Day-to-Day Living in Suva c.2012

I spent three months at the end of 2012 working in Suva, Fiji as the ASA Pacific Fellow, which was a position they created and funded in order to help prepare anaesthetic trainees for their exams. At the end of the stay I wrote a short piece describing some of the practical aspects of living there with my young family, in case it proved helpful to other Fellows that came after me. I thought I’d re-post here for similar reasons, but also as an historical snapshot as a significant part of my medical career that has had a lasting impact on me and my family. Fiji is a strategic hub for training doctors working all around the South Pacific, so if you get the chance to contribute in some way, I highly recommend you do.

ACCOMMODATION

We stayed in the Cakobau Apartments on Ratu Cakobau Rd. It was a three bedroom unit, with two rooms having king beds and the other room two singles. It had one toilet/bathroom with a shower over the bath. The kitchen had a gas stove, fridge, microwave, electric kettle and toaster. There was a TV and DVD player. Each bedroom had air-con, as did the living area. Our flat had a small strip of grass off the “balcony”, which was shared with the flat next door. Most of the other flats just had a balcony.

The lack of a backyard for the kids was somewhat compensated by the swimming pool in the complex. It wasn’t the most kid-friendly of pools, but it was a hit with them all the same. There were some periods when the pool was closed for a week or more, which was a bit frustrating, but overall the pool was definitely one of the big pluses of this accommodation.

It was also a pretty secure complex, with a guard on the gate 24/7, as well as CCTV, so we always felt safe at home. We found we had to buy some kitchen items to supplement those that were supplied (e.g. measuring cups, extra bowls, mugs, baking trays, etc) although when we finally got hold of the property manager the following week, she was able to source a number of items that appeared to be missing. (I suspect they just cannibalised items from other empty flats, thus perpetuating the problem!) The accommodation itself was in pretty good condition, although some parts were already showing wear and tear, and it was suffering a bit from a lack of maintenance. There were also a few random inconveniences early on, such as the shower having no shower curtain, missing air-con remotes and the missing kitchen items mentioned earlier, but eventually the property manager was able to sort them out. During our stay our fridge had to be replaced after breaking down three times, and the toaster also packed it in and was replaced. There was also some confusion about the electricity bill as I believe this was the first time the Pacific Fellow has stayed somewhere that didn’t include electricity in the rent, but I assume it got sorted out by the FNU as I didn’t hear anything more about it after the original email. The location was pretty decent, as it was within walking distance of the hospital, “downtown” Suva, my son’s school, and just up the road from a taxi depot.

It is also over the road from Albert Park, which was generally a good thing, however it is the site of the annual Hibiscus Festival (which is an unusual cross between the Royal Easter Show and a beauty pageant!) which started the day we arrived in Suva, and it was very noisy, and crowded, and the music from the stage and screams from the ferris wheels were quite audible from our bedroom until at least midnight every night for the week that it ran. But it was at least convenient to take the kids on some rides and get dinner as well.

SHOPPING

Main shopping centres

MHCC:

This 3-storey shopping centre is located in central Suva and was where we did most of our shopping. This part of town is where most of the shops are located so it was usually possible to knock off your whole shopping list in the one trip, even if what you wanted wasn’t in MHCC. Its greatest advantage, however, was that it was open until 9pm every day of the week including Sundays, which was particularly useful to us as we arrived on a weekend. It included the SuperFresh supermarket mentioned below, a bakery, a Vodafone store, pharmacy, a department store, a Gloria Jeans and a food court as well as a number of other smaller shops. It was within a walkable distance from our place, and a quick taxi ride home with the shopping (from the well-frequented taxi rank just outside).

Tappoo City:

This was located just over the road from the MHCC, and was the most upmarket department store that we found in Fiji. It was 5 or 6 storeys high, and included upmarket fashion, jewellery, perfume, electronic goods, and household and kitchen items. It had a souvenir section at the bottom as well as a nice cafe (Caffee One). There was a food court up the top with big windows that had a nice view of the docks and Suva Harbour. Of particular importance, I bought our coffee plunger here! It is also close to the markets.

Cost-u-Less:

This shopping “warehouse” is part of the American Costco company, which is reflected in the American grocery lines that it stocks. It also has stationery, furniture, sports equipment, gardening items, kitchen utensils, toiletries, etc. The prices varied from being quite reasonable to expensive; many items could be bought in bulk, and for some things this was the only place we were able to get them. It is located in Laucala (pronounced Lauthala) Bay near the university (USP) and some major sporting facilities, and conveniently right next door to Maccas. There is also a strip mall behind it, which includes a pharmacy and a Westpac ATM. It is also just up the road from Bulaccino (see below). It would be a very long walk to get there so we usually went via taxi.

