The Sun'll Come Out Tomorrow . . .
Trip Start Nov 08, 2003
74Trip End Oct 22, 2004
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After a wholesomely unfulfilling breakfast of muffins and yoghurt we left the Bates Motel (otherwise known as the Oakwood Manor Hotel) to head for Auckland Airport.
Our flight to Nadi on Fiji's main island of Viti Levu was due off at 11.20am which gave us an hour or so for some duty-free shopping, and after buying a couple of bottles of vin blanc to tide us over our first hour on Fiji, we chanced upon a record store offering $10 CD's from the likes of The Proclaimers and The Combined Marching Bands of the Highland Guards. But that's not all they had, because for the last seven months we'd been keeping a look out for a certain album we'd heard played in a restaurant on Koh Samui, and there it was in all its modern-romantic glory, Tears For Fears: The Collection. Our record collection is complete.
We took off ten minutes late under our first clear blue Auckland sky and pinned our foreheads against the window to shed a 'tear for fear' that we may never visit New Zealand again
As we shot north over the South Pacific the clouds began to bubble up gradually, until we were in sight of Fiji and suddenly we were flying over a nice thick blanket of cumulus. We began a steep descent and after a flight-time of three hours we had landed in an overcast Nadi (pronounced Nandi).
The temperature was still nudging 30-degrees as we waited 40-minutes in an immigration hall cooled by a couple of ceiling fans set to 'second-hand of a watch' speed. After collecting our bags we shuffled through to the arrivals hall complete with sweat patches in all the right places, where we were met by a representative from Sun Vacations Fiji who adorned our necks with necklaces made from little shells. Sun Vacations were a company we'd booked all our Fijian travel with as we were having no luck getting in contact with anyone else on the island.
We were shown to their airport office where we met Lynne Carlos, a Canadian ex-pat who we'd been in constant email contact with whilst in New Zealand. After giving us our accommodation and travel vouchers, and answering our questions, we were introduced to her Fijian husband Jone, whose job it was to ferry us around Fiji in his van.
Our first stop, which would take us an hour and a half to reach, would be the Coral Coast along the southern coastline. The main island covers a large area for a Pacific island with a circumference of 500km and is served by a northern coastal road called the King's Road and a southern route called the Queen's Road of which we were to use
We were met by the usual 'paradise' island towns which were, as usual, anything but paradise, and stray animals and children constantly skirted with painful expirations. As is their job, the stereotypical palm trees and lush green countryside did their best to conceal neglected buildings and the standard array of ugly telephone and electricity lines that were plonked around willy-nilly with no apparent thought.
Still, most people come to Fiji's mainland to view its sights from within the ten-foot high walls of a nice big resort, and the Coral Coast had it's fair share with The Shangri-La, Outrigger, The Warwick, The Naviti and our pseudo-Pontins paradise of choice, Hideaway Resort.
Yep, who needs to actually go out and experience the cultural diversity of the 'real' Fiji when it's all been vacuum-packed into its own little air-bubble of activities, handily diluted for the whole family to enjoy?
After checking in, we browsed through Hideaway Resort's bumper catalogue of Fijian delights:
8am: More Aquarobics
Noon: Fun at poolside with your resident wacky Fijian, MC Zany
1pm: Table Tennis competition
2pm: Ping Pong competition
4pm: Aqua-Volley Power Ping Pong
It was a full diary, I only hope we find the time for all this cultural diversity
After jotting down the days action we were shown to our accommodation to finally find out where our $300 a night was being spent. It was a bure (cottage) of the semi-detached kind set in a botanical garden of palm trees and tropical plants with a lovely verandah overlooking the sea. All mod-cons were present and correct with air-con, fridge, ensuite and safe, but no TV. Anyway, where were we going to find the time to watch American crime serial re-runs when we had Aqua Power Aerobic Poolside shenanigans at 4pm?
Our bure windows were smartly dressed with expensive looking wooden blinds and walls were festooned with prints of Fijian villagers lacking clothes but affluent in appendages. We may have been stranded in this fun factory but whether we relaxed or joined in with watery pranks, we were sure to enjoy our lodgings at least.
