The first European to see what we now call the Fiji Is. was Abel Janszzon Tasman during his 1642/43 voyage. He had already visited Tasmania, New Zealand, and Tonga.
Later Captain Cook passed close to the island during his last voyage in 1774.
The islands had been part of the Tongan empire and the local natives in Fiji referred to their home as Viti, and the Tongan’s referred to the islands as Fisi. Thanks to the mispronunciation the British (Capt. Cook), the islands became the Fiji Islands.
The flag of Fiji – the union flag represents the links between Fiji and the United Kingdom. The coat of arms shows the agriculture of Fiji, cocoa, sugar, bananas and coconut. The British lion at the top is holding a cocoa pod in its paws.
The natives of Fiji were known to be cannibals and had been for over 2500 years. The last known act of cannibalism took place in 1867 when a Methodist missionary and five local Fijian student teachers were killed and eaten in Viti Levu. If you look at the map Viti Levu is the larger of the two main islands, which is on the left.
Captain William Bligh 1754-1817
Captain Bligh was cast adrift by the mutineers of HMS Bounty on the 28th of April (London time), 27th April ship time in 1789.
Bligh and eighteen of his crew were set adrift in a six meter (20 foot) open boat. After stopping for water at Tofua (one of the islands of Tonga) one of his parties was killed so he decided to sail directly to Timor, which at that time was a colony of the Dutch.
Bligh considered that all of the islands in between were dangerous, and he would not risk his men again.
The above map has a red arrow to indicate that Bligh sailed between the two main island of Fiji and was in fact chased by local natives in war canoes. Bligh managed to steer his craft into a rain storm and losing his pursuers.
After an epic voyage of 3,618 nautical miles (4,164 land miles or 6,701 km) in an open boat he arrived in Timor on the 14th June 1789, with all the men who had been cast adrift with him, save for the man killed in Tonga.
During the voyage Captain Bligh kept a diary and he charted his way through the Fiji islands and his charts were so accurate that they can be used today. He was an excellent navigator.
There have been several movies (films) made of the mutiny –
1933 -In the wake of the Bounty – Mayne Lynton
The film was an Australian production and Errol Flynn played Fletcher Christian. This was Flynn’s first film roll.
1935 – Mutiny on the Bounty – Charles Laughton
1962- Mutiny on the Bounty – Trevor Howard
1984 – The Bounty – Antony Hopkins
and in 1985 Mutiny came out as a musical – Frank Finlay as Bligh.
Mayne Lynton, Charles Laughton, Trevor Howard, Antony Hopkins all played the part of Captain Bligh.
They all portray William Bligh as the ‘enemy’ but on his return to England he was court martialled for losing his ship and acquitted because the authorities could not find him at fault.
Within a year of arriving back in England he was appointed to command another ship and set sail on another breadfruit voyage.
In the late 1980’s when I visited Fiji and did not have to contend with cannibals, just the friendliness of the locals.
I stayed at the Gateway Hotel near Nadi airport.
It was a friendly hotel and far enough away from the runway that the jets did not disturb my sleep.
The above is a more modern picture of the dining room from their website.
In 1987 the airport was not all that busy – I took the above pictures shortly after arriving. Nothing like it is today.
Our agent was Unispeed, which became part of TNT Express some years later.
Compared to some of the other islands that I had visited Fiji was the ‘Big Smoke’. It had far more courier and freight traffic than any of the other islands, and our agent had offices in each of the three main towns, Nadi, Lautoka and Suva.
Nadi is the main airport, which is about 120 km (70 miles) from Suva the capital of Fiji and had a population of about 20,000 when I visited.
North of Nadi is Lautoka which was, during my visit, the main seaport and located in this town was the island’s largest sugar processing plant and a large brewery. Lautoka was much larger town than Nadi and it was about a twenty- minute drive between each. The population was around 40,000 the map does not show the importance of Lautoka.
By bus it would take about five hours or more, and by car about three hours for a journey from Nadi to Suva. The road was too narrow to drive at high speed, plus wandering locals and their animals all playing ‘chicken’ did not help our overall speed.
Once we passed Sigatoka (see map between Nadi & Suva) we had reached the Coral Coast, which even then was the holiday area for international visitors.
The Coral Coast as a holiday destination began in the 1950’s when the Korolevu Beach Hotel was built. Today a visitor has a choice of dozens of hotels from high end international hotels to small family run resorts.
Is it any wonder that this coastline has become very popular?
During my visit I was fortunate to see quite a lot of the island because I wished to meet the clients of our Australian and New Zealand shippers because I wished to build a two-way link via the company that I represented.
It was an interesting time particularly when I met the head of customs, and he insisted on a Kava ceremony.
Kava is a Tongan word for ‘bitter’.
In Fiji a formal kava ceremony will often accompany important social, political or a business function similar to a business meeting in Australia where the two parties might have a glass of wine when concluding a friendly business meeting.
The leaves of a Kava plant.
The plant leaves and the root are dried in the sun after which the dried plant is pounded to a fine powder and then mixed with water in a large wooden bowl.
Our agent and I sat on one side of the bowl and the customs officer, and a senior member of his organisation sat on the other side. The customs officer mixed powder and water together.
When he was satisfied, as the honoured guest I was presented with a portion of the kava mixture in a coconut shell. As the coconut shell was offered to me, I clapped my hands three times and then accepted the shell. I then drank the contents in one go – before our meeting I had been ‘educated’ by our agent as to protocol.
The shell was refilled and given to my companion, and he clapped and drank his share in one go.
My companion was the ‘Matanivanua’ what we would call a Herald. He did most of the talking as in explaining why I was in Fiji and my position as the regional manager for the Pacific Islands.
During the chat the cup had moved around to the chief customs officers and then his companion.
I accepted a second but much smaller amount of mixture because I was beginning to have an odd feeling.
I was warned that Kava would make me feel relaxed and give a feeling of wellbeing.
I did not have a feeling of wellbeing and I did not feel relaxed, because I could not feel my lips and part of my tongue.
The feeling was like a visit to the dentist after the dentist has injected a painkiller before he starts drilling for oil.
As the painkiller begins to wear off you are unable to drink without dribbling.
Fortunately, my companion realised that something was wrong and brought the meeting to a close.
We all shook hands as I burbled my gratitude to the Chief of Custom’s kindness while wiping my face under the pretence of the heat.
He gave me an odd look because his office was airconditioned . . . .
I have not touched kava since.
During the next few years, I visited Fiji and number of times, and even experienced a Coral Coast resort because this location was closer to Suva which was my business location on one trip.
I took the above picture in the Nadi office, and this picture encapsulates for me the friendliness of the Fijian people.
When I stayed at the Coral Coast, I think I stayed at the Ramada Reef Resort, which is now the Resort Palm Cove and is part of the Accor Group.
The above picture is from the current Resort Palm Cove advert.
Farewell from the Coral Coast.