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Trip Report

Mountain Biking in Fiji

by David Walsh from Melbourne

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Map Day 1

Map Day 2

Map Weekend 2

Arrive at Nandi

Natadola Beach

Coral Coast

Day 2

Suva

NAUSORI HIGHLANDS



             DO YOU NEED KNOBBLIES IN VITI LEVU?

               ( A touring experience in Fiji)

Even the main island of Fiji, Viti Levu is relatively small.  The highway which circumnavigates the island is only 500 km which means that you can cover a reasonable proportion of the island in a few days.

I had to go to Fiji for a weeks work.  The weekends at both ends made a good opportunity to see some of the country.  Without the family I would be able to be more adventurous in seeing some of the real Fiji.

What better way to see any place than by bicycle?  Reading up on Fiji it appeared that there is great inland scenery that most visitors do not get to see.  A mountain bike would be an excellent way to access out of the way places.

TRAVELING WITH A BIKE IS EASY it just needs some research and pre planning.

My Air Pacific flight left Melbourne about 11 p.m. on a Friday night. I checked in a mountain bike and travel pack as luggage and carried on a day pack, helmet and pump.  It was necessary to take business clothes, work papers, good casual clothes and cycling gear.  Large business files had been sent by inter-company courier the week before.  The bottles on the bike were pre-loaded with drink powder but no water.  In my day pack was a set of cycling gear so I could change on the plane before arriving at Nandi.

Arrival at Nandi airport was about quarter to six in the morning.  I used the security of the customs hall to assemble and prepare my bike, fill my water bottles and repack my luggage.  By the time I cleared customs and checked my bicycle travel carry bag into airport storage the 7 a.m. Express Bus to Suva had left, but I has in time for the 7.30 a.m. bus.  I negotiated with the driver that I would pay F$7 fare for the 200 km. to Suva and he would drop off my luggage at my hotel which was a bus drop off point at Lami just before Suva. I would only travel part of the way on the bus.

SPINNING INTO THE NICEST BEACH

Before leaving Nandi the bus went to the Regent Hotel, Nandi Hotel, Nandi Town centre and probably because we had not picked up many passengers back to the airport.  The bus driver dropped me off as requested about 40 km. along the Queens highway at the turn off to Natadola beach.  The first thing I did was go into the local shop, have a nice cold drink and confirm the directions to Natadola beach approximately 10 km. away.

The beach lived up to it's reputation as one of the nicest on the island.  There was only one person at the beach this morning and no shop open, so I sat down at a picnic table and enjoyed the view and morning tea I had brought with me from Australia.  Leaving Natadola initially along the tourist railway track, for which the beach is the terminus, I stuck to the coast as long as possible.  I was enthusiastically greeted by villagers and cane farmers that I passed.  After about another 13 km and my one and only puncture while I was in Fiji I arrived back on the Queens road.

COASTING ALONG THE CORAL COAST

Nine kilometres along the highway at the start of the tourist railway I turned into the Fijian resort on its own little island for a look around the complex.  On the way out of the resort a group of Fijian workers cheered as I passed their truck flying over the high speed humps.  However I was not quite fast enough as I just missed the last bus for two hours.  I had intended to skip the next 30 km of highway which was not interesting except for Sigatoka which I would see on the way back.  In the event I decided to spend F$27 for a taxi to the Hideaway resort to enable me to finish seeing the next area of the Coral Coast by around 2 p.m. when the buses would be passing again.  I expected that this might give me sufficient time to stop off at Orchid Island cultural nature centre or alternatively ensure that I arrived at Suva with sufficient time to organise Sundays ride.

After leaving the taxi at the Hideaway resort near Namanda I rode another 12 km along the Queens road seeing the village of Korolevu, Naviti resort and Warwick resort, with a late lunch stop at a local restaurant along the way.  At this point I was only about half way to Suva and  at the bus stop outside the Warwick three buses passed during the next hour which said that they were full or did not have room for the bike.  Possibly they were fazed by the idea of a bike and did not appreciate how little room a bike can take up.  I have had a similar problem in Australia where taxi drivers almost refuse to let you try to put a bike in the boot and then are amazed when you have the wheels off and into the boot in 60 seconds.  Eventually an unofficial mini bus stopped and picked up a young Fijian woman who had been waiting for some time at the same spot.  The fare on the mini bus was F$7.  The mini-bus went almost express to my hotel where my bags were waiting me.  As a result I made up most of the time I had lost, arriving in Suva before dusk.

