The Road to Nananu-I-Ra and Small Island Life

My partner Alicia and I chose a tiny island called Nananu-I-Ra for our next destination. Looking through guidebooks and asking locals, we deemed it an economical and fulfilling place. Diving and snorkeling are supposedly quite good, and transport and lodging on the island were within our backpacking budget. Onward then!

A taxi (F$10 each) took us to Suva. Having visited Fiji many times, my family always had a mind to visit the capitol, Suva. It became more of a joke, since we never even made it close (Fiji Time keeps anyone from actually moving more than a quarter of the way around the main island, Viti Levu). Rolling into the bus station in Suva for my very first time felt like an accomplishment. There were big boats in the harbor, some tallish buildings, some traffic. Suva is probably the only place on Viti Levu where the main road is four lanes wide. We had barely spent five minutes on our feet in Suva when a helpful Fijian man helped us sprint after a bus headed our way. And that was it: Suva come and gone.

The bus took us on the King’s Road which is a continuation of the Queen’s Highway which loops the whole of Viti Levu. The 100 Km section of road which enters the mountainous interior has only recently been paved, yet there are still some unfinished sections which make for an exhilarating ride as the bus tiptoes over creaking, one-way bridges. The 4.5 hour bus trip (F$11.5 each) took us through some neat inland villages, and stopped in a few key spots like Korovou where Alicia and I filled up on bananas and deep-fried goods. Eventually the ocean was visible again and I pulled the cord, which is really just a string connected to a bicycle bell, to alert the driver of our wishes, and disembarked near a sign pointing down a road and which read Ellington Wharf.

We schlepped our bags less than a mile down a little peninsula, at the end of which were a few jetties, a couple buildings, and a vast collection of junker boats. Working the counter of a kind of convenience store was the least enthusiastic Fijian I have met. For F$1, she called one of the lodges on the island and handed me the phone. I spoke to a man named Rob who ran Betham Accomodation on Nananu-I-Ra, and he offered us dormitory beds for F$30 a night. We accepted. “Good! Well our little red boat will come and get you in 20 minutes or so.”

Nananu-I-Ra is a small place. It would take about six hours to walk around it at low tide (impossible at high tide due to mangroves and cliffs). The habitation consists of four humble resorts, a bunch of holiday homes, and that is it. Anyone living here is just tending the holiday homes or tending to visitors (at the moment there are fourteen on the entire island including ourselves, split between the four lodges). Meals can be had at some of the lodges if you can remember to order six hours ahead of time since everything is kept frozen. There is a shop nearby called Rob’s Shop where much of the beer, candy, crackers, chips which are offered are not available, or are too expensive anyway. Drinking water comes from rainwater collection tanks. The power island-wide is cut off at 10pm. Call it a civilized, deserted island.

We took a walk one day (at low tide) for some kicks, and to see if the local dive shop, Papoo’s, was running. It was not. Local intelligence suggests that Papoo himself was off on a family emergency. We did pet his cat and hang out with his pet seabird, so not all was lost. Apparently they had caught the fish-eating bird in a net one day and adopted it. It now roosts on a post and waits for the catch of the day to show up in a bucket.

Hanging Out on the Jetty

Nananu-I-Ra is placid, and is perfect if you are looking to do nothing at all. The very few visitors can entertain themselves with snorkeling, diving, walking, and sitting. Another side of the island is good for wind sports and we saw exactly one guy kite surfing over there once. The lagoons just off shore are phenomenal for snorkeling, offering vast forests of corals and tons of fish occupying pristine reefs at depths between one and fifty meters. Completely idle but far from bored, I found myself scouring the shell of a coconut with sand and rocks to make myself a little drinking cup.

I wanted to sign up for some diving, but the luck I have with my ears has been very poor. Another ear infection (right ear this time) came around just in time to block my underwater fantasies from becoming reality. I spent another five days or so battling against this new malady. It’s okay though. Just another good reason to come back some day.

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