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JJ’s Wargames: JJ’s Wargames on Tour

The beautiful island republic of Fiji was our next stop after a fantastic week exploring Hawaii that saw us finish off our stay in the island with a climb to the summit of Diamond Head to take in the majesty of the volcano and its dramatic crater that forms the promontory that gained its name from British sailors in the 19th century who named it after seeing the bright calcite crystals that gleamed from the beach below, thinking they were diamonds ready for the collecting.

The walk to the summit is only 0.8 miles but is a climb of some 560 feet from the crater floor which proved a good workout for Carolyn and me with very hot humid temperatures on the day adding to the effort, and helped to keep up our fitness levels in time for an even more strenuous walk planned later in our little adventure.

Looking back from the headland on top of the crater rim that forms Diamond Head

The reward for our efforts were some stunning views out along the coastline and along to Honolulu and Waikiki, plus an appreciation of the massive crater that forms the feature thought to be some 400 to 500,000 years old.

The peak of Diamond Head is dominated by a Fire Control bunker of three distinct platforms that were built into the volcanic rock between 1908-1910 to provide fire direction against any potential assault on the island from nearby battery positions at Fort DeRussy and Fort Ruger, the latter using 12-inch mortars.

The next morning, 03.00 hours to be precise, we boarded our Fiji Airways plane in preparation for our six hour flight to Fiji.

It’s 3am and that’s our flight to Fiji just landed and getting ready to offload one lot of passengers before we can get on board.

The Republic of Fiji is an island country 1,100 nautical miles north-northeast of New Zealand, consisting of an archipelago of 330 islands of which just 110 are permanently inhabited of which 87% of the just under a million population live on the two major ones, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.

Fiji is found some 1,100 nautical miles NNE of New Zealand

Our destination was to our hotel resort just outside Nadi on the largest island Viti Levu where we planned to enjoy a four day R&R break before pressing on with a slightly more strenuous timetable of places to visit and see. 

The two largest islands within the group are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. We were staying just outside Nadi on the former.

As our aircraft descended from around 38,000 feet to around 9,000 feet, the wide open Pacific Ocean revealed a patchwork of islands, reefs and lagoons and the anticipation grew to get down on the ground and see for ourselves what Fiji was all about.

Our first impression of Fiji was from the aircraft as it descended in preparation to land, revealing a patchwork of reefs, lagoons and islands of various sizes.

Once on the ground, we were soon reunited with our luggage and found an eager driver waiting for us to whisk us off to our hotel following another rather tiring flight, hot on the heals of the one from Vancouver to Honolulu.

The Fijian national flag, since October 1970 showing the bright blue of the Pacific Ocean,
the country’s links to Britain with the Union Flag in the upper cantonment and the shield granted by
Royal Warrant in 1908, showing the islands agricultural products and the dove of peace, 
surmounted by the British lion with a cocoa pod in its claws.

Our short drive soon revealed what was to become a uncommonly regular occurrence in Fiji, namely the warm, generous and sincere welcome that characterises the people that inhabit these islands with our driver very happy to give us a guided tour on our short drive, explaining some of the sights we were absorbing as we passed through town and along the country roads.

The Sleeping Giant dominates the skyline on the drive into and out of Nadi

One of the most important features that dominates the landward view around Nadi is the nearby range of mountains locally referred to as the ‘Sleeping Giant’, with our driver highlighting the line of the mountain seen above and looking left to right, revealing a giant on his back with is mouth open in sleep, and his hands resting on a happily full stomach.

As well as tourism, Fiji has a large reliance on the sugar cane industry for income,  with the fields on all sides of the road dominated by the crop and a light railway set up close by to deliver the harvest to nearby mills for refining.

The islands had a very hard time through Covid with the restrictions on travel and tourism, and it was obvious that pretty well everyone we met was very happy to see a return of visitors. 

One of the supply trucks can be seen being ferried across to the resort, on our exclusive coastal location

Our hotel was set up on what appeared at first to be an off shore island, connected via a passenger ferry taxi and a small landing craft, seen above, for bringing in supply trucks, but was in fact a long spit of coast line that formed the inland mouth to the river behind it, that made for a very exclusive resort to stay in.

The other side of the resort revealed the spit of land that is the boundary to the area, seen here joining the rest of the island coastline
The poolside experience was to be a key part of our break

Needless to say we designed this part of our trip purely for the  chance to enjoy some relaxing time prior to some more strenuous excursions planned for later, and so we signed up for several massage treatments, lounging by the pool, and enjoying the peaceful exclusivity our resort offered.

Oh and the staff were brilliant with nothing too much trouble and a genuine wish to go the extra mile to make the stay even more better than it already was with nice little touches to the bedroom left by the room cleaners on our opening the door to  our beachside chalet.

The fist words visitors are greeted with in Fiji is ‘Bula!’ said with a broad grin and much gusto,
meaning ‘Hello’ or ‘Welcome’

As well as all the normal stuff folks do while enjoying a beach side holiday, we had a bit of fun with the paintball guns down on the beach, just to keep up to scratch, should the need ever arise.

Good to know, the old Air Cadet marksmanship skills can hold up in the most trying of conditions

One other important aspect of our Fiji planning, certainly for me, was to make sure Carolyn got to enjoy her birthday in the islands.

