Suva, with its multi ethnic population and modern vibe, is the leading metropolitan city of Oceania. In the capital city you will find all the activities you could possibly want–culture, art, recreation, shopping, museums, galleries, markets and nightlife.
Suva Municipal Market
At the Municipal Market the Polynesian, Chinese, Indian and Fijian vendors hawk fish, meat, vegetables, fruit, coconut oil and nearly everything else that a Fiji household might need. Some sections (upstairs) deal entirely with kava root (both whole and ground). This makes for a fascinating glimpse into the trade of one of the most important commodities in the country. While there you can also purchase products such as ladles fashioned from coconut shells.
Other merchants sell Indian spices, freshly gathered shellfish, tomatoes or offer bundles of dalo (taro root). A section of new kiosks toward the bus station is the place to purchase `Indian sweets’, many of which are not sweet at all, but rather are highly spiced and tasty snacks.
If you’re in the mood there’s also a`yaqona saloon’ outdoors at the wharf end of the market dedicated solely to yaqona tipplers. As you walk by, someone may call over, urging you to have a bowl. Should you take them up on it, for a dollar buy a round for the house, which is the customary reciprocal thing to do.
Just down the street, in a beige building called the ‘flea market‘ you can purchase genuine ibe (hand woven pandanus mats) and masi (tapa cloth).
And you will also find the Village 6 Cinemas, the (former) Regal Cinema, the Suva Handicraft markets, international restaurants and pubs, Suva Museum, Suva Olympic Swimming Pool, Suva Flea market and other great bargain shopping in downtown Suva.
Sightseeing & Activities
Go to the Beach:
There is a beach in town but it doesn’t amount to much. Your best bet for a decent beach is to head down to Pacific Harbour, which is about 20 minutes by car or bus out of town.
If you want to catch a movie check out the Village Six, a multi-plex theater with the latest Hollywood and Bollywood releases. It’s only F$10.50 per movie and half price for kids. Fully air conditioned state of the art theaters equivalent to any overseas standard cinemas.
Suva is a walker’s town; most of it can be seen in one day if you have a sturdy pair of shoes and a healthy constitution. You need not be an Olympic athlete to take a walking tour, but the heat – especially for those not used to it – can make a stroll around Suva seem arduous.
Extending roughly from the post office to Thurston Gardens, is the main drag and the heart of Suva. On it or nearby are retailers, airline ticket offices, banks, bars, cafes, government and NGO offices and more. Towards the end of the business district are the two the best hotels in town (Holiday Inn), and the classic Grand Pacific Hotel which has gone through extensive renovation.
Is known is crowded and narrow, reminiscent of a Paris or London back street.
Near the beginning of Victoria Parade, is what Albert Schutz in his fine booklet Suva – A History & Guide calls ‘the true centre of Suva’. A century ago it was a small lagoon fed by a creek coming down Pratt St; today it is a miniature park usually occupied by several locals sitting on a bench at the foot of an ivi tree. At the center of this triangular park is a concrete historical marker with four inscriptions. The landmark has a special distinction in that three of the four inscriptions set aside for posterity are incorrect:
- Suva Proclaimed Capital in 1882. This is not quite true. The home government actually approved the move from Levuka to Suva in 1877 and the action was announced by the London Times in August of that year. The government’s official move from Levuka was made in 1882.
- Cross and Cargill First Missionaries arrived 14 October 1835. Not quite; according to their diaries, the correct date was 12 October. Public Land Sales on this spot 1880. Wrong location. Apparently the land sales did occur underneath an ivi tree but not this one. In reality the sales were a bit further down the road, near the present-day locale of the Morris Hedstrom & Co store.
- British Crown Colony 10th October 1874. They got this one right.
Old Town Hall
On Victoria Parade, the Old Town Hall, constructed just after the turn of the century, is one of the finest examples of Victorian architecture. Not only did it serve the duties of government, it was also a center for the performing arts and a host to concerts, vaudeville acts and amateur shows.
Olympic pool & Metro GYM
Behind the Town Hall is a very fine Olympic pool open to the public. Admission is F$3 to the pool. From April to September opening hours are 10 am to 6 pm weekdays, 9 am to 6 pm Saturdays; and from October to March, 9 am to 7 pm on weekdays, 7 am to 7 pm Saturdays. There is also a reasonably clean public toilet here.
If you are addicted to a health club back home, you may want to check out the facilities at Metro Gym at 14 Carnovan St. The gym is in a large Quonset hut-shaped building, not far from the municipal pool. The equipment is mostly weight-lifting gear, as well as some older, nautilus-style equipment. There is a small fee to use the facilities.
