As a kind of Hail Mary, I decided a drive around the main island, Viti Levu, was in order.
But not before dealing with every shyster rental agency I could find by phone. I was quoted prices mostly around $120 – $130 a day, with one comedian asking for a $1000 bond.
They turned out to be tourist prices, as I discovered when Jone – the AirBnB host – started ringing around, and finally got a $70 / day deal.
However, the strings attached were that young Jone was along for the ride. Which suited me fine – it meant another driver on the 500km jaunt, all packaged with a local guide.
Nadi to Ba
Then the sailing started becoming slightly less easy at Rakiraki, with the first of Jone’s stops. He’s a bailiff, and this was a work trip for him. On the upside, I did score some huge papaya ( mangoes ) for $3, but waited 30 minutes or so while Jone hunted down some unfortunate with bad debts.
The next target was near Volivoli peninsula, at the northern tip of the island, where I was plotting a refreshing dip in the briny. But the tides were against me, and the dip turned into a cold salt-water bath instead.
Abuzz from the dip, I scoffed down a lunch of three boiled eggs, before we hit a spate of super-cheap roadside stalls. Jone picked and chose carefully, while I grabbed a delicious tuna roti for later.
The came the long haul down to Suva. This is the greener side of the island, where rainfall is high, and the bananas and other fruit are plentiful.
Further down we passed through Fiji’s dairy country, Rewa, north of Suva.
But not before a brush with the law.
The road is dotted with speed cameras. Except in Fiji, they actually forewarn you with prominent signs.
That, and the car’s digital speedo, meant that I got through them all with an intact wallet. Despite the fact that our rental car had yellow LR plates, alerting the cops to a potential victim, I managed to drive unmolested through a manned checkpoint.
Not so Jone. He’d either ignored or not heard my bleated warnings, and got pinged with a $60 fine at a manned speed-check. Muttering about the injustice of it all, he didn’t say so much as we neared Suva to the south.
From there, the mood and the car went south. First, there was a stop of almost an hour in Nausori, a satellite town of Suva, while Jone did his business.
I wandered around for a while trying not to get lost, before taking an awkward refuge in an air-conditioned department store across the road from our meeting point. Barefoot, I feigned interest in the wares and made small-talk with the salesman.
I’ll avoid Nausori in future – true, it was a Friday afternoon, but heat, noise ( taxis ), and dust give it that Mad Max feeling.
We hit the capital around 4pm, where I got more practice in the arts of waiting while Jone did this & that. A little detour to shore up my vape supplies followed. Suva central city is a pleasant and pretty place, without the dust and noise of its outskirts. I just wish it rained less there.
Then it was the homeward leg to Nadi, with the aim of meeting the 7pm deadline for the return of the 24-hour rental.
Not so fast, it turned out. There was, says Jone, a short stop in Navua. Yes.
That turned into an expedition 5kms or so off the main road into Sandro , on the tail of a bad debtor. The dirt and gravel road, late on Friday afternoon, was scattered with people, many possibly returning from work at Grace Road Food Company, a major player in Fiji’s produce sector.
We stopped and talked into most of the local population, probably getting the Fijian version of “the first house on the left after the green barn”.
An hour or so later, papers served, we were back on the main road, and up against the clock.
As it darkened, I discovered that no-one here bothers to dip their lights. Blinded and tired on the unfamiliar roads, I gave the wheel back to Jone on the winding roads south of Sigatoka.
By then I was over the trip, but there was still more 90 minutes left.
Late anyway, Jone talked me into going halves in renting the car for an extra day, rather than futzing around in Nadi returning it in the dark.
What did I learn?
- road trips are best done on your own agenda
- driving is the dark is no fun
- as in many places, there are tourist prices, and local price
- the roads in Fiji aren’t so good for fast travelling