Exploring Rakiraki & Northern Viti Levu
The King's Road officially begins at Lautoka. To reach it by car from Nadi, follow the Queen's Road north and take the second exits off of both traffic circles in Lautoka.
From Lautoka, the King's Road first crosses a flat, fertile plain and then ascends into hills dotted with cattle ranches before dropping to the coast and entering Fiji's "Sugar Belt," its most productive sugar-growing area.
Ba & Tavua -- The gorgeous steep hills of the Ba Valley, populated mostly by Fiji Indians, is second only to Suva in economic importance. The town of Ba, a prosperous farming and manufacturing community on the banks of the muddy Ba River, has one of Fiji's five sugar mills, and many of the country's most successful businesses are headquartered here. While most Fijian towns have the Western air of the British Raj or Australia, the commercial center of Ba is a mirror image of India. Note: The King's Road bypasses Ba, so watch for the exit leading into town.
Gravel roads twisting off from Ba into the valley offer some spectacular vistas. One of these roads follows a tributary into the central highlands and then along the Sigatoka River down to the Coral Coast. You can explore the Ba Valley roads in a rental car, but take the cross-island route only if you have a four-wheel-drive vehicle and a very good map.
From Ba, the King's Road continues to Tavua, another predominately Indian sugar town backed by its own much smaller valley reaching up to the mountains and the Vatukoula Gold Mine, whose workers lend a certain Wild West flair to Tavua. Although the mine has been troubled in recent years, it has produced more than 7 million ounces of gold since 1935. It's not open for tours, so don't bother driving up here.
Personally I wouldn't attempt this route, but the main road to Vatukoula, 8km (5 miles) inland, continues from the mine and crosses the central mountains to Suva. Along the way it passes the Monasavu Hydroelectric Project, which supplies most of Viti Levu's electrical power. The Monasavu Dam creates a lake directly in the center of Viti Levu, but it's so remote it has no facilities for visitors and is not worth the difficult trip to see.
Back on the King's Road, the enchanting peaks of the Nakauvadra Range keep getting closer to the sea as you proceed eastward. Legend says the mountains are home to Degei, the prolific spiritual leader who arrived with the first Fijians and later populated the country. Where the flat land is squeezed between foothills and sea, cane fields give way to the grasslands and mesas of the Yaqara Estate cattle ranch. Offshore, conelike islands begin to dot the aquamarine lagoon.
Rakiraki -- Although everyone refers to northernmost Viti Levu as Rakiraki, the commercial and administrative center is actually Vaileka, a predominately Indian town about 1km (1/2 mile) off the King's Road. Vaileka is home to the Penang Mill, the only one of Fiji's five sugar mills that produces solely for domestic consumption (the others export all their sugar). The 9-hole Penang Golf Course is near the mill; visitors who want to play it can make arrangements at their hotel.
With its fair share of the car-destroying road humps that populate every Fijian village, Rakiraki is on the King's Road, about 1km (1/2 mile) past the Vaileka junction. It's home of the Tui Ra, the high Fijian chief of Ra district, which encompasses all of northern Viti Levu. He likes to stroll over to the Tanoa Rakiraki Hotel, on the village's eastern boundary.
Beyond the village, an unsealed gravel road makes a loop around the little peninsula at the top of Viti Levu. Kept in reasonably good condition for the Feejee Experience buses, this road is a marvelously scenic drive. At the northeastern corner you'll come to Vilivoli Beach, now occupied by the inexpensive Volivoli Beach Resort. A snack bar is right at the beach, and the resort has public restrooms.
From Volivoli the gravel road runs along the shoreline to the peninsula's eastern side and Wananavu Beach Resort. Some of the freehold land up here is being sold as lots for vacation homes, which sit up on the hillsides.
East of the peninsula, a paved road leads off the King's Road to Ellington Wharf, the area's watersports center and the jumping-off point for Nananu-I-Ra, a semiarid island that has inexpensive retreats.
Rakiraki to Suva -- From Ellington Wharf, the King's Road rounds the island's north point into Viti Levu Bay, whose surrounding mountains topped with basaltic cliffs, thumblike formations, and spires give it a tropical splendor. About 15km (9 1/3 miles) from Rakiraki stands St. Francis Xavier Church, home of the unique Naiserelagi, or Black Christ mural painted by artist Jean Charlot in 1963.
From the head of the bay, the road begins to climb through rice paddies and more cattle country to the head of the winding Wainibuka River. This "Banana Highway" is a major tributary of the mighty Rewa River that eventually flows into the sea through a broad, flat delta northeast of Suva. The cool, often cloudy highlands of the Wainibuka Valley is old Fiji, with many traditional Fijian villages perched on the slopes along the river.
When driving through the valley, be careful on the many switch-back curves above the river. There are no shoulders to pull off on, and you will encounter several one-lane wooden bridges, which can be icy slick during the frequent rains. Also watch out for the huge buses that regularly ply this route, taking up the entire road as they rumble along at breakneck speeds.
Beyond the Wainibuka is the dairy farming region of eastern Fiji, source of the country's fresh milk and cheeses (be alert for cows on the road!). The small town of Korovou, 107km (66 miles) from Rakiraki, is the major junction in these parts. At the dead end, a left turn will take you to Natovi Wharf, where ferries depart for Savusavu and Taveuni. Turn right at the juncture to continue on to Nausori and Suva.
The King's Road goes directly south for 25km (16 miles) until it joins the Rewa River, now a meandering coastal stream. You soon come to bustling Nausori, the delta's main town. Follow the signs to a traffic circle and the four-lane bridge to Suva.