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Cycling in Fiji PDF Printable Version E-mail

 

CYCLING IN FIJI

240 Miles in 6 Days Round the Island of Viti Levu 

Margaret and Barry Williamson

March 2009

This is the daily diary of a 388 km (240 mile) cycle ride round the main Fiji Island of Viti Levu, starting and finishing in the international airport town of Nadi. The ride took place in the year 2001 as part of our 12,086-mile (19,340-km) round-the-world cycle ride.

The first ride is at3,064 miles (4,900 km) cycling across Australia

The ride preceding Fiji is at: 4,641-mile (7,425 km) cycling round New Zealand

The following ride is at: 3,618 miles (5,790 km) cycling across the USA

Map of the Route around Viti Levu, Showing the Places where we Spent a Night:

My_Fiji_Map.jpg

This is the Daily Diary of the Cycle Ride Round Fiji's Viti Levu Island.

20 February 2001   From New Zealand to Nadi, Fiji:   Raffles Gateway Hotel

Glenny (who runs the Airport Pensione in Mangere, Auckland) took us in her van to Auckland International Airport, along with a German postgraduate Law student, on his way to study in Dunedin. Arriving by 8.30 am, we collected our boxes, dismantled the bikes to fit inside them (with difficulty), taped, labelled and checked them through for weighing. There was no extra charge (except the price of the boxes).

We had a smooth flight and a good chicken lunch on Air Pacific FJ410, taking 2 hrs 40 mins to reach Nadi (pronounced Nandi) on the largest of Fiji's islands, Viti Levu. Arriving on the humid, hot, tropical, lush green island, we went straight to the FVB (Fiji Visitors' Bureau) at the airport. They booked us into the Raffles, opposite the airport gate and very reasonably priced.

A car was summoned to whisk us across the road, along with our bike boxes and baggage – all very welcoming. 'Bula, bula' as they all say. Everything was carried up to our first floor room (with air-con, kettle and fridge), overlooking a vivid green lawn, tropical gardens and swimming pool. We soon knew why everything was so verdant, when the monsoon shower came at 4 pm, as it did every afternoon. This is the hot rainy season - not that the seasons vary much in the Tropics. It went dark soon after 7 pm (local time, being one hour behind New Zealand).

Taking club sandwiches and chips on the hotel verandah, we were serenaded by 3 Fijians with guitars – ah, the colonial lifestyle! We used the room telephone to arrange accommodation for the next couple of nights, reassembled the bikes and their wheels and repacked, ready for a 5-day cycle tour of the island.

21 February 2001   Ba, Fiji    Ba Hotel   60 km

'Continental' breakfast on the terrace of the Raffles Gateway Hotel included a basket of delicious pastries with fresh pineapple, watermelon and pawpaw (which continent?) We left our tent, sleeping bags and warmer clothing at the Raffles, to which we return on 26 February ready for a flight to Los Angeles on the 27th.

At 8.30 am we were ready to begin a clockwise cycle tour of the island (Viti Levu - the largest in the Fiji group). Setting off, M found that one tooth on the large chain ring on her bike had been bent in transit from New Zealand. It seems that a heavy weight had been dropped onto the compulsory bike box. This is the main reason we dislike putting bikes in boxes, as they are then handled with much less care. Barry managed to straighten it well enough to ride (later replaced in Los Angeles).

What a change from cycling in NZ! The traffic was slow and friendly, with small trucks waiting until it was safe to overtake us, with a wide margin. All the drivers tooted and waved. Countless brown hands greeted us through the unglazed windows of passing buses. The only hazards were the pot holes in the road and the constant crossing of tramlines for the sugar cane trains. Thankfully, the sugar harvest had just ended.

The landscape of cane fields and pastures was very green, grazed by individually owned and tethered cows and goats. We rode through the bumpy inland hills of the 'Sleeping Giant Ridge', past Raymond Burr's orchid gardens, with glimpses of the coast on our left.

