After having stored our excess pounds of luggage at the Beachouse for later return, Ty and I were off on the local minibus (like a collectivo in Mexico or dolmus in Turkey) to the Novotel Lami Bay just outside the capital Suva for one night on our way to the former capital of Fiji, Levuka, on the island of Ovalau, just off the north-east coast of Viti Levu. Unfortunately, it was raining so our planned boat trip around Lami Bay didn’t materialise; but Saturday dawned sunny and clear (of course) for our 12 minute ride over to Ovalau on a tiny eight seater plane. We landed on the very short airstrip seemingly in the midst of the jungle where a taxi was there to whisk us away around the island to the Levuka Homestay.
This place is the home of John and Marilyn, Australians who have lived in Levuka for 12 years. They have four guest rooms but at the moment, it’s only us in residence, along with four cats and a beautiful parrot named Bula. Our room has a cathedral ceiling with ensuite bathroom and an outside seating area on the deck from which we can feast our eyes on the gorgeous greenery in the garden, including crab claw flowers, frangipani, red bananas, birds of paradise, lilies, and other tropical delights.
Breakfast is taken in the main house upstairs and was it ever good: many different kinds of butters and spreads, salsas, tropical fruit, banana and pineapple pancakes and French toast, as well as homemade muesli and bacon and eggs.
Yesterday we walked around town, checking out the main drag, Beach Street (but no beach to be seen), along which are a few blocks of colonial buildings from the eighteen hundreds when Levuka was the bustling capital of Fiji and a hub for shipping, including yachts and pirates, and a diverse company of persons, including “foreign traders, merchants, missionaries, shipwrights, vagabonds, shipwrecked sailors, respected businessmen and speculators”. The shops include a few supermarkets, a hair saloon, two pool halls, a couple of variety stores, and four restaurants, all of which are crying out for a coat of paint – no coffeeshops, no pubs, no cinemas.
The one entertainment centre seems to have shut down. Since we’d had almost nothing to eat, we stopped at the Whale’s Tale, the town’s best restaurant, for lunch (it was very good) and returned again for supper, which was excellent. The only restaurant open on Sunday is Kim’s White Dragon Chinese, so we’re saving that for tonight’s dinner!
Geographically, the setting is gorgeous but my first impressions of the town are that it’s very poor and in an economic slump at the moment, a downturn from which it may or may not emerge. It reminds us of places like Ocean Falls or Barkerville – the same sort of architecture and feel about the place. The main industry in town is the tuna canning plant and it has been shut down for the past 2 months because of a change in regulations originating elsewhere. Tourism is not really a factor here, especially now with the global economic situation, although a few people do make the effort to visit Levuka and there is one company which offers a couple of tours around Ovalau and to the nearby islands. The Levuka Homestay’s gardener Nox offers several walking tours, a couple of which we intend to take advantage of while we’re here for the week. The townspeople are very friendly and, since there are only three tourists in town, everyone knew that we’d arrived by plane that day.
After breakfast today we walked back along the one unpaved road out of town to the hillside cemetery to check out the graves, passing by the remains of a burned out Masonic Lodge in the process. Interestingly, although this ruin is right “downtown”, it has not been pulled down; given the strength of the Methodist Church in Fiji, perhaps its arson-destroyed shell is left standing as some kind of warning and reminder …
The cemetery occupies a beautiful hillside site with a wonderful view out across the ocean to the small islands beyond. Several different sections of the cemetery could be discerned from the style of grave. The topmost area holds the tombs of the early European settlers, including the Archdeacon of the Catholic Church in Fiji, whose grave occupies the prime spot on a promontory overlooking the ocean.
Further back, nearest the mountain, are the graves of the Chinese community while lower down, closer to the water are the graves of the indigenous Fijians. The most recent of these are quite different in style than the European ones, being mounds of dirt, surrounded by rocks, covered by fabric, and having canopies of cloth held in place with bamboo sticks. Around the hillside, bits of fabric from older canopies which had disintegrated with the elements dotted the grass. A small disused crematorium occupies one corner of the site, along with a run-down cement pagoda. Things wear down quickly in the tropics and this cemetery is no exception; most of the headstones, with their inscriptions, can no longer be read.
An interesting side note: The former BC Ferry the Queen of Prince Rupert, decommissioned in 2009, is now plying the waters of the Fijian Islands, with a home base in Levuka. Now renamed the Lomaiviti Princess, she has been operating here since Sept 15. We saw this advertising notice for her pasted onto one of the buildings downtown. Here’s more from Wkikpedia:
“M/V Queen of Prince Rupert was a RORO ferry operated by BC Ferries that provided the main surface transport link between the Queen Charlotte Islands and mainland British Columbia, connecting Skidegate with Prince Rupert across the Hecate Strait (thus linking two segments of Highway 16). The vessel also ran on the Prince Rupert-Port Hardy Inside Passage route during the low season.
Built in 1966, the Queen of Prince Rupert was decommissioned on April 20, 2009 following the launch of the Northern Expedition and was replaced by the Northern Adventure on the Prince Rupert-Skidegate Route.
On May 4, 2011 the official registration of the Queen of Prince Rupert was closed. The vessel was sold to Goundar Shipping Company of Fiji and renamed the M.V. Lomaiviti Princess. The vessel departed B.C. waters bound for Fiji on August 5, 2011.”
More information about the Levuka Homestay here.
More pictures here.