a great source of info on Levuka and the surrounding islands. It is run by a German couple that have lived in the area for 20 years – Andrea and Nobi.

The Royal Hotel

We stayed at the Royal, which is certainly the place to stay if you want to feel like you’re living in colonial times. It’s the oldest hotel in Fiji, and is still decorated like it’s the early 19th century. My single room had a single four-poster bed had a mosquito net, which did a good job in keeping out the mozzies. I opened the window to look straight out onto the ocean, and there was a table and a few chairs in the sitting room. It came with a toilet and shower, although the hot water wasn’t too plentiful.

Downstairs there’s a series of sitting rooms that looked like time stopped 100 years ago, a large pool table, a bar, computer room (with fast internet, $6 an hour), the breakfast room - $3 for toast and nice plunger coffee (with 6 flavours!), and ghost-like staff who are almost impossible to find. I felt like I was in an Agatha Christie novel at the Royal – all that was missing was a murder. I heard that the nicest place to stay is the Levuka Homestay, run by a couple from Perth in Australia. There also a new place opened up that has self contained apartments, and looked fabulously clean and new from the street. Apparently the Ovalau resort is very tired these days.

The graveyard

The reason we went to Levuka was to discover a piece of family history. My great-great grandfather, from England, was the captain of a schooner that traded around the pacific islands, and was based in Levuka in the late 1800’s. He married Henrietta, a nurse who had moved to Levuka from Sydney as a nurse for a family. They had a baby girl, Alice, my great-grandmother, and when she was only a few weeks old the captain died of a heart attack. He was buried in Levuka in 1897.

My mum’s cousins had come and seen his grave over 30 years ago, and we thought we’d try and do the same. We talked to some helpful people at the library and the national records, and they suggested we go to the graveyard a bit south of the town where all the Europeans are buried. We got in a taxi, and the driver took us about 5mins down the road to a cemetery built on a hill overlooking the sea. He pointed us towards the steep part, where the Europeans are buried, and said that a few weeks ago he’d brought some people here to look for a grave and they searched for hours without finding it. The three of us trekked up the hill and spread out in search for the grave. 15mins later we were ready to give up – many of the grave stones were toppled or the engraving worn away, and there were hundreds too look at. We’ll do some more research, we’ll try and call the cousins, we said. I started heading down the hill, and yelled out ‘I’ve found it!’. There it was, all 111years old – a stone brought from Sydney lying on a concrete grave. The lettering was in bronze or something similar, and was still very easy to read. It was quite incredible to discover that a romantic story about a great-great grandfather suddenly became much more real.

Levuka’s restaurants

Well the Royal hotel serves breakfast all day, it’s cheap, a little slow, but thick with atmosphere. You can get eggs, bacon, fruit and plunger coffee.

The Levuka pizza restaurant, opposite the wharf and tourist info centre, is the best place to eat. Main meals cost around $7 and are very tasty. The staff are excellent. You can get cheap wine by the glass, and ice-cold Fiji bitter.

Whale’s tale is tasty, in a good location on the main street, and mains cost around $10. You can even get bottles of decent wine!

Epi’s tour

Epi’s tour was fantastic. Epi is an incredible storyteller, and told us the history of Fijians and his village while sitting on the veranda of his house in Lovoni. We then had a delicious lunch made by people in the village that was made completely from local produce (and a small can of tuna). Epi took us for a wander around the village then, showing us plants that can be used as medicine, food, tea, and even to tell you where people have been. We visited the chief’s house, and he left a gift for him on behalf of us, which he organised. It was a real insight into how villagers live in Fiji.

Leleuvia

After two nights in Levuka, we went to Leleuvia island on an open topped boat. It takes about 45mins through very calm water around the reefs to the small island with white sandy beaches. It’s a family run island resort, and the staff are very friendly. Our bures are basic – bed with mosquito net, a small table, a single light bulb, and small windows that look out on the nearby ocean. There are new shared facilities that are nice and kept clean. The showers a cold, although there are solar shower bags that you can fill up and put in the sun. The food was tasty and well presented. We found that it was enough food, but big men might be a bit hungry. Beer is available at the bar. On our last night there was a kava party. The boys from the family (who entertained with singing and guitars with dinner each evening) did some extra singing and served up kava in the traditional way.