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GETTING ORGANISED FOR THE SECOND DAY WAS EASY

I had two proposed alternatives for a Sunday ride.  One was to go into the central highlands and ride out to Tomanivi (Mt. Victoria) Fiji's highest peak.  The other alternative was to go in the same direction but at Serea turn east rather than west.  Crossing two tributaries of the Rewa river via the Town of Vunindawa, and then cut across to the Kings Road.  I knew that there were no buses past Serea due to poor state of the road.  I would need to take a truck from Suva to Navai where the walking track starts and be assured of a truck back in the afternoon at least from Koro-ni-O which is 25 kilometres  towards Suva.  I ascertained that there would not be the trucks travelling on the Sunday, but there would be a bus to Serea at 7.30 in the morning.

CROSS COUNTRY TO THE KINGS ROAD

On Saturday night I bought bananas from a stall outside the Suva market.  On Sunday morning I traveled as light as possible with two water bottles, a seat bag and a small handle bar bag for the camera and the food that I did not carry in the rear pockets of my top.  After riding the 5 km. from Lami to the Suva bus depot, and purchasing items at the bakery I loaded my bike into the luggage compartment of the bus to Serea and enjoyed a scenic ride of about 50 km. into the country.  As people got on and off the bus, a number went out of their way to talk to me.  It took almost two hours to reach Serea where the bus terminated and returned to Suva.

On the bike I retraced the bus route for 4 km. to where the road to Vunindawa turned off.  The substantial bridge across the river to Vunindawa had been washed out but I was able to get across river with the bike on a government provided canoe service.

YOU WOULD NEVER BELIEVE WHAT A BIKE WOULD DO

Shortly before I came to the crossing of the second river, the Waimaro River I took a wrong turn and ended up in a dairy farm.  The farmer explained that it was a common problem as the bridge across the Waimaro had also been washed out.  Due to lack of use the road to bridge now looked like a track and the track to his house looked like the main road.  The farmer told me that a German hiker had walked into his farm the previous week.  The Indian farmer invited me in for a delicious morning tea.  This was extremely fortunate as the sky which had been threatening all morning opened up with a torrential down pour.  The farmer and his family could not believe that I had ridden up the steep drive to their house on my bike.  The only mountain bikes available at the time in Fiji are the cheapest kind at twice the price in Australia.  When the rain cleared they were amazed when I provided them with a demonstration as to what a good mountain bike could do.

The farmer explained that the canoe service would not be operating on the Waimaro river on a Sunday.  I would need to wait until someone came along and arrange to pay to be taken across.  He then suggested that there was an area of at the bottom of his farm where the river was shallow enough to ride across.  He insisted on walking across to prove it was not too deep, and was astounded when I rode across.  He and his two boys then accompanied me through the farm on the other side until we reached a track which lead to the main road.

The road continued through very green undulating farm areas with only a couple of small villages before joining the Kings Road 22 km. after leaving Vunindawa.  Four kilometres along the Kings Road I stopped for a drink and something to eat at a kiosk and picnic area beside an attractive waterfall.

MAY BE THE BIKE WOULD HAVE BEEN FASTER THAN THE BUS

It was a further 18 km. along the Kings Road to Korovou a large enough town to count on all buses stopping there on the way to Suva 50 km. away.  This time I profitable used at the service station washing the mud off the bike that I had picked up after I had crossed the Waimaro River.  There was also a chance to look around Korovou, talk to locals and a couple of other people waiting for a bus and to just relax after a hectic 48 hours with some sleep still to catch up.  When the first bus did arrive it did not have a luggage compartment which could fit the bike.  By this time I was becoming concerned that I might not arrive back in Suva before dark or even at all that night.  There did not appear to be any commercial accommodation in Korovou.  I was beginning to think that perhaps I should have kept riding through to Suva despite the fact that I was tied and the next 20 km. did not appear to be very interesting.  Eventually a bus arrived with plenty of room for the bike.  The bus got to Suva almost at dusk, and I needed my lights to ride the remaining 5 km. on to Lami Town.

