Fiji is an interesting blend of Melanesian, Polynesian, Micronesian, Indian, Chinese and European influences. For nearly 50 years, until the military coup of 1987 and the Indian emigration that followed it, the indigenous people of Fiji represented an ethnic minority in their own land.
The Fiji islands are situated in the South Pacific, at the eastern limit of the region known as Melanesia (which also includes the Solomons, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and Papua New Guinea) and just west of Polynesia (Tonga, Samoa, the Cooks and French Polynesia). They are south of the equator, just north of the Tropic of Capricorn and west of the International Dateline. The territorial limits enclose an area of 1.3 million sq km (half a million sq mi), but only 1.5% of this is dry land. About 300 islands make up the nation.
Viti Levu at 10,400 sq km (4052 sq mi), and Vanua Levu at 5587 sq km (2160 sq mi) are the biggest islands. Suva, the country's capital is on the south-western coast of Viti Levu, and the island also has the country's highest peak - Mt Tomanivi (Mt Victoria) at 1323m (4339ft). Taveuni and Kadavu are also substantial islands, but the rest of the country is made up of small islands divided into the Lomaiviti, Lau, Moala, Yasawa, Mamanuca and Rotuma Groups. Many of these islands are relatively untouched and there are many beautiful reefs, lagoons and harbours, as well as natural vegetation.
What To See
Colo-i-Suva Forest Park
Colo-i-Suva (pronounced tholo-ee-soo-va) is a 2.5-sq-km oasis of lush rainforest, teeming with tropical plants and vivid and melodic bird life. The 6.5km of walking trails navigate clear natural pools and gorgeous vistas. Sitting at an altitude of 120m to 180m, it's a cool and peaceful respite from Suva's urban hubbub.
Slipping and sliding through the forest over water-worn rocks is the Waisila Creek, which makes its way down to Waimanu River and forms the water catchment for the Nausori and Nasinu areas. The creek gives rise to natural swimming holes. The Lower Pools have a rope swing guaranteed to bring out the Tarzan in anyone.
The mahogany and pines were planted after a period of aggressive logging in the 1940s and '50s to stabilize the topsoil without impinging on the indigenous vegetation. Among the wildlife are 14 different bird species, including scarlet robins, spotted fantails, Fiji goshawks, sulphur-breasted musk parrots, Fiji warblers, golden doves and barking pigeons.
The visitor information center is on the left of the road as you approach from Suva. Buy your ticket here, check the state of the trails and any current security warnings, then head to the entrance booth on the other side of the road. The recommended route is to follow Kalabu Rd as it skirts the park, turning up Pool Rd to the car park. From here, you take the Nature Trail to the Lower Pools for swimming, the aforementioned rope swinging and, if you remembered to bring it, lunch. It's a sweaty, uphill walk back to the main road via the Falls Trail. Without stopping this loop takes about 1.5 hours to complete.
Regarding the security situation: there have been some distressing attacks over the years, but at the time of writing there had been no reported acts of violence for some years. Ask the right questions of the rangers and use your judgment. Rangers will lead guided two-hour walks for $30 if asked. The park receives an annual rainfall of 420cm and the trails can be extremely slippery, so sturdy footwear is essential.
The Sawani bus leaves Suva bus station every half hour ($2, 30 minutes) or a taxi will cost around $8. If driving, follow Princes Rd out of Suva through Tamavua and Tacirua village.
This museum captivates visitors with a journey into Fiji's archaeological, political, cultural and linguistic evolution. To enjoy the exhibits in chronological order, start with the displays behind the ticket counter and work your way around clockwise. Original examples of musical instruments, cooking apparatus and jewelry – including chiefs' whale-tooth necklaces – and a daunting array of Fijian war clubs and cannibal utensils give a vivid insight into traditional life. Taking center stage is the massive Ratu Finau (1913), Fiji's last waqa tabus (double-hulled canoe), which measures 13.43m long and includes an enclosed deck for inclement weather.
