A Brief History of Fiji

  • Fiji has a fascinating history.
  • Humans have lived in Fiji since the second millennium BC, when settlers arrived in waves across the Pacific - first Austronesians and later Melanesians.
  • Europeans arrived in the seventeenth century. Tasman first saw the islands, on his way south, Cook brushed the edges and Bligh mapped parts of the area. This was after he had become a castaway after the infamous mutiny on HMS Bounty. For a time, the Fiji Islands were known as the Bligh Islands.
  • Cannibalism was seized on as a 'moral imperative' for advocating colonialism. It seems that though the Fijians did indeed practise cannibalism, the practise wasn't as common as had been suggested and might have been ritualistic. and 'non violent'. I'm not sure how the latter follows, unless the victims were already dead. I'm struggling to find more information.
  • Christianity and missionaries with their edicts on cultural changes received a very mixed welcome and led to violent resistance at times.
  • The following historical period is complicated. There were waves of settlers, mainly from Australia, but also the USA. first to the outer islands and especially Ovalau. and then Viti Levu (meeting fierce resistance from the local peoples). Cotton production was the main interest, as it had become scarce during the American Civil War. Many workers were pressganged - a process known as blackbirding - forcibly removed from their homes in other countries, such as the Solomon Islands, to work the plantations. Locals were enslaved.
  • It was a lawless place. Britain was entreated several times to step in and restore order, but refused consistently. Eventually, after the USA had shown interest, and Fiji had moved to become an independent kingdom, which struggled badly, the British annexed Fiji, as a colony. It wasn't an easy task. Insurgency continued.
  • Sugar cane now took the place of cotton and to solve the labour crisis, this time, indentured labourers were brought from India - some 61,000 in all from 1878 to 1916. If the labourers stayed for for 10 years they were given the option of a paid return to India, or remaining in Fiji. Most stayed, and the country's population, is now 40% of Indian origin accounting for the strong Indian heritage.
  • Fiji gained independence, as a dominion, in 1970.
  • In 1987, following a series of coups d'état, the military government that had taken power declared it a republic. Tussels between opposing parties, with a coup and some military intervention followed. On 17 September 2014, after years of delays, a democratic election took place.

Facts and Factoids

  • Fiji is an archipelago of more than 330 islands (mainly volcanic) and more than 500 islets. About 110 are permanently inhabited.
  • The archipelago lies just south of the Equator and just inside the international date line. (They kinked it to accommodate the whole country, which therefore experiences the beginning of each calendar day well before we do.)
  • Most of the population live on the two main islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. About 75% inhabit Viti Levu's coasts, either in Suva, the capital, Nadi (the tourist hub) or Lautoka (centre of the sugar-cane industry). The interior of Viti Levu is mountainous and inhospitable.
  • The main languages are English, Fijian or Hindi.
  • Fiji has one of the strongest economies in the Pacific, exporting wood, minerals, sugar cane, fish and bottled water (you must have seen Fiji Water in product placements on the TV).
  • Tourism is a key source of foreign exchange, and the local currency is the Fijian dollar,
  • The derivation of the name Fiji is a little complicated. Fijians first came into contact with Europeans in Tonga, where they met Cook's expedition, who were impressed by these 'formidable warriors and ferocious cannibals'. They referred to their home as Viti, but the Tongans called it Fisi, and the English mispronounced it still further.

What To See in Fiji?

Today, Fiji is known as The Soft Coral Capital of the World. An accolade for its diving and snorkelling. You'll get a shouted 'bula' (boo-lah).

Read about my trips here:

The Grand Pacific

Nadi, in the west, is the tourist hub of Fiji, so it has the main airport. But Suva, on the other side of the island, is the largest city and the capital. and this is where the twice weekly flights to Tuvalu leave. Fiji feels wonderful after Nauru and Tuvalu's Moonlight Lodge rat. And I’m at the Grand Pacific in Suva, which has been totally refurbished and reopened – one of these great white colonnaded colonial hotels in the mould of Raffles. It’s incredibly comfortable, if still somewhat soulless. They don’t seem to manage to capture atmosphere in Fiji unless it’s proper traditional with bures. Minimalist design doesn’t quite come off in the humidity.

Suva

Suva has been the capital of Fiji since 1877. Before then the British colony was being administered from what had been the main European settlement, on another Fijian island, Ovalau, One third of the population of Fiji lives in Suva, or the area around this coastal city.

As well as being the political, economic, and cultural centre of Fiji. Suva also takes on this role for the South Pacific region. I've read it is home to the majority of the regional headquarters of major international corporations, international agencies, and diplomatic missions.