SPINNING THE COGS AROUND SUVA TOWN

After a shower and a meal I felt refreshed and caught the local bus back into Suva where I found the Hibiscus festival in full swing.  This festival is on for about ten days in August and appears very popular with the locals.  There are lots of food stalls where I tried local dishes at very reasonable prices over the next week.  There is also free cultural and popular entertainment.  If you are in Fiji in August it is worthwhile timing your stop over in Suva with the festival.

Every morning except one, when it was raining very heavily, I went for a ride into Suva before breakfast.  This was an excellent way to get around while it was cooler and become familiar with the central part of the city as well as some of the better suburbs.  I never came across any other bike riders, but I did pass joggers especially towards Suva Point.

One morning when it was so wet that I was not inclined to ride.  I had an early breakfast and hopped on the local bus in the direction away from Suva, just to see where it would go.  I rode the bus out to the edges of Lami Town to what looked somewhat like the rural villages I had seen.  The bus then took a different route on the return journey past my hotel.

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THE DEPARTURE WEEKEND WAS TO BE THE ADVENTURE HIGHLIGHT OF THE TRIP

My return flight to Melbourne was leaving at 7.30 p.m. on the Sunday from Nandi so I wanted to take an overnight trip into the highlands where I could finish at Nandi.  The logical choice was to take the bus along the Sigatoka valley and hop off at the road to Ba.  At the major village junction of Bukuya I could turn west and travel to Nandi.  I knew that there was a 9 a.m. bus, if there was an earlier one I might have time to take the bus all the way to Keiyasi, ride out to the village of Natuatuacoko and ride back to the Ba turn off.

I managed to get a friendly rate at the Crows Nest self contained units on the Queens Road about 7 km. out of Sigatoka for the friday night.  The Reef Resort a further 2 or 3 kilometres down the road is a long distance bus stop.  Through a contact I was able to arrange with the assistant manager Mr. Moon for them to store my travel pack and put it on the bus to Nandi on Saturday for delivery to the Raffles Gateway Hotel opposite the airport.  Also through a contact I was able to arrange with Patrick Wong a manager at the Gateway for them to provide me with day use of a room on Sunday so I could have a shower before going to the airport and to hold my travel pack until I arrived.

I completed my work in Suva on Friday afternoon and caught the bus to the Reef Hotel.  The fare from Suva was F$4.70.  From there I rode to the Crows Nest.  Riding with the travel pack with its day pack is not too bad.  However a separate day pack hanging from that as well, made controlling the bike somewhat difficult.  Unfortunately one disadvantage of travelling on business is that you must take a few more things.

After leaving my luggage at my accommodation I rode into Singatoka and found out where the bus left, confirmed that the first bus was at 9 a.m. and ascertained that I could buy some supplies from the bakery and the market in the morning.  It was dusk by the time I rode back to my accommodation.  While I was in Singatoka I had a very informative discussion over a cup of tea with the owner of one of the bus companies.  After dressing for dinner I walked down to the Reef where I confirmed the arrangements for my travel pack the next morning, had an excellent meal and enjoyed their entertainment.

I had brought from Australia some miniature pewter native animals and mounted photos of me on the bike.  These had been greatly appreciated by people who had shown me hospitality along the way.  For the trip to the highlands I packed in the day pack, some of these gifts, my passport, tickets, money, maps, travel guide, diary, set of thermal underwear, change of cycling top, cycling jacket, first aid kit, energy drink powder, food for when cycling plus some emergency food and the bike headlamp to use as a torch.

