A 322-island nation, with 7,055 square miles of land occupying an ocean area of 426,000 square miles, first charted by American Commodore Wilkes in 1839.
The Fiji Islands are generally divided into three groups: the central islands including Viti Levu (4,112 sq. mi.) and Vanua Levu (2,432 sq. mi.) comprise the largest and most fertile land mass and population bases. The Lau (or Eastern) Islands are small, lying east of the main islands as far as Tonga. The Ra Islands, consisting of the Mananucas and the Yasawas, lie west and northwest of Nadi and its international airport. 200 miles to the north is Rotuma, administratively part of Fiji but culturally separate.
Every new day begins in Fiji on and west of the international dateline. 1062 miles south of the equator, it is 5,529 miles southwest of Los Angeles, 3485 miles due west of Tahiti, and 1140 miles north of Auckland. Fiji is quintessential South Pacific.
As of the 2001, there were 800,000 permanent citizens of Fiji. Of these, 351,966 were pure Fijian; 337,557 heirs of East Indian immigration; 11,486 Europeans; 3,181 part-European; 8,411 Rotumans; 4,672 Chinese; 5,688 ‘others.’ The literacy rate is close to 90%.
The ethnic Fijian is today a fractional majority (47.75%) of the populace. He is a mixture, over 10 millennium, of Melanesians and Polynesians. Since Fiji was colonized in 1874, physical and cultural differences between the two are minimized, though they can be perceived moving east across the islands. Fijians are a tall, dark, muscular and very handsome people. Indians, initially from India’s northern provinces, and later from the environs of Madras, came to Fiji under an indenture system, starting in 1879.
The system required that for every 100 men, 40 women should be recruited. With all castes, religions (though predominately Hindu) and dialects represented, family and cultural ties were broken by the conditions of indenture. By the end of required service (5 years), two-thirds of the Indians chose to remain in Fiji. Today, at 47.36% of the populace, they are active in commerce, transportation and the professions, but more often than not in agriculture, where the Fijian Indian remains a tenant farmer.
English is virtually universal. Fijian and Hindi are secondary languages.
More than 98% of Fijians actively practice a religion. Of the 300,000 Christian majority, two-thirds are Methodists and one-sixth, Catholic. Indian Fijians are 80% Hindu and 20% Muslim.
There are three types of land formation making up the Fiji Islands: volcanic, coral and limestone. The bigger islands are primarily volcanic While there has been no recorded activity in modern history, the presence of hot springs indicate that the fires of creation are not fully extinguished. The practical Fijians use them to cook or for a warm bath.
Fiji is mountainous with several peaks exceeding 3000 feet and one, Mt. Victoria on Viti Levu, of over 5000 feet. With 112 inches of annual rainfall, the windward (Eastern) side of the Fiji Islands is remarkable among tropical nations for its fertile plains and valleys of the richest alluvial soil. Fiji is richly endowed with fresh water, its most important rivers being the Rewa, the Navua and the Sigatoka.
Pacific Standard Time plus 19 hours.
Fiji enjoys a tropical oceanic climate, with gentle trade winds tempering the heat and humidity. Each of the main islands is divided by mountain ranges as a ‘wet’ side to the south and east, and a ‘dry’ side to the north and west. Resorts tend to line the west and south coasts of the larger islands.
Seasons are reversed south of the equator. Summer months (November-April) have the greater rainfall, while winter (May-October) is drier. Temperatures range from an average of 75 degrees Fahrenheit in July-August to 80 degrees Fahrenheit in December-January.
Fiji lies in the path of hurricanes moving south from the equator in the months of November-April. Only four severe storms have hit the islands in the last 20 years.
US$1 = F$1.70 (9/2005)
Tourism constitutes Fiji’s best source of foreign exchange, followed closely by raw sugar and molasses. The country is rich in gold, coconut oil, seafood and lumber. Though the price of lumber has skyrocketed internationally, Fiji’s villagers choose to turn their rainforests into parks rather than matchsticks.
