Neither the likelihood of frequent showers nor an occasional deluge should discourage you from visiting Suva, Fiji's vibrant, sophisticated capital city. Grab your umbrella and wander along its broad avenues lined with grand colonial buildings and orderly parks left over from the British Empire. Its streets will be crowded with Fijians, Indians, Chinese, Europeans, Polynesians, and people of various other ancestries.
Suva sprawls over a hilly, 26 sq. km (10 sq. mile) peninsula jutting like a thumb from southeastern Viti Levu. To the east lies windswept Laucala Bay and to the west, Suva's busy harbor and the suburbs of Lami Town and Walu Bay.
Jungle-draped mountains rise to heights of more than 1,200m (4,000 ft.) on the mainland to the north, high enough to condense moisture from the prevailing southeast trade winds and create the damp climate cloaking the city in lush green foliage year-round.
Suva was a typical Fijian village in 1870, when the Polynesia Company sent a group of Australians to settle land it acquired in exchange for paying Chief Cakobau's foreign debts. The Aussies established a camp on the flat, swampy, mosquito-infested banks of Nubukalou Creek, on the western shore of the peninsula. When they failed to grow first cotton and then sugar, speculators convinced the new British colonial administration to move the capital from Levuka, which they did in 1882.
The commercial heart of the city still resides in the narrow, twisting streets near Nubukalou Creek, although you will find most of the sites, office buildings, interesting restaurants, and lively nightspots along broad Victoria Parade, the historic main drag where the British built their imposing colonial administrative center.
High-rise buildings are springing up all over downtown, a testament to Suva's position as the thriving commercial and diplomatic hub of the South Pacific islands and headquarters for several regional organizations.
As a result of the 2006 coup, the governments of Australia, New Zealand, and some other nations still caution against travel to Suva. Personally, the only sign of the coup I saw when I recently visited was the army's having turned the old Grand Pacific Hotel, on Victoria Parade, into a makeshift barracks. No soldiers were in evidence elsewhere, and even at the old hotel they were dressed in civvies.
Too many visitors spend only a day in Suva, which is hardly enough time to do justice to this fascinating city. You can easily spend 2 or 3 days walking its streets, seeing its sights, and poking your head into its multitude of shops.
My Word! -- Before the government buildings on Victoria Parade were erected between 1937 and 1939, the land under them was a swampy area called Naiqaqi, or "The Crusher," for the sugar mill that operated from 1873 to 1875 where the Native Lands Trust Board Building now stands. Naiqaqi was populated by shacks, some of them houses of ill-repute.
Local residents tell of a sailor who often visited the shacks while his ship was in port. He left Suva in 1931 for a long voyage, carrying with him fond memories of Naiqaqi -- and, in particular, of one of its residents, a beautiful young woman named Annie.
The sailor's next visit to Suva was in 1940. Instead of a swamp, he found an imposing gray stone building standing where the old, familiar shacks had been.
"My word!" he exclaimed upon seeing the great new structures, "Annie has done well!"