A Walking Tour of Suva

There’s a great view of Suva Harbour, cargo ships dotted in front of mountains, from my balcony, but it’s a grey one. It’s raining. Well, it's the dry season.

It’s too cool (and wet) to sit round the very lovely pool, so I wait for a break in the weather and set off for town. Taking my cagoule more or less guarantees the sun will appear, though it’s still gusty. The capital of Fiji is pleasant, but it doesn’t set the pulse racing. Most of the Fijians say they prefer Nadi. Lonely Planet has contrived to turn a tour of Suva into a two - four hour walk, but that’s really pushing it, unless a great deal of shopping and drinking coffee is involved.

The Highlights of Suva

Suva is vaguely colonial. There’s an imposing grey government building with a bit of art deco and a clock tower, a city library, some more modern administrative structures and a brown stone cathedral. There's a small colourful Municipal Market with a range of local fruit and vegetables. and a row of souvenir stalls along the quay. This is the most interesting part of town, conversing with the fishermen and watching the few ships at anchor out in the bay.

The shops are an up market India - higgledy piggledy but not chaotic - displaying saris and Indian food.  In fact there is a tiny ‘Little India’ at one end of the main street. These collide with a medley of duty free stores.

Opposite the hotel, there’s a large sports ground and the Thurston Gardens. In the grounds, the Fiji Museum, with examples of traditional canoes, war clubs and tattooing tools. You have to pay to go in, but you can see most of the collection by peeping round the door. There are no other visitors and the attendants are friendly, but lethargic. There's very little else of note between the ubiquitous palms, except for another clock tower and some bedraggled crotons. Perhaps it’s the wrong time of year.

I’m back in under two hours. I might have been quicker, but I am greeted at every step by a good half of the Fijian males out walking and I have to smile and ‘Bula’ back.

Next stop American Samoa.

Or read more about Fiji here.

Honiara Airport


This time I’m visiting two resorts in the Solomon Islands. The first, Tavanipupu Island, is where Wills and Kate stayed, on one of their Royal Tours. Last time I was here everyone was preparing for this, with varying degrees of enthusiasm.. But before I get there, having flown in from Noumea, I have a seven hour layover at Honiara Airport to endure. It is tiny and ramshackle is too kind a description. There’s one small café, in the international building and the domestic terminal is up the shingle road, in a sort of wooden hut. It’s all coming back to me now.

No Wi-Fi, but at least I’ve managed to bag the only sofa. I drift off to sleep in an empty lounge and wake up to find I’m surrounded by a melee of passengers. My total consumption is one coconut, one Magnum and a plate of chips and I’ve also become firm friends with the café manager, Francina, before I judge it expedient to return to the domestic ‘terminal’. The tourist posters say: 'Hapi Ples, Hapi Iles, Hapi Pipl'.

I had forgotten how terrifying these local flights are. In total contrasts to my flight here, it’s an ancient creaky prop plane with metal bench seats. Fellow passengers Sanjay, Shelley and Lou tell me that they are often crawling with cockroaches. I shall watch out for those. Though, frankly I don’t care, as long as I survive the journey.

Honiara, the capital of the Solomon Islands is on Guadalcanal Island. It's famous for a huge battle between the UK, the USA and Japan, during World War II. Flying over Guadalcanal is reminiscent of PNG, with peaks clothed in frilly forest and several impressively large meandering rivers. However, there are dirt roads, where PNG has none and the hills are smaller.

Tavanipupu Island - Doing what the Royals Do

Tavanipupu is at the eastern end of Guadalcanal, one of a smattering of coral islands, with impossibly gorgeous views onto blue seas and little white beaches, with bent palm trees draped artfully across them. It’s one version of paradise.

I’ve been given the accolade of the Royal Bungalow, which is naturally very swish, with an indoor and outdoor shower. The bed is reputed to be the one in which George was made and the toilet has a plaque over it announcing it's The Royal Throne. I don’t know which idea makes me more uncomfortable, when I’m using them.

I’ve snorkelled between two jetties round a quarter of Tavanipupu, through shoals of tiny gleaming fish. I’ve walked round the island (twenty minutes through clouds of mosquitoes, huge ficus roots, mangroves and pandanus) and I’ve had a massage. The locals all come to work in wooden canoes, which glide onto the little beach, below my bungalow and are lined up below the palm trees. It’s not a bad version of heaven.

Picnic Island

It was fairly breezy yesterday, but the gusts turned into a full scale gale last night. The Royal Bungalow is more isolated than the others and fully exposed to the wind. It’s not easy to sleep, when your mosquito net is billowing into the rafters and there is a shower of dried palm descending from the roof.