Fiji Pine Commission has planted thousands of acres for commercial harvests. It is hoped that pine will soon rival sugar and tourism as foreign exchange earners. More precious sandalwood was depleted in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
From North America, there are two carriers to Fiji. Fiji’s international carrier, Air Pacific, flies nonstop (10.5 hours) from Los Angeles, and via Honolulu from Vancouver. Air Pacific leaves Los Angeles four times weekly. It has two weekly flights from Honolulu and two weekly flights from Vancouver via Honolulu. (800/277-4446); Air New Zealand flies from Los Angeles (three times weekly nonstop), Honolulu (via Auckland twice times each week) and Vancouver (via Los Angeles three each week). (800/262-1234).
Air seasons: Low = April-November
High = December-March
* North American visitors planning to visit Fiji only will find low season fares and weather to their advantage. This is winter in Fiji, a mere 5 degrees cooler and martini-dry.
Fiji’s national carrier, Air Pacific is a regional carrier with regular B-737/767/747 services to Western Samoa, New Zealand, Australia, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, and Tokyo. Air Pacific has offices in Los Angeles, telephone 310/568-8677.
The new Pacific Sun, Air Pacific’s regional airline, has three daily flights from Nadi-Suva, two daily flights from Suva-Labasa, one daily flight from Nadi-Labasa, three daily flights from Nadi-Savusavu, two daily flights from Nadi-Taveuni and one daily flight from Nadi-Kadavu. The airline also operates five and six services each day to Mana and Malololailai Islands from Nadi.
Sunflower Airlines flies daily from Nadi to Taveuni, Savusavu, Kadavu, Vatulele, Malololailai, Suva, Rotuma, Koro, Gau and Moala, Labasa, Yasawa, Laucala, and Mana.
Air Fiji services 8 domestic locations from Suva’s Nausori Airport – primarily those in the eastern Lau Islands, the old capital of Levuka, Kadavu, Savusavu, Mololailai, Labasa and Lakeba. Air Fiji also offers a 30-day pass for visitors.
Turtle Airways, Air Wakaya, Island Hoppers and Vanua Air are charter services.
GROUND & WATER
A small section of what was once ‘the only free railroad in the world’ is now the TRANSPORTATION: centerpiece of a delightful beach excursion from Yanuca to Natadola Beach (see attractions). Beyond that, Fiji’s railway system is used only for transportation of cane to the sugar mills. Public buses service Viti Levu, Vanua Levu, Taveuni and Ovalau. Over 1,000 vehicles operate on schedules, timetables and fares fixed by the Transport Control Board.
Are plentiful but not inexpensive This cost is reflected in the $12-14 per-hour rates. Metered taxis are compulsory in Suva, Nausori, Lautoka, Nadi and Sigatoka.
Avis, Hertz, Budget, Thrifty and locally-owned car rental firms have a strong presence in Fiji and are available in Suva, Lautoka and Nadi and at the airports and hotels. Rates range from US$14 for a small car without air-conditioning to $35 per day for a Toyota Corolla. Only a valid license from home and the courage to drive on the left are required.
Operate from Viti Levu to many of the outer islands, with three of them able to transport vehicles. The 54-ft. hydrofoil ferry, Drodrolagi, carries 60 passengers at 40 knots to Savusavu and Natovi – F$42 one-way. Consort Shipping’s ‘Spirit of Free Enterprise’, a 500 passenger ferry, departs from Suva to five outer islands.
Patterson Brothers Shipping, which has served for more than half a century, operates three ferries: the Ovalau II,, (480 passengers); the Jubilee II (300 passengers); and Princess Ashika (300 passengers). All have VCR’s and refreshment facilities. Fares start at $9.
The prize for choosing low-cost buses and ferries is an opportunity to really meet the Fijian people. After 90-seconds of initial shyness, they will inquire of your village and your family, promptly tell you all about theirs. If you’re not established as a close friend within 15 minutes, you must be very aloof indeed. Relax; this is Fiji.
North American headquarters for the Fiji Visitors Bureau is at 5777 West Century Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90045. Telephone: 310/568-1616 or 1/800/YEA-FIJI. Fax: 310/670-2318. Internet: www:bulafijiinow.com and www.bulafijislands.com
Almost a quarter of American arrivals visit Fiji only. No visa is required for North Americans. Missionaries, researchers and journalists (staying more than two weeks) are required to have a work permit.
5,000 units including luxury cruise berths.
