Although it is commonly referred to simply as Fiji, the largest of the Fijian Islands actually has its own name. The main island of Viti Levu has been shaped by over 35 centuries of complex cultural influences, building an incredibly diverse history in the process.
Amidst all the discoverable natural beauty of Fiji, it’s worth it to take a break from the beaches and jungles for a day or two to get a taste of some rich historical goodies.
1. Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple
Personally, I have always been drawn to rainbows of color with the awe of a small child. It’s no surprise, then, that the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple would come in first on the list.
The largest Hindu temple in the southern hemisphere and one of the few places Dravidian architecture can be seen outside of India, the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple is ultimately dedicated to peace.
Yet despite its long history, the brightly colorful temple is still a work in progress, so you never know when you might stumble upon some art in the making during a visit.
There’s no shortage of celebrations centered around the temple to liven things up, which include many of Nadi’s festivals, such as Karthingai Puja. Not sure who or what Nadi is? That’s ok! The Temple attracts worshippers from all over the globe, making visitors of all religions welcome to the temple, although it is requested that all non-Hindus refrain from entering inner sanctum.
And of course, one should always be respectful of other beliefs and cultures when traveling. For the Sri Siva Subramaniya Temple, this also means dressing modestly (especially the ladies – cover it up!) and entering sans your shoes or cameras, both of which are forbidden.
2.Tavuni Hill Fort
Gee, a fort…don’t we have plenty of those here in America?
But this is a really cool fort.
A National Archeological Site, this semi-restored ancient Fiji fort and the items displayed inside are almost perfectly preserved, providing a rare experience of Fijian history. It’s like stepping through a gateway into the past.
The story goes that in the 18th century, Tongans invaded Viti Levu and made themselves a little establishment on the steep hillside right where the fort now stands. Smugly feeling they had the highest advantage, they waged war on the surrounding land from their safe base. And they were hugely successful too, until finally British troops showed up (another invasion of the islands) and drove the Tongans out in 1876.
Once the Tongans had left, the fort stood deserted, never to be inhabited again. In fact, even the re-opening of the fort didn’t take place until 1994, when the some of the first people would set foot inside again in over a century.
One pretty cool unique aspect of Tavuni Hill Fort is that your guides won’t be some half-bored fellow getting paid by the hour. The guides are actual descendants of the original Tongan inhabitants, making their interest personal and allowing them to provide incredibly enriching tours that really give visitors a feel for the lives of those who once inhabited the fort.
Don’t leave the hillside without experiencing the two spectacular lookout points, one overlooking the Sigatoka River and the other the Viti Levu Coastline. These spots offer amazing photography opportunities will make your visit worth the trip all by themselves.
While you’re up there, don’t forget to enjoy the plethora of historical sights within the fort, such as the spooky ceremonial grounds and the exceptionally creepy killing stone, where victim’s heads were smashed with a war club.
3. Naihehe Cave
Have you ever wanted to get lost? If you have, this is a great one, as Naihehe literally translated means “a place to get lost.” Being that Naihehe Cave is Fiji’s largest cave system, it’s not too much of a stretch to say that getting lost would be a good possibility.
In addition to getting lost, the caves doubled as an excellent hiding place for the ancient tribes that inhabited the island. This was especially true thanks to the secret topside access via wild vines within, letting those tribal folk survive in a well-supplied fashion for extended periods of time.
If you’re into exploring caves and spelunking, a visit to Naihehe Cave gives both the adventurer and the historian what they want. Just don’t forget to seek the permission of the traditional protector of the cave, known as the Bete (priest). Legend has it that if you bypass this guy and enter without his permission, you will become hopelessly lost, trapped in the cave for all eternity.
4. Udre Udre Grave
Considering Viti Levu was one of the formerly nicknamed Cannibal Islands, it’s not surprising that it also was home to the cannibal who holds the Guinness World Record for “most prolific cannibal.”
Lucky for us present-day travelers we won’t come face to face with that dude if we venture out to Fiji, but we can visit his gravesite, a less dangerous but equally eerie experience.
Udre Udre, believing that had he consumed over 1000 bodies he would have become immortal, gave it the old college try by completing consumption of over 800 of his dead enemies before he perished. Like all great serial killers, he kept himself a little trinket from each of the victims that graced his grill in the form of a stone, the same stones which decorate his gravesite today.
5. Momi Guns
In 1939 a darkness covered our lovely earth for the second time in the 20th century…World War II. As the Pacific became a more major player in the war, military eyes started to turn from Europe and towards that vast ocean. Like Hawaii, the strategic location of the Fiji Islands primed them as a target for Japanese attack.
Determined to keep the islands from falling into enemy hands, New Zealand Expeditionary Forces were absolutely determined that the islands would not fall into enemy hands, and so they constructed defenses at various points throughout Viti Levu. The place that is today referred to as Momi Guns was one of those selected points, specifically for its strategic advantage in protecting a vulnerable break in the western reef known as the Navula Passage.
Although originally constructed by New Zealanders in 1941, the United States Coast Artillery replaced the New Zealand forces in 1942. Momi remained a defense station until being relocated in 1944. Since then the Battery has represented a proud period in Fiji’s history and is today cared for by the National Trust of Fiji Islands.
If you’ve done the Pearl Harbor thing on Oahu in Hawaii and thoroughly enjoyed that experience, this will similarly be right up your alley.
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