|The Courier N° 160 - Nov - Dec 1996 - Dossier Habitat - Country reports: Fiji , Tonga (EC Courier, 1996, 96 p.)|
Anyone from overseas who is travelling to the Fijian capital, Suva, will soon discover that the country's largest island is a very diverse place. Roughly circular in shape, Viti Levu provides more than half of Fiji's total land area and is home to about three-quarters of the population.
The journey to Suva on the south-east coast will almost certainly involve transiting through Nadi International Airport (pronounced Nandi) which is situated in the west. This is the country's only major international gateway and while it is ideal for tourists heading for the resort hotels, it is less convenient for business travellers whose destination is Suva. Their journey has to be completed either by road (which takes several hours) or on one of the small commuter planes which ply regularly between Nadi and Nausori (itself a half-hour drive from the capital).
The biggest surprise to those who are unfamiliar with the country is that the west and the south-east have very different weather patterns. When your aircraft lands at Nadi, the chances are high that the sun will be shining. On reaching Suva, you are more likely to encounter rain. This part of the country enjoys - if that is the correct term - a micro-climate which is good for tropical vegetation but less appealing to human beings. The 'blame' for locating the Fijian capital in such a spot is said (not too seriously) to lie with the country's former colonial rulers. According to the story, a British envoy visited Suva on one of its rare sunny days and, on the strength of this, designated it as the seat of administration. The British can hardly deny their involvement since it was in 1882, during the early years of colonial rule, that the capital moved from Levuka (situated on the much smaller island of Ovalau). But the key reason was almost certainly the fact that Suva, with its large bay, could be developed as a port. Whatever the explanation, one must have some sympathy with the foreign diplomats who keep a raincoat or umbrella to hand at all times, and yet are viewed with envy back home because they have a 'paradise' posting.
To be fair, Suva has attributes other than its weather which make it an interesting place. It has, for example, some very attractive architecture, both local and colonial. The views across the bay can be dramatic - and, in this respect, the rolling cloud formations may actually enhance the picture. And the centre of the city buzzes with activity (except on Sunday because of the Sabbatarian influence).
The population of the greater Suva area is about 160 000. This may not be enormous, but it is the largest concentration of humanity to be found between Hawaii and Australia. In some ways, it is the 'capital' of the South Pacific - a point which is underlined by the fact that the Forum Secretariat is based here. It is also the site of the University of the South Pacific's main campus. The local population is mainly ethnic Fijian but there are Indo-Fijians as well as citizens of Chinese and European extraction. Add to this the diplomatic corps, foreign businesspeople and students from other parts of the region, and you get a very cosmopolitan mix. This is reflected in the variety of cuisines available in the local restaurants.
The western part of Viti Levu is also cosmopolitan but in a very different way, with a stronger Indian influence and, of course, a constantly changing tourist population.
Most of the island's inhabitants live a relatively short distance from the sea. Thus, in demographic terms, Viti Levu is like a doughnut with a thick layer of humanity around the edge and a hole in the middle. The analogy may not be entirely apt since the 'hole' is, in fact, a spectacular mountainous area. This makes the road that runs round the island a key arterial route. Meanwhile, those who choose to fly from Nadi to Suva, assuming they are not of a nervous disosition, can enjoy the experience of travelling below the height of the surrounding peaks.
The few people who do occupy the central region live in traditional Fijian villages and have a lifestyle far removed from either the town dwellers or the sugar cane farmers. Its size may be little more than ten thousand square kiLomes but Viti Levu is truly an island of contrasts.