Our first stop was for cold drinks at a friendly petrol station, then again at Lautoka, 15 miles from Nadi Airport and the island's second largest town (after Suva, the capital – Nadi comes third). Barry talked to a pair of the town's famous sword-sellers while M found a supermarket (buying peanuts, fruit cake, biscuits and sardines). After cold drinks and buns in a café (needing all the liquid we can find in the tropical heat), we rode through the town, taking in a range of different smells – from simmering curries to the fish market.

The small villages along the way were not named on our primitive map. We climbed a couple of hills, not steep by New Zealand standards, but causing us to run with sweat and quickly develop a heat rash on our upper legs. As we stopped on one hill top under the shade of a tree, a man working in his garden sent his wife across the road with 4 bananas for us. Bula bula! We had never met such kindness amid such poverty.

Taking another rest, in a bus shelter at a school gate, we had a long talk with a girl who lived opposite, on her way to fill a water bottle at the shop. She looked very young to be the mother of 2 small children – one in the school and one playing by the simple house, where she lived with her father, her husband having left her. She pointed out her mother's (Christian) grave by the house and said her brother is a Lieutenant in the Salvation Army. The family live on what they can grow (the staple being cassava, whose starchy roots are made into bread flour and tapioca), along with fish and goat-meat. She warned that it's the start of the hurricane season, adding that their previous house blew down in 1993!

Continuing, on the only road round the island, we came to Ba. The Ba Hotel is less opulent than the Raffles Gateway but the en-suite room has air-con, a fridge and a kettle. The owner provided toasted sandwiches and chips, and we rehydrated with bottled water.

We walked round the town at dusk, finding most of the shops shuttered up and the men gathered in a green and white mosque. It's a sugar cane growing area, the work force largely Indians, originally brought to Fiji by the British as indentured labour. We'd noticed that all the bus shelters have been endowed by Indians in memory of a relative.

Back at the hotel we had supper in its restaurant, where the menu board listed vegetarian specials. They were expecting Indians to come in at midnight to break a Hindu fasting period.

22 February 2001   Rakiraki, Fiji    Rakiraki Hotel    69 km

An early breakfast and away by 8 am, trying to ride in the cooler morning. A slight head-breeze made the heat more tolerable and very welcome rain came soon after noon, for the last few miles. Even the natives were complaining about the heat in Ba, telling us that Suva and the far side of the island would be cooler and wetter.

As we rode through rolling green countryside, frequent shouts of greeting came from unseen Fijians working in the fields or sheltering under shady trees. Children walked proudly to school in neat uniforms with tidy hair, despite their humble homes.

After 10 miles/16 km we paused at a bus shelter to drink squash and eat bananas, then rode on to Tavua, a small market town. About 6 miles/9 km inland from here is the large gold mining town, Vatukoula, which we didn't visit. Gold is Fiji's third largest earner of foreign exchange, after tourism and sugar. At Tavua's little supermarket café, we each downed 3 cups of fresh orange juice before riding on, making faster progress than yesterday.

Each town has a guarded entry and exit point and we found the police guards extremely friendly, often wearing the ceremonial dress of red jacket, white gloves and white skirt with a zig-zag hemline. Very colourful! We saw many children, as each village has primary schools (up to age 13), with separate Indian and Public (Fijian native) Schools.

Between Tavua and Rakiraki lies Yaqara, a government agricultural research station, with orchards and 4,000 free-range cattle. The roaming brown cows and calves looked very different from the large-horned brindle cattle we had seen along the verges, tethered by a rope through the nose. There was little wild life, though we saw an occasional mongoose darting across the road and 2 tiny feral kittens hiding in the grass.

It was far too warm for waterproofs, so we rode through the showers. Sheltering a while when they became heavier, we joined a pair of 12-year-old girls on their way to do some dhobi in the stream, armed with soap and a bucket. Their school uniform dresses are washed every day. The girls spoke excellent English and both wanted to become teachers. It is lovely to see how much that education is valued here, as a way forward out of poverty, with a very high literacy rate – probably better than in the affluent spoilt Western World.