SPECTACULAR TRIP UP THE SIGATOKA VALLEY

Early Saturday morning I rode to the Reef Resort and dropped off my travel pack.  Much easier this time without a day pack swinging from the back.  I then rode into Singatoka for breakfast stopping on the way to pick up my day pack and check-out of my accommodation.  After breakfast and a ride around Singatoka I rode about 8 km. up the valley road to the pottery village of Nakabuta and returned in time to catch the bus to Keiyasi.  Most of the other passengers were returning to their villages after the Saturday morning market.  The bus fare to the turn off to Ba was F$2.15.  All the locals put their market purchases in the open racks down the outside of the bus.  My bike was the only luggage in the rear locker.

The 22 km. to Bukuya was the minimum distance I intended to do the first day.  If possible I would go further with the aim to spend the night in a smaller village.

The bus trip up the Sigatoka Valley would have made a great days travelling on its own.  There were fantastic views as the bus wound its way up the valley, sometimes at river level, sometimes far above the river.  You could see the almost constant ribbon of villages along the river.  As I had previously found throughout Fiji the people were friendly, inquisitive and helpful.  I had discussions with a number of people during the bus trip, particularly one old farmer who was getting off before me.  We made sure that as well as the driver another passenger would check that I got off at the right spot.  The buses on the main highways only seem to stop to let down and pick up passengers.  These country busses all seem to stop one or twice during their journey at a shop for people to get a welcome cool drink etc.  You only have to ask and the locals are most helpful to tell you what is happening.

UP UP and MORE UP TO THE NAUSORI HIGHLANDS

Eventually we got to the junction with the Ba road.  I was the only passenger to hop off at this stop and I was now all on my own.  There is a feeling of excitement and apprehension as you stand there alone with the bus disappearing in the distance, you a map and 90 km. to Nandi and a whole lot of mountains in between.  Then you say to your self go for it, you grab a drink of water and you are off.

For the first few kilometres the Ba road was undulating. Then there is a bridge followed by a creek crossing.  As I was about to start a steep climb on to a plateau I was passed by a government vehicle, the first of two four wheel vehicles for the day. After about five kilometres the gradient eased off and I was passed by the second four wheel drive.  These were obviously tourists as they just powered on passed me as I was stopped to adjust the derailleur.  By the time I had traveled 10 kilometres, I arrived at the first of seven small settlements along the road.  At each one the people wanted to talk to me and would offer a drink.  The settlements were spread along the road.  If people were about you could be hailed down two or three times in a few hundred metres.  The friendliness of the people was great, however it became a bit of a hazard to making progress.

As the day wore on the heat and humidity was getting to me.  The last five kilometres into Bukuya village was a fairly steep climb.  About two kilometres before the village I took the opportunity to stop for a rest and a drink where a woman was sitting with a horse.  It turned out that she had been catching fish in the creek below the road.  Her children were still down at the creek swimming.  I explained that I had hoped to go further but that I might only travel as far as Bukuya that day.  She introduced herself as Teresa and asked me to stay with them if I was spending the night in Bukuya.  As I was about to head off two of her children who had been swimming arrived and she lead the horse back to the village with the two children and the fish on its back.

On reaching the beginning of Bukuya village I was pretty tied and I stopped for a good break before I decided my plans for the rest of the day.  By the time Teresa caught up with me it was about 3.30 p.m. and I decided that it was about time to quit for the day and organise some accommodation arrangements.

THE NIGHT IN A REMOTE VILLAGE WAS AN UNFORGETTABLE EXPERIENCE

Teresa Mereani and her husband Peni Makavu No. 2 with their three children lived at the southern end of the rather large village of Bukuya.  They had a daughter about thirteen who was in the last year at the village school.  Her aim was to be a doctor, next year they would need to find the money to send her to secondary boarding school in Nandi.  They had two sons one about eight and the other about four.  I accepted Teresa's invitation to stay the night with them.

Despite the fact that they seem to be better adapted to the climate, only the chief of the village appeared to live in a traditional dwelling.  I was told that this is due to the cost and work involved.   The houses in the village varied from basic shanty structures to modern masonry houses.  One of the best houses apparently belonged to a European who had been a visitor to the village and liked it so much he had built a house to stay in occasionally.  It seems that he lets local people live in it and look after it when we is away.

