Some consider the Fiji Islands to be paradise on earth. With its palm trees and white beaches surrounded by the green-blue Pacific Ocean, Fiji now is one of the most colourful countries of the South Pacific. A history of cannibal tribes, British colonization and curious Asian immigrants has created a surprising island republic.
On the world map, the Fiji Islands can be found between Hawaii and New Zealand, close to the International Date Line. An interesting aspect: if you take a plane from Hawaii on January 1 late in the evening, you will reach Fiji on January 3 after a flight of only six or seven hours.
All but two Fiji Islands are part of Melanesia, one of the three main island regions in the Pacific (the others being Polynesia and Micronesia). The entire republic occupies nearly 1.3 million square kilometers, most of it water: only 18 thousand square kilometers taking up solid ground.
If you take every tiny piece of land into account, Fiji consists of over one thousand islands. Just over 300 could possibly be inhabited by man, of which 106 in fact are. The other 200 are either too isolated, too inaccessible or – rather ironical with so much surrounding water - just lacking fresh drinking water. A recent census produced a figure of 875,000 inhabitants.
The main island is Viti Levu (Great Fiji, sometimes called Vitu Levu), where around 70 percent of the entire population live. With its 146 by 106 kilometers Viti Levu is also the largest of all Fiji Islands. Country capital Suva is the only large city in the archipel with 175,000 citizens. The other important town on Viti Levu is Levuka, which was capital until 1882. Apart from its ‘cities’, the large island is known for its picturesque countryside villages, nice beach resorts, beautiful inlands, tropical rain forests and sugar cane fields. Tourists tend to visit Viti Levu for diving, fishing, camping, swimming, surfing and snorkelling.
Other large islands include Vanua Levu (Great Land of the People) and the volcanic Taveuni. One of the most rapidly developing islands is Kadavu, which lately aims its arrows at tourists looking for unspoiled nature and beautiful scenery.
The two islands outside the territory of Melanesia are called Rambi (Micronesia) and Rotuma (Polynesia). This geographical division is open to discussion by the way.
Around half of the 875,000 inhabitants have the Fijian nationality. The others are mainly Polynesian, European, or Chinese. Some 80% of the territory is owned by traditional Fijians, who live in villages, work on the land and go fishing in the ocean, just like their ancestors have done for centuries.
Not only literally Fiji is in a whole other timezone than the Western civilization. The traditional way of life means that most products are still made by hand and the proud people tend to hang on to their culture. Yet other influences slowly get a grip of the country, which we can mainly thank (or blame if you like) tourism for. Cultural expressions are very much visible in the small Fiji circle of writers, which includes the likes of Jo Nacola, Vilsoni Hereniko and Joseph Veramu, who wrote the story bundle The Black Messiah and the novel Moving Through the Streets (about young people in Suva). Traditional dance and songs also hold a strong position in society, passed on from generation to generation. Ghosts play an important part in these cultural expressions that are observable at every significant happening (birth, weddings, funerals, war, major trade matters). The best known ceremony is called Kava, a dance with a correspondingly named medicinal drink.
More than 50% of the Fijians supports the Christian belief, while almost 40% are Hindu and 8% are Muslim.
The Fijians received their name from their neighbours from Tonga, who called the islands Viti. Over the years this was evolutionised into the current appellation.
Nature and climate
The islands possess astounding reefs, lagunes and forests, lots of them unspoiled by tourism. Several woods have been ravaged since the sixties, so some areas are eroded. Lack of awareness for nature preservation has caused pollution (on land and sea) on a minor scale.
The tropical climate is stable with an average summer temperature of 25 degrees Celcius. Between November and April cyclones can occur, although the large surrounding water areas hush the raging storms for the most part. The wet season is very typical. Most islands have a wet eastside where the rain paints the land green, and a dry western half with tropical savannas. In Suva it rains a lot and many people don’t leave their house without umbrella.
The Fiji Tourist Guide: Destination Suva
The first tourists in Suva were the British navy. After they left the stations they occupied from 1942 to 1946, the real tourists started to creep in. The number of curious visitors has been incrementing ever since.