Suva City Library
Next to the town hall is the Suva City Library, built in 1909. It is a noteworthy landmark in that the money for constructing the edifice (#1000) was donated by the US steel magnate, Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie provided similar donations to other libraries around the world. I have found the librarians a very friendly bunch and the long-term visitor might find it worthwhile to take out a library card. Note that some of the best books are in the Pacific Collection, inside the charge desk, and available on request. (Long-term visitors should also check into the University of the South Pacific Library on the USP campus, which has the best books in the country.)\
Just down the street, Albert Park was part of the original land grant given by the Polynesia Company to the government as an inducement to move the capital to Suva. Named after the royal consort to Queen Victoria, it is and always has been a general recreational park with a cricket ground and tennis courts. It’s gone through a recent upgrading which entailed raising the level of the pitch and adding some impressive new bleachers. (See photo at the top of this page).
Across from the park, the shoreline adjacent to the Grand Pacific Hotel (or GPH as it is called by locals) was once a landing spot for commoners from the nearby village. It was called Vu-ni-Vesi after a group of vesi trees that grew there. The first hotel built on this spot, the Hotel Suva, was little more than a shack but the GPH, which opened in 1914, was to set the standard for the entire Pacific.
About 100 meters down from the library is an area called ‘Naiqaqi’, which translates as ‘the crusher’. This vicinity, which is now occupied by the iTaukei Land Trust Board (formerly the Native Land Trust Board) building and the Fiji Broadcasting Commission building, was once the site of Fiji’s first sugar mill, built in 1873. Sugar grows quite well in Fiji but not in the Suva area, where the top soil is thin and ‘the crusher’ was never a successful business venture.
The only nearby remnant of this exercise in futility is a gear 1-1/2 meters in diameter, on display near the corner of Carnarvon and Loftus Sts.
The massive Government Buildings site is one of the most prominent in Suva, but prior to 1935 the area was a swampy creek bed. Known as part of the greater Naiqaqi district, the area mostly contained tumbledown shacks and many of the neighborhood’s women plied the world’s oldest trade. The government buildings may be of more than passing interest to the visitor. Here the Department of Lands & Survey sells excellent topographic maps and city plans to the public. In the new wing, the Department of Information provides pamphlets such as Fiji Today, which offers an overview of the country, statistics and general background information. Nearby, in a barrack-like annex, is the office of the Fiji Dictionary Project. An impressive new parliament building, offering more space needed by the expanded post-coup government, was opened in 1992 on Ratu Sukuna Rd.
Fiji Museum & Thurston Gardens
The gardens on Victoria Parade contain a large collection of flora from throughout the South Pacific. Named after the amateur botanist and founder, Sir John Bates Thurston, the present site was opened in 1913. The gardens are well kept and almost always uncrowded. Within the grounds you’ll find the Fiji Museum.
The Fiji Museum (inside Thurston Gardens) has the finest collection of Fijian relics in the world. Founded in 1904, the original site of the Fiji Museum was in the old town hall. After being moved to several locations, the present building was constructed on the grounds of Thurston Gardens in 1954. Despite the multitude of artifacts that were taken from Fiji by missionaries and sailors, the museum has the finest collection of Fijian relics in the world.
Among the exhibits are collections of war clubs, ivory necklaces, cannibal forks, spears, bowls, pottery, tools, cooking utensils, combs and a replica of a huge drua – an ancient, double-hulled canoe. One of the war clubs, which was actually used in battle, has several notches chiseled in it, each representing an enemy slain.
The rear of the museum is dedicated to the arrival of European and US sailing vessels, highlighting the Bêche-de-mer , whaling and sandalwood eras. There is also an exhibit illustrating the saga of the Indian indenture period and the infamous blackbirding trade that brought Micronesians and Melanesians to Fiji. In addition, you’ll see actual relics from the famous Bounty. There is a superb collection of old masi (tapa bark cloth) in an air-con room.
Aside from collecting and chronicling Fijian artifacts, the museum is also a research and educational institution. The staff engage in archaeological research, the preservation of Fiji’s oral tradition and publication of material on language and culture.
In addition to its “brick and mortar” location in Thurston Gardens, the Museum has a virtual museum component available online.
The museum is open weekdays from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm, Saturday from 9 am to 4.30 pm and is closed Sunday. There is an admission charge. There is often a temporary exhibit of some kind going on, and these are usually excellent. Anyone visiting Suva should not miss the museum.
No, it’s not quite in the same league as Buckingham Palace, but the Presidential Palace (aka Government House) which was rebuilt in 1928 for the then British Governor, is still a Suva icon. Originally built in 1882, it was reconstructed following its destruction by lightning in 1921.
The residence of Fiji’s president is guarded by Fijian soldiers clad in starched white Sulus (sarongs) and red tunics. There is one guard who stands at the palace entrance and once every month there is an exchange of on duty and off duty guards.