To my surprise, the planned boat trip to Picnic Island goes ahead. It’s choppy, if not absolutely petrifying and I am drenched when we arrive. The island is worth the discomfort. It’s another one of those little tropical pieces of paradise, where I run out of superlatives. Every shade of blue is visible, the whitest of white sand is incredibly soft and littered with bleached pieces of wood displayed like artist’s installations.

The Village Choir

In the afternoon, a performance by the choir, from the village on one of the nearby islands. It’s very Born Agai,n but the children are cute and compete for attention by going totally overboard with their actions to the music. One little moppet hasn’t a clue what is happening and stands in the front throughout sucking her thumb.

The two back up generators have given up backing up, so all the bungalows are pitch black. It’s not easy trying to find all my gear to pack by the light of my iPhone. I wonder if Wills and Kate had to put up with this?

Honiara

There’s a thirty minute plane ride back to Honiara to survive next, though first we have to get to the airfield on the motorboat. Some of the other guests come out to wave us off. That’s nice I think, waving back. Then I see that we are being pursued by another resort boat. The guests were gesticulating because they’d been left behind. We stop to take them on board, but our own engines are shuddering and keep shutting down altogether. The plane is waiting on the little grass runway, the pilot looking impatient when we finally arrive, flapping our tickets and decanting straight off the boat onto the rickety seats.

Things improve. Sanjay turns out to be the general manager of the Heritage Park Hotel in Honiara, where I’m booked in for half a night on Thursday. Lou is a director. They offer to rescue me from the airport tedium of a prospective seven hours on the sofa and transport me to the hotel, until it’s time to check in. Excellent, though Francina is going to be disappointed. I don’t feel guilty whilst I’m chomping my free scrambled egg and bacon, or dozing in my complimentary hotel room, with sea view.

Honiara to Seghe

Back to the airport, for the trip to Seghe, to discover that it’s the same Twin Otter plane, but the trip is almost two hours this time. The Rescue Remedy spray is going to feature heavily.

Whatever the contenders for top five countries in the world to visit the Solomon Islands must win hands down for views from the air, when you’ve got over the terror of flying in their planes. The islands in Western Province are green Jackson Pollock splodges on a swirling blue background.

Marovo Lagoon

Marovo Lagoon is also billed as the world’s largest saltwater lagoon. I’ve looked up the definitions and I’m still none the wiser as to which one is actually the winner. (It's between the Solomon Islands and New Caledonia). Anyway, Uepi Island is at one end of this lagoon and now I really have run out of superlatives. My bungalow is on a beach facing the lagoon. A turtle, a kingfisher, a mudskipper and the local monitor lizard come to visit. The path is lined with towering trees and coconut husk edged hibiscus and orchid borders. And dinner is divine: crab, fish, chicken, oysters and ginger margaritas. Wow!

Uepi, Solomon Islands

This is my second attempt to visit Uepi, during a Solomon Islands trip, as it has been completely booked, when I have tried before. But I had heard the reef life was amazing and persisted. As a result, today is filled with snorkelling expeditions, together with Janine and Gary from Adelaide.

At 7.15, I’m eyeballing a manta who is calling by for his regular cleaning station session, as the small fish hoover him. Naturally, I’ve forgotten to put the battery in my camera. At 9.00, I’m outside the lagoon battling the current on an immensely long reef, which drops off to 200 metres at its deepest, and admiring the coral gardens. At 14.00, I’m taken, by boat. to Uepi Point, where the lagoon meets the sea and I drift with the current along the reef lining the inside passage, then swimming along the side of the island and right back to my beach, to commune with the clown fish (plenty of Nemos to find here) and paddle with the turtle.

Along the way we’ve got blasé about sharks – O no not another one (white tipped and black tipped reef sharks) - and swum through numerous thick gleaming shoals of fish. I think I’ve earned my margarita tonight.

The Wonderful World of Uepi

Today is a repeat of yesterday, but I remember my battery and the manta is good enough to visit again. There are seven of us snorkelling today, with Aussie Neil acting as snorkel master. Yet another amazing long reef swim in the morning and back from The Point in the afternoon. By the end of the day we reckon we have seen nearly every fish in the guide book. The variety of vibrant colours and shapes is astonishing. Life on the coral is utterly fascinating, with everything from minor spats to full-scale shimmering pageants constantly enacted. Moray eels peep out to watch us float past, an eagle ray sails by and the little reef sharks keep coming. I’m alternating humming Wonderful World and Jaws in my head.


The hammocks on my decking are very welcome at the end of the day. I’ve had to pack everything into my two full days. Everyone else seems to be exhausted too. The bar is deserted by nine and I wander back to my room on my own, watching out dusky for land crabs scuttling back to their burrows, after trying to rearrange my transfers for tomorrow. The flight has already been shifted forward again. I’m really sad that plane flight schedules didn’t allow for any more time here. The staff have been excellent, the food wonderful and the other guests delightful. I have a handful of invites to stay. Uepi is magic. Moving on is going to be very difficult.