Major international hoteliers are represented in Fiji include, Outrigger, Shangri La, Sheraton, and Warwick. There are many excellent family facilities throughout the country like Castaway, Kontiki, Treasure, singles’ scenes like Beachcomber and small exclusive island hideaways like Turtle, Wakaya, Vatulele, Qamea, Yasawa, Toberua, Vomo and Namale.
Prices range from an value-oriented backpacker resorts to the ultimate in accommodations at the Wakaya Club. Most American and Canadian visitors will enjoy accommodations in the range of $75 to $200 per day. Excellent savings can be realized through the use of ‘packages.’
“Of all the special diving places around the world, only a certain few work so well they develop a lyric quality that defies comparison. The islands of Fiji have that special quality…a diving fantasy that is more poem than prose.” Skin Diver Magazine.
Coral reefs are Fiji’s second greatest attraction — second only to its people. Even human sand crabs don at least snorkeling gear for a peek at nature’s wondrous beauty. For America’s one million+ divers, Fiji offers hundreds of miles of explored and virgin coral reefs, with knowledgeable, safety-conscious dive operators: Beqa Divers, Cousteau’s L’Aventure Diving, Dive Taveuni, Astrolabe Divers, Scubahire, AquaTrek, Dive Centre, Matagi Island Dive, Castaway Diving, H2O Sports, Sea Fiji Travel and Sea Sports. For a truly unforgettable holiday, newcomers should take advantage of the outstanding Dive Certification programs in Fiji.
Suva is the colonial and present capitol of Fiji. Standing tall are statues of Ratu
Sir Lala Sakuna (Fiji’s George Washington) and Chief Cakabau on the grounds of the 1930 Government buildings. Suva City Library (1909), a gift from Andrew Carnegie, the Fiji Museum, a grand effort with humble means, to preserve evidence of Fijian cultural history.
Tip your hat to the sulu-clad soldier guarding Government House, the President’s home.
Levuka, the old capitol on the island of Ovalau, is a well-preserved (but certainly not tarted-up), 19th century seaport. Very much off-the-beaten-track, but well worth the trip.
Orchid Island, 6 miles west of Suva, a sensitive re-creation of early village life with an excellent collection of local flora and fauna. The closest thing Fiji has to a zoo. Well done.
Pacific Harbour Cultural Centre: 30 miles further west along Queens Road is Pacific Harbour, a large complex of luxury residences, sport facilities (an 18-hole Robert Trent Jones, Jr. golf course), and the Cultural Centre. Home to the renowned Dance Theatre of Fiji and a multi-millennia gondola tour of Fiji’s history. Great place to see the famed Beqa firewalkers.
Kula Bird Park, Sigatoka Cultural Centre, and the Sigatoka Sand Dunes (archeological digs) all in Sigatoka, the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, and the Abaca Preserve in Lautoka, and Bouma Forest Park are nature lover’s treasures.
To paraphrase John McDermott in ‘How to Get Lost and Found in Fiji’ – before 2000 B.C., from the west came the island-hopping Melanesians, dark and curly-haired, followed by the similar Micronesians from the north. Much later (“11 generations ago” according to Fijian oral history) the golden-skinned, straight-haired Polynesians migrated from the east. Culturally, the Polynesian influence prevails. Ancient history is hotly disputed by all but the Fijians themselves who will agree with most theories or, not to worry, make up a convincing alternate theory (story) on the spot.
Europeans, typically arrived in order: explorers, traders, missionaries, farmers, shopkeepers, bankers and tourists.
1643 Abel Tasman sites Fiji
1774 Captain James Cook
1778 Captain William Bligh
1800 Captain James Wilson
Traders in sandalwood and beche-de-mer Charlie Savage (Kalle Svenson, a ship-wrecked sailor) who rose to great heights but sank in a stew. In the interim, he helped to centralize power bringing Cakabau to a new throne and Fiji to a unified whole.
1849 U.S. claims damages for looting after the U.S. Consul General’s own 4th of July fireworks fells his warehouse.
1867 American bill collectors threaten to shell Fiji’s capitol.
1874 For protection, Cakobau cedes Fiji to Great Britain
1875 Sir Albert Gordon (Britain’s first Governor General) established far reaching policy: govern through the chiefs, place the land in trust to the tribes, hire labor from abroad. Measles wipe out 40% of the population
1879 Indentured Indians arrive
1882 Capitol moved to Suva (presumably on the rare sunny day.)
1914 Fijians served Allies in France
1920 Indentured system cancelled
1928 Pioneer American aviator, Charles Kingford Smith, lands in Albert Park, moments after some thought to cut down the palm trees.
