Walking Tour: Suva
Start: The Triangle
Finish: Government House
Time: 2 1/2 hours
Best Time: Early morning or late afternoon
Worst Time: Midday, or Saturday afternoon and Sunday, when the market and shops are closed and downtown is deserted
Begin at the four-way intersection of Victoria Parade, Renwick Road, and Thomson and Central streets. This little island in the middle of heavy traffic is called the Triangle.
1. The Triangle
The modern center of Suva, in the late 1800s this spot was a lagoon fed by a stream that flowed along what is now Pratt Street. A marker in the park commemorates Suva's becoming the capital, the arrival of Fiji's first missionaries, the first public land sales, and Fiji becoming a colony.
From the Triangle, head north on Thomson Street, bearing right between the Fiji Visitors Bureau and the old Garrick Hotel (now the Sichuan Pavilion Restaurant), whose wrought-iron balconies recall a more genteel (but non-air-conditioned) era. Continue on Thomson Street to Nubukalou Creek.
2. Nubukalou Creek
The Polynesia Company's settlers made camp beside this stream and presumably drank from it. A sign on the bridge warns against eating fish from it today -- with good reason, as you will see and smell. Across the bridge, smiling Fijian women sit under a flame tree in a shady little park to offer grass skirts and other handicrafts for sale.
Pass to the left of the Fijian women across the bridge for now, and head down narrow Cumming Street.
3. Cumming Street
This area, also on reclaimed land, was home of the Suva market until the 1940s. Cumming Street was lined with saloons, yaqona (kava) grog shops, and curry houses known as lodges. It became a tourist-oriented shopping mecca when World War II Allied servicemen created a market for curios. When import taxes were lifted from electronic equipment and cameras in the 1960s, Cumming Street merchants quickly added the plethora of duty-free items you'll find there today.
Return to Thomson Street, turn right, and then left on Usher Street. Follow Usher Street past the intersection at Rodwell Road and Scott Street to the Suva Municipal Market.
4. Suva Municipal Market
This market is a beehive of activity, especially on Saturday mornings. Big ships from overseas and small boats from the other islands dock at Princes Wharf and Kings Wharf beyond the market on Usher Street.
Head south along wide Stinson Parade, back across Nubukalou Creek and along the edge of Suva's waterfront to Edward Street and the gray tin roofs of the Municipal Curio and Handicraft Centre.
5. Municipal Curio and Handicraft Centre
In yet another bit of cultural diversity, you can haggle over the price of handicrafts at stalls run by Indians. (Don't try to haggle at those operated by Fijians, who sell by set prices and may be offended if you try to bargain.) It's best to wait until you have visited the Government Handicraft Centre before making a purchase.
Continue on Stinson Parade past Central Street. The gray concrete building on the corner is the YWCA. When you get there, cut diagonally under the palms and flame trees across Sukuna Park.
6. Sukuna Park
This park is named for Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, founding father of independent Fiji. This shady waterfront park is a favorite brown-bag lunch spot for Suva's office workers. On the west side is the harbor and on the east, Victoria Parade. For many years only a row of flame trees separated this broad avenue from the harbor, but the shallows have been filled and the land has been extended into the harbor by the width of a city block. The large auditorium that stands south of the park is the Suva Civic Centre.
Head south on the seaward side of Victoria Parade and pass the cream-colored colonial-style headquarters of FINTEL, the country's electronic link to the world. You'll come to the Old Town Hall.
7. Old Town Hall
A picturesque Victorian-era building, it features an intricate, ornamental wrought-iron portico. Built as an auditorium in the early 1900s and named Queen Victoria Memorial Hall, this lovely structure was later used as the Suva Town Hall (city offices are now in the modern Suva City Hall adjacent to the Civic Centre on the waterfront). The stage still stands at the rear of the Chinese restaurant.
Continue south on Victoria Parade until you come to the Suva City Library.
8. Suva City Library
The U.S. industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie gave Fiji the money to build this structure. The central portion of the colonnaded building opened in 1909, with an initial collection of 4,200 books. The wings were added in 1929. Books on Fiji and the South Pacific are shelved to the left of the main entrance.
Keep going along Victoria Parade, past Loftus Street, to the corner of Gladstone Road, the locale for the Native Land Trust Board Building.