Twin Otters Away

I’ve bought mother of pearl jewellery from a mournful looking guy, called Abraham Lincoln, at the little dive jetty market, before leaving on the banana boat. This time I’m in plenty of time for my plane, but today I’m not even on the manifest and the plane is overloaded. There’s a lot of cargo. After a stressful half hour and a lot of ticket waving I’m allowed on, because of my onward connection out of the Solomon Islands tonight. Phew…

Back in Honiara, Sanjay has been good enough to reserve me another nice room and I hole up in preparation for the nastiest flight time of the trip. I’m reunited with The Gang of Three from Wallis Island at dinner. Roy and Mike are still bickering away. ‘The man’s a moron’, Roy explains loudly. The plane for Nauru leaves at 1.15 a.m. We line up in immigration at 11.45. The little man with the ink pad dithers and then advances the date on his stamp.

Or read more about Solomon Islands here.

Back to Fiji

Flying in from Tonga. I had forgotten how friendly the Fijians are, and how wearing it is playing games of guess which country I'm from, in reply to the inevitable question. They never seem to think of England as a possibility. On the South Sea cruises catamaran - The Yasawa Flyer, from Port Denaru, partly retracing last year's steps (or wake?) past the Mamanuca Islands and on through the volcanic Yasawa Islands. There are about 20 of them, six main islands and numerous smaller islets. The volcanoes have kept their shape, The peaks range from 250 to 600 metres.

Navigation here is tricky - there's not much depth between the islets so they remained undisturbed until 'discovered' by Captain Bligh in 1789, after his crew had mutinied on The Bounty. They were largely ignored by the wider world until World War II, when the United States military used them as communications outposts.

Whilst we try to avoid running aground, I chat to an American guy who runs the/a university in Tonga. He offers me a job teaching psychology there. I'll think about it.

Octopus Resort, Yasawa Islands

At Octopus Resort, half way into the Yasawa Islands, the whole staff come out to greet the landing of the dinghy that ferries us into shore. One of the reasons I returned to Fiji was because the snorkelling was so good last year, on the inner islands. This is the Soft Coral Capital of the World after all. As anticipated, the coral is far superior to anywhere else on this trip. The off beach snorkelling is amazing. Shame it rains. Yes the blinking rain seems to have followed me - again. And yes, it's the dry season - the guide books say so.

The Blue Lagoon - In the Footsteps of Brook Shields

Nanuya Lailai Island, in the Yasawas, actual setting for The Blue Lagoon film. Movie people aren't stupid, making so many films out here. The water is indeed blue, more ultramarine than azure, with swirls of jade. It's stunning and I'm not complaining. I have a typical lofty roofed wooden Fijian house, a bure; it has great views across the lagoon and I indulge in my last South Pacific sunsets.

Snorkelling and Snakes

More snorkelling. I go out in a boat and then zoom up and down the reef off the beach at low tide and then high tide, till I go all wrinkly. I've been trying out my new Olympus Tough underwater camera, with some success. The visibility is good, but attempting to capture images of fish is a little trying. They zip about far too quickly and if I do catch one off guard then you can guarantee that the current will waft me away.

Nevertheless, there is one patch with several shoals of them all intermingling. Great photos, though the fish clearly expect to get fed at this spot and in their disappointment several decide to nip me instead. As someone then shouts out ' sea snake behind you' retreat seems expedient. It's a krait - highly poisonous, though they are considered very docile and have tiny fangs. Even a small venomous bite doesn't sound that appealing. To prove it, it's even in the corner of my picture (top left).

Round My Yasawa Island

A farewell snorkel, trying not to think about snakes, and then a challenge, while I wait for the boat back to the mainland. A round the island walk billed at an hour and a half sounds just the ticket. It's low tide, so the staff say it will all be passable. They don't tell me about all the lava I have to scramble over, or the yapping dogs that will accompany me or the swampy mangroves I have to wade through with ominous squidging beneath. They would have told me if there was sinking sand. Wouldn't they? And all the time hoping I'm not going to get lost. I don't want to miss the boat. I keep telling myself that you can't get lost going anti clockwise round an island. I hope. In the event, I make it in record time, scurrying along like the crabs.

Next stop Vancouver.

Or read more about Fiji here.

