Join Chris & Rick Millikan as they explore some of the delights of Fiji
Fiji’s splendor lures us once again across the international dateline. So flying Air Pacific Sunday night, we awake on Tuesday above Nadi. Tiny islands form a gargantuan footprint below pinpointing our resort, the location where legendary Fijians first landed. Soon settled in our thatched bure amid First Landing’s beachfront village, we bask in ‘Bula’ hospitality, savor fusions of Fiji’s multicultural cuisine and enjoy nightly South Pacific entertainment.
By day we shuttle to the lush Garden of the Sleeping Giant, Nadi’s ornate Hindu temple, Fort Viseisei, a stony cannibal-era fortress, modern Viseisei village with its Methodist ‘Jone Weslei’ Church and into nearby Lautoka, ‘Sugar City.’ Passing sugarcane fields, its sugar mill and rum factory we investigate the Krishna temple and large Muslim mosque downtown. At the large central market, we admire local handicrafts and the astonishing cornucopia of produce. Inside the adjacent grogshop we find pepper roots, brewed into Fiji’s national drink, kava.
Thursday we travel Queen’s Highway to natural attractions on the Coral Coast. Passing cane fields, pine forests and villages, we glimpse a sports event. Our driver Mustafa quips, “Although there’s many religions in Fiji…the most popular is Rugby!”
Kula Eco Park lies in a luxuriant valley. In its entryway, Mari the naturalist places rare crested iguanas upon our necks and arms, grinning, “We’re breeding some of Fiji’s endangered species here, including these guys, ground frogs and Peregrine falcons. Our programs emphasize wildlife preservation.”
Colourful local parrots squawk for attention, while golden pigeons, which can bark like dogs, look on quietly. In walk-through aviaries we admire small
navy-blue crested Kula, once hunted by Tongans for the scarlet feathers used for royal robes. Strolling elevated boardwalks, we loop under gigantic trees and over trickling streams, examining endemic flying-fox fruit bats, labeled native plants and cultural artifacts.
At nearby Sigatoka Sand Dunes, we hike a one-hour loop. Stepping over tough purple-blossomed vines we sink into hot sands as we climb the dunes. “I feel like Lawrence of Arabia…without the camel!” Rick quips. Stopping for a breezy rest at panoramic Clark Lookout, guide Kate explains, “Over thousands of years, Sigatoka River washed sand shoreward and the trade winds heaped it into these remarkable dunes. Today Fiji’s first National Park, it offers 650-hectares of unique ecology, including remnants of Fiji’s earliest inhabitants.” Seemingly inhospitable, these dunes provide homes for 22 kinds of birds.
Descending, we hug the shoreline before entering a mahogany forest where twisted vines create whimsical ‘tree huggers’…and a ‘tree of lost soles’ dangles with discarded footgear…including flippers. Planted in the 1960’s, this majestic forest stabilizes ever-shifting dunes.
Friday, we travel from secluded Natandola Bay Beach Resort to Sigatoka for a Jet Boat Safari through Fiji’s "salad bowl” of thriving farmlands and pristine landscapes. Rocketing over river shallows, we arrive at a remote traditional village for a rousing visit as honored guests.
Saturday we head for Fiji’s soft adventure capital, staying in style at the swank Pearl Resort. Rather than kayak, hike, sail, dive or zip line rapidly through rainforest canopy, we taxi to Pacific Harbor for a unique Arts Village event.
Emerging onto a grassy island stage, a grass-skirted priest chants as a narrator explains how an elf taught Beqa islanders to have power over fire. Segregated from women, refusing coconuts for two weeks, four purified men join the priest, raking away burning logs. With a strong tree fern imbued with elfin spirits, they position and level the river stones. Sweet oodi fronds fan away evil spirits. Straddling these blistering rocks, the priest shouts, “Vuto O!” (Ready!)…all file over across white-hot rocks believed to be insulated by elfin backs. This fiery rite climaxes with a gift of greens to the elves.
Sunday, we attend a village church service. An elder escorts us to a platform bench beside the satin covered pulpit. Smiling parishioners sit cross-legged below on mats. Thumping the log Lali three times, the grey-haired minister enters and the choir begins heavenly harmonizing. During his passionate sermon, the minister inserts bits of English for our sake. A borrowed songbook allows us to hum along in Fijian; from small slips of paper, we all belt out an English hymn together.
Returning westward Monday, we board the Mystique Princess for a four-day cruise past the Mamanucas, remote Monuriki where Tom Hanks starred in Castaway and around the Yasawas, Fiji’s volcanic island chain. Admiring brilliant red and gold sunsets on Sky Deck, we sip chilled champagne then stroll downstairs for sumptuous dinners. Tenders carry us daily to deserted white sand beaches to snorkel above colorful reefs. Hiking upward through tropic greenery on our first isle, we enjoy hillside vistas returning for pleasant swims and beachside tea…
The second island-stop includes a village visit; at the last, we enjoy that beautiful Blue Lagoon romanticized in two classic movies. After frolicking upon palm-fringed sands and paddling warm, crystal waters, we feast under lantern-lit palms and sparkling stars…
Thursday an eighteen-passenger plane carries us off to Fiji’s second largest island. In Savu Savu we discover our Jean Michel Cousteau Resort evolved from Cousteau’s 1990’s lectures here on sustainable oceans. Resident marine biologist Jonny educates through informative slideshows and snorkel or dive trips. Hearing about his night snorkel, I sign up…
At the dock’s platform, Jonny preps everyone, providing long flashlights to us eager aquanauts. Swimming over a large cage protecting endangered species of giant clams, we learn they produce hundreds of viable offspring. We promptly spot a lionfish sticking up its striped mane of barbs, large eyed cardinals and soldier fish…and a parrotfish asleep in a mucous sleeping bag. Diving, Jonny brings up a feathered starfish. Upon release, it draws back its white feathery arms dropping torpedo-like to the bottom. After next showing us a bright red pincushion starfish, Jonny says, “Switch off your flashlights and kick like crazy…” Countless brilliant specks of bioluminescent plankton appear…
Friday many guests shuttle into town to tour the Pearl Farm aboard a glass bottom boat. Instead, we go to ‘Golden Nuggets,’ one of twelve resort snorkel destinations within Savu Savu’s three-kilometer marine sanctuary. In this Soft Coral World Capital’s crystal waters an array of rainbow fish swirl among golden leather, green cabbage, red fan and yellow spaghetti corals.
Saturday we wind over a lush mountain, through Labasa and deep into its pastoral countryside hoping to observe two phenomena. We find a chief telling us about ancestors fishing from three islands that floated back and forth to the sea. Though we never witness this legendary marvel, we do see Naag Mandir. Inside the brightly painted Snake Temple flowers and tinsel garland a poised basalt cobra. We meet sisters ministering to its altar. Rana drizzles coconut milk and sprinkles golden tumeric powder onto their snake god. Lighting sweet-smelling incense, Radu whispers, “When my Grandmother was young, it was only two feet high. As a teenager, Naag Mandir was as tall as me. Now, look! The roof’s been raised twice.” Devotees believe their snake-god is still growing. Outside, we ascend 108 shallow steps to Shivalay. Radu told us Hindu believers murmur Shiva’s names for each step to the prayer-gazebo where Shiva’s likeness sits with his godly mate…
Over delectable dinner at Labasa’s historic Great Eastern Hotel, we reflect on our latest Bula adventures, flying homeward tomorrow brimming with Fijian wonder.
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Last Updated on April 30, 2009 by M. Maxine George editor.
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