We had no plans for our port stop in Lautoka, Fiji on Royal Caribbean’s Explorer of the Seas. When the ship pulled into port we could see a row of little booths offering tours from the locals. We like local tours. Besides supporting the people who live there, they are also usually considerably cheaper than tours booked on cruise ships.
We booked what was said to be a 3-hour tour through one of the booths after having gone down the line to see where we could get the best deal. The asking rate per person adjusted from Australian to American dollars ran from $30-$35 at all the booths, but we found one willing to bargain and paid $25. We were told to come back at 9:15. They brought all the people waiting there to the bus around that time, but the bus didn’t go anywhere. The next group came in expecting a 9:30 departure, but it didn’t actually leave until they scrounged up a few more people closer to 10am. Island people are often on island time, which means they aren’t exactly prompt. Considering the ship had a 6:30pm all-aboard time they had no reason to feel the need to rush.
Our first stop was in Lautoka, Fiji’s sugar city. Called that because of the proximity of a sugar mill and the fact that sugarcane was once (as our guide put it) the backbone of Fiji’s economy. Which he said is now tourism, though they do still raise sugarcane there.
Going through Lautoka it looked like other than shopping there isn’t a lot to do. We stopped near a gift shop with a couple Fijians dressed as cannibals outside. They were cannibals in their not extremely distant past, but the native Fijians are mostly Catholics now. The “cannibals” posed for photos with or without tourists. Unlike in some countries they did not demand tips in exchange for the pictures, though they were quite happy to accept any that were offered.
Apparently the people on our bus were on island time too because when given 15 minutes some waited longer to return to the bus. This was consistent at every stop, with some going double the given time. They added more people to the tour at that stop. Whether cruisers who had taken the shuttle to town or just other tourists I’m not sure, but they dropped them back at that stop before returning to the ship at the end. Speaking of the ship, the tour guide told anyone with their ship card hanging around their neck on a lanyard to put it away somewhere out of sight. Always a good plan in any port.
Along the way the tour guide said Fiji is multi-ethnic, but there’s only two races – the human race and the animal race. Although animals come in a multitude of species and humans don’t, the world would be a far better place with a lot less violence if everyone looked at things that way. No us and them, people are just people.
Our next stop was the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, up a long steep dirt road into the hills. The sleeping giant is a rock formation on top of the mountains. From certain views it looks as if it must be a lady giant. Up close you don’t really see it, but from our next stop on lower ground the giant in the rocks became far more obvious.
People were given the option of paying a bit extra ($10) to go inside the garden or just sit in a covered area. They had a guided tour, but we were near the back. We tend to doddle around taking pictures. Other people cut in and we lost the guide. We ended up following the path until about 5 minutes until time to be back at the bus and then going back.
We would have liked for them to give us more time at that stop so we could go farther down the trail. The garden had lots of pretty flowers and other interesting plants. It even had a pond. We got back on time and were told to rest about 10 minutes before leaving. The guide came around and served everyone fresh tropical fruit juice made from several fruits they grow there. I don’t know what was in it, but it tasted good.
Fijians must not consider bathroom upkeep as much of a priority. The ladies room in the one at the garden had 3 stalls – 2 usable and the third full of ants. Everyone avoided the toilet that was akin to sitting on an anthill. People would rather wait in line than end up with ants in their pants. At a later stop (Smuggler’s Cove) with just one stall the bathroom needed cleaning and the toilet was clogged.
Not far from the Garden of the Sleeping Giant we stopped at Fiji’s Tifajek Natural Spa. From there the sleeping giant on top of the mountain definitely looked like a lady giant. Natural hot springs provide the hot water for mud baths, thermal pools, and a sauna. This stop also had a small fee ($5) to go in – more for anyone wanting to try the pools or have a massage. We ran into some people we knew from the ship who had gone there on a ship’s excursion. We were supposed to stay for 20 minutes, but actually spent 40 there. Most of that with everyone sitting on the bus waiting to leave except a couple people who decided at the last minute to get a massage instead of going back to the bus when it was time to leave.
We would have been happy if the tour ended at that point and took us back to the ship, but they still had a couple more stops on their itinerary. Next we went to Nadi, which our Fijian guide pronounced Nandi as if it had an N in the middle of the word. That’s where the airport is if you fly into Fiji. Mostly we just drove through the city. They did take a 15 minute stop at a gift shop, though about half the people didn’t bother to get off the bus. All these tours stop at specific shops where they must have some sort of business arrangement with the owners. You get the same thing on cruise ship tours, though not necessarily the same stores. 15 minutes of course stretched to about 25 before the guide managed to round up all the stragglers and herd them back to the bus. There always seems to be at least one inconsiderate person who never comes back on time on every tour. When time is short sometimes stops get missed because of them, and it’s never the shops that they skip.
We stopped briefly for photos at a Hindu temple which would have been pretty impressive if most of it hadn’t been draped under tarps for construction. Fiji has a lot of people who came from India. They own a lot of the shops.
Our last stop was a hotel called Smuggler’s Cove. It was on the beach on the windward side of the island. Drier, but not as calm of water. The hotel had a café and bar where some people had food or drinks. Just outside the door there was a small pool, which we never saw anybody go in. Beyond their outdoor seating was a sandy beach. A few people were out in the water, but not many. We were to be there for half an hour. During that time we saw a guy ride down the beach on a horse and come back riding that one and leading another. Later a car drove by on the beach. That stop stretched to about 45 minutes before they got everyone back to the bus.
This tour definitely ran on island time. The 3 hours we were told the tour would last ended up as 5-6 depending on whether you count time spent waiting for the bus to leave initially or time from when it actually left. Which could of course be looked at as getting more than our money’s worth since we were back well before all-aboard time or as running quite slow since a good percentage of that time was spent sitting on the bus waiting for people who couldn’t be bothered to come back when they were told to.