The taxi picks us up from Nadi International Airport and off we go on a 2.5hr ride to the beautiful Suncoast of Fiji in the north eastern corner of the island. We drive miles and miles of country roads, past houses with chickens, pigs and goats in the front yard, cattle feeding off the yellow pastures (we are told, that it’s been unusally dry, with no further rain expected for at least another two months), and colourful washing hanging from the laundry lines.
Bigger groups and families are sitting in the shades of their porches or under the trees, a grandfather has his grandchild dozing in his lap. There are sugar cane fields for miles, lots and lots of them, in all stages of growth and harvest. Troops of workers are busy with burning the stubs, sometimes gangs are cutting the canes.
The roads are busy with public buses, and the omnipresent sugar cane trucks, dangerously overloaded with massive canes that add another 10cm to either side of the truck. School kids in colourful uniforms that shine against their dark skins are waiting for their ride home, while others are cutting across the fields to their houses.
You can see that this is a poor, underdeveloped country. The houses are mostly build from cheap material, weatherboard or corrugated iron sheets. The house in the photo below is one of the few examples of traditional building techniques; many modern houses come in shrill pinks, purples and turquoises.
Toilets are usually outhouses that have been placed at a distance from the main house, which in itself may only house a room or two. I guess in a climate like this you have no need for big houses anyway. Still, it is peaceful around us, people seem content.
While staying at the Starfish Blue villa on Fiji’s Suncoast you have the opportunity to take part in a private tour of the Rakiraki area which will allow you to see even more of Fiji.
We give this tour a try on a tropical Saturday morning. The first stop of our tour is the historic Ellington Wharf.
Today the wharf is almost deserted, only a couple of rusty molasses storage containers and the remnants of the sugar railway are silent witnesses of much busier times, when the sugar from the mill at Rakiraki town was transported here to be loaded onto big transport ships. Today, only ferries to the outer islands land here, and tourists use the wharf for boating expeditions and day tours. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you even get to see turtles from here.
On our way to our next stop we drive past gorgeous Waimada waterfront, a beach that is so stunning that it would make its way easily into a travel brochure. In the distance we can see local kids enjoying the soft white sand and the warm water, it is such a peaceful and innocent sight.
The driver points out a stony peak in front of us. He explains that in the olden days tribes would climb to the top of the peaks for defense, in wartime they would throw rocks down onto their enemies as a last resort, a practice that became out of fashion with the arrival of colonists and their firearms.
Speaking of the white man, we arrive at the beautiful historic church of Black Christ which sits on top of a mountain like a jewel in a crown. A beautiful example of Western missionary architecture, build from sandstone and fitted with colourful stained windows. Build in 1917, this church houses a mural by acclaimed French artist Jean Charlot. Set against the bright blue sky and with a fantastic view over the tropical valleys and forests of Ra province, this church is definitely worth the drive.
We return to Rakiraki, which is the nearest town to our accommodation, Starfish Blue. Rakiraki is a busy town next to the Penang sugar mill, with a number of shops, supermarkets and a farmers’ market. We stroll over the latter, inspecting the different fruit and vegetables on offer such as bananas, kava roots, tiny and extremely hot green chillis and massive jackfruits. We buy a couple of small bananas and a small pineapple which is so sweet and so flavoursome with a hint of coconut, that we are sad we didn’t buy more.
The last spot we visit on this day is the grave of the infamous last cannibal of Fiji, Udre Udre. The story goes that this cannibal consumed 999 people before his death some 150 years ago, which actually earned him an entry in the Guiness Book of Records.
The site is no more than a rather unattractive tomb stone, but the driver mentioned that the British would feed Udre Udre with Indians to secure his sympathies, so maybe there is more to it than on first sight. Apparently, there are a number of local stories told about Udre Udre, some of which involving witchcraft, and this in a country that seem to have more churches and temples than actual houses.