9. Native Land Trust Board Building
This site is known locally as Naiqaqi ("The Crusher") because a sugar-crushing mill sat here during Suva's brief and unsuccessful career as a cane-growing region in the 1870s. Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna, who prepared his people for independence, served as chairman of the Native Land Trust Board, which collects and distributes rents on the 80% of the country that is owned by the Fijians.
Across Gladstone Road you can't miss the imposing gray edifice and clock tower of the Government Buildings.
10. Government Buildings
Erected between 1937 and 1939 (although they look older), these British-style gray stone buildings house the High Court, the prime minister's office, and several government ministries. Parliament met here until 1987, when Colonel Rabuka and his gang marched in and arrested its leaders. (If it ever meets again, Parliament will convene in its complex on Ratu Sukuna Road in the Muanikau suburb.) The clock tower is known as "Fiji's Big Ben." When it works, it chimes every 15 minutes from 6am to midnight.
Walk past the large open field on the south side of the building; this is Albert Park.
11. Albert Park
This park is named for Queen Victoria's consort, Prince Albert. The pavilion opposite the Government Buildings, however, is named for Charles Kingsford Smith, the Australian aviator and first person to fly across the Pacific. Smith was unaware that a row of palm trees stretched across the middle of Albert Park, his intended landing place. A local radio operator figured out Smith's predicament, and the colonial governor ordered the trees cut down immediately. The resulting "runway" across Albert Park was barely long enough, but Smith managed to stop his plane with a few feet to spare on June 6, 1928.
Opposite the park on Victoria Parade stands the Grand Pacific Hotel.
12. Grand Pacific Hotel
Vacant for years, this historic hotel was built in 1914 by the Union Steamship Company to house its transpacific passengers during their stopovers in Fiji. The idea was to make it look like they had never gone ashore: Rooms in the GPH were like first-class staterooms, complete with saltwater bathrooms and plumbing fixtures identical to those on an ocean liner. All rooms were on the second floor, and guests could step out onto a 4.5m-wide (15-ft.) veranda overlooking the harbor and walk completely around the building -- as if walking on the ship's deck. When members of the British royal family visited Fiji, they stood atop the wrought-iron portico, the "bow" of the Grand Pacific, and addressed their subjects massed across Victoria Parade in Albert Park.
Continue south on Victoria Parade to the corner of Ratu Cakobau Road, and enter Thurston Gardens.
13. Thurston Gardens
Originally known as the Botanical Gardens, this cool, English-style park is named for its founder, the amateur botanist Sir John Bates Thurston, who started the gardens in 1881. Henry Marks, scion of a family who owned a local trading company, presented the drinking fountain in 1914. After G. J. Marks, a relative and lord mayor of Suva, was drowned that same year in the sinking of the SS Empress in the St. Lawrence River in Canada, the Marks family erected the bandstand in his memory. Children can climb aboard the stationary Thurston Express, a narrow-gauge locomotive once used to pull harvested cane to the crushing mill.
Walk to the southeast corner of the gardens, where you will find the Fiji Museum.
14. Fiji Museum
At this fascinating museum, you can see relics and artifacts of Fiji's history. After touring the complex, take a break at the museum's cafe, under a lean-to roof on one side of the main building; it serves soft drinks, snacks, and curries.
Backtrack through the gardens to Victoria Parade and head south again until, just past the manicured greens of the Suva Bowling Club on the harbor, you arrive at the big iron gates of Government House.
15. Government House
This is the home of Fiji's president, guarded like Buckingham Palace by spit-and-polish Fijian soldiers clad in starched white sulus (sarongs). The original house, built in 1882 as the residence of the colonial governor, was struck by lightning and burned in 1921. The present rambling mansion was completed in 1928 and opened with great fanfare. It is closed to the public, but a colorful military ceremony marks the changing of the guard the first week of each month. Ask the Fiji Visitors Bureau whether a ceremony will take place while you're there.
From this point, Victoria Parade becomes Queen Elizabeth Drive, which skirts the peninsula to Laucala Bay. With homes and gardens on one side and the lagoon on the other, it's a lovely walk or drive. The manicured residential area in the rolling hills behind Government House is known as the Domain. An enclave of British civil servants in colonial times, it is now home to the Fiji parliament, government officials, diplomats, and affluent private citizens.