At 6pm the sun was setting and in the distance we could hear drums signifying the resort's very own sacred torch lighting ceremony, or as Soph preferred 'Happy Hour' at the bar. Suddenly a tiny Fijian man dressed in a grass skirt and war paint sprinted through the grounds carrying a torch whilst lighting little gas beacons dotted along the footpath, giving the whole place a nice atmospheric feel
At 7.30pm we grabbed a poolside table along with 150 other dinner guests and ate a creditable Fijian feast of kokoda (a fishy speciality), smoked salmon, chicken stir fry, chocolate mousse and a cheese board.
At 9pm a menu of drunken activities was unleashed upon us with the crowd being whipped up into a frenzy with a family-breaking 'Men versus Women' competition followed at 10pm with the ubiquitous resort disco for over 40s and under 10s.
At 8.59pm we left and we would have loved to have blamed jetlag but New Zealand and Fiji are in the same time-zone. Instead we blamed 'Bula Lag' bought on by the constant Fijian greetings of 'Bula' encountered throughout our day, usually pronounced 'Boooooooolah', with the added headache of 'Cloud Lag' as our first day in Fiji began cloudy and ended cloudy . . .
. . . and day two began cloudy as well bringing with it, what seemed, the tail of Hurricane Ivan
Still, at least a nice hot breakfast was being served in the restaurant. Soph was merrily tucking into her fresh fruit and muesli while I came to the table with a Jenga-like plateful of four poached eggs, three slices of egg bread, four mini-sausages and a mound of bubble and squeak all swimming in an orange lake of baked beans. Should see me through to dinner.
We relaxed on our verandah during the morning looking out onto a sea fringed with a coral reef belt some 200 metres offshore, but any chance of us engaging in a spot of snorkelling were laid to rest as the wind whisked the waves into a foaming vortex of unbridled saltiness.
Soph spent the early hours having her bikini line sculpted while I read the hilarious Fiji Times with the ground-breaking news of the man who fell asleep on a bus after a few stiff drinks and was fined $50. What is the world coming to? They should have locked that menace to society up and thrown away the key.
Lunch was skipped due to excessive breakfasting and replaced with a half hour jog along the road whereupon every local came out to watch the strange phenomenon and shout 'Bula'
Back at the bure we replaced lost fluids with a nice cold bottle of wine before heading for an early dinner of calamari, crab and tuna followed by gin and tonics at the bar.
Tonight's 9pm action on stage was a remake of 'Grease' performed by a local amateur dramatics troupe who mimed to a muffled original soundtrack of the movie. With a sound system fit for a small bedroom we settled for the visual spectacle of Fijian girls in blonde wigs and local guys somehow getting John Travolta mixed up with Michael Jackson.
And once the final track had been mimed, some of the audience were dragged kicking and screaming onto stage to perform the resort's signature theme tune, 'The Sun Dance', and boy do we need it to work.
OK, now this is the South Pacific. This is Fiji. It's always sunny here. We've seen the pictures in magazines
Great thick mile-deep duvets of the stuff covering up a shimmering blue mattress of a sky.
(Still, it's all good TravelPod writing time as you may have noticed from the barrages of cyber-drivel that's been uploaded recently.)
We did spend an action-packed hour of holiday camp fun though with a couple of sets of ping-pong and a nine-hole round of not-so-crazy golf using 30 pound solid steel branding irons as clubs. What larks we have.
With lunch skipped once more we headed over the road to the resort's tennis court, and not a bad one at that. Kitted out with newish racquets and balls, we enjoyed real-life genuine fun with two closely fought sets of pin-ball style tennis with some rallies actually lasting three shots.
Back at the hotel we sidled up to the bar for a refreshing Robinson's Barley Water, but they'd never heard of it so we settled for a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc. Far nicer.