British influences are still very clear in Suva. Streets, squares and buildings carry British names and the city even has its very own little Big Ben. Housing architecture shows many colonial influences.
Suva is sometimes described as a Tropical Garden City. From nearly each spot in town you can see tropical rain forest. Being the most important city of the South Pacific, the trade centre is full of live. All that a large city should have, is readily available in Suva: shops, markets, monuments, discotheques, restaurants, cafés. The harbour is very lively and important for trade income.
The Fiji Tourist Guide: Destination Bequa
Near the south coast of Viti Levu lies Bequa, the Fire Island. Around 500m from the Coral Coast the reef provides a fantastic diving spot. Ship wrecks and underwater caves make this just about perfect for divers, but apart for some petty rafting and fishing, there's nothing else to do here. In the eight villages on Bequa the people live their uncomplicated, traditional lives.
Cyclone season is from December to April here, but luck is the all-important factor. Sight varies under water, with better chances during the 'cold' months.
The Fiji Tourist Guide: Destination Kadavu
The island of Kadavu has a varied landscape, with waterfalls, beaches and reefs. Bird life is extensive here, but tourists will rather go for the exceptional beaches and colourful reefs. Because tourism hardly can be called developed, nightlife is all but sweeping. 'Large town' Vunisea does not have restaurants, but the coffee house opens in the morning and the market provides for tea and scones.
The Great Astrobale Reef stretches for over 30 kilometres along the Kadavu coast. Colourful fish swim through the underwater grottos produced by seismic activity. Cape Washington has excellent surf waves while Mount Washington attracts some adventurous mountaineers.
The Fiji Tourist Guide: Destination Taveuni
One of the most beautiful Fiji Islands is Taveuni. The volcanic soil makes it very fertile, turning the island into one big rain forest with breathtaking waterfalls. Sixty percent of Taveuni is woods.
Most tourists head for Rainbow Reef, whose coral as you would have thought belongs to the most colourful in the Pacific. The Great White Wall is an underwater canyon with white coral. Anyone can make those postcard pictures here on the spacious beaches with their palm trees. Apart from traditional dances and the local country club in Waiyevo, the most interesting entertainment comes from the peculiar 180 Meridian Cinema:
"Where to begin? As of 2/23/02, I've really taken over the world's most remote movie theater, the 180 Meridian Cinema, village of Wairiki, island of Taveuni, republic of Fiji, South Pacific Ocean, for the purpose of showing free movies in a media-free, no-electricity environment/market...which also happens to be paradise. (…) There are only two forms of group entertainment here - church or cinema. Now we've matched the admission price. Drop in for a visit anytime. I've got a spacious, airy, solar-powered, 120-year old termite-infested, bees in the walls, geckos bug control plantation house."
Some tourists take on the challenge of climbing to Lake Tangimauthia. To get to this crater lake at 823 metres height, you have to overcome dense forests and foot-to-knee deep mud.
The Fiji President is called Ratu Josefa Iloilovatu Uluivuda, who is assisted by Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase. The official website of the Fiji government describes the political structure of the country as follows:
The executive authority of the State is vested in the President who is the Head of State, and who also symbolises the unity of the State. As President he is also the Commander-in-Chief of the military forces.
The President is appointed by the Bose Levu Vakaturaga (The Great Council of Chiefs) after consultation by the Council with the Prime Minister. The term of office for the President is 5 years. He is eligible for re-appointment for one further term of 5 years but is not eligible for re-appointment after that.
The President is assisted by Cabinet with the Prime Minister as Head of Government. The President, in his own deliberate judgement, appoints as Prime Minister the Fijian member of the House of Representitives who appears to him best able to command majority support in the House.
Ministers other than the Prime Minister are appointed by the President, from members of Parliament, in accordance with advice of the Prime Minister.
The website Hello Fiji at the internet address http://www.hellofiji.com/ is very useful and provides daily updated news and information.