Fiji should be all about lying at the beach and snorkeling or diving in this amazing turquoise water. However, if you have more time than money on your hands you’re very likely to spend quite some time in Nadi or Suva instead of at the beach.
The capital city of Fiji is Suva. However, the international airport is in Nadi, almost at the other end of Viti Levu, the nation’s biggest island. Nadi is therefore the place where most travelers spend at least one night. Don’t make it more unless you really have to, as there is nothing to see or do in Nadi. The beach is not particularly beautiful (unless you like grey sand and don’t like coconut trees) and it’s being built up with ever more hotels. As for now, there is only one tiny supermarket and a couple of restaurants in walking distance from the hotels; the town center is pretty far away. I won’t try to embellish anything here; I didn’t like Nadi at all and couldn’t wait to get out of that place.
For that reason and, to be honest, because we were taken a bit by surprise by the high prices in Fiji, we left Nadi after just one night and took a bus to Suva. We’ll figure out where to go from there, we thought.
Mention Suva to any Fijian and they will invariably tell you that it’s a very dangerous city. Of course it pays to be careful, as always, but I think there are more dangerous places than Suva. It is actually a really nice place to spend a few days. The city is, although not pretty, quite likable. It’s not oriented at tourists and you can find great food (especially Indian!) and buy the freshest fruit and vegetables on the market if you can and want to cook by yourself.
You do stick out as a tourist and some people greet you on the street and tell you to go with them to a real Fijian market: “Come with me, I was going there anyway”. A real market? Sounds great! But they will only lead you to a souvenir shop where you will feel obliged to buy some silly souvenir like a brain picker or something the like.
East of Viti Levu, there are a few small islands. One of them is Ovalau, where the town of Levuka is. Back in the day (for a few years until 1877) Levuka was the first capital of Fiji. It was also the site of Fiji’s first post office, first school, and first hotel.
Getting to Levuka
Patterson Brothers Shipping Company in Suva offers a bus-ferry-bus service to Levuka once every day. From Suva, the bus leaves at about 1pm, then, after a two-hour drive, boards the ferry somewhere on the coast north of Suva. The ferry ride is only about 45 minutes. Once on Ovalau, the bus drives around half the island to Levuka, dropping off passengers (most with a big bag of bread from Suva – is there no bread on Ovalau?) along the way.
The bus back to Suva leaves Levuka at 4.30 in the morning. That was even too early to see the sunrise on the ferry.
The Oldest Hotel in the South Pacific
The oldest hotel in Fiji – an in the whole South Pacific region – is in Levuka; the Royal Hotel. Once probably a busy place, its furniture and architecture now speaks of a time gone by and the hotel looks kind of deserted, even lonely. Everything’s outdated and, you could swear, covered with a thin layer of dust even if it has been recently cleaned. The late queen of Tonga has been here and who knows who else; if only the walls could speak.
We were given room no. 8, upstairs, the last one on the right. The staircase is narrow and creaks, as does the floor of the gloomy hallway. Slowly we approached the end of the hallway and when we were just a meter from our door – BANG! – the door flung open. With a cry we both jumped backwards. The room, of course, was empty. Maybe the door hadn’t been closed properly. And then a gust of wind through the open window… Who knows. Later, half jokingly, half still freaked out, we asked the owner if there was a ghost in the hotel. Of course not, she answered very resolutely. But ask anyone in Suva and they will tell you a different story.
What to Do in Levuka?
It’s a good question. Levuka on a Saturday (and probably any weekday) is slow. On a Sunday, however, it’s near dead. Not even the restaurants open during the day. Fortunately, there’s always one of the supermarkets open where you can buy a can of tuna (flakes) or cup noodles.
The only tour operator in Levuka has closed its doors five years ago (looks like the Lonely Planet needs to update it’s Fiji chapter). According to a flyer at the Royal Hotel, someone offers snorkeling trips but they need 24h advance notice.
We spent that Sunday sitting on the balcony of our room, planning the future while eating cup noodles and canned tuna and listening to the church choir sing. All day long. Every few hours we went for a walk in the suffocating heat along the town’s main road. The old buildings are beautiful and full of history but they’re not very well looked after and some have been badly damaged during the big cyclone in February 2016.
Levuka could be an interesting destination, both because of its history and the island’s rugged and beautiful landscape. If only there was something to do there.