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The Other Side of the World

Fiji Islands

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If you’ve ever seen the Jim Carrey movie The Truman Show you’ll know that the story’s hero, Truman Burbank, is an all-American guy who, unknowingly, has been since birth the subject of a huge reality TV show of which he is the star. About halfway through the action Truman confides to his best friend that he wants to get away from the small town where (he thinks) he lives, and go to Fiji. He chooses Fiji because it’s right on the opposite side of the world from the USA – as far away as you can go, says Truman, before you start coming back again.

Now Truman’s grasp of geography may be a little hazy – the bit of the world that’s really opposite the USA is actually the Indian Ocean, thousands of miles to the west of Fiji – but you can understand the sentiment. Fiji is indeed a very remote place. But for all that it’s also a very civilized one.

Not that it hasn’t had its share of trouble. Fiji inherits its advanced infrastructure and its sophisticated forms of democratic government as a legacy of years of British rule. But Fiji’s role as an outpost of empire has brought problems in its wake. During the period of imperial rule very many people from the Indian sub-continent moved into the island country – so many, in fact, that today Indo-Fijians (as they are known) make up a very large proportion of the population. There has been tension between ethnic Fijians and the ‘newcomers’, despite the fact the Indo-Fijians have for the most part been around for more than a century. All this came to a head in the late eighties and early nineties in a series of coups, the final and most serious led by the charismatic native Fijian George Speight, with the intention of overthrowing the Indo-Fijian-led government. The dust had pretty much settled within a couple of years. Nowadays, with a fully democratic government in place that represents both ethnic groups – and with Speight in jail – Fiji is a much safer place.

Fijian cruises tend to focus solely on the nation’s islands, largely because the country is so remote; sailing from the Australian or Indonesian mainland could take as long as a week on the high seas. So if you’re signed up for a cruise in this part of the world it’s likely that you’ll first fly into the capital city, Suva.

Fiji is not one island. It’s an archipelago of hundreds of islands and islets. As some disagreement exists about what size a lump of land has to be before it’s officially considered an island rather than just a rock sticking out of the ocean, figures for the number of islands in the group vary between 330 and 350. Dozens of the islands are populated, but the two largest are Viti Levu and Vanua Levu – Suva is on Viti Levu.

One of the great things about cruising around Fiji is that ships tend to take things at a fairly relaxed pace. Although there are interesting things to stop off and see on the way, the greatest pleasure of your journey will be lounging on deck admiring the ever-changing archipelago scenery as your ship weaves in and out between islands and islets. Many cruise captains operating in the area have favorite uninhabited ‘desert’ islands where cruisers can be dropped off for an afternoon on the most private of private beaches.

Of course, if you like just a little more action and adventure, Fiji is full of fun things to do. Many cruise itineraries include opportunities to practice your surfing skills – or learn them if you don’t have any! If you’re a beginner you should probably stay away from the incredible Cloud Breaker, a twenty foot wave that lies offshore of Tavarua: those with some surfing expertise will find themselves in heaven.

If you want to have fun under the water rather than on it, Fiji offers a number of great opportunities for some classic Scuba diving action. The legendary Astrolabe Reef offers dives for both beginners and experts – most cruise companies offer their guests the chance to hire diving gear and take some time in the water with an experienced local instructor and guide.

If you can, make sure that you take the opportunity to sample some Fijian cooking. Recipes are rarely complex, but benefit from the freshest of natural ingredients, prime meats and exotic fish. Many dishes are flavored and sweetened with coconut milk – one of the country’s most abundant natural products.

Whether you’re trapped in a reality TV show – or just trapped in reality – a cruise around Fiji, the island country (nearly) on the other side of the world, is the guaranteed way to make yourself feel years younger in just a couple of weeks.

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