The growing influence of other South Pacific and European cultures is documented in a hall on the other side of the museum shop. It is here that you'll find the well-chewed, but ultimately inedible, shoe of Thomas Baker, a Christian missionary eaten for his indiscretions in 1867. Upstairs, a small Indo-Fijian hall chronicles some of the contributions made by the Indian workers and their descendants who were brought to Fiji in the 1870s as indentured laborers. Also on the same floor is a gallery of beautiful masi by some of Fiji's finest contemporary artists.
The museum continually undertakes archaeological research and collects and preserves oral traditions. Many of these are published in Domodomo, a quarterly journal on history, language, culture, art and natural history that is available in the museum's gift shop. It also organizes craft demonstrations. Contact the museum for times.
After visiting the museum, ponder your new-found knowledge with a wander through the compact but beautiful Thurston Gardens. The dense conglomeration of native flora and surrounding lawns are less manicured and growing more haphazard with every coup, but it was here that the original village of Suva once stood. It's a lovely spot for a picnic – particularly if you camp yourself under one of the grand and stately fig trees.
Parliament of Fiji
Opened in June 1992, the parliament complex must be one of the world's most striking political hubs. It was designed in the post-1987 atmosphere. The aim of maintaining indigenous Fijian values is apparent through the open-air corridors, traditional arts and structures, and masi cloths throughout. The main building, vale ne bose lawa (parliament house), takes its form from the traditional vale (family house) and has a ceremonial access from Ratu Sukuna Rd. The complex is 5km south of the city center and, depending on the politics of the day, you may or may not be able to look around – check with the guard at the main entrance or phone ahead.
It's easiest to reach by taxi, but you can hop on a bus along Queen Elizabeth Dr and walk along Ratu Sukuna Rd for 1km.
Koroyanitu National Heritage Park
If you are a keen walker or nature lover, the Koroyanitu National Heritage Park is definitely worth a visit. There are six villages within the park that cooperate as part of an ecotourism project. They maintain the landscape and tracks, and subsequently earn tourist dollars through village stays and manning the office.
This pocket-sized paradise is a must on any northern Viti Levu itinerary. Beautifully hilly, the 3.5-sq-km island is surrounded by scalloped bays, white-sand beaches and mangroves. A history of cattle grazing has cleared much of the dense vegetation and today rolling hills of grass dominate the interior.
Bouma National Heritage Park
This national park protects over 80% of Taveuni's total area, covering about 150 sq km (57 sq mi) of rainforest and coastal forest. The park has the three Tavoro Waterfalls near the falls' visitor center, each with natural swimming pools. The first waterfall is about 24m (78ft) high and only 10 minutes' walk along a flat cultivated path.
Sigatoka Sand Dunes
One of Fiji's natural highlights, these impressive dunes are a ripple of peppery monoliths skirting the shoreline near the mouth of the Sigatoka River. Windblown and rugged, they stand around 5km (3.1mi) long, up to 1km (0.6mi) wide and on average about 20m (65ft) high, rising to about 60m (197ft) at the western end.
Waitavala Water Slide
If you've always wanted to launch yourself down a series of mini waterfalls, then here's your chance. You can slide down on your bum or attempt to do it standing up, surfer style, like the local kids. Either way, you'll end up (perhaps a little battered) in a small pool at the bottom. It could be a good idea to watch a local go down before you attempt it yourself – there are usually a few kids around to show you how. Be warned, though: local kids say never to attempt to begin your slide from the very top of the falls – it's too dangerous even for them. Also, if there's too much water the slides become too hazardous and even the locals won't go down.
The slide is a 20-minute walk from Waiyevo. With the Garden Island Resort on your left, head north and take the first right at the bus stop. Take another right at the branch in the road, pass a shed and then go left down a hill. You'll see a 'waterfall' sign. The river is on the Waitavala estate, which is private land, so if you pass anyone on your way there, ask if you can visit.