Wed 21 Dec 2005 - Mon 2 Jan 2006 34 °C
Tropical airports offer a familiar welcome; the humidity, the easygoing immigration officials, the welcome serenade and the permeating smell of sweat. Janelle and I touched down in Fiji to just such a warm welcome.
Our first hotel, The Raffles Gateway directly opposite the airport, offered a courtesy shuttle bus, but this seemed rather counter-productive considering it was only a two minute walk away.
Nadi is not the kind of town that warrants much praise. It could be interesting due to its pacific/indian cultural blend, but this potential tourism drawcard seems more a point of confrontation than anything in most of Fiji. Driving into Nadi the day after we arrived our Indian taxi driver explained how Jacks, the equivalent of Walmart in Fiji, would always be the cheapest, because all the small shops bought their stock from there. Interesting information, even if it was from someone who was clearly on commission. It wasn't more than 10 minutes later that a Fijian kindly informed us how Jacks was full of wares from places like Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands rather than actual native Fijian goods. Of course, it was all a ploy to get us to shop at his local market. In Nadi, it's hard to know who to trust. Even the 'Information Centre' is in fact a travel agent. And according to the Fijian we spoke to, it's run by Indians. Why that's bad, I'm not sure.
We had landed in Fiji with the primary purpose of attending a couple of our friends' wedding at the Shangri-La. And so, days went by sitting by the Shangri-La pool sipping Fiji Bitter, reading, playing Uno and generally not doing much at all. Christmas eve arrived and we had the pleasure of Fijian christmas carols. Their singing was phenomenal and a nice way to set christmas apart from all the other days, which just seemed to blend into one. A Fijian santa rode around on a golf buggy on christmas day singing "ho, ho, ho" to those of us lounging by the pool. I think that may have been the end of many kids' beliefs in Santa.
The boxing day wedding was a pleasant beachside affair, complete with a Fijian choir. The cocktails weren't bad either.
On the second boxing day (they have two in Fiji and both are public holidays), I decided to go have a look at the nearby Taveuni Hill Fort. Just outside the town of Sigatoka, there are some interesting piles of rocks up on a hill which supposedly were once a fort. It was the kind of place where humans ate each other, providing some interesting food for thought for present day visitors. Its hilltop position also offers some great views of the surrounding countryside.
The Garden of the Sleeping Giant was also a worth while visit the next day. A sprawling tropical garden, complete with lily pond and a massive collection of orchids, it's a nice way to spend a hot and humid afternoon.
We headed for the Mamanucas to spend our last few days, first stop Mana Island. A far cry from the luxury of the Shangri-la, we shacked up at Ratu Kini's backpackers; "We can't walk down that path, the Japanese owners of the resort don't want backpackers there". The hostel is kind of interesting, its most prominent feature the two burnt down dorms in the middle of the village it is located in. People are friendly enough, the price is cheap and all meals are included in the price (though the quality leaves something to be desired), so it wasn't a bad place to spend a couple of days. We spent a good couple of hours walking around the island one day. The beaches weren't particularly good, but the spectacular tropical sunsets more than made up for it.
We checked into The Resort Walu Beach for our last few days in Fiji. It was the setting for a flopped Australian reality TV show a few years ago, which involved a group of people trying to fix it up. It's a nicely maintained place now with some very friendly staff, a young clientele and a terrible taste in music. New Years was spent with various people we met at this resort and spent even more days by the pool. I even got active and played some beach volleyball while there. The day before we left, one of the guys had a coconut fall centimeters away from him while playing volleyball - a near death experience considering it was roughly the size and weight of a bowling ball.
We checked in for a Dolphin Safari on New Years day. The driver of our boat was supremely confident that we would see some dolphins. In actual fact, the whole trip was a bit of a dud. No dolphins to be seen and the snorkelling that was included was far too irritating on account of the choppy waves. The choppy boat ride instilled fear of death in several of the passengers, particularly when one of the chairs came loose with its occupant attached, tumbling to the floor of the boat. The most exciting thing I saw on the trip was a couple of flying fish.
Fully refreshed and sporting a more tanned exterior than two weeks earlier, we returned to Melbourne the next day.