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Published: June 30th 2013
Australia; a country which, for two months, had shown us an immense level of impressive beauty, a great deal of fun and a much different way of travelling to the first three months of the trip. I have spoken more than once about expectations and I think perhaps the biggest of all of these is that of "travelling" as a generalised term. Not just your own expectation but the expectations of the people standing outside and looking in; the friends and family conducting everyday life as normal or the ex-colleagues left behind in the jobs that you were once a part of. In all honesty, South East Asia probably conforms in the most idealistic ways, to the mass visions of "travelling"- those images of riding on silhouetted elephants against a backdrop of longtail boats and burnt orange sunsets- while Australia presented a completely contrasting array of elements, everyday life taking a more logical direction. In my own head at times, I mulled over these glorified ideals with images of home, wondering how much I was truly learning in a culture so closely matched to my own and the realisation so often lost is that no matter where, how or why- it
all matters. It's a pathway not only between places but between people, states of mind, hopes, fears, reflections, realisations and, in our case certainly, an unrepeatable emotional journey with friends that you love.
Fiji was our penultimate destination and the one that I think we had all given the lest though to, looking forward to ten days of simply laying in the sunshine, looking out across what were guaranteed to be some incredible surroundings. We landed in Nadi on March, and checked into Wailoaloa Beach Resort
where we gained our first taste of the Fijian hospitality we had heard so much about. This good nature truly was on another level, and after a morning of smiles we took the stifling walk into Nadi centre, breathing in the thick, humid air we had been so quick to forget about. After breezing lazily through the many tourist gift shops and the local food markets, we enjoyed a few cocktails at our resort that evening, which overnight had magically decreased three-fold in price. The following morning, we decided to make a trip to the beautiful Natadola Beach on a local bus and as we stepped out of the resort, we were immediately
hit with that familiar Asian-style hospitality as a taxi driver conjured himself from thin air, already knowing -rather disconcertingly- where we were headed and wishing to escort us there and back for and extremely "special" price. Never ones to pass up such a "special" offer, this kindly (slightly odd) gentleman somehow became our personal driver for the rest of the trip and everyone came out a winner.
While there were hostels dotted around on the many ilands of Fiji, it was not a place as strongly catered to backpackers as I had initially assumed it would be, the tiny Mamanuca and Yasawa islands promising incomparable beauty while Viti Levu (the largest, central island) was tipped as second best. Many factors went into our decision about where to spend our remaining week and with all of us in agreement that the remote Fiji islands are a place that we would love to come back to on a honeymoon, stay in a fantastic resort and splurge a ridiculous amount of money, we decided to remain on Viti Levu and explore the Coral Coast on the southern shore of the island. On our third day, we took the two hour drive down
to Mango Bay Resort
in our chauffeur driven ride and for the first time, got a true glimpse of what this island was all about. Spending three months solidly in Asia, we sadly became very familiar with the poverty-lined streets and the depravity constantly surrounding us. In Fiji however, having desensitised in Australia's wealth and comfort, the empty singular road circling the perimeter of the island emphasised the surprising lack of inhabitation here, small villages of grinning, waving children and the occasional tourist resort dotted sparsely along the way. Mango Bay Resort
turned out to be the perfect hideaway for our week in this beautfiul country; located at the bottom of a solitary dirt-track off the main road, with a palm-lined private beach of white sand looking out at the small fishing boats, motionless in the crystal, shallow water spread like a blanket before us. With a cocktail in hand, Fiji's immeasurable beauty displayed itself as dusk fell on that first evening, the setting sun casting a reflected spectrum of unforgettable electric colour across the glassy sheet of ocean.
Fairly cut off from the rest of civilisation, we decided to head to the dozen shops at Pacific Harbour
the following morning for some supplies and as instructed by the staff, we waited out on the main road for the tourist bus headed for the capital, Suva. In a state of confusion, we hailed down the rickety bus headed our way and climbed on board, greeted by over 80 beaming Fijians of all ages bundled on top of one another and crammed into the buses every orifice. Children stared up at us in amazement as we stood, clinging to each other in the aisle. The driver turned to us with a deranged glint in his eye, declaring "THIS IS FIJI STYLE!!!!!" in a crazed tone and edging the bus along on its bumpy way while music blared from the ceiling and we danced our way along to Pacific Harbour. In hindsight, after around two hours of being tossed onto Fijian laps with every jolt, the air-conditioned coach that arrogantly passed us by was most probably what we were supposed to catch...but this was "FIJI STYLE" and that beats comfort anyday. I felt that Fiji was a country very divided in its seperation of tourists and inhabitants, a country often observed by visitors from expensive resort fronts, with only it's
visual beauty in mind and I suppose, when you have a 5* menu, a private beach and a masseuse at your beck and call, why would you venture out? For me though, experiencing the lovely nature of these wonderful people really added to the beauty of Fiji and all it took was a local bus ride.
The rest of our week was spent unwinding in the sunshine and snorkelling along the intricate reef on the shallow water just off shore. Each morning we stood in the water, fed the fish that swarmed around our ankles (terrifying) and after lazy days in the sun, we devoured delicious dinners of fresh fish and Fiji Bitter, joined by an awesome English girl, Kathryn. Eli, one of the resort staff was on hand each afternoon to relieve us from the heat, teaching us how to make Fijian crafts, sculpting jewellery from coconut shells and weaving baskets from palm leaves. On our final evening before returning to Nadi, a group of Australian guys we had gotten chatting to asked our Fijian hosts to hold a 'kava ceremony' that evening. If you have been lucky enough to visit Fiji, you will most certainly have come
across this ceremonial practice of resolution and respect. Sitting beneath the stars, we watched as the host strained water through the 'mildly narcotic' kava powder (made from a ground root) to produce a large bowl of what appeared to be muddy water. As would be done during the typical Fijian ceremonies as a communal peace offering between quarelling groups, a half-coconut bowl full of this grassy tasting brew is passed from server to drinker through the group. While it has no alcoholic properties, after three bowls I certainly felt a little odd and with eyes bulging out of his skull, our chauffeur the next morning looked as though he too, may be suffering from a little kava hangover, sitting in silence for two hours and munching on a whole cucumber all the way.
With our short time in Fiji drawing to a close, we stayed in Nadi for one final night, packing all our bikinis away for the last time and hauling up the coats and socks that had remained untouched at the bottom of our bags for the last five months. Fiji had been a fantastic little burst of pure culture, smiles and relaxation and we boarded the
plane to New Zealand the next morning braced for the cold and excited at the prospect of New Zealand's beautiful, natural wonders.
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