At one stage it looked as if we would be travelling there on her birthday and with crossing the date line to get there she would only get half a birthday, which of course meant half the cards and pressies.

As it turned out flights get changed, something we are continually getting used to, and we arrived a day earlier than originally planned, and again the hotel staff were magnificent in helping me make sure she enjoyed the day, with a birthday cake, cards from home and a pressy from me, secreted in my computer bag, a video call home to chat with family, all followed by a special dinner for two after an evening boat cruise from the hotel.

Our little birthday boat cruise started in the river and then moved out into the open sea off the resort to capture an amazing sunset over the Pacific and the twinkling lights of the resort as we headed in for dinner

Of course Carolyn and I have never been full on beach and pool people, and have always liked to get out and see the countries we visit and to meet the people and get a feel for the lives they lead.

So we signed up for a tour that included a mix of cultural sites together with visits to local markets and it just happened that we were the only folks on the trip so had our own driver and personal car to take us around and introduce us to the various venues we went to.

Fiji is a multi ethnic and religious country with a significant Asian community that dates back to British control of Fiji and the bringing in of Indian workers and their families to work in the sugar cane industry and who settled in the islands pre and post independence.

The Nadi Hindu temple is one of the largest outside of mainland Asia and once we were appropriately dressed and had removed our shoes we were very honoured to have a guided tour around this amazing building together with a thorough explanation of the significance of the artwork on display.

Following the temple visit we were off to visit the main fruit and vegetable market where growers come in to town to trade their produce, which in Fiji is many and varied but very obviously fresh and in great quantity.

On our way around the various stalls, our guide introduced us to the famous Kava root obtained from the plant Piper methysticum, from which, once dried, the ground down root powder is added to water to produce a drink common to Polynesian cultures across the Pacific and consumed for its sedative, anaesthetic and euphoriant properties; and most certainly not for its flavour, which as the name kava, in Tongan implies, is most noticeably bitter, and to be drank straight down preceded by the exclamation ‘Bula!’ with one clap of the hands, concluded after consuming it, with three claps and the exclamation ‘Mother!’

Following our close encounter with kava, we were encouraged to partake of this most Fijian tradition, there and then in the market, amongst smiling traders, enjoying the sight of complete novices indulging in the national Kava drinking ceremony.

After the market we were off again on our travels towards the foot of the ‘Sleeping Giant’ to visit a very spectacular garden established on the island by the late actor Raymond Burr, who I well remember watching as a kid playing roles such as Perry Mason and later Chief of Detectives Robert T. Ironside.

Raymond Burr at the height of his acting career in 1968

The Garden of the Sleeping Giant was once owned by Raymond Burr and reflects his love of collecting Orchids and which contains among other amazing plants and trees some thirty to forty varieties of Asian orchids and Cattleya hybrids

Our tour around the gardens was an absolute treat and finished off with a very cooling fruit drink concoction made by the staff of the gardens which was extremely refreshing and tasted great.

This octopus orchid was just one of the many stunning plants to be seen in this amazing garden. 

Our final venue to finish off our cultural tour was a visit to the nearby thermal mud baths, close to the garden and benefitting from the hot springs that emit from the foot of the Sleeping Giant that creates the glorious mud that offers relief from any muscular strains and twinges added to with a wash off and bathe in the hot spring pools followed in our visit with a thirty minute massage.

I have to say I was suffering from a rather sore left knee that I aggravated in Hawaii with a morning session of yoga, and was still suffering on my visit to the mud baths, a situation that was totally resolved on my return to the hotel following our visit, so I am a convert to thermal mud baths.

Our final, more full on tourist attraction, was the following evening, with the Fijian night out on a neighbouring island for an evening of traditional Fijian dancing, cooking, using the heated stones in a pit method of cooking, known as the Fijian Lovo and some singing and enjoyment of another stunning Fijian sunset, concluded with the accompaniment of fireflies caught in the light of our boat as we made our way back through the night time darkness across the water to our landing stage.

On arrival, those of us who had not yet sampled kava were invited to join the drinking ceremony with the village chief. 

The first coverings are removed from the lovo and the food cooking within, prior to dishing out to the assembled guests.
Some great moments singing on the beach as the sun began to set.

The final part of the evening was the Fijian dancing.

Another sunset that will be an abiding memory of the natural beauty that is Fiji, that and the beautiful people that make it such a perfect place to visit, and somewhere Carolyn and I hold very dear in our hearts.

Finally, my eye was on the lookout for the birdlife in this different part of the Pacific and examples that were similar to home and those that were quite distinctive.

I think my favourite was the beautiful little Parrotfinch that could be seen on the grass lawns amongst the chalets, eating the grass seeds or zooming across our path like little green tracer bullets as they weaved in and out of chalets and palm trees.

Fiji Woodswallow
Fiji Parrotfinch

Red-vented Bulbul

The Spotted Dove

Great Crested Tern

Fiji was the perfect R&R stop off on our journey across the Pacific, allowing us to fully recover from some rather gruelling flights and to meet some very lovely people that made our stay even better.

If you get the chance to visit this most special place, then I heartily recommend it.

The journey continues and I look forward to bringing you the next instalment of JJ’s Wargames on Tour.

More anon

JJ


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