Banking

We opened an Australian Westpac transaction account before we left, as Westpac has a big presence in Fiji. This meant that we could avoid the overseas ATM usage fee which was FJD$8. There was still an international transaction fee, but this was just a percentage of the withdrawal so it didn’t matter how much or how little you withdrew. This was good because it meant we only got out what we needed rather than withdrawing large amounts to minimise the number of ATM fees we paid. There were lots of Westpac ATMs around, but probably the most convenient ones were at MHCC, Dolphin Plaza (in the foodcourt next to Republic of Cappucino), and at Laucala Bay near Cost-u-Less.

Mobile Phones and internet

We used Vodafone while there, mainly because they had the best  plans, but this may have changed. The other main supplier was Digicell. We took our own iPhones, which needed a microSIM, and these could only be bought at Vodafone stores rather than the little stalls you see located everywhere. There is a Vodafone store at Nadi airport, but we didn’t have time to stop there as we had to get our connecting flight, so we went to the one in the MHCC in Suva, which as mentioned above is open to 9pm every night.

We put pre-paid credit on the phone, and then purchased blocks of data so we could use email/internet etc on the phone. It cost FJD$45 for 1GB of data, or FJD$25 for 500MB, and the data credit was valid for 30 days. Unfortunately, we were not able to tether the phones to our laptop or iPads. We bought a Vodafone USB dongle to plug into our laptop, and you could buy 4GB of data for FJD$100, which was valid for 90 days. Generally speaking, the coverage was good, even working on the smaller islands we visited, but frustratingly the signal wasn’t great in our apartment. It was quite usable for email and internet, but some downloads would take a long time, and using Skype with video was often unsuccessful.

Meat

We generally used Wahley’s butcher in Flagstaff, near the MH supermarket. It had been recommended to us as apparently they have a reliable cold chain. They had a good range of meats, and we had no issues with quality. They also stock some dairy items and fresh vegetables (including some harder to find veggies like zucchini). There is another Wahley’s outlet on Cummings St near the MHCC (see below) but we never went to this one, though I assume they would be just as good. We also occasionally bought meat from the SuperFresh at MHCC.

Groceries

For fruit and veg (& kava!), you can’t go past the Suva Municipal Markets. They have a great range, nice and fresh, tasted great, and it was generally very cheap. They also sold a variety of other items including herbs and spices, fresh flowers and a few household items as well. For general grocery items, we would mostly use the SuperFresh at MHCC, the MH supermarket at Flagstaff, or Cost-u-Less at Laucala Bay. Between these stores, we generally found we were able to get everything we needed or wanted, and the prices were usually good, although some times the quality was not great, some items were pricey (eg breakfast cereals and blocks of chocolate!) and occasionally the range was variable with certain lines coming and going each time you visited.

Household items

Over the three months we needed to purchase various household items such as towels, kitchen utensils, crockery, stationery and so on. Most of these items were bought at the MHCC in town, which had a large section upstairs selling clothing, linen/manchester, kitchen items, electrical appliances, books and stationery. Cost-U-Less also had some of these types of items, but were generally a bit more expensive. There were also various “bargain stores” around Suva, and the Rups Big Bear chain also had a big range and was pretty well priced.

TRANSPORT

Taxis

Taxis were plentiful and very cheap by Australian standards. It was generally ~$4FJD fare from our accomodation to CWMH, which included a $0.50 flagfall. The cars themselves varied widely, with some very old and run down, while others appeared near-new. The majority did not have seatbelts in the back. At the bottom of Ratu Cakobau Rd was the base for Piccadilly Taxis (Ph # 3312713) and we would often call them for a taxi just as we were leaving the flat, but it was generally very easy to hail a taxi from the street as well (in fact, they would usually toot their horn every time they saw a westerner that might want a taxi, so you would usually hear them before you saw them). We some times had problems with the drivers not carrying much change (less than $10, sometimes less than $5!), so it is worth hoarding your coins and small notes, and breaking the larger notes at shops whenever possible.

For longer trips, we would usually book a taxi the day before, and negotiate the price beforehand (it was usually worth ringing a few places). By booking ahead, you could also request a taxi with seatbelts.