The changing of the guard is an event popular with visitors. Contact Tourism Fiji for a schedule.
Opposite the Presidential Palace is a path along the seawall, which makes a wonderful walk, especially in the cool of the early morning or the late afternoon. Essentially you’re walking along the roadside of Queen Elizabeth Drive, which begins in town and runs along the length of the peninsula which forms the contour of Suva.
While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t forget the “Bat Trees”, which are on the premises of the Government House and are visible from the road. At dusk the magic begins as scores of fruit bats come to life in the tree. (Just park your care on seawalk side of the street, about 200 meters from where the sentry stands heading away from town). You can clearly see the bats on several of the trees near the fence. Fruit bats, are rather large, noisy creatures and for those who have never seen them, are worth checking out.
Suva is famous throughout the South Pacific for its nightlife. Clubs range from seedy dives to posh discos. Clubbing is a popular recreation for urban, single Fijians and is socially quite acceptable – many charitable and social organizations use the clubs as places to hold fund-raising dances.
Traps, Onyx and O’Reilly’s on Victoria Parade are some of the most popular nightclubs in Suva, more so with locals than the tourists. There is no shortage of singles seeking companions.
Outside of Suva
Colo-i-Suva Forest Park
A ten to fifteen minute drive from Suva down Princes road, Colo-i-Suva is a national park where you’ll find a river forming countless crystalline pools perfect for a dip on warm day. Surrounded by a rainforest canopy, it’s a perfect get away from the frenetic pace of Suva.
Established in 1872, the park consists of two and a half square kilometers of verdant forest. The Waisila Creek flows through the Colo-i-Suva Forest National Park in Fiji making its way to Waimanu River.
African mahogany, planted in the 1940s and 1950s, stands apart from the older native vegetation.
There are 6.5 km of hiking trails and it’s ideal place to go bird watching. There are two waterfalls in the park. Waisila Falls is the most well known. It’s approximately fifteen meters deep making it a perfect swimming hole.
Only 19 km north of Suva and 270 km from Nadi Airport, Nausori grew as a city around Fiji’s second sugar mill (1881-1959), now the site of the Rewa Rice Mill. The golf course and some of the old colonial homes constructed for expatriates are about all that remain of Nausori’s days as a sugar-mill town. (The post card below from Dame Jane Resture’s collection depicts pay in Nausori in 1906.)
The end of the sugar mill marked the final attempt at growing sugar on the eastern side of Viti Levu. Today Nausori is much like Ba, a working-class town and agricultural center. The airport, which serves Suva is in Nausori, a 20-minute drive from the capital.
The most famous landmark in town is the old Nausori Bridge, which everyone who lands at the Airport had to cross to get to Suva. The bridge was immortalized in this 1979 postage stamp). It’s been superseded by newer, safer bridge. (The old one is no longer in use).
Near Nausori are three landings from which you can hire punts or ‘water taxis’ to explore the Rewa Delta, visit snorkeling areas or visit Toberua Resort. The landings are Nakelo, Wainibokasi and Bau. Buses leave frequently for these points from the bus station in Nausori.
Bau Landing is a few meters from tiny Bau Island, to this day the seat of traditional power among Fijians (see the History section). The island is not a place where visitors may casually drop in – it is in fact against the law to visit Bau without permission from someone who lives on the island or from the Ministry of Fijian Affairs. This applies to locals and visitors alike.
Bau has the oldest church in the country, a fascinating cemetery for chiefly families, and an impressive stone n earby that was once used to crush skulls in the days of cannibalism.
If you really want to visit the island, the best way to go about this is to try and befriend someone on the bus ride to Bau Landing; in hopes that the person may offer to show you around.
Make sure you take a large bundle of kava root (waka) with you and dress conservatively (applies especially to women). At certain times all non-Bauans are forbidden on the island, so don’t attempt to reach it without permission; and if by luck you get there, never walk around un-escorted. Some tourists reportedly have tried this but it is a grave insult. Getting on the wrong side of a Fijian chief is akin to getting on the wrong side of the law. In many remote parts of Fiji the chief is still the one who lays down the law. Even the courts have ruled that a chief’s word can in some cases take precedence over the law books.
Naililili, 272 km from Nadi Airport, is the largest church in Fiji. Naililili Church was built at the turn of the century by Father Rougier, who later left the priesthood to become a trader in Tahiti. Apparently Father Rougier accidentally inherited a tidy sum from a down-and-out convict from New Caledonia who was in reality heir to a fortune. At that point he left organized religion to seek a more worldly life. To get to his church take the first left at the junction past the Nausori Bridge. Water taxis are available to cross the river to Naililili.