We humans are a funny species. We use, we consume, and then we throw it away.
We discard whatever we don’t need anymore, here and there. No time to lose, no energy to waste. Which is why today’s cities have a solid foundation of human waste, garbage and forgotten things. Whole metropolises sit on a metre thick layer of what is essentially the garbage of previous generations. Dig deep enough and you will find pottery shards and animal teeth, broken glass and nut shells. If you are lucky, you may even find a human bone.
The point is, if you want to find out more about the human race you will have to dig. Which is why archaeology is so closely associated with trenches, shovels and piles of dirt.
A day trip destination on the Coral Coast in Fiji
This is what makes the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park on Fiji’s Coral Coast so special. It is not just a large protected area which features sand dunes. After all, sand dunes can be found in many other places around the world too. But it’s a place with a long history of human habitation, and thanks to the miracle of shifting sands in this dramatic stretch of the Fijian coastline these witnesses to human occupation are slowly uncovering themselves. No shovels needed.
So it’s with good reason that the area has been put under protection, not just for its natural values but also because it’s a treasure trove for South Pacific archeology. Lapinta pottery fragments have been found here, as well as other signs of civilisation, and even human bones. And while it won’t be very likely that you will come across some of these pieces yourself while visiting, it is still a very rewarding experience to climb the dunes and enjoy the wild and untamed landscape.
Your visit will start at the rangers’ house close to the Queen’s Road highway, where you can have a look at some of the pottery and bones found in the area and where you will also get further information on the site. You can choose between two self-guided walks, a one hour walk and a two-hour walk. Due to time constraints we stick to the one-hour route, and find that the timing was indeed aptly measured.
No matter which route you choose, both will essentially take you through a green landscape of pastures and tall grasses, with quick peeks into natural forests, and then across the tall and ever shifting sand dunes to the sea. We are amazed at how much that first part of the walk resembled the Scottish highlands. We really expect to come across a sheep or two.
A walk through different coastal landscapes
From the green pastures of the Sigatoka Sand Dunes we reach thick natural forest, a heaven for insects of all sorts (including plenty of mosquitoes), and birds. Flowers of all shades and colours, and vicious looking red berries – an untouched and partly regenerating landscape that takes you back in time.
Behind the forest the landscape takes a turn to a more dramatic coastal appearance. Gradually, movement requires more effort, with the solid ground slowly giving away to soft white sand. You will notice the change in vegetation. More sturdy, salt resilient varieties appear. There are ground covers, working hand in hand with the dune landscape to hold the sand in place like big giant claws.
And then you climb your last dune which suddenly opens up the view down to the ocean. Today, the water is an angry shade of blue and green and grey, but I have no doubt that the blue on good days will be overwhelming. While we have seen bigger sand dunes in the past, with less growth on them, the landscape is still fascinating. Finally, we find our way down the dune towards the beach.
The noise of the surf is amazing; the coast is lacking the protecting reef that you would find elsewhere. The force of the ocean also becomes clear in what we find on the beach: it’s a graveyard of driftwood, whole tree trunks have been dumped here by the tides.
Huts on the beach make for wonderful photos in this violent landscape under the grey skies of the South Pacific. Built from silver-coloured driftwood, they bring our imagination to life: This is how people may have lived here in the Sigatoka Sand Dunes some 2,000 years ago. The idea is not far-fetched. Some of the pottery found in the sand dunes could be dated back 2,600 years. There’s a large burial site uncovering itself here too, a supermarket for anthropologists, so to speak.
Tree huggers in the mahogany forest
Our way back to Queen’s Road leads us through a mahogany forest which is no older than 60 years but looks like it’s been there for centuries. The trees have been planted here to protect the landscape of the Sigatoka Sand Dunes from erosion due to human development like the highway a couple of metres inland. It doesn’t feel misplaced at all, even though it’s not native. Tree huggers have been set up here, made of sticks and ropes. They are guiding us on our way out, their display of love for the trees is infectious.
A magical landscape, barely studied and understood. Some more work needs to be done to have the Sigatoka Sand Dunes listed as World Heritage Site, but it’s quite apparent how significant the site is for understanding the history of the people of the South Pacific.
Have you been to Sigatoka or to any other sand dune field? Where else can you find such a dramatic landscape? Let me know in the comments! And don’t forget to scroll to the bottom for more fascinating photos of the sand dunes and the national park!