Buses

There were a lot of local buses doing regular routes around Suva, but we rarely used them. They were, however, very cheap. There is a large bus station near the markets where buses, ranging from cramped minibuses to modern coaches start longer trips around Viti Levu. These would leave frequently throughout the day, and the ~4 hour trip to Nadi was very cheap, albeit quite bumpy. Depending on where we were going, how many of us there were, and how much luggage we had, it was sometimes easier, and not much more expensive, to just get a taxi. The most modern-looking coaches were run by “Pacific”, but as far as we could tell, you weren’t able to book ahead on these. When we went to the coral coast, we used Coral Sun Express Coaches, mainly because we could book seats, and also because they departed from the Holiday Inn, which was much closer to our apartments. However, the buses weren’t quite as good as the Pacific ones, and the return trip was on a crowded Coral Sun minibus.

ENTERTAINMENT

Cinemas

There is a pretty modern multiplex cinema in Suva near Tappoo City. They show a range of mainstream and Bollywood movies, and are very cheap. This was a good entertainment option for the kids, but there were periods when there were no kids’ movies showing.

Parks

Albert Park is just over the road from the Cakobau Apartments, and there would regularly be games of rugby, cricket, soccer or even AFL being played there. There is also a fantastic climbing tree that the kids loved. Thurston Gardens (where the museum is located) is also just down the road, and has some nice shaded paths and grassed areas, as well as a decent kids’ playground. There is another kids’ playground next to the bowling club on the harbour front a little further down the road, but this one is exposed to the sun so it gets a bit hot. There is also a small kids’ playground near the cinemas.

Ratu Sukuna Park on Victoria Pde has a nice fountain, a lot of shade and plenty of space for the kids to run around, and also has the benefit of being right next to McDonalds which had a kids playground as well (and toilets). There was also a nice footpath and stretch of grass running along the harbour front from the docks pretty much all the way along to Albert Park.

Library

The municipal library was located on Victoria Ave, and had a good selection of both kids and adult books. We were able to get library cards after paying a deposit, and my wife and kids enjoyed having a ready supply of books over the three months. They would also occasionally have activities for kids such as book readings and “treasure hunts” with prizes, which the kids also enjoyed.

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS

Quite a few of the tourist attractions have “local rates”, which often provide quite a significant discount on the normal rates. However the normal rates often include transfers etc, so you need to consider those things when comparing cost/convenience.

Day trips

Zip line:

Zip Fiji is located at Wainadoi, about half-way between Suva and Pacific Harbour. I took my eldest son here for his 7th birthday, and we both had a great time. There isn’t much in the way of infrastructure there, but the safety side of things seemed pretty good, and as well as the fun of the zip lines it also gave a good view of the rainforest and nearby countryside. It was a bit difficult to get to as it was well off the main road, and in hindsight I should have taken a taxi from Suva and arranged for a taxi pick-up at the end.

Colo-i-Suva:

This protected reserve is well worth a visit, and can be easily done as a day trip from Suva, or if you wanted to make a weekend of it, you could stay in the Raintree Lodge right next to the park. The food at the Lodge was nice, there was a picturesque lake made from an old quarry, and the bar was a welcome sight after a sweaty bush walk. The swimming pools at the bottom of the park were great (with rope swing!) and the taxi was able to drop us pretty much right at them, and again were happy to meet us back there later in the day. There is a network of walking paths in the park; these are worth doing but they were very poorly signposted so it is worth taking a map, which you can pick up from Raintree Lodge.

Navua River:

We went on a day trip up the Navua River towards the end of our stay, and it was great — an easy day trip from Suva. We went with Discover Fiji Tours and they had a pretty good setup, although their range of kids’ life jackets wasn’t the best. The village tour had a good mix of authenticity and tourist kitsch, and the lunch was nice. The scenery further up the river was stunning, with some amazing gorges and waterfalls, and very different to the typical white beaches and coral reefs you normally associate with Fiji.

There were one or two hairy moments when we were going up the rapids in a motorized longboat, but the waterfall swim was nice (if cold), and the kids had fun. It also included a bilibili raft ride.

Weekends

Beqa Island:


Beqa Island is located just off Pacific Harbour, and is visible from Suva. We stayed at Beqa Island Resort and had a lovely time, with nice food, decent rooms, and friendly, laid-back staff. Beqa Lagoon is a very popular dive spot, so most of the guests were divers on organised tours from the USA, but this meant that for most the day, the place was close to empty. This can be done as a weekend trip from Suva as Pacific Harbour is only 1 hour away, but having to meet up with boats to and from the island made it a bit less convenient, and it probably works best if you can make a long weekend of it.