1935 Australians establish radio broadcast
1939 Pan Am flying-boats achieve TransPac arrival at the Nadi airport
1940 Native Land Trust Board confirms 80% indigenous land ownership
1941 Fiji military forces serve Allies in the Solomons and at Bougainville. Fijians terrify the Japanese.
1951 A national airline was established: now, Air Pacific
1953 Visit by Queen Elizabeth II
1954 Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, modern hero, elected to the Legislative Council
1965 Constitution convention held in London
1970 October 10th, Fiji somewhat reluctantly accepts independence
1973 First Fijian Governor General, Ratu Sir George Cakobau
1978 First national superhighway, Nadi-Suva
1981 Fijian soldiers in Middle East to support Camp David agreement
1987 April 11, coalition Labor Party wins the general election setting off two (bloodless) coups and three years of constitutional conventions around the yaqona bowl
1990 July 25, a new constitution, creating the Democratic Republic of Fiji with an elected House and an appointed Senate
1992 General elections name Sitiveni Rabuka, Prime Minister Today, Fiji wrestles with the economy and wide income disparity. The indigenous Fijian is land rich, cash poor. The Indian farmer generates cash but is forever a tenant. Fiji is a South Seas paradise, but not without its headaches.
1999 Labor Party candidate, Mahendra Chaudhry wins the office of Prime Minister.
2000 On May 19th, a disgruntled businessman leads a party of 9 in a takeover of Parliament. For days, he holds Ministers hostage while military leader Bainimarama negotiates their release without bloodshed.
Since independence, it has made tremendous strides. The bright side shines: good basic health and education systems, new roads, new air service, and expanded tourist facilities. Tourism has been the number one earner of hard currency and indicators are that it will return to that position within a year or two.
FINTEL (Fiji International Telecommunications LTD.) connects Fiji via satellite with a worldwide system; AT&T provides direct dial, telex, data and facsimile circuits. A call from Suva to North America is $7.80 for the first three minutes, $2.70 per-minute thereafter. Hotels surcharge. Ask before you call.
From a Viti Levu resort or post office, it will usually reach North American within three days. Thereafter, it is in the hands of the gods. Do visit Fiji’s Post Offices, for lovely displays of local and regional stamps.
Television: The delightful insouciance of Fiji’s population is credited to its innocence of Western expectations. Enthusiasm, concern, and the gnashing of teeth surrounded efforts of private investors to introduce broadcast television. Fiji was probably the last English speaking nation to receive television in October 1991. “Fiji I” rules the airwaves. One wonders about the Nielsen rating when a set is priced at the average annual income or the ingenuity of P&G’s agency in visualizing a detergent’s prowess in a muddy creek.
Sir Leonard Usher took over the 10-year-old JJV during WWII. Today, there are two radio networks, Radio Fiji and the commercial radio station, FM 96 with Fijian, English and Hindustani programming.
Fiji Times (founded 1869) is published daily by the Fiji Times and Herald Ltd., subsidiary of the Herald and Times Weekly, Ltd. of Melbourne. The Fiji Post (1987) and Shanti Dut (1935) is a Hindu weekly; Nai Lalakai (1962), a Fijian weekly; and Fiji Magic (1969), an English language bi-monthly providing tourists with news on events and activities.
Fiji National Archives in Suva contains the Sir Alport Barker Memorial Library, an extensive Pacific collection. The reading room is open to the public. This and the library at the University of the South Pacific are the official depositories of all Fijian literature. The Western Regional Library in Lautoka also stocks rare books on the Pacific, bound volumes of the Pacific Islands Monthly, the Fiji Royal Gazette and reports of the Bureau of Statistics.
Fiji is the center of learning for South Pacific nations. Education is free and universal through eighth grade. Initially bi-lingual, Fijian or Hindi and English, the four upper classes are conducted in English. There are approximately 675 primary schools and 150 secondary schools staffed primarily by graduates of Fiji’s four teacher-training colleges.