We did 2 days of diving from Leleuvia with Nobi from Ovalau watersports. He has a small dive shop set up on the island. He was a great instructor, and took us to some sites with very pretty coral formations, sharks and lots of baby fish. You wont see many large fish, sea urchins or sea cucumbers though – everything that’s edible is taken by locals and sold to Asian markets apparently. Nice, easy diving, highly recommended. $330/person for 2 days of diving, with 2 dives each day.

Leleuvia was very quiet – there were only us and another couple staying the whole time we were there. It is quite popular as a weekend spot with people from Suva though, and a recent art exhibition on the island saw 40 or 50 people staying there. A couple we chatted with on the island had just spent a few days at Caqalai, and they said that Leleuvia was in much better condition, much nicer and better food than Caqalai, although Caqalai was busier, probably due to the better write up it has in the Lonely Planet (apparently the lonely planet writer didn’t go to either of the islands though!).

It takes about 20mins to walk around the sandy beach on the island. There’s some good snorkelling off the beach, and you can see some nice soft coral there. We saw a sea snake coiled up in the sun too, although we hear that no one has ever been bitten on the island. You can also walk out on the mud flats at load tide for a few kilometres, and see lots of starfish and little moral eels in the pools. There’s a volleyball court and sea kayaks for use too whenever you feel energetic.

Overall Leleuvia was a fabulous place to get away from everything. It is a beautiful, peaceful island where you can easily pass the day reading on a sun lounge by the ocean, snorkelling and searching for sea shells on the shore. 3 nights was enough for us.

We left Leleuvia on another small boat to Wandalice landing. We travelled across a calm ocean and then up the Wandalice river, taking about 1.5hours in total. We got to the landing ( a concrete block by the bridge) and Joe from Leleuvia waited the 5mins until the local bus came to take us to Suva. The bus ride took about 1.5hours, and the bus was very comfortable, with some bollywood/R&B/rap music blaring to accompany us there.

Suva

We spent an afternoon and evening in Suva – went to museum, which was really interesting. Walking around seemed very safe. Lots of people on the streets, and they certainly aren’t as friendly as on the islands, but it’s ok to spend a few hours wandering around. We ate at the Old Mill cottage for lunch, and it was super tasty Fijian food. For dinner we went to JJ's on the Park, where we had some tasty, more up market food. Great service, not the greatest atmosphere. Seems they allow smoking in restaurants still in Fiji.

Trip plan

Nadi – Suva (1 night) – Levuka (2 nights) – Leleuvia (3 nights) – Suva (1 night) – Shangri-la (Yanuca) (2 nights) – Nadi

See all out photos here:
Fiji

Transport

Taxis

Nadi to Suva F$180, about 4 hours, depending on the weather.
Suva to Nausori $30, about 30 mins.
Levuka airport (bureta) to Levuka town $10 each, 45mins. Mini van taxis wait at the airport to pick you up and take you to Levuka. The road is unsealed, so prepare yourself for a bumpy ride! You pass through a few small villages on the way.
Yanuca (Shangri-la) to Nadi - $70, 45mins.

Flights

Nausori (Suva) to Levuka, about $69, 15mins
Excellent flight, much less painful than 5 hours on a boat!

Boats

Levuka to Leleuvia - $30 each, 45mins
Leleuvia to Wandalice landing - $30 each, 75mins

Buses

Local bus Wandalice to Suva – about $3.50
Air-conditioned sunbus Suva to Yanuca (Shangri-la) – about $15 each, 3.5 hours

Accommodation

Peninsula hotel, Suva
$130/night/3 adults
Very tired hotel, good location though. Beds very soft. TV, coffee making facilities, hot shower, small pool. Lots of staff around, not doing a whole lot.

Holiday Inn, Suva
$249/night/3 adults
This was a bit of luxury after being on an island with no hot water! Attentive staff, all the modern comforts, coffee! NZ vs Australia rugby was on the night we were there, and a huge crowd came to the hotel to watch it on their projector screens. Fantastic location.

The Royal Hotel, Levuka
About $28/night single, $42/night double
This place is the real deal.

Leleuvia island resort
$50 per night per person in a private bure, shared facilities, including all meals.