The villages we passed had some traditional 'Bure' (thatched cottages), though most of the people live in simple sheds. We saw a range of Christian churches – small Anglican or Roman Catholic ones, Salvation Army and Mormon – as well as a Sikh temple and a mosque. All were very well kept and attended.

We reached Rakiraki (the northernmost town on Viti Levu island) in time to lunch on cheese & ham toasties at the Hotel. It's a large empty wooden colonial-style place, with beautiful gardens, bowling green and tennis courts. Our room had the first Fijian TV we've seen, with just one channel. It showed mostly American programmes (in English), with an Indian soap in Hindi in the afternoon. It was good to catch up on some news.

Barry then cycled back into the centre of Rakiraki, finding just one shop open (though heavily padlocked) run by an Indian family, the Patels. Continuing, over a hill to Vaileka town (about 3 km each way), he found a Tourist Office and fixed a lift in a minibus tomorrow, to take us along a stretch of difficult terrain towards Suva.

23 February 2001    Suva, Fiji    Outrigger Hotel   48 km cycled (+ 100 km on bus)

After the usual hotel 'continental' breakfast with delicious fresh fruits, our minibus arrived at 8 am prompt. It was labelled 'Wananavu Beach Resort' (the expensive resort nearby, for foreign tourists) and driven by a young Indian, accompanied by the Vaileka Tourist Office man who helped Barry yesterday. They were amazed at how easily the bicycle front wheels were removed, to get everything aboard!

Our lift took us for 100 km (over 60 miles) along the King's Road to Korovou. After a few miles we passed the turning to Ellington Wharf, from where ferries run to a couple of smaller islands. The lush green rolling countryside was full of tiny settlements. This is the 'real Fiji', especially the last 52 km (32 miles) from Dama village, on a narrow gravel road. Buses still use this difficult road, squeezing by, inching their way, as we did, across the perilous wooden plank bridges with no sides! The road dropped down and climbed again as it crossed and recrossed the Wainibuka River, where we saw a couple of 'bili-bili' (bamboo rafts) on the water.

The crops were bananas, coconuts and taro - another staple plant, whose roots are cooked and pounded into a paste. Where the woods opened out a little, there were dairy cattle and we wondered how the milk was collected before it went sour in the heat. There were friendly waves and hoots from the thatched 'bure' villages, their pathway edges marked by tree stumps, each topped with a whitewashed stone. About 14 km (9 miles) before the end of our ride, the driver paused at Uru's Waterfall, a shady bathing place.

Dropped off in Korovou, we had another 47 km (30 miles) to cycle to Suva – the capital and main port of Fiji. After drinks in a café we set off, taking roadside breaks in the useful bus shelters. At one of them, a young woman selling watermelons and coconuts told us she hoped to study Law in Suva if her recent exam grades were good enough.

We rode straight through busy Nausori, an industrial town on the Rewa River with a rice mill, timber mill, food processing and clothing factories. It looked unfriendly and we'd been warned of 'bad boys' there (the only such warning we had on Fiji). After crossing its long bridge over the river, we took a quick break in a bus shelter, without any hassle.

For the final 20 km (13 miles) to Suva, there was much more traffic, with lorries, cars, taxis and buses all in a hurry. It began to pour down for the last couple of miles as we reached the Outrigger Hotel. This was pretty grotty (possibly a brothel) but we eventually got the best room, with (essential) air-con, fridge, harbour view – and a kettle, fetched at our insistence from the Pizzeria on the hotel roof! The TV didn't work and there were ants, but there was a secure place for the bikes and we didn't feel like searching further in the rain. At least the pizzas were good. We climbed the spiral stairs to the roof and sat watching the sky change colour over the harbour and the mangrove estuary of the creek.

