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Friday, March 5, 2021

Fun in Fiji

Reading Time: 4 minutesSeafood and cocktails made an interesting and relaxing combination at Fiji’s exotic islands, writes GEORGE THAKUR
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The flight from Tullamarine took over 4 hours to reach Nadi in Fiji, and as we disembarked, a desirable 27oc welcomed us. We were happy to unload ourselves of warm clothing suited for Melbourne’s 10oc. We asked the local population what Nadi was all about, and they all told us that it is a rather dull city of Viti Levu, the main Fijian island.
Since the time difference between Australia and Fiji is about three hours, by the time we reached Hotel Mercure where we were to spent a night, it was already dark. We hit the restaurant to taste the local cuisine, where the staff recommended we began with Fijian beer. Then came the seafood salad – pungent, citrussy and a big serve. The butter chicken Fijian style was delicious, yet not far removed from how Indians would cook it. We cut short our after-dinner walk in the suburb, for the Fijian traffic sense was as scary as is the Indian.
Early the following morning we were transported to Denarau Island, some 20 minutes from the international airport, where we checked ourselves onto a catamaran for a four night cruise of six major islands from about 360 small and large ones. Denarau, in Viti Levu is the main island inundated with some of Fiji’s best resorts and privately owned mansions of the rich and the filthy rich from Australia and New Zealand; but also from the USA, Britain and Germany. The never-ending palm-treed approaches to these facilities via innumerable and vast golf courses are clean and beautiful.
The catamaran took over two hours to connect us with our ship, moored in the deep ocean. Refreshments were available on board at a cost. On the way there, we dropped off many couples who had opted for smaller, uninhabited, but self-contained island resorts just for themselves, where one may bask undisturbed in nature’s sunshine and/or walk around the island in their birthday suits, the next island being 5 nautical miles away, and the next ship with supplies two days away.
The Mamanuca island group is a collection of twenty small and large sand-fringed islands set among the deep blue waters of the South Pacific ocean. Situated inside the Malolo Barrier Reef, this stunning group of islands is easily accessible from the mainland and offers ideal conditions for boating, scuba (self-contained underwater breathing apparatus) diving, snorkelling and other water-based activities. Here is located the island on which Tom Hanks filmed Castaway, alongside various traditional Fijian villages.
Finally, we boarded our ship, the Blue Lagoon. Mimi, our Cruise Director, and her friendly staff welcomed us with ethnic songs accompanied by guitars, the base singer adding grace to the sopranos, and a drink of our choice. After a continental dinner, we retired for the night. Each day, we were transported to sandy beaches of warm water on different islands, where we swam, learnt to scuba dive, or just lazed on beach chairs or hammocks, sipping cocktails. One day we were given a conducted tour of a village, where a stern-looking, gigantic armed warrior, his face half-painted black, escorted us into a room. The men led the way, and women necessarily followed. The men also sat in the front and were served before the women. Caps were taboo in the villages. The kahwa drinking ritual was truly ritualistic. Since I had felt sick after drinking it in Vanuatu, I respectfully declined the offer. The food served in porcelain plates with cutlery was delicious, but the locals ate off banana leaves, using their fingers. Locally made but terribly expensive artefacts were on sale. Kindergarten and primary school children we met were friendly and conversed with us in English. Each family in the village grows its own vegetables and fruit in their backyards. Fijians of Indian origin cannot just walk in to live in these villages. They have their own, as we were told, ‘settlements’ where they live. One day, we tried food wrapped in banana leaves cooked the Fijian way, in a pit of hot coals.
The famed Coral Coast stretches for 130 kilometres along the southern shores of Viti Levu, with easy access via the Queen’s Highway that connects the jet-set town of Nadi with the capital city of Suva. It boasts any number of mile-long beach resorts and/or smaller accommodation options with a distinctly Fijian feel, and magnificent views of the waves breaking along the famous coral reef. All the way from Nadi to Suva are locations bubbling with activity, with restaurants, petrol pumps, shops and large pools with kamal-ke-phool, and playing loud Bollywood music, these were the Indian settlements. The Fijian villages were dull in comparison.
The beachside Hideaway Resort, some 65kms from Nadi, in which we stayed was modern and beautiful, the staff friendly and polite. Our large and self-contained Bure was five meters from the actual Pacific Ocean, and during low tide we walked right into the deep, admiring rare shells and sea-life. I even dared to canoe, although I can’t swim. The seafood aplenty was delicious, the portions large and the cocktails were to kill for. The residents were friendly and shouted drinks to each other, while we danced to loud music played every evening by the staff. We had many Indian families holidaying at the Hideaway. While the staff in direct contact with guests was all Fijian, the cooks, even the General Manager, were of Indian origin. The following day, we went on a small cruise to see a waterfall at some height. We also tried bamboo rafting in fast currents, and were treated to home-made nibbles and soft drinks.
The taxi to Suva for a day cost Fijian $200. We drove past the Old Parliament House, the present-day Parliament House, Government House, roamed around in shopping arcades and lunched at Ashiana Restaurant. While rows of buildings, shopping arcades and proudly captioned shops are owned by Indians, the locals believe more in 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday paid jobs. A pack of 60 tablets of medicine for which I pay $5 at home was sold to me by an Indian chemist for the equivalent of AUD$2 per tablet, which means $156 for the packet of 60! No wonder Fijian Indians are rich! Rose and I wondered why they would leave a cushy life in warm Fiji for anywhere else in the world.
By the time our holiday ended, we were saying the ubiquitous bula, meaning welcome/hello/goodbye automatically. Therefore, if you wish to relax, eat mouth-watering seafood and taste wicked cocktails, Fiji is your destination.

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