My first visit to a Pacific island country, apart from my own (though the term is ambiguous – I’m not counting Australia, Indonesia or Japan). I’d always wanted to visit Fiji, due to family connections… I may have even been conceived there. A week’s visit to Viti Levu, the largest and most populated island, in September was all too short but still a great introductory taster.
Nearly half the population of Fiji are ethnically Indian, descended from workers brought in by the British in the late 19th & early 20th century to farm sugar cane. This mixture, as well as the native Fijians’ Melanesian rather than Polynesian roots, gives Fiji a unique character in the Pacific. There are hints of ethnic tension, as when a tout told me to “come to my shop – we’re Fijian not Indian”. The racism + hard sell resulted in no business from me, and the overcharging taxi drivers also put me off Nadi somewhat.
From Nadi we travelled down the west coast of Viti Levu, and stopped a couple of days on the Coral Coast. This was mostly a chance to relax, enjoy the warm weather and some light hiking and snorkelling, and make some sound recordings for a forthcoming album.
The water was remarkably clear, and the beaches thankfully free of the plastic rubbish washed up that I saw in Bali and Okinawa, though sadly there were hints of climate change such as coral bleaching. I didn’t get a chance for a boat dive or to see any large marine animals, but enjoyed the coral and small colourful fish close to shore.
Continuing around the coast of Viti Levu to the capital Suva, the landscape became denser and greener owing to a wetter climate. The weather stayed overcast for the rest of the trip but temperatures were mild. Suva was an alright city; not as densely crowded as the megacities of Asia but big enough to have enough attractions to be of interest.
As well as parks and events I enjoyed Fijian food – raw fish in coconut milk, fern salad, pineapples and guavas, vegetarian Indian dishes – and most people appeared to be in healthy shape rather than the negative stereotype of obese Pacific islanders.
Overall the moderate population density, multicultural society with fluent English speakers, driving on the left, the Union Jack on the flag, clean air, the southern hemisphere stars, the national obsession with rugby, and the relative expensiveness of everything (rather than the exceptional value for foreign travellers of Southeast Asia) all reminded me more of Australia or New Zealand with a tropical twist than Asia. It’s helped give me a wider sense of context as a citizen of Oceania.
Fiji has its problems – natural disasters (eg this year’s Cyclone Winston), political tension (arriving home I heard on the news that opposition MPs had been arrested), climate change, economic inequality – but came across as a proud young nation with a strong sense of its own identity, and with many attractions for a visitor.