Start: Nadi, Viti Levu, Fiji
Route: Queens Road to Lautoka, Kings Road to Ba, then back roads to Navala, Bukuya and Sigatoka, then Queens Road to Nadi.
Approximate driving time: An easy 6 hours
Driven in: Toyota LandCruiser Prado
Driving intensity: Some potholes and crumbling verges on paved stretches (Nadi-Ba, and from roughly 20km north of Sigatoka back to Nadi) but no worse than some New York Parkways I've driven. Unpaved sections are in good state for unpaved sections, but 4x4 required.
Advisory notes: I put this roadtrip together myself; there doesn't seem to be a comprehensive guide on the Internet to this drive. As such, it's very much my own level of comfort and your enjoyment may vary. The roads from Ba to 20km north of Sigatoka are unpaved and mostly rock/earth, but vary in quality and surface material. I strongly recommend a 4x4, not least for the added suspension. Bear in mind that the topography of the area means that bridges and gullies can be washed out in rainy season. Take local advice.
Fiji's political situation is not static, and there are sporadic outbreaks of typhoid in Fiji, particularly in rural areas. Check the US and UK travel advisories (the UK one tends to be better) before striking out and bring bottled water with you. Take a sensible bag of emergency items (first aid kit, clothing that covers your whole body, hat, several litres of water per person) and ensure you know how to change a 4x4 tire. Make sure you have a full tank of fuel, but be aware that petrol stations may not take cards. The drive should take about a quarter to half a tank.
Leave your itinerary and expected time back with your hotel. Bring a picnic lunch and some emergency rations. Check with the police hut on the outskirts of Ba towards Navala about road conditions ahead. Nadi is pronounced "Nandi", Sigatoka is "Singatoka", and the "Nau" in Nausori rhymes with "no" not "now".
Notes: On my way to NZ, I routed myself through Fiji because Air Pacific had the cheapest one-way fares from California (where my BA miles-burning one-way took me) to Auckland. I'd thought of staying at the Radisson Denarau (resort island near Nadi) for only the first and last nights and then striking out for a smaller island, but realised that I actually needed access to the Internet to arrange things for NZ. So, wanting to see more of Viti Levu (the largest Fijian island) than just exceedingly touristy Denarau Island (home of the Radisson, Wyndham, Hilton, Sofitel and Sheraton, plus golf), I decided to take a road trip, and came across this brief guide. Being an adventurous sort, I decided to book a 4x4 and try it out!
Start: Nadi. I decided to book with Avis, because (a) I have an Avis Preferred account through my Platinum American Express and get a 20% discount off rentals, and (b) the local franchise is owned by Fiji's Toyota dealer, which means they have new and well-maintained cars. The car cost me FJD 248.50 (convert) for 24 hours. Top tip: Do this trip the day before you leave and then drive yourself and your bags to Nadi Airport, saving the cost of a car or the hassle of a bus to the airport. Avis will also deliver the car to hotels on Denarau Island, and I assume across Nadi. I was very pleased with their service.
It's 80km on the Queens Road and Kings Road from Nadi to Ba, and the speed limit on Fijian paved roads is 80km/h outside towns and 50km/h inside towns. It's a nice drive (particularly pretty before Lautoka as you nestle up against the foothills of the Highlands and after Vitogo where you can see the sea and some atolls) and relatively easy. Mind the animals straying onto the road, slow traffic and other drivers swerving to miss potholes.
At Ba, make sure you follow the right road (unsigned) to Navala. There's a couple of forks in the road where you might take a wrong turn around here, but there is a friendly police hut where the policemen will happily point you in the right direction. People in Fiji speak English and everyone I asked was happy to tell me to turn left at the third tree, and so on. Although there's very little mobile phone reception, you could preload the map onto your iPhone/iPod touch/iPad or whatever and use the GPS dot to navigate.
The scenery is stunning as you rise and fall through the Highlands to Navala, which is one of the few villages in Fiji consisting of traditional thatched bures rather than corrugated/concrete houses.
If your personal safety comfort level allows, I highly recommend picking up hitchhikers along the way. I picked up a Peace Corps volunteer from Pittsburgh who was staying in Navala, and who had several large bags of pine needles on his back, which he'd spent the morning collecting to spread on the floor of his bure. (Having stayed the week before with family friends in San Francisco who were Peace Corps volunteers themselves, I thought this was a great bit of kismet.)
I also picked up a Fijian farmer who was heading home for some lunch, and who was really into his rugby. Since I went to school near Bath, and there are several Fijian players in the Bath Rugby squad, we had some interesting chat. More interesting, though, was that every so often he asked me to stop the car so he could call out across the valleys to his friends and family members...partly, I think, a bit of "look at me! I'm having a ride in a big 4x4!", but it was a lovely day and I didn't mind. Fijians call out "Ko! Ko!" (with a throaty K) rather than "Hello!", and it was actually very cool to sit in the 4x4 with the engine turned off and listen to "Ko! Ko!" echoing around the valleys.
The landscape remains stunning all along the ridge that the road follows. Every so often it will dip down into a gully, with a fairly sturdy-looking concrete bridge at the bottom, which I imagine is particularly useful for wet season. I had absolutely no problems in the LandCruiser with any of the road surfaces along the way.
The rock formations, though, were just something else. I stopped up near here and had some lunch while gazing out at the spectacular scenery, with only birdsong and the rustle of the trees making any noise at all.
Fortunately, there aren't a lot of radio stations in Fiji (although on the west coast 88.2 FM is the BBC World Service!), so my FM transmitter worked very well to pump a bit of music through the car. The Aux In jack doesn't appear to have made it to Japanese Pacific Market cars yet.
About 20km north of Sigatoka (pronounced Singatoka), the road turns back into a reasonably well sealed road, going past where the Sigatoka River Safari whizzes up and down the river. I passed a couple of their tiny minibuses and was glad not to have been squashed into one of them. I imagine that you could book just the jetboat section, but do check whether there are any known typhoid outbreaks and have your jabs just in case.
The road round from Sigatoka to Ba is pretty enough but not especially remarkable. Beware policemen with handheld radar guns, though, although traffic coming the other way will flash you to let you know where they are. The limit is 80km/h (about 50mph), but it's easy enough to do 100km/h (60mph) without realising it.
Extensions: You could take the direct road from Nadi to Bukuya if you wanted to cut the trip short, or do this as part of a longer road trip around the whole island. Stop and have a look around Lautoka, Ba, Navala and Sigatoka on the way around.
Vehicle Notes: The Toyota LandCruiser Prado is marketed as a luxury 4x4 by Avis Fiji, but don't expect it to match Western standards of luxury vehicles. It's very comfy, though, despite the leather seats, and the 2.4l diesel engine (automatic with the expected low gearing options) coped well with both the unsealed mountain roads and overtaking lorries on the main road. It would seat 4 comfortably and there are foldout seats in the back for a total of 6. There are no signs to return the vehicle in Nadi airport, but just swing round to Domestic Arrivals, where you'll find the Avis office, and park in one of the spaces just after it.
Questions? Found it useful? Feel free to ask questions or let me know your thoughts in the comments section on the original blog post. I'd be really interested to hear from anyone who makes a similar trip!
Enjoyed this post? You may have read this post somewhere other than the main blog page at www.44john.com. There's a lot more where this came from! Visit www.44john.com to read other posts and to subscribe to the blog via an RSS reader or by email.