Suva, Savusavu and Dravuni Island
In light of current restrictions to cruise relating to Coronavirus, I am so grateful that all 3 islands that MS Maasdam was scheduled to call at allowed us entry. The islands may be poor in terms of wealth, but my goodness they are rich in hospitality, friendliness and smiles, not to mention the spectacular fauna, flora, beaches and marine life.
From Fiji is actually comprised of around 330 islands of which around one third are inhabited. It covers approximately 1.3 square kilometres of the South Pacific.
In terms of culture there is still so much we could learn from the Fijians as I have said previously of other Polynesian Islands.
Our first stop was on the Island of Suva. The ship docks directly in port so no need for tenders, however the port area is not the most attractive and is pretty industrial so personally I would recommend some form of excursion here.
We booked the ‘Nailililili Historical Tour by Long Boat’. The excursion was booked directly with Holland America Line and operated by ATS Pacific.
A truly fantastic trip which commenced with about a 40 minute drive up into the lust green hills of the rain forest, passing houses which looked to be little more than shacks and which quickly highlighted the poverty of the island. Our tour guide Sai gave us the warmest welcome though and told us that the moment we stepped foot in Fiji we were no longer foreigners but one of them. He also explained the Fijian way of living with extended village communities and very much an open door policy. In fact it is common practice that the first person awake in the morning opens all the doors so that children and adults alike know that they are free to wander into one another’s homes and that despite the poverty no one will ever go hungry because food is always shared, whether that be a full meal or a cup of sugar.
I was pretty much immediately sold on Fijian living and community spirit. That feeling was enforced when we arrived at the village of Nailili and the villagers of all ages came out to welcome us with guitars, songs and even a conch shell. We were each welcomed with a flowers garland around our necks as they serenaded us.
After being led into the village hall, we all participated in a traditional kava ceremony, kava being a local plant and the extract of such was once only permitted by the men of a tribe on occasions such as weddings & birthdays, however in modern times is used more as a welcome ceremony and can be consumed by both sexes.
Music & dancing followed, plus an encouraging invitation to TALK to other people in the hall and get to know the other people in your tribe. It was truly amazing to suddenly see boundaries fall down between fellow travels and I truly believe we returned as different people that the ones who set out that morning.
Once we left the village it was a short bus ride to the river where we took a ride on the long boats. Now perhaps it’s me being european but when I hear ‘long boat’ I think Viking, so in the pacific I was at least expecting some twin hulled boat with elaborate carvings and long enough to fit all 30 or so of us from our bus, but also the boat was quite plain with only enough space for 4 passengers. Never the less it was a fun 10 minutes speeding up the river. From the spot where we disembarked we had the opportunity to view a local school before being taken to the local catholic church, which although only just over 100 years old was in the most appalling condition due to the damp and lack of maintainence, yet was beautiful at the same time and just as sacred as the day it was built.
After our church visit, it was back on the long boats to re-meet our bus and then a transfer back to the port.
This was a truly fabulous excursion which lasted a total of 5hrs. Our guides Sai and Ju from ATS Pacific along with our driver we’re all first class and a credit to their company. They were fun, knowledgeable and helpful. The driver also managed the bus exceptionally well given the heights and bends of the road, we were given a slow and comfortable ride. (I have previously been on other excursions with similar roads where I have had white knuckles and several people have been travel sick!)
I lived this trip and the immersion it gave us into humble but friendly community living in Fiji.
We tendered into the port at Savusavu which took around 12 minutes. A friendly welcome greeted us on the pier with a traditional band playing at the dock side. As we walked up the jetty we could immediately see an abundance of colourful fish in the crystal clear waters below. We had tried to get onto a snorkelling excursion in Savusavu but unfortunately it was fully booked, however we did later speak to passengers and crew who had either snorkelled or been diving and all had said they had seen an abundance of marine life. There are some shops, restaurants and market stalls around the port area as well as some opportunities for hiking. Just a five minute walk from the port there are also some small hot springs to see.
Our excursion the day before in Suva had been headlined ‘Nailililili Long Boat trip’ and our excursion in Savusavu was ‘Historic Village visit’ as it happened the tours were almost identical except for the fact that this was only a 3 hr excursion and didn’t include a boat ride and was only about a 20 minute transfer from the ship. Nevertheless it was nice to go out and see another village and be among the local people who were just as welcoming and friendly.
“Welcome to Paradise” were the words of Thomas, our cruise director as we stepped off the tender boats, and Dravuni Island was most definitely that. It is a tiny island of less than 1 square mile and has only 150 inhabitants. It is everything you would imagine a tropical island to be; soft white sandy beaches and crystal clear warm turquoise seas. We spent a morning at the beach before unfortunately we were rained on. Nevertheless we had a fabulous couple of hours swimming and snorkelling from the beach over colourful corals with a vast array of brightly coloured fish.
There were limited excursions available here and just were obviously snorkelling related as there is little to do on the island itself, although there are some nice walks. If you want a beach day in an idyllic location though then Dravuni will most certainly provide. The sail away was also perfect, as there are lots of small islands to see and Fiji provided one of the most spectacular and colourful sunsets I have ever seen in my life.
I am blessed we got to spend time on these gorgeous lush green islands and grateful to have met her beautiful people.