24 February 2001    Pacific Harbour, Fiji   Coral Coast Christian Centre   58 km

As the Outrigger Hotel didn't run to breakfast, we left early to ride down into Suva. After pancakes at McDonald's, by Ratu Sukana Park, we cycled north along Suva Harbour, over the bridge by Prince's Wharf and past the huge Municipal Market. It was heaving with people, bringing and buying the food that is the backbone of the village economy system. There were bunches of coconuts, sheaves of taro roots, hands of bananas, an array of other unidentifiable root vegetables and fruits, live grey prawns and dead fish. The subsistence produce arrived in taxis and pick-up vans, busy but orderly, with no shouting or haggling.

We continued along King's Wharf and were soon riding east along the Queen's Road (Suva to Lautoka), past pleasantly gardened houses, Suva Yacht Club, a Naval Base and the expensive Raffles Tradewinds Hotel. Then the road rolled past many villages, looking a bit more prosperous than those we'd seen along the King's Road (Lautoka to Suva).

We shared a packet of coconut cookies with a small group of boys who came to watch us, sitting in their bus shelter. Very polite, they offered to bring us a drink (equally politely declined – it's best to keep to bottled water). Riding on, we passed rice paddies and a very photogenic thatched village, which was a Rehabilitation Centre sponsored by a flour mill. (Our favourite road sign in Fiji –'Drink, Don't Drive'!)

We stopped in Navua, a market town at the mouth of the wide brown Navua River. Here we bought good cold drinks at the 'Quick Bite Refreshment Centre' and talked to the Indian family who run this café/shop, James and Shanti Jhinku. James was very proud of his 1950's Morris Minor car, and a Raleigh mountain bike he'd bought from an Australian. He was teaching his little daughter English but she was too shy to practise with us.

The next 12 km (8 miles) brought us to 'Pacific Harbour', an upmarket tourist development with golf course, restaurants and the Centra Resort, offering diving, fishing, surfing, tours, etc. Just another mile along Queen's Road, at Deuba, we came to the Coral Coast Christian Centre, offering good clean accommodation that was 'very affordable', just as the Jhinku family had said. We took one of 6 self-contained units, each with kettle, toaster and gas cooker, set in lovely gardens. There was also a backpackers' dorm and space for camping, amid the hazards of falling coconuts, large toads and hungry mosquitoes!

After drinking gallons of tea, we cycled back to Pacific Harbour resort to change money (NZ$ into Fiji $) at the Centra Hotel. Tourist developments do have their uses! We also ate excellent club sandwiches, salad and chips at the Oasis Restaurant, ignoring the English and American voices.

With no air-con in our room, we had a sticky restless night.

25 February 2001    Korotogo, Fiji    Vakaviti Motel   70 km

Breakfast of beans on toast, then away at 7.30 am. The rolling Queen's Road sometimes hugged the lovely Coral coast, sometimes climbed and fell as it ran a little inland. Beqa Island, the home of the Fijian Firewalkers, lay close off-shore at Pacific Harbour.

Riding along Viti Levu's south coast was very hot indeed, with a light back wind (the prevailing Trade Wind from the south-east). On this Sunday morning the villagers were dressed in their best, walking to the churches, some with bible in hand. Sounds of singing filled the air as we bought cold drinks at a village shop.

Our Lonely Planet guide recommended the 'Beach House and Coconut Café', 5 miles (8 km) before Korolevu, but sadly it had closed down. We sat outside it, finishing a tin of peanuts and drinking squash from our bottles (made with 'Raro' fruit powder, bought in New Zealand).

Having crossed the island's dividing range, the Queen's Road now ran along the coast, past coconut groves and top-price resorts, such as Warwick and Niviti (featured in our Qantas airline brochure). Viliste's Restaurant at Korolevu (2 km past the Warwick Hotel and 3.5 km before the Naviti Hotel) is proudly 'Fijian Owned', offering meals, local fresh seafood and accommodation (3 bedrooms). Viliste's also had a Milk Bar at the roadside, where we bought good home-baked banana muffins and orange juice. We continued past the Hideaway Resort, where you can get an air-conditioned 'bure' (thatched cottage) for upwards of $225 a night. We've paid between $44 and $66 so far!