The local rates for the rooms were very cheap, but you had to buy the full meal plan, which when added to the boat transfers did add significantly to the cost.

Leleuvia Island:


This island is located to the north-east of Suva, accessed via a boat trip from Ba Landing, which is about a 1 hour taxi ride from Suva. The best way to describe the setup on this island is “glorified camping”, but with the emphasis definitely on “glorified”! The single-room bures were basic with just beds and no airconditioning. There were central, shared bathroom facilities with cold showers, and a large dining area/bar where meals were served. As long as you were expecting basic facilities, you didn’t really care, because the location was so good.


It was a small island you could walk around at low tide, there was great snorkeling just off the beach, crystal clear water, gorgeous sunsets and friendly staff. A great place to just kick back and relax. Again, can easily be done as a weekend from Suva, and very cheap.

Longer

Malolo Island Resort:

This was our indulgent splurge at the end of our time in Fiji. The resort is on a large island in the Mamanuca group about an hour’s boat ride from Nadi. Compared to many of the other resorts in the west it was quite small, which created a very friendly laid-back feel, where you got to know most of the staff (who, for the most part, were from villages on the island). A great kids’ club, nice rooms, good snorkeling off the beach (as well as snorkeling boat trips each day), a number of options for eating and the food was great quality too. Good swimming pools, nice sunsets and a fantastic way to finish off our time in Fiji. It’s on the pricey side (no local rates!) but we highly recommend it, especially if you have kids.

Coral Coast:

There are quite a few options on the Coral Coast, from very basic setups to 5-star resorts. It’s further from Suva so you may want to stay longer than a weekend to make the most of it. Having said that, it doesn’t involve a boat transfer so there are more transport options, so it could actually work out more convenient for a weekend than some of the island options. (My wife and kids stayed there for 6 nights with my parents, while I stayed just for a long weekend.) We chose one of the cheaper options and stayed at the Tubakula bungalows. They were very reasonably priced and you were able to self-cater, so we saved a fortune on food by doing some grocery shopping in nearby Sigatoka. If you don’t feel like cooking, there is small restaurant in the reception area, and The Outrigger on the Lagoon (a huge resort) is just up the road as well. The rooms were right on the beach, which had a nice sheltered lagoon which was good for swimming/snorkeling, and again, well positioned for sunsets (do you detect a theme?!). There is quite a bit to do in and around Sigatoka and I would highly recommend the Kula Eco Park, which is just over the road from Tubakula – it’s very well set up with boardwalks winding through the rainforest, a good selection of native animals, knowledgeable staff and nice food available.

Radisson

We stayed at the Radisson Blu on Denarau Island for 3 nights between our time on Malolo and our flight home. This is a massive 5-star resort, and caters almost exclusively for holiday-makers from Australia, and in particular those that don’t want to be exposed to too much “culture”! Apart from the staff, and some token Fijian elements, you really could be anywhere in the world. It’s also very pricey (even with a local discount). But, having said that, it does have all the trappings and conveniences of a 5 star resort, and it was a nice, carefree place to stay before facing the flight back to Australia. It is also very conveniently located with only a 20 minute drive to the airport, and we used it as a base to see a few things around Nadi, including the Bulaccino cafe (we frequented the Suva one a lot during our stay and were keen to see the Nadi version) and The Garden of the Sleeping Giant, which is well worth a visit. The pool there is awesome, with a waterslide that the kids loved (and let’s be honest, so did I!), plenty of food options, pay TV and DVD player, and we had a two-bedroom apartment so plenty of room for the kids, and it even had a kitchen and laundry, so we actually went back to Australia with our bags full of clean clothes!

SCHOOLS/PRE-SCHOOL

Our 6-year-old attended The Multiple Intelligence School on McGregor Rd in Suva. This is a small school, based along similar lines to the Montessori philosophy. It was considerably cheaper than the International School, and much closer to our apartment (within walking distance). The staff and other families were very friendly, and the more laid back philosophy, with minimal homework, seemed to work well for our 3 month stay, and it was certainly great to have him occupied during school hours.

Our 4-year-old went to the Waldorf Kindergarten two and a half days a week. We weren’t sure how keen he’d be, but we took him along for a trial, and he loved it, and actually wanted to go 4 days a week! They also run a playgroup on Thursday mornings where parents can bring younger kids and stay with them, which my wife used with our 2-year-old.

RESTAURANTS/CAFES

Daikoku

A very nice Japanese restaurant located on Victoria Pde. Quite small, and very popular so you need to book ahead. We went early on in our stay and intended to go back, but every time we tried they were booked out. The food is cooked by one of the chefs on the BBQ at your table and tastes fantastic.

