Bula! Almost from the moment my flight touched down in Nadi airport, I realised that this greeting of Fiji is usually offered with a wide smile and warm handshake. It’s something that I’d enjoy time and again with the locals over the next 16 days.
As most international visitors do, I arrived in Nadi (pronounced Nan-di) on the main island of Viti Levu. Unfortunately for many tourists Nadi is little more than a transportation hub that they pass through twice whether they like it or not. It isn't an idyllic snapshot of Fiji and apart from the colourful Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami (say that ten times quickly) Temple, it's only really a place for souvenir shopping.
|Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Temple|
I had the choice of staying in Nadi or going 30 km north to Lautoka which I decided was a better option. Lautoka is a bigger city but with a more relaxed feel to it. According to legend, it derives its name from a battle cry that means 'spear-hit' but the people are friendly and the shopkeepers aren't constantly trying to get you in to 'just take a look'.
I stayed just a night there before taking the northern Kings Rd around the island to Suva. Viti Levu has a dividing range of mountains and two distinct weather patterns. In the drier western side there were a lot of sugar cane plantations and grassland areas but as we progressed east and over the mountains the scenery became dominated by lush rainforest. There were some nice ocean views along the way, especially near Viti Levu Bay on the northern part of the island.
|Fijian family on Viti Levu|
When I arrived in Nadi it was pouring with rain but they assured me at the airport information desk it wouldn't last long. Ten minutes later as I waited for my bus a rainbow stretched across the sky and sun broke through. I was happy that it was a mostly dry day going to Suva because the middle part of the Kings Road is very much a work in progress. I wondered as the bus rumbled up unsealed clay roads what it would like in heavy rain. My guess is that it would become an impassable slope of mud.
The road took me through some pretty little villages and past a few schools. The houses were all very modest and some areas didn't even appear to have electricity. But I sensed that the local people took pride in the place they called home. Lawns were neatly cut with plants and flowers in the garden. Fijians are content and happy people even if they don't have a lot. I realised as I continued my travels that they are happy to share whatever they do have and this was always very endearing.
|Government Buildings, Suva|
The rain continued my first day in Suva and I was restricted to things like the museum and an internet cafe. On my second day I met some children next door to where I was staying. They had a rugby ball and were very happy when I started passing and kicking it around with them. Before long we were all down at a local park playing a game of touch. The field was muddy from the rain and in a small moment of madness I agreed to keep playing when they changed to full tackle rugby. They loved it and every time I received the ball wanted to 'tackle the big guy!'
I was in a rather poor state when it was finished but it was a lot of fun seeing them running, laughing, scoring the occasional try and following it with high fives. I loved the children there because I could relax with them. They are always happy and it's not in their nature to ask for anything other than my name and where I'm from. In fact, apart from a few exceptions in the cities it was the same whoever I talked to. I never had to be too concerned about people subtly trying to sell me something. They are just genuinely warm and friendly which made every day so enjoyable.