A Brief History of Vanuatu

  • Vanuatu was first inhabited by Melanesian settlers ( the Lapita peoples). It's thought maybe 3,000 years ago, but there are no written sources and there has been little investigation. In any case, the area is so volcanic that any archaeological evidence has been destroyed.
  • The first Europeans to visit the islands were a Spanish expedition led by Portuguese navigator Fernandes de Queirós. He arrived on the largest island, Espíritu Santo, in 1606. Queirós claimed the archipelago for Spain, as part of the colonial Spanish East Indies, naming it La Austrialia del Espíritu Santo.
  • The islanders were fearsome cannibals. the first two British missionaries to arrive, in 1839, were promptly eaten.
  • In the 1880s, both France and the United Kingdom claimed parts of the archipelago, and in 1906, they agreed on a framework for jointly managing the archipelago, now known as the New Hebrides. (The name was coined by Captain Cook, when he explored there in 1774.)
  • An independence movement arose in the 1970s, with some violent incursions and the Republic of Vanuatu was founded in 1980.

Facts and Factoids

  • Vanuatu is an archipelago of roughly 80, mainly volcanic, islands which stretch for 1,300 kilometres. Two of these islands (Matthew and Hunter) are also claimed and controlled by France, as part of the French collectivity of New Caledonia
  • This was assessed to be the riskiest country in the world, when it comes to natural disasters: earthquakes, storms, volcanic eruptions, flooding, etc.
  • More than 100 languages are found in Vanuatu, making it per capita the world's most linguistically diverse country. A form of pidgin English called Bislama is widely spoken
  • Cargo cults thrive in the islands. Believers maintain that the manufactured goods utilised by non-native culture have been created by spiritual means, such as deities and ancestors and were actually intended for the local indigenous people. The foreigners have appropriated them instead, but the spirits wild make things right eventually. One such cult, on the island of Tanna, fastened on Prince Phillip, who they decided was the descendant of a Tanna spiritual ancestor (he was wearing his white uniform when he visited). So, The Prince Philip Movement, grew up.
  • Vanuatu often features high on the list of world's happiest countries.

What to See in Vanuatu

  • This is one of the world's least visited countries, (it's not very easy to get to) but the islands offer plenty of scuba diving and snorkelling at coral reefs, underwater caverns and wrecks, such as the WWII-era troopship SS President Coolidge. And beautiful beaches, especially on Espiritu Santo
  • And there's even more excitement - with the most accessible volcano in the world, Mount Yasur at Tanna
  • Head for the totally exotic. The ritual of land diving (known in Bislama as Nanggol), now a tourist attraction is performed by the men in the southern part of Pentecost Island. They jump off wooden towers around 20 to 30 metres high, with two tree vines wrapped around the ankles. It's done at the time of yam harvest. It was just performed annually but demand has increased the length of the season (April-June). A good dive equates with a good harvest. Legend has it that the first divers were actually women. The practice was initiated by a woman who was trying to escape from her husband, jumping from a tree. According to the Guinness World Records, the g-force experienced by those at the lowest point in their dive is the greatest experienced in the non-industrialized world by humans. And this is also said to be the precursor to bungee jumping. I've even read that the locals tried to sue, for stealing the idea.
  • Or just relax in Port Vila, the nation’s capital and economic centre, on a large lagoon on the island of Efate.

Macau

I'm on my way home from Vanuatu, but I've fitted in a day trip on the hovercraft from Hong Kong to Macau. By the skin of my teeth, as the tour company I booked with have forgotten to come and pick me up. I’ve had varying reports on Macau. It’s reported as nothing but casinos, tawdry. But I’ve always wanted to go and never quite managed to fit it in before.

Macau - in a Nutshell

  • Macau is a former Portuguese colony, occupying a small peninsula and two islands off China's southern coast, in the western Pearl River Delta.
  • Portugal started off renting the territory from Ming China, as a trading post, in 1557, thought to be the the first colonial outpost in Asia .Macau became a full colony in 1887. The Portuguese ruled here for 442 years - Macau was transferred back to China in 1999. This made Portugal the last European country to leave Asia. And Macau the first and last colony
  • Macau is designated a special administrative region of China, like Hong Kong, maintaining separate governing and economic systems from those of mainland China, under the principle of "one country, two systems".
  • Its population of about 680,000 (according to Wikipedia) and area of 12.7 square miles (8 square miles of this is reclaimed land) makes it the most densely populated region in the world.

The Asian Strip

Macau is fascinating and well worth the trip. Colonial and ultra modern combined. Firstly, it's an Asian Las Vegas (Monte Carlo would be stretching it), with 35 themed 'mega' casinos: volcanoes, glittering balls, tower with bungee jump; the lot. And more under construction. This is where China makes its money - the Chinese love to gamble and gambling is illegal in the rest of China.. Macau has capitalised on this. Foreign casino companies have invested heavily since 2002. when Hong Kong tycoon Stanley Ho's decades-long monopoly ended. Gambling in Macau was made legal in the 1850s, but then it was more about traditional gambling dens. Today, Macau is the largest casino gambling jurisdiction in the world. It has annual gambling revenues of more than $13 billion and is still growing. There are a lot of Chinese millionaires..

