It liked Her

After a very tiring and sweaty first day in Fiji, we decided to kick it up a notch and see some sights. The first thing we did, after our morning coffee, was to walk from our hotel to the Kula Eco Park. The entrance to the park is situated almost directly across the Queen’s Highway from Outrigger on the Lagoon (a lovely looking 5-star resort next door to our humble accommodation) and the park itself is set back about 1/4 mile from the highway. After our 10 minute walk at 9AM, we were notified by the signs for the park that it wouldn’t open until 10AM. Her used the time to write in her journal while I used the time to make the round trip back to the hotel for our insect repellent as the mosquitos were out in force — definitely bring insect repellent with you when visiting the Kula Eco Park.

Just before the park opened we were joined by a friendly couple from Australia with their two children, a boy about six years old and a girl about two years old.  We briefly chatted about whether the restaurant at our hotel was any decent for dinner (it actually was, as we found out later this night), and the woman running the cash register opened the door and greeted us with a bright, “Bula!” letting us know that the park was now open for business.

We paid the FJ$26 per person entrance fee and made our way inside.

The first “exhibit” we were presented with was a series of reptile and bird cages. The Kula bird is a bright red and green animal that is the national bird of Fiji. The cage in front of us contained one of these beautiful birds and we were able to admire it up close. This provided enough of a distraction for the women running the show to grab several snakes and large iguanas and begin to very casually place them on the Australian tourists. Amazingly, the tourists were unfazed by this sudden onslaught of fairly large reptiles and everyone was able to snap some great photos. It was also explained to us that the mongoose was introduced to Fiji to help eliminate snakes, but was so effective that many local snakes and iguanas (including the Banded and Crested iguanas we were currently wearing) are now endangered.The rest of the park was self-guided (guided tours are available for an additional charge), and was a great way to see and experience the local flora and fauna. The park is a series of boardwalks that go up and down the hill side and cross the Tubakula creek. After a heavy rain this creek can be a rushing rapid, but during our visit the creek was just standing water full of mosquitos and ducks. The boardwalks take you through animal and plant exhibits, garden walks, and aviaries. The aviaries were particularly fun as the birds are unafraid of people and get very close. We were able to see the entire park in about two hours time. This included time for some good photo sessions in the aviaries, horseplay on the swinging rope bridge, and feeding time for the hawksbill turtles — I was able to hand feed them lettuce and tuna, and then was instructed to wash my hands lest I be attacked by the parrots in the aviaries as some sort of human tuna salad.After leaving the park, we caught the westbound bus into town (Sigatoka) and ate lunch at Raj’s Curry House. I had the bone-in chicken curry and Her had the vegetable curry. The food was delicious and reasonably priced (FJ$7-FJ$12 mains). I also experimented by eating one of the green chilies placed before us in a small bowl. Expecting a jalapeño level of heat, I was greeted by something much spicier. My reaction (“Holy hell that’s hot!”) stopped Her from even trying one.

It didn’t like Him

After recuperating from my chile encounter, we decided to head over to the Sand Dunes National Park a few miles west of Sigatoka. The FJ$0.70 bus fare would have dropped us right at the entrance to the park, but as we were sitting in the back of the bus and couldn’t see where we were going, I wasn’t able to yank the cord and ring the bell until after we had already passed. The driver slammed on the brakes, and we walked the 100 yards or so back to the park through tall grass on the side of the highway.The FJ$10 per person entrance fee gave us the option of doing “The Long Walk”, a 4.5km unguided hike over the sand dunes, down the beach, and back to the park office, or “The Short Walk”, a 1.5km version of the same thing. Since it was already 3PM, we opted for “The Short Walk”. It was hot, and the 10-minute climb up the sand dunes was tough going, but the view from the top was worth the

The hike down the sand dune wasn’t any easier than the hike up. The wind was blowing directly in our faces, pelting us with sand, and the sand was ankle-deep, making the walk unstable and filling our shoes with sand. After making it to the bottom of the large dune and getting some relief from the relentless wind, we climbed the last small hill to the beach.

The beach was

a spectacular graveyard of driftwood and washed-up shoes that extended for miles. The ocean was very rough, and stern signs warned us that swimming was not recommended since the currents are very strong here. If the currents didn’t kill us, the sharks in the water surely would. We heeded the signs and kept to the land. The wind, unimpeded by hills and vegetation, was even stronger here, blowing sand and sea spray into us. Luckily, our turn back towards the visitor center was about 150 yards downwind, so we were able to keep our back to the wind. A park bench under a palm tree provided us some respite from our wind-blown beach hike.

Went on like this for miles

A last pleasant surprise came along the forest path between the beach and the visitors center. There, a hand-painted sign directed us down a short trail to the “Tree of Lost Soles.” We followed the trail and came upon a dead tree full of hanging shoe bottoms and broken flip flops. Once back at the visitors center, we inquired about the meaning of the tree. Apparently, when the sand on

the dunes heats up, the soles of visitors shoes actually melt off. This tree is the collection of those lost items where people can leave their damaged footwear for the entertainment of others.We made our way back out to the road and caught a mini-bus (actually a mini-van) back to town. The price (FJ$1.50) was twice that of the public bus price. I’m not convinced there are set fares for the buses; It seems tourists end up paying a little more than the locals. But even with that premium, the prices are dirt-cheap for transportation — less than a fifth of what a taxi might charge for the same trip.When we arrived back at the hotel, we took a dip in the swimming pool and ordered some Chinese food from the hotel restaurant as room service for dinner. About 45 minutes later our food arrived, and it was delicious. Her ordered a vegetable chow mein and I had chicken stir fry. The price was very reasonable and the portions large. We washed it all down with a couple of Fijian beers we had purchased in town the day before and kept in the refrigerator in our room (actually, we kept them in the freezer — the refrigerator in our room wasn’t very cold, and the freezer didn’t get quite cold enough to freeze water, so we used it as our fridge).

After a long day of sightseeing, we did a little laundry, called it a night, and hit the (sleep) sack in preparation for our early bus ride to Suva the next day.