Crowning its system is the University of the South Pacific, established in 1968 in Suva, with its four schools of Agriculture, Education, Natural Resources and Social and Economic Development. Affiliated with the USP is the Fiji School of Medicine (est. 1885) and two campuses of the Fiji School of Nursing. Fiji Institute of Technology covers Engineering, Business Administration and Hotel and Catering Service. Pacific Theological College is an advanced learning center under the auspices of Fiji’s Protestant Churches.
The 1989 census counted 727,104 people as citizens of Fiji, with a life expectancy of 63 years. Heart disease, cancer and accidents take a toll comparable to that in the developed nations. There is no malaria or cholera in Fiji. The most common illnesses are influenza, dengue fever and a low-grade staph infection. Drinking water is safe in all cities.
Dress for locals and visitors is cool, casual and modest. Forego neckties for open-necked cotton shirts and long trousers. Women should not burden themselves with high fashion. It would be lost on the locals and out of place among savvy visitors who leave all that behind. Cotton dresses, t-shirts, slacks, bermudas (but not short shorts), swim suits, sandals and jellies for the surf is all that’s required. Everyone should set aside $30 for a week’s resort wear. That will purchase three ‘sulus’, a wondrously comfortable unisex wrap – suitable as a bathrobe or as black-tie.
Business and government offices are open five days a week: 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. are customary. Post offices are open every week day from 8-4. Most shops are open Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, till 1 p.m. There is “no trading on Sunday.”
Major credit cards are accepted at most hotels, restaurants, shops and by car rental agencies and tour operators. American Express, Diners Club, Visa, Master Card and JCB have representative offices.
All visitors to Fiji must have a passport valid for at least three months beyond the date of departure from Fiji, return or ongoing tickets and adequate funds for their stay. A one month stay may be extended for up to six months. Inoculations are not required unless entering from a designated infected area. Missionaries, researchers and journalists who wish to stay more than 14 days in Fiji must secure a work permit from a Fijian Embassy.
There is a departure tax at Nadi Airport of F$20 for international passengers over the age of 12.
240 volts, 50 cycles; most hotels have 110-volt converters.
These include Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. In addition there are the birthdays of the Queen and Mohammed, (Prince Charles’ birthday’s was cancelled in Fiji; escapades cost.) plus Fiji Day (October 10th) and Diwali, Constitution Day and the Hindu Festival of Lights. Ratu Sakuna Day is not a national holiday, but don’t tell that to the Fijians who still honor their George Washington with affection and enthusiasm.
Fiji has developed as a major duty-free shopping center. Electrical and sports equipment/appliances, jewelry and porcelain, cameras, perfumes and cosmetics are just some of the products available at greatly reduced prices, though urban Americans may find their local discount stores competitive.
Rugby, soccer and cricket are Fiji’s main team sports. There are first-class facilities for golf and tennis, including John Newcombe’s South Pacific Tennis Ranch. Visitor sports, most of which emanate from hotels or resorts, range from scuba diving and snorkeling to horse riding, white water rafting, windsurfing, water-skiing, sport-fishing and sailing.
Hotels and resorts provide nightly entertainment for visitors, usually cabaret. Visitors can attend Fijian entertainment such as a lovo feast or a meke, a demonstration of traditional songs and dances, or a dramatic fire-walking display. These activities usually follow the requisite ‘yaqona’ ceremony.
From Don Bonhaus, “Guests are usually greeted with a welcoming toast of the indispensable yaqona, drunk from coconut half-shells to a ceremonial series of handclaps before and after each chug-a-lug. The powdered dry root of a native pepper plant is mixed with water to produce this allegedly non-alcoholic potion, which looks and tastes like a sample of the Mississippi River, and anesthetizes, sterilizes, tranquilizes and…initiates the imbibing tourist into village life.”
Tipping is not expected. Preferably, contribute a small appreciation to ‘the Christmas fund’. These dollars are carefully transferred from a mason jar to a much admired savings passbook, which will be shard by the whole staff in December. The fund complements a basic principle of Fijian culture: sharing is a basic principle of Fijian culture: sharing is a key quality of chiefly behavior.
For more on Fiji at ITKT