In addition to the burgeoning Las Vegas style casino hotels, like the Venetian, there are some giant shopping malls.

Historical Macau

The cobbled World Heritage old town is a unique blend of Portuguese and Chinese architecture. Possibly the most rewarding sights are here. The colonial areas, churches (and facades of churches), pink and white mansions, squares and city walls are spread in little clumps. There are even azulejos (Portuguese tiles). Scarlet and gold ancient Tao temples add authentic colour to the shopping streets.

Hong Kong Again

Perhaps the best part of seeing Hong Kong again is the bus journey back to the airport with marvellous views of the city and skyscrapers lit up against the whole of the bay and across the new suspension bridge onto Lantau Island. The Cultural Centre has a nightly ‘Symphony of Light Show’. The illuminations on the island scrapers dazzle to the sound of martial music and a cacophony of lasers keep time. Mmmm….

(And read more about China here.)

Finally Fiji 2012 - Suva to Nadi

Finally arrive in Fiji from Vanuatu but in unscheduled Suva (the capital). Only an hour late. Then a taxi ride across the island of Viti Levu, back to Nadi (say it Nandi) with two other stranded passengers. It's really very pleasant, the sun is shining and there are great views of the rugged mountainous interior, to one side and the shimmering white beaches and the reefs and islands, to the other. Momi Bay and Natadola Beach are spectacular. This is known as The Coral Coast

It all looks very urbanised, after my previous sojourns. People mainly live in houses, rather than huts, and there's quite a lot of manufacturing industry. And malls. And McDonalds. Though it's still relatively poor.

One of the passengers is a bit of an odd ball. An Anglo-Indian who lives in the U.S. We talk about travel a lot, but every time we mention a country he starts to talk in the associated accent. Quite unconsciously I think. His English accent is terrible.

Nadi

Nadi is only the third-largest city//town in Fiji, but the largest airport in Fiji is close by and it's the tourist hub. The Nadi region has a higher concentration of hotels and motels than any other part of Fiji. It has a large Indo-Fijian population, (many Indians came to work on the sugar plantations) and it has the largest Hindu temple in the Southern Hemisphere.

There's an islet of hotels at Port Denaru, handily placed for boats to the islands. They're mostly chain establishments, with clipped lawns and a golf course. It's just like Florida.

First Landing Resort

My hotel is on the outskirts of Nadi, near an oil refinery. Fortunately, you can't see the cylindrical towers from the grounds. The hotel is quaint and traditional, with thatched bungalows called bures. The odd mongoose skittering about. Pathways littered with cane toads and lizards, who hop out of your way as you wander along. The staff shake hands and bellow 'Bula' (welcome) at me every time I meet them. Most of the men wear loud tropical shirts and sarongs called sulus and both men and women decorate their hair with hibiscus flowers.

The Mamanuca Islands

Boat trip out to the Mamanuca Islands. There are about 20 islands in the archipelago, but about seven of these are covered by the Pacific Ocean at high tide. Not a great place to live then.

All idyllic little volcanic islands with improbable names like Treasure Island, Beachcomber, Bounty and South Sea. Bounty is where they filmed Celebrity Love Island. We sail on to Monuriki for swimming and snorkelling. This one is more commonly known as Tom Hanks Island, as it's where they filmed Castaway. It's all impossibly perfect. The water is cobalt, the reef is gaudy and the fish are psychedelic. Since 2016, the islands have been the filming location of the television series Survivor.

An island village in the afternoon, where the chief welcomes us with the local drink - kava. It's what set the locals crawling home on Tanna in Vanuatu. Though we're told they have marketed it as an antidepressant in Europe. In Fijian villages, only the chief can wear hats and sunglasses. The top of the head is sacred, and is not meant to be touched. Once we've participated in the kava ceremony - tasting optional, we explore the village. The main attraction is the smiling, playfully shy children.

The Dry Season in Nadi

It's raining, bucketing down. And it's dry season. The toads are enjoying it. Not much to do except read, watch the palm fronds blowing around, have a massage and a leisurely lunch. This is enforced by the speed of the service. The Fijians are lovely, but initiative is a foreign concept and they take everything you say absolutely literally. So if you ask for a bottle of water with your meal that's what you get, no glass, unless you specifically request one.