Peni and Teresa's house had been built with the assistance of a relative who was a tradesman.  The house was approximately 6 metres by 10 metres with a good timber frame with skillion roof.  The outside was clad in second hand corrugated iron.  There were three bedrooms at one end.  There was timber framing for these rooms but no internal cladding, only curtains.  The rest of the house was one living area with cupboards at one end but no other furniture.  The dirt floor was covered with woven cane, with grass matting rolled out to sit on.  Cooking was done on an open fire in a small tin shelter outside the door.  For lighting there was one kerosene lamp and one torch.  There were a number of designated areas in the village for toilets separated from the houses.  Each family dug their own hole and built their own rough outhouse around it which was padlocked.  There were a couple of points in the village with public taps for running water and basic cold water outdoor showers.

The family had a small plantation about four kilometres away at Karokaro.  They used the horse to transport implements and produce to and from their plot.  They also kept some goats and chickens adjacent to the house.

The shop and a few other houses had their own electric generator.  About six months earlier the Chinese had completed a mini hydro project at the village, including power distribution throughout the village.  It was the responsibility of the Fiji authorities to connect the power to the individual houses.  It seems that the delay may be that the authorities want to charge for the power used, while the villagers expect it for free.

I had a shower in very cold mountain water and had to dry myself with my cycling top.  Teresa and Peni introduced me to people around their area of the village.  While she was cooking the dinner the children gave me a conducted tour of the village just before dusk.

I had an excellent meal with the family, although sitting on the floor comfortably to eat is an art that I have not acquired.  The enjoyable evening included drinking Kava with some of the villages, a custom which I had become accustomed to in Suva.  One of the children stayed with a relative for the night so I had the use of their bed, and fortunately a blanket.  Down on the coast I found the nights humid and I did not need more than a sheet.  I had taken a set of thermal underwear for the cooler nights.  I did have an emergency survival blanket with me which would have keep me warm enough.  However a normal blanket is measurably more comfortable.  If I was packing again I would try to fit in my day pack a set of Polartec 100 or 200 weight pants and top instead of or in addition to the underwear.

After an enjoyable breakfast and taking the probably unnecessary precaution of purifying the water in my water bottle I left the Village about 8.00 a.m. the next morning.  I was advised that there would be carrier trucks going to the market at Nandi on Sunday afternoon and that I could obtain passage on one if I wished.  I politely declined the offer as not only had I set out to ride most of the distance, but I wanted the freedom to stop and take side tracks where it suited me.  The northern end of the village past the houses is the area where the school and other administrative facilities of the village are located.  It is also where the road to Ba leaves to the right.  As I passed here I noticed what seemed a simple guest house on the opposite side of the road to the village.  A number of Europeans were staying there.  I assumed that this must be the village stay operation I had read about, run out of Nandi.  I wondered if in my one night stay I might not have become more involved in the culture of the village than these people on their three day program.

THE TRIP TO NAUSORI WAS NOTHING SHORT OF AWESOME

The Bukuya road towards Nausori climbs and climbs steeply.  By 8.30 in the morning I had so much sweat poring down my forehead that I could hardly see out of my sunglasses.  It is not that the Nausori Highlands are particularly high, it is that when the road does climb it often does so quite steeply for some distance.  The steepness of the terrain no doubt accounts for the number of mini hydro installations.  It certainly provides some great views of thick mountainous rainforest with pockets of small plantation.

In the first five kilometres I came across about five small settlements often with only one to three buildings.  By now the road was more undulating, but there were no settlements for about three kilometres and then a number of settlements over a kilometre and a half.  For the next approximately ten kilometres there was only a few isolated buildings to be seen from the road.  At one stage I left the road unsuccessfully attempting to locate a settlement marked on the map about one kilometre off the road.  I thought that it would be good to get to a more out of the way settlement.  Unfortunately the tracks became confusing and I decided that with my time constraint it was not wise to waste time following all the alternatives until I reached the settlement 