After a relaxing afternoon sunning ourselves under clear white cloudy skies, we headed for the restaurant early and sat, with ice-bucketed wine to hand, at a table in prime position for tonight's ceremonial torch lighting
Once the hot stuff was cooked we headed over to a salad bar to bury our cooked food in rice, noodles and chili sauce. Our last Mongolian Barbie was in Langkawi, Malaysia (CLANG, name-drop, sorry) so we knew it was going to be very tasty, and it was. From that day on we knew what we'd be having for dinner, and each night our little cheeky facial-hair mocking chef would suffer at the hands of my ever-increasing chopped chilis.
Don't ever mess with lower lip hair.
At 9 we endured a night of Polynesian dancing on stage which got ever more enjoyable after each Mojito cocktail we downed, and somehow I returned to the bure with red stinging shoulders caused by today's ten minutes of sun that shone though an uncharacteristically thin band of cloud while we were playing tennis. That must be one strong sun . . . when it's out.
Another cloudy day comes to a cloudy end.
Thick cloud, stiff breeze. And so it continues.
After breakfast the brunette read her latest 800-page girly epic while I flicked through the laugh-a-minute Fiji Times. It hasn't a cartoon page, but then again it doesn't need it.
We were still waiting for the sun to put his hat on so we could bare our spongy white flesh to the unsuspecting world but Fiji was having none of it. It was time to see the 'real Fiji' so we rang Lynne, our lady in Nadi to see if she could do us a deal on a nice little motor for the day, so she went off to see a man about a dog and came back to us with a nice little runner which was a nice little earner for her as well. Sweet as.
(I've no idea why I went Cockneyfied then, must be the vino veritas).
We were out on Centre Court again at 2 today, and from somewhere within I was engulfed with the spirit of Roger Federer as ground-strokes followed backhands whistling past young pretender Soph's ears as the Tiger Tim Henman came from within her . . . and choked.
6-0, 6-1. Competitive? Moi?
After another isotonic bottle of wine we headed poolside for the 'Manager's Cocktail Party'. Rum Punches were served under our first partly blue sky in Fiji but soon vanished as the sun set. That would be the first and only time we'd see that big skin-damaging ball of firey goodness whilst on Viti Levu.
At 6pm the Australian manageress gave a little speech with the promise of a perfect holiday for everyone - as long as you don't like sunshine that is. We left the little soiree for the bar and some happy hour cocktails before getting stuck into the Mongolian Barbie and an early night.
It was perfect driving weather today with lots of lovely cloud, which was just as well because sitting out front waiting for us was a nice shiny red beast of Japanese engineering, the Mazda Tribute 4WD. Let's Off Road.
Actually we didn't off-road, but what we did do was drive 100km along the Queen's Road to Fiji's capital, Suva, where we found a parking metre and hit the streets.
Suva's streets were awash with a semi-cosmopolitan bunch of folk, though sadly the dilapidated buildings couldn't quite match the biggish city feel of the place. The country's population of half indigenous Fijians and half Indo-Fijians mingled happily with one another through clenched-teeth smiles, and a small percentage of white-collar workers from Australia had been seemingly flown over to add ethnic interest and to do the really hard sums in the banks.
We spent a short while in a derelict building calling itself an Internet Café then headed for coffee and muffins at the only inviting looking place in the city, a westernised café called 'Republic of Cappuccino' full of ex-pat Aussies having ex-pat lunches.
After searching in vain for anything that remotely looked like Marks and Spencer we headed along the seafront to the Fiji Museum, and in a city full of buildings that needed a Polyfilla and Dulux makeover, the museum was no different.
Standing out like a broken thumb, let alone a sore one, the museum sat in the semi-attractive grounds of Thurston Gardens, gamely trying to look prominent, and for $7 each we were let in to roam free around a tatty museum housing a few ancient wares from times when Fijians wouldn't think twice about dining on the flesh of an English Missionary.
We dragged out our visit to Suva's pride and joy as long as we could but finally gave in to the thought that it might just actually be sunny outside. Pipe dreams it turned out.