The evening is definitely not quiet, however. As I have wiled away the day with a huge (and leisurely) lunch I decide that I will just have a couple of cocktails for supper. Enter two Aussie guys in their mid thirties on their way to a wedding on Treasure Island, but marooned on the mainland by the weather. Not only can those guys drink, but boy do they have the gift of the gab. Before very long I am married (they have the requisite shell necklace) and have been invited to go to the wedding with him. He is even choosing the outfit I am going to wear and planning the house he is going to build for me.

All absolutely hysterical and keeps the whole bar entertained. There is a bit of a tussle when he decides he wants to claim his conjugal rights. Can't pretend I'm not tempted. He is six foot three, fit and plays rugby league. But I manage to get into my bungalow and lock the door. He sits on the step for a while calling out, 'Wifey, wifey' in a plaintive voice before he gives up. Nice to know I'm not yet too old.

Hong Kong for Macau next.

Or read more about Fiji here.

The Earth Moves Twice in One Day in Vanuatu

I must be downright bonkers. Just after midnight the whole hotel building building started, shaking and moaning. I leapt out of bed - another earthquake! No - one else in took any notice and I tried to get back to sleep but I was sure the bed was moving so it wasn’t a very peaceful Vanuatu night. And now I'm on the way to The Gates of Hell on Tanna. Today, not only have I added two more flights to my itinerary when I was down to only three more, but the consequence of the aforementioned flights is that I am now standing right on the edge of the caldera of a volcano. The journey from Port Vila on Efate is eventful. The plane is tiny and the pilot looks about 18. He's only just got his licence.

The Scenic Flight to Tanna

More trades descriptions issues. The 'scenic flight' a turns out to be mostly over the sea, though Port Vila, The Prettiest Town in the Pacific does look good from the air, with all its islands and lagoons. The 'delicious lunch' is one egg sandwich, a sour tangerine and a mug of squash.

Revelling on Tanna

However, Tanna Island is absorbing. Very wild and much more traditional. There has been a big initiation ceremony on Tanna the night before and crowds of villagers are staggering home. Most are still wearing their finery, feathers and grass skirts and many clearly have whacking hangovers. Some are literally crawling and others have given up and are lying face down on the grass.

The End of the World

We drive through pandanus groves and across vast deserts and canyons made of ash. There are great views across rianfoesrt and fern trees. In the distance the volcano is already rumbling and belching out smoke. The vehicle jolts up most of the mountain and we then clamber up a track to the very top. As I said - bonkers. But hugely spectacular. It really feels like the end of the world.

Mount Yasur, Tanna

When we arrive at the top, the volcano is rumbling, growling and chucking up thousands of boulders, lumps of lava glowing red and clouds of sulphur, lightening and steam. Mount Yasur on the island of Tanna is billed as the world's most accessible active volcano.

We stay for an hour or so watching the heaving cauldron below. Every so often more boulders come hurtling past, heralded by great rumbles - very like shouts of despair. Somehow we maintain a distance; the show is being played out on the stage in front. Our guides assure us it’s perfectly safe. This is only Level One activity. Visitors are barred if it gets to a Three. We scramble down again, to the truck, for the' delicious lunch'. I'm still monitoring the rim of the volcano. There's an almighty roar and a cloud of lava and rocks shoots up hundreds of feet into the air, streaming down to land just where we have been standing.

Vanuatu, Efate Island and the Prettiest Town in the Pacific

Coming from the Solomon Islands. Where next? South to the capital of a nation of only 70 or so islands this time speaking English, French and Bislama (as well as 100 or so other languages). Tales of the South Pacific was based on life here during World War II.  However, some serious issues to report to the trades descriptions people. My guide book says that Port Vila, on Efate Island, the capital of Vanuatu, is the prettiest town in the Pacific. Well it's certainly better than Moresby and Honiara, but 'stunning views round every crooked corner'? Well, no. Maybe it will look prettier if the sun comes out.

My Hitchhikers' Guide (Wikipedia) tells me that Port Vila (or just Vila, like the football team- almost) is the commercial centre and a tax haven. As to sights? It offers: several memorials, ( two traditional totem poles and a monument representing a pig's tusk amongst others), a church, the City Hall and two wall paintings. I'm dutifully trotting round, but there is little in town to excite my camera. It's grey here and really cool after my equatorial island hopping. And apart from the market which also got a mention) it seems shabby and quiet. What on earth are all the other towns in the Pacific like then?

The Happiest People on Earth

The Vanuatu national anthem is “Yumi, yumi, yumi,” (We, we, we). My guide also says that the people of Vanuatu were voted the happiest nation on earth. They look pretty bored and sleepy to me. Nearly everything is shut and even where shops are open, the assistants look far too flaked out to serve anyone. But the market is an interesting wander. and I manage to cajole a smile out of two ladies in their traditional floral dresses. These are on sale in the market, alongside all the fruit and vegetables and fish.

