Fiji's Eastern Division consists of the Lomaviti Group of islands lying east of Viti Levu and south of Vanua Levu. On the largest of these, ruggedly beautiful Ovalau, some 32km (20 miles) off Viti Levu, Levuka was Fiji's first European-style town, and it still looks much as it did during its heyday before the government moved to Suva in 1882. In contrast to Suva, Levuka remains a charming example of what South Pacific towns were like in the 1870s.
Indeed, you may think you've slipped into the "Twilight Zone" as you stroll through Levuka, which has been nominated as Fiji's first World Heritage Site. Everything here seems to be from a century earlier: ramshackle dry-goods stores with false fronts, clapboard houses with tin roofs to keep them dry and shaded verandas to keep them cool, and round clocks in the baroque tower of Sacred Heart Catholic Church that seem to have stopped over a hundred years ago. Where the regular streets end, "step streets" climb to more houses up near the base of the jagged cliffs towering over the town.
Not that Levuka hasn't changed at all since its 19th-century days as one of the South Pacific's most notorious seaports. All but one of the 50 or more hotels and saloons that dispensed rum and other pleasures disappeared long ago. The sole survivor -- the Royal Hotel -- is now a quiet, family-run establishment. The fist-fighting whalers and drifting beach bums went the way of the square-rigged ships that once crowded the blue-green harbor beyond the row of glistening ficus trees and park benches along Beach Street. Gone, too, are all signs of the pioneering merchants and copra (dried coconut meat) planters who established Levuka in the 1830s and who for years carried guns to protect themselves from its ruffians.
The 360m-tall (1,200-ft.) walls of basalt -- which caused Levuka's ultimate demise by preventing its progress and expansion -- create a soaring backdrop that ranks Ovalau in the big leagues of dramatic tropical beauty.
Despite its history, extraordinary scenery, and extremely hospitable residents, Levuka is relatively off the beaten tourist track. The volcano that created Ovalau has eroded into such rugged formations that it has left very little flat land and no decent beach; therefore, the island has not attracted resort or hotel development. But Levuka does have comfortable and charming accommodations in which to stay while meeting the friendly locals and learning about Fiji's history and culture.
Within sight of Levuka lies Wakaya Island, in the center of the Lomaviti Group. Another historic outpost, it's now home to the Wakaya Club, one of Fiji's finest little resorts.
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