We drove out of Suva along Queen Elizabeth Drive which hugged the coastline until it turned inland and continued through roads lined with unstable flats weighed down with rows of washing hanging from balconies like carnival flags. But this part of town was no carnival. We escaped back onto the Queen's Road with hubcaps intact to report back to our open prison of a resort, before heading out once more, this time wearing long trousers for dinner along the coast at the fine-looking Warwick Resort.
Perched on an island along a causeway leading from the beach was the 'Wicked Walu' restaurant, one of the Warwick's three or four restaurants. On entering we were greeted by a big jovial man who was born to be a Maitre D', and before we could say 'Bula' we were escorted to a big bowl of Fiji's national drink, the intoxicating dishwater that is Kava. With a soundtrack of handclapping we went through our own little Kava ceremony and had a mouthful each of a drink that neither tasted good nor alcoholic.
Once preliminaries were over we were shown to a table for two on a stilted platform overlooking an illuminated sea full of fish waiting for the odd scrap. Our waiter for the evening then made himself known causing us to double-take to make sure it wasn't actually Bill Cosby.
This had to be one of the most perfect settings in the restaurant world with food to match as we both went for large seafood platters of differing names, mine the Fisherman's Spear and Soph's the Seafood Combination, but both had pretty much the same ingredients of lobster, fish, prawns and mussels.
Next door to us was a couple from Oz celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary who were serenaded by the hotel's ensemble of singers and guitarists including our own waiter, and ordinarily I'm the first to slide cringingly under a table at the sight of a roaming band of musicians, but this was seriously moving stuff which caused Soph to well up.
Over coffee Soph remarked to our waiter that we were leaving soon and before we knew it we were surrounded by the serenaders who belted out the 'Leaving' song for departing guests, and before the night was through a girl on another table had been sung the 'Birthday' song. Any excuse for a sing-song.
Overall it was a lovely meal with impeccable service and we were wishing we'd paid a little extra to stay at the Warwick so we could have dined there every night, but we could do worse than have Hideaway's Mongolian Barbie each night.
On the way home we drove with headlights on full-beam and were met around a dark corner by a family of cows crossing the road which woke us both out of our dreamy state as we slammed on the brakes. Phew, nearly two cow-crashes in five months.
We handed our car back to the man from Budget this morning and had a long lazy cooked breakfast, while looking out onto the pool in astonishment as professional holidaymakers reserved loungers with towels. We were amazed because it was cloudier still today with a nice 40 knot sou'westerly and spots of rain in the air. We wouldn't have minded if it was the tight-trunked, blonde-mulleted Muller family from Hamburg but these were Aussies.
We packed our bags this morning in readiness to head off tomorrow in search of sunnier climes, a thing we seem to be doing on a regular basis recently, after which Soph went to reception to get a printout of our latest food and drinks bill. It seemed a bit steep on first glance at a shade under $900 so we began to compare it with our scribbled notes of our daily expenditures and soon a pattern emerged and it wasn't the pattern showing we'd been downing one or two bottles of wine a day. A few times a day a rogue transaction was shown which was made all the more obvious from yesterday's activity showing cocktails and beers here and there even though we'd been out in the car all day.
Soph then went to reception to run her eye over our wad of signed receipts and found that although all were for our room 46, some were a scribbled signature without a print of the name in block capitals. Someone had been enjoying free cocktails at our expense! Ooooh, we feel invaded.
All scribbled receipts were then discarded which left us with a more realistic bill of $300 less. $500 for wine and cocktails, $100 for food.
Once paperwork had been organised we went for a jog followed by our usual cooling down session of a bottle of wine, but being as it was our last day we popped open a bottle of the sparkling kind, and used it to toast a passing wedding ceremony on its way back from a beachfront service.
Fiji's main island of Viti Levu had it's moments, mostly at the dinner table and on the tennis court, but other than that we could have been anywhere in the world and not even a blue sky could have improved things. We were now well and truly looking forward to eight days in the Yasawa Islands where paradise supposedly awaited us. We shall see.
And now a line from that 'Crowded House' classic we've come to love and hum over the past week, altogether now . . . everywhere you go, always take the weather with you . . .
McCloud & Venus