My Hotel

My hotel is billed as 'sparklingly boutique'. Not bad, certainly, compared to what I've seen recently and quite pretty from the lagoon side, with trailing blue flowering vines on the balconies. But sparkling no and definitely not boutique. Nice view across the bay and scrummy food though. And a two page cocktail list and a massage salon, so a partial return to civilisation.

When the sun peeps out the lagoon that Vila sits on is very pretty, with the light on the turquoise water and the hilly islands opposite. There are cruise ships in the bay and a giant container ship being escorted in by tugs.

The staff in the hotel are very friendly and helpful, though reception is not always attended. The room has most things I need and a great outlook. It’s just a shame the furniture is chipped and dented, there are rust and paint marks, the sheet is stained and everything looks as if it needs a makeover. Even the lamps on each side of the bed flicker constantly. They are precariously balanced on tiny peeling bedside tables. The acoustics are poor. Footsteps echo through all the bedrooms and the nights are interrupted by the sound of the neighbours packing and leaving for early flights. The free internet was good but that too goes down mid-afternoon. ‘For an hour ma’am’. No sign of a signal at bedtime.

Efate Island

As always things look better the next day. Two lads from the hotel are taking me on a tour of Efate Island. I don't learn do I?  - Though it can't be worse than the trip to Ouagadougou. They begin by arguing about the population of the island. It's either 10,000 or a million. So, I defer to my Hitchhikers' Guide and discover the following:

  • Efate is the most populous (approx. 66,000) island in Vanuatu, but it's only the third largest.
  • Captain Cook named it 'Sandwich Island, in honour of my noble patron, the Earl of Sandwich', when he 'discovered' it on his 1774 voyage on HMS Resolution.
  • During World War II, Efate served an important role as a United States military base.
  • Efate briefly became an independent commune in 1889, when residents declared the region as Franceville.

Round Efate Island, Vanuatu

Outside The Prettiest Town in the Pacific there are only small villages. Most inhabitants of Efate live in Port Vila, The island is very rural, with most folk making their living by market gardening - that's how they pay the school fees. Clean and tidy, but still very basic living.  Sweet potatoes, taro, coconuts. Most of the women wear the bright flowered cotton dresses, with as many gathers and flounces as they can manage.

We stop to visit a traditional village with palm thatched houses, and there is a short 'cultural show'. Dress consists mainly of grasses, flowers and face paint - this is still worn by some of the locals, especially at festivals and celebrations.

The landscape isn't quite Caribbean. More like Queensland I think. There is a great deal of forest, but there's also plenty of more open grassland scattered with coconut palms. And there are considerable numbers of cattle grazing. Also, a gorgeous clear jade pool and a few lovely beaches surrounded by mangroves. I swim in one called Eton (pronounced et as in get). It has the mandatory white coral sand surrounding a shallow lagoon. In the middle is a 30 foot sink hole full of fish. Good for a snorkel. Not so good for the unwary paddler!

Hideaway Island, Efate, Vanuatu

In-between showers I flag down one of the hundreds of local taxi buses plying the main road down to Hideaway Island. The driver doesn’t tell me he’s on the school run and there are three curly haired cuties in the front. There are a large number of dark skinned children with blonde hair here, all with adorable cheeky smiles. They have to be dropped home, via multiple diversions.

The free ferry then takes me over to the tiny island where I shelter from some more showers before taking the plunge. The water’s not very warm, but there’s the reward of some decent snorkelling to be had: a great drop off reef and a kaleidoscope of small fish. A couple of them nip me and I squeal – they must be used to being fed here. I don’t stay on the coral beach long. It’s warmer in the sea than on the land.

To Travel Hopefully is a Better Thing Than to Arrive

A trip to Tanna Island to see Mount Yasur and the Gates of Hell.

Then, off to the airport to catch my flight to Nadi in Fiji. Only it's raining and after circling three times, the captain of the plane decides it can't land and my flight is cancelled. Bloody hell, it's not raining very hard. I can see the runway. Anyway, the ensuing chaos makes PNG look a piece of cake. No compensation, no accommodation and no flight till Tuesday. Though we have to queue several times, moving at snail's pace, to discover all this. Then, I find out that there is a flight to Suva, up the other end of the main island on Fiji, leaving tomorrow morning.

Another excruciating queue. When I finally arrive at the counter, the flight has gone up another £20. Back to my hotel, which fortunately has a spare room. All this takes the whole day. And I have to go through it all again tomorrow morning. As well as working out how to get across Fiji. I try calling my next hotel to tell them I am delayed but no-one answers the phone - of course. It's still raining in The Prettiest Town in the Pacific.

Read more about Vanuatu here.

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