Pausing to watch the local children swimming, we saw fishermen wading out where streams coming down from the forests cut channels through the coral reef. The colours were amazing: pink clouds above the shimmering lagoon water, in shades of turquoise and violet.

Past Tubakula Beach Bungalows, the road had been diverted uphill round the brand new Outrigger Reef Resort. Annoyingly, the resort blocked access to the other cafes and hotels of Korotogo, today's destination. To avoid climbing the hill past Korotogo and then backtracking, we had to push our bikes round the outside of the wall enclosing the resort and along a short stretch of beach.

Past 'Le Café' (closed) and the Casablanca Hotel/Sinbad Restaurant, we came to Vakaviti Motel, lying between the Casablanca and a small 'resort' called the Crow's Nest. It was up a steep hill and through tropical gardens, where we were greeted by noisy dogs rather than by the owner - a former New Zealand All Blacks player and Fijian MP – as promised in Lonely Planet! The place was up for sale and he had clearly lost interest.

We took a room in a cheaply built row of units, opposite a pool. It had a gas hob with kettle, fridge, bathroom and 2 punka fans (no air-con). Escaping our noisy adolescent neighbours (who gave us a copy of the 'Sun' tabloid paper), we walked back to Sinbad's for a supper of chicken chop suey, beer and banana splits. It was another restless night, too hot for sound sleep.

26 February 2001    Nadi, Fiji    Raffles Gateway Hotel    77 km

We rode 5 miles (8 km) to Sigatoka, at the mouth of Sigatoka River (the island's second longest). Over a breakfast of egg & tomato sandwiches and tea in a café there, the Indian owner told us about sending his daughters to university in New Zealand, hoping they would find work there and perhaps enable him to follow with his wife. He talked of the uncertainty of leasing land from the Fijians (who still own 83% of it). Skilled and educated Indians are emigrating to Australia and NZ, as their leases come up for renewal.

The fertile Sigatoka River valley is Fiji's salad bowl, with small scale farming along its banks. The valley has been long inhabited, the river providing a line of communication and transport from the mountains of the interior to the coast. The muddy brown waters could be seen entering the blue ocean and breaking through the fringing reef. Upstream, on a ridge by a bend in the river, the 18th century Tavuni Hill Fort, built by a Tongan chief, has been restored.

Continuing round the coast, past a mosque, we rode alongside the Sigatoka Sand Dunes, formed by sand washed down the river and blown inland by the waves and South-east Trade Winds. They are 5 km long and 1 km wide, varying in height from 20 to 60 metres (66 to 200 ft), but not piles of golden sand, being overgrown with shrubbery. With a Visitor Centre and wooden path to climb, they form part of a national park.

Still following the Queen's Road, we rolled on over an occasional hill. The riding became easier and cooler as the sky clouded over. It was our longest day on Fiji in terms of distance, but one of the least difficult. There were fewer villages along the next stretch, with nothing significant until Nadi town.

Nadi is not a very interesting town, apart from the Swami Temple at the southern entrance. The main street was busy, lined with restaurants and souvenir shops. We crossed the Nadi River, then followed a long slow funeral procession of cars for a couple of miles. Reaching a McDonald's, complete with drive-thru, we stopped for Big Macs, apple pie and ice cream, chatting with the Fijian Customer Care Manager, who considered himself very old at 60!

Refreshed, we rode the last few miles to Nadi Airport to confirm tomorrow night's flight to Los Angeles. Returning to the splendid Raffles Gateway, opposite the airport, we spent our last night in a 'Standard Room', with deliciously cool air-con. The hotel is immaculate, free of insects, and served us a lovely chicken dinner.

