Levuka, Fiji’s former capital

Levuka has been on our wish list since we first read about its history, as the former capital of Fiji. Although our initial plan when setting sail from Savusavu was to head to the Lau group, the wind had other ideas, so we took advantage of the opportunity to visit Levuka after stopping off in Makogai and Naigani.

This past Tuesday was Fiji Day, which is a public holiday to commemorate Fiji’s independence on 10th October 1970. The original handing over of Fiji to Queen Victoria took place at Nasova, just south of Levuka, in 1874.

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Levuka is a step back in time and, as a result of the town having some of the most intact examples of colonial influence in the South Pacific, it was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2013.

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Unfortunately a number of the buildings were battered by Cyclone Winston in February 2016, but renovations and rebuilding are slowly happening. The first Morris Hedstrom store to open in Fiji was in Levuka and is now an impressive museum and library. Sadly the ‘new’ Morris Hedstrom store could do with a facelift! Above the pretty Bank of NSW is a Chinese/ Fijian restaurant where we decided to treat ourselves and have dinner. It was a friendly and reasonable place, marred only by the noise from the town generator directly across the road.

A little further along the road we came to the Sacred Heart church with its white picket fence, behind which was the Marist Convent School for Girls! This is now a coeducational primary school, but it’s interesting to note that there was a girl’s school established back in 1882. Walking past the school you come to the original police station, next to the newer one, then the road to the left past the police station leads up to the original Levuka Public School, Fiji’s oldest school. Many of Fiji’s leaders were educated here.

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The Ovalau Club was once a members only club and the domain of the white colonials, however in later years it became a popular drinking place open to everyone. Next to the Ovalau club is the former Town Hall and just past here is the burnt out Masonic Hall. We were told by a local that the original inhabitants of Levuka, mistrusted the masons and suspected satanic rites were taking place, even believing that secret passages from the hall led to Scotland, so one day they marched into town and burnt out the building!

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Beyond the ruins of the Masonic Hall is the large sports ground, Levuka Bowling Club and 199 steps leading up to Mission Hill with wonderful views across the bay. We were walking the dogs and there were a few street dogs around the steps, so we decided to make our way back towards the waterfront to have a look at the old Royal Hotel and the War Memorial. Then we walked to the edge of town past Levuka Village to Gun Rock, which was used for target practice by the navy ships during the colonial era. From here we hopped in a taxi back to the port and enjoyed learning more about Levuka’s history from the driver. When he dropped us back at the port, to our amazement, he absolutely refused payment and told us how much he had enjoyed talking with us! And this, after he had told us his house had been destroyed in Cyclone Winston and he was busy rebuilding it. How incredibly kind of him!

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At the entrance to the port is a fairly nondescript drinking fountain. This is apparently the site of the original pigeon post from Levuka to Suva, a faster option than today’s postal service! The post office is at the port and close by is the island’s largest employer PAFCO, the Pacific Fishing Company.

We were delightfully impressed by Levuka and despite the weather, the backdrop from the anchorage was really quite stunning. I hope we get a chance to return before we eventually leave Fiji :)

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