About 20 kilometres after leaving Bukuya I took a short track off the main road to look at a small settlement and an elder boy invited me in.  The couple of families in the settlement were related.  They were mainly living in two western style buildings.  The settlement looked though it had once been the homestead of a farm or large plantation.  I gladly accepted their invitation for morning tea.  Only the women and the children were around, all the husbands appeared to be sleeping off Saturday night festivities in a more traditional building.  It turned out to be very interesting having morning tea with three generations of women in this settlement, and I stayed some time further broadening my understanding of life in the highland villages.  Most of these group had spent some time working in the coastal resorts before returning to the settlement.  These people appeared to be better off than the family I stayed with in Bukuya.  Unfortunately I had to leave because by now it was late morning and I still had about 40 km. to go to Nandi and no security that I could get a bus part of the way if needed.

Gradually the climate became drier until I found my self travelling along a road on the top of a narrow razor back surrounded by central Australian looking red moonscape scenery.  It was an awesome feeling as I rode the steep ups and down as the road followed the back bone of the ridge.  It was especially eerie as I had only seen one vehicle so far today, and now there was this vista of desolation.  I could hardly believe my eyes.  Had I taken a wrong turn to another planet?

Ascending the top of one of the hills suddenly there was bitumen under the tyres.  What a surprise, civilisation is here I most be closer to Nandi than I thought.  Enthusiastically I let the bike freewheel down the steep slope at a frightening rate of acceleration.  This was the first and only time I did this.  I soon discovered that these short sections of bitumen were placed on the steepest parts to enable trucks to climb the slope.  They often turned into gravel just before a hair pin bend.  While there were some steep up sections, by now I was generally loosing height down into Nausori village.  I was certainly glad that I was not doing the ride in the opposite direction.

I had clocked up 28 km. by the time I had dropped down into the large village of Nausori in the early afternoon.  The terrain became more undulating after Nausori and gradually settlements were closer together and more and more farms.  By the time I had ridden a further 13 km. past Nausori there were almost continuous settlements and farms.  By this point major intersecting roads were appearing.  I stopped a carrier truck to check directions and to confirm the distance to Nandi.  It happened to be a carrier out on a Sunday trip with his family.  They offered me a lift the 10 km. to the Nandi outskirts.

I gladly accepted his lift as I was keen to have plenty of time get hold of my luggage and it would be useful to have someone set me off on the right track to the airport.  From where he dropped me off it was a straight 6 km. to the airport Gateway Hotel.

THE FINALE WENT AS SMOOTHLY AS THE PRECEDING TOURING

When I arrived at the hotel my bags were there as planned.  As soon as I had the bags in the room the first priority was a couple of long drinks of cool water, then to go out to the garden and give the bike a good wash to ensure I had no problems with customs quarantine coming into Australia.  After a nice long shower, a cold beer and a snack I set the alarm clock and had time for a 45 min. snooze before I had to get organised to go to the airport.

From the hotel it was only a short 5 min. ride with the travel pack on my back to the airport terminal.  At the terminal I retrieved the bike travel bag out of storage.  It only took a few minutes to remove the pedals and other loose items such as computer and pump, turn the handle bars around let down the tyres and stow the bike it the travel bag.  The only damage suffered to the bike was a bent bar end and damaged handle bar end.  Back in Melbourne I was able to straighten the bar end.  For safety sake I shortened the handle bars by about 20 mm at each end which was a more comfortable width for me.

BUT DO YOU NEED KNOBBLIES ?

The tyres I used in Fiji were a set of Avocet Cross 26 X 1.5.  On fast gravel down hills you need to watch the front grip but I did not find it a real problem.  It was going to Fiji again I would not take knobblies I would take similar tyres.  Certainly the most enjoyable riding in Fiji is away from the main Queens Rd. and Kings Rd. highways.  Once you get off the bus routes as well the roads can be rough in places, this makes front suspension worthwhile.

I am glad that I took my mountain bike with me to Fiji, it was valuable in helping get of the beaten track especially as I had to tour on weekends when busses and carrier trucks are less frequent.  Even if you cant take your bike with you when you go to Fiji, at least get away from the resorts, hop on their good cheap buses and see the real Fiji.

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