Total Distance Cycled in 6 days: 388 km or 240 miles = 64 km or 40 miles per day

Given the tropical heat, that was plenty!

The ride was part of our 12,086-mile (19,340-km) round-the-world cycle ride.

The first ride is at3,064 miles (4,900 km) cycling across Australia

The ride preceding Fiji is at: 4,641-mile (7,425 km) cycling round New Zealand

The following ride is at: 3,618 miles (5,790 km) cycling across the USA

27 February 2001 (Twice!)   By Air from Fiji to Los Angeles and a Super 8 Motel

After a leisurely breakfast at the Raffles Gateway Hotel (opposite Fiji's Nadi Airport), we packed for Air New Zealand/Air Pacific flight FJ810 to Los Angeles, departing 11 pm. We had just spent 6 days cycling round Fiji's main island (388 km/240 miles), a stop-over on our way from Auckland to California. Barry had to dismantle the wheels to fit our bikes into the boxes, which the Hotel had kindly stored for us after spending our first night in Fiji there. M walked across the road to the airport to buy rolls of sticky tape for the boxes, and post cards to send.

Chicken curry for lunch at the Hotel, a final swim in the splendid pool, reading, crosswords, a pot of tea – time passed slowly! The porter drove our bags and bike-boxes over to the airport at 8 pm, seeming happy with a tip of B&H cigarettes and our Lonely Planet guide to Fiji!

Check-in went smoothly, as the usual evening shower set in. We'd heard a hurricane was approaching, expected tomorrow or the day after. Once on board, the pilot delayed take-off for an hour, waiting for the increasing wind and rain to abate. It didn't. We were the last flight, in or out. Suddenly he roared down the dark runway without warning and we rose through bumpy turbulence. The crew did eventually apologise for subjecting us all to an extra 20 minutes of seat-belted anxiety, explaining we had turned left to avoid the crosswinds and get airborne.

The huge but elderly 747 (200 series) rode out the storm and we gradually relaxed over a meal of spicy lamb balls and Fijian fruits (pineapple, watermelon and pawpaw), well after midnight! The flight lasted about 10 hours, watching a pair of dire 'B'-movie films from our seats in the tail. We managed to sleep a little and then had a good breakfast before landing at LAX (Los Angeles International Airport) at 1.30 pm local time – still on 27 February, as we'd crossed the International Date Line as well as the Equator and arrived before we set off and into a different season! It was still raining and we were still on the edge of the Pacific, looking at palm trees, after all those hours crossing the Ocean. Apparently, it's been raining hard for several days and the news featured mud slides and snow in the Californian mountains. The temperature in LA was 60 deg F.

LAX is a huge airport, circled by non-stop traffic, buses, taxis and courtesy cars. The Ford E350 truck (on which our own motorhome is built) was particularly popular (delivery vans, ambulances, fire engines and mini-buses). From a range of free phones, we rang the Super 8 Motel on Airport Boulevard and we and our bikes (still in their tattered boxes) were soon collected in a Ford E350 minibus and whisked through the rain to a very comfortable room. It had plush fittings, a huge TV at the end of the enormous bed and a luxurious bathroom (but no cooking facilities, unlike most rooms in Australia and NZ). Coffee and tea were freely available at any time from Reception, as were ice cubes (for the American cocktail habit!) The price of $70 included collection from the airport.

The friendly men USA_2001_(11).jpgrunning the hotel were all from the Fijian capital of Suva and we gave them our 'Fiji Times' newspaper, as well as the black flight bag that we didn't want to carry across the States. They enrolled us in the 'Super 8 VIP Club' (cost $4), qualifying for a 10% discount at all Super 8 Motels and a complimentary 10-minute phone card. Every little helps!

While Barry reassembled the bikes (no apparent damage except to his front mudguard) and disposed of the battered boxes, M fetched a snack from the nearby Supersub Sandwich Bar. And then we slept – it had been a very long day (or two).