We flew to Fiji from Aukland on Air Pacific (Fiji's own international airline - but actually half of the travellers on board were in theory booked on a Qantas flight). When we checked in, 3 hours early, we were surprised at the huge queue of people already checking in. We were given seats way at the back in rows 63C and 65C ... which was a problem, so phone calls were made about "spare seats" and we were re-assigned to 19B and 19C.
When it came time to board, they did it painfully slowly, 5 rows at a time, starting with rows 64-69. Our group was the absolute last, an hour and a half later. We found the plane was a "747, 400 series" - if you get a chance to travel on one of these - try not to! There were the usual 11 seats across that you get in wide-bodied air buses. Our seats weren't there, we were upstairs. Then they explained to us that our hand bags were too big for the overhead lockers upstairs, we had to go back down and find space in the downstairs ones. Upstairs there were only 6 seats across, and there was a deep locker on each side between the seat and the windows. The seats were so minimal and squeezy that when the lady in front of us leaned her seat back she crushed Peter's knees causing him a great deal of pain.
Arriving in Fiji
I don't know how many people were crammed into that huge plane - I guess 5-600. So disembarquing was slow and painful. And then we found ourselves in the customs hall with only 3 or 4 officers checking passports and a queue that wound back and forth and back and forth endlessly. The room was not air-conditioned, but occasionally we found ourselves positioned in front of a huge fan, keen to linger a few minutes as the queue trudged forward.
The sun was setting as the plane landed, and it was well and truly dark by the time we got through customs and immigration. There were three people booked onto the bus that would take us to our resort - Naviti. We waited for the third person another hour and a half and they didn't show, so finally we left without them.
We didn't realise Naviti was halfway between Nadi (where we landed) and the capital, Suva, at the other end of Fiji's biggest island. It was a good hour and a half drive on bumpy roads, periodically slowing to a crawl to negotiate the huge speed-bumps installed through the villages. It was very dark and raining - the driver explained we had arrived in Fiji's winter.
It was all a bit confusing when we arrived in the dark and wet; we didn't really get a chance to appreciate where we were.
Everything was so lovely and outdoorsy (despite the rain) - this is the reception desk (right)
and the lounge in the main foyer.
We upgraded to a king room, and were given this suite ...
... you can just see me on our balcony on the top floor at the left of the right-hand building.
We had a lovely view of the resort and the ocean (further to the right).
We were a little disappointed that the resort's own beach wasn't a very swimmy place
although there were lots of other things to do on the beach like rides in the glass-bottomed boat
and stuff like jet-skis and canoes.
The pool was nice enough, and had a bar where you could sit in or out of the water and be served drinks
but we found the resort was extremely family-friendly and there were a remarkable number of children of all ages screaming and playing ... so in the end we didn't spend much time in the pool.
"Authentic Fijian Village"
We found the air in Fiji - the sights, sounds and smells - reminded us greatly of Murray Island and Papua New Guinea. But we found there was also a tour we could do, a ride along the Sigatoka river to an authentic village and have lunch there - the tour company reckon there are so many villages, and they use a different one every day so that they don't get too touristified.
They took us up the valley in minibuses, and then we boarded the boats. We hadn't realised the trip would be in a jet-boat (we had studiously avoided the jet-boats in New Zealand!) - hence the life-vests. The driver did say that if we fell out of the boat we should just stand up and walk out of the river (shallow), and we had been warned to bring a spare set of dry clothes.
The trip up the river was delightful, and we were told to wave to any villagers we passed. Occasionally the driver stopped the boat to point something out - the jet engines made talking along the way impossible.
Some small boys met us at our assigned village, and we were led up the hill to the village square. Us ladies had each been given complimentary sarongs (from the tour company) because women in trousers would be rude.
The first thing we came across was a young man preparing Kava for the welcoming ceremony. We had also brought with us a ceremonial gift of Kava for the village.
This man is the chief's son, and his English was good enough to explain everything in the village to us.
He walked us right around the village pointing out various things (one of the 22 tourists stepped off the little cement path trying to film, and went knee-deep in black mud ...yerk!)
He also showed us inside the church. (This seemed so familiar to us after PNG and the Torres Strait!) These two pictures made me chuckle because the chap is standing in his favourite pose. You can see here the man on the right has a plastic bag with the Kava in it - you can see it's tail poking out - and in the other bag he has a football and some sweets as gifts for the villagers.
We all went into the community hall where we sat cross-legged on the floor (and most of us in considerable pain!) for a very solemn welcome ceremony. I was sitting near the door and looked outside where we had all left our shoes. A playful piglet on the loose had taken a fancy to some of the shoes and was rubbing himself all over them, and picking them up (having a little chew) and tossing them about a bit like a puppy might.
Here the men are preparing the Kava, pouring water through the previously ground-up root.
We were each decorated with garlands and talcum powder - on the face! (On Murray Island they always put it on the back of your neck.)
They sang some songs, and some of us were tapped on the knee to get up and join in the dance. (I couldn't believe I had to "dance" and Peter didn't!) It was more of a shuffle than a dance.
Then we had a meal, spread on a long cloth on the floor. We ate, while they continued to sing. All the food was locally grown and/or prepared on open fires by hand. Tastes were very familiar to us, although there was not as much coconut grease in evidence as on Murray Island.
Then it was time for the farewell ceremony - giving of the football, and a pair of joggers (to anyone they would fit) and a donation of money collected from the group - and the farewell song.
The ride back was even faster than the ride up to the village - yep, really fast!
The driver did four or five 360 degree spins. That, of course was why we had spare clothes waiting in the bus! The driver would raise a finger and twirl it, then he would spin the boat. As it stopped the spray then crashed down on us. (It was rather fun!)
Snorkeling and another village
We found there was a chap in the village next to the resort who (for a small fee) would take us to a good snorkelling spot.
He took us to a little beach nearby just down from his own village - that was the extent of his "guiding" that we had paid for.
But we had a lovely time in the warm, clear water, peering at tiny irridescent fish darting in and out of the coral.
As we wandered back through the village to our resort we were astounded again at how similar it was to our village on Murray Island.
Except of course for the power lines!
The flora of Fiji - especially around the beautiful gardens of the resort - just cried out to have their pictures taken. So here are a few of them:
Back to Oz
Our trip home was fairly uneventful. We returned with Virgin Pacific (International) / Virgin Blue (Australian domestic) so we were on smaller planes (than Air Pacific) with leather seats and a single aisle. Unlike when we left Perth, we were ready with sandwiches to take on the plane rather than buy their expensive fare. But then we even hired one of their little video machines to make the flight pass quicker. It was four hours across to Brisbane - where we had to retrieve our luggage, take it through customs, and then catch a train to the Domestic Airport - and then a 6-hour flight to Perth, getting in at 5 minutes after midnight. We did find that Virgin were very efficient. Our plane actually left Fiji early! They called everyone on board, and everyone did and they were ready ... so we left about 15 minutes early! Of course at Nadi airport there weren't a lot of other planes competing for attention from the control tower!
Back home to the the wind and the rain, and some study!