Tiffany Carroll discovered there’s more to Suva than meets the eye. From the home of the Flying Fijians Rugby team to colonial history, fabulous restaurants, shopping and sailing, it’s time it stopped flying under the radar.
I’m not sure if it’s my interest in colonial times or simply that Suva has always offered up a good time, good meals and good people for me, but I’ve never understood why people miss out on a visit to Fiji’s capital.
Sure it’s busy, the traffic can be a nightmare, but scratch the surface and Suva provides a fantastic weekend away, or longer if you explore the neighbouring islands.
The national carrier Fiji Airways recently started direct flights from Auckland and Sydney to Suva to encourage more visitors to the capital and the response has been overwhelming.
More and more people are discovering there’s as much, if not more to see and do on the east side of Viti Levu.
It’s about a 45-minute drive from Nausori airport to the CBD. I landed in the afternoon and drove through outlying suburbs and farm areas, passed colourful buildings and even more colourful kids in bright school uniforms.
On arrival at the Grand Pacific Hotel, I’m greeted by a smartly dressed porter and ushered in to the GPH’s grand lobby, immediately taking me back to colonial times with its high ceilings, framed photographs of Queen Elizabeth’s visit in the 1950s and brass ceiling fans.
The GPH is the Grande Dame of Suva’s hospitality industry and rightly claims to be where elegance meets history.
The GPH has been a the heart of Suva’s social life and high society since its opening in 1914. Not only has royalty stayed here, but actors, authors, aviators and singers. Much of the memorabilia has been lovingly and painstakingly found and displayed by general manager Peter Gee and his wife Ruth.
The GPH is a tourist attraction in itself – even if you are not staying here a walk through the foyers or a booking for High Tea on the hotel’s lavish balcony is a must.
Peter is passionate about Suva and not just his hotel. He and a group of industry colleagues have formed a Destination Suva committee to unveil more of what the capital has to offer.
Their first project is to create a historical trail for visitors to meander the streets and see Suva’s stunning architecture and hidden beauty. With the support of Tourism Fiji, Peter hopes the trail will be sign posted in the coming months.
Across the road from the GPH is the Thurston Gardens and Fiji Museum. This is a good place to start your exploration of Suva, with artifacts dating back 3700 years with displays of Fiji’s many cultures. You can also get a list of historical buildings to visit.
Buildings in Suva constructed during the colonial administration period are still being used today. The Vineyard, which used to be the old Town Hall, the FINTEL building that once housed the Pacific Cable and Wireless Office, the Suva Library and Borron House are all historically significant and have been preserved under various acts and regulations.
Originally built for Mr. James Borron, a plantation owner by his son James Sawers Kidston Braddock Borron in 1927, Borron House was designed by architect R.A Derrick. Since its construction, Borron House has accommodated diplomats and dignitaries from around the world. In WWII, it served as the divisional headquarters for the American armed forces and famous generals and admirals have stayed in the house. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of former US President, Franklin D Roosevelt, spent two nights in Borron House during her tour of the Pacific. The Princess Royal, Princess Anne stayed here in 2006.
The Ginger Café is located on the balcony of the Museum, grab Suva’s best coffee here before continuing your journey.
Opposite Thurston Gardens and the museum is Albert Park, made famous by Charles Kingsford Smith when he landed his plane here in 1928. This is a great place if you want to walk around or simply watch Fiji’s fittest exercise on the public, open-air equipment. Rugby is on here regularly and you may even glimpse the much-loved national side, the Flying Fijians train here.
Parliament is adjacent to Albert Park and open to the public with regular organised tours available.
About a kilometre from the GPH are the Suva markets. A visit here really is a must-do in Suva. The linked undercover buildings are a real glimpse into the Fijian way of life. Fresh fruit and vegetables, herbs and spices, cooked corn on the cob, kava and authentic Fijian art is available. Guided tours are an option, but for me walking through the buildings and talking to the stall holders was an intimate and informative journey.
The markets are open every day and a nearby fish market is a fantastic Saturday morning experience. The variety of fish available from local traders is wider than I have seen anywhere in the Pacific.
If all the fresh food and smells of the market are making you hungry, jump in a taxi and head to Governor’s for lunch. Once the residence of Fijian High Chief and Pacific statesman, Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, the restored colonial estate now houses South Seas Treasures Exotic Gift Store, Karalina’s Fiji Designer Boutique, Deep Blue Resort wear and Fiji Real Estate Centre. The restaurant itself is one of Suva’s best, with Chef Jason Allport at the helm the food is inspired by traditional Fijian recipes and uses only the freshest ingredients available from the market.
After lunch a visit to Tappoo’s shopping centre is a surprisingly western-standard experience. The department store is as you would expect at a Westfield in Australia, with fashion, cosmetics, electrical goods and even a food court to be found. Offices are located on the mid levels including Fiji’s own licensed credit institution Kontiki Finance.
If all the walking has tired your limbs, take the Drua Experience home. Built as a scale replica of the only surviving Fijian drua ‘i Vola Siga Vou’ the Drua Experience is the only ship of its kind. Running pick ups and drop offs all along the Suva foreshore, jump onboard for a blast out to the reef, around the wrecks and back. A one hour run around the harbour, no booking needed but preferred to guarantee space.
Sunset drinks at the Holiday Inn offers a chance to mingle with locals and expats, refresh and get ready for a night out. I love Eden Bistro and Bar, located in the embassy area of Suva. Its menu is extensive and ranges from Pacific favourites such as kokoda to Indian and western food. It’s favoured by the diplomatic corps and business travellers with great service and a good wine list.
After a well earned sleep, my friend and new local girl Rebecca Worsp and I set off for Mount Korobaba.
“This ‘walk’ is more aptly termed a mountainous hike with the most splendid view at the top, and worth every step. Hiking up muddy hills, through streams, across bridges made of branches, and the steepness of some hills, I wondered how I would ever get back down. Towards the end we literally climbed up the side of the mighty Mount Korobaba using tree roots to pull ourselves up and bounded up the last few steep tracks to get to one of the most spectacular views I’ve seen in a really long time,” she said.
“Taking in the views of the city and surrounding mountains will not disappoint. It’s about 12km all up, we got up at quite a snappy pace so it took us an hour, coming down is about the same time, as its wet and muddy and a bit of care is required.”
Suva’s neighbouring island resorts including Toberua Island Resort are accessible by taxi and boat. Running out of time, I organised a visit to Toberua and the secluded Leleuvia Island Resort (left) for a day trip. The transfer boat met us at Bau Landing, about a 40-minute drive from Suva. From there it’s a 45-minute crossing, passing the World Heritage listed Levuka on Ovalau island – Fiji’s first capital.
Leleuvia can organise tours to Levuka where you can see many of Fiji’s firsts – from the first bank and post office to the South Pacific’s oldest and still operating hotel, the Royal. Historians have not ascertained its exact age, but records show it was in existence in the early 1860s.
Wandering the streets of Levuka is the perfect way to end your historical trail of Suva, but I left thinking there is much yet to discover and enjoy and already planning my return.