Bulaccino

Located in a small shopping strip called “Garden City” in Laucala Bay. Probably our favourite cafe, and certainly very popular with expats in general. Like all the cafes in Fiji, they use UHT milk which takes a bit of getting used to, but it has a good selection of cakes/muffins/slices etc, a small bakery as well a breakfast and lunch menu. Very friendly staff and a bit of room for kids to run around outside. We also visited the Bulaccino in Nadi which was also great, and even bigger than the Suva one.

Cafe Thirty

This was probably the best “discovery” of our time in Suva, as we just stumbled upon it ourselves rather than its being recommended to us by others. It was located just a few doors up from our son’s school on McGregor Rd, and has a very unassuming appearance from the road, looking like a house hidden behind a fence. But once you walk down the driveway, there is a nice little air-conditioned cafe/restaurant, with some outdoor seating and a small garden as well. They are open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and it was a popular stopping point when we were taking our son to and from school. The food and drinks were very good, with friendly service as well. It was also on the route I used to take walking to and from the hospital, so it was a good spot to stop on the way, or if I wanted to get some work done I was able to plug my laptop in while having a coffee.

Republic of Cappuccino (ROC)

This cafe was probably the closest of our most frequented cafes. As well as good coffee, there was a decent range of smoothies and cold drinks that the kids liked, as well as a good selection of food. It was in a convenient location as you would walk past it on your way to town, the library, markets etc. Once a month on a Sunday, there were markets held directly outside the cafe, which had a nice mix of bric-a-brac, clothing, food, books, plants, arts and crafts and so on.

Gloria Jeans

There were a number of Gloria Jeans around Suva, including one in the MHCC, one in the FBC building which was very close to the Cakobau Apartments, and one on Victoria Pde. We tended to prefer the other cafes listed above though either because they were better suited to children, had more food options, or were more conveniently located.

Holiday Inn

Located on the harbourfront, next to the old Grand Pacific Hotel (which is currently being renovated). We would often meet up here for dinner with other people, and even though they weren’t strictly allowed, the kids would often splash around in the pool while waiting for dinner. They had a wood-fired pizza oven as well as other menu options, and there was a reasonably priced kids’ meal option that included a main and dessert. It was a great spot to unwind, have a drink, and watch the sun set over the harbour. The live musical “entertainment” was a bit hit-and-miss, and quite loud if you sat near the stage! They also have a tourist info desk, which we used once or twice, and a number of buses and tours leave from out the front of the hotel. Very conveniently located across the road from Victoria Park, so only a short walk from our apartment.

Scott’s Restaurant

We went here for dinner with a group of people of work, and it was quite an unusual experience. The French cuisine was fantastic, with nice wine as well, but it was on the more expensive side compared to elsewhere in Suva. The setting was quite bizarre — you entered from an unassuming door on the street, and walked down a long hallway into what I would best describe as a cross between an American log cabin, and an English gentlemans’ club! Anyway, the food was great, the staff friendly, and we had a great evening there.

Great Wok of China

This was a Chinese restaurant located over the road from the MH supermarket in Flagstaff, and we got takeaway from here a few times. It was walkable from the apartment, but a taxi back if you wanted the food to stay hot.

Maya Dhaba

One of the many Indian restaurants in Suva, and (I was led to believe) one of the best. Its main restaurant was on Victoria Pde but it also had a takeaway outlet in the food court of the MHCC. We had takeaway a number of times, and also got there once for a sit down meal, and it was very nice.

Caffee One

This cafe is located on the ground floor of Tappoo City, and had a nice range of food and drinks, and again had a convenient powerpoint if you wanted to set up your office!

MISCELLANEOUS

Babysitting

Babysitting is very cheap, and in hindsight we didn’t really make the most of it. We had a lady recommended to us, and she only charged $5 Fijian per hour plus taxi fare home, and not only would she look after the kids, but the flat was invariably spotless when we got back.

Suva Expats Facebook Page

There is Facebook page where expats living in Suva ask advice about various things, list items for sale, provide recommendations and so on. Generally a very good source of information (it was this page that suggested both Beqa Island Resort and Leleuvia Island), and we also used it to sell some of our stuff when we left. Probably worth joining the page before you go so you can start asking questions about what to take etc.

Food at or Near the Hospital

I was surprised to discover that lunch was provided at the hospital, and would usually be some kind of curry and rice, bread roll/burger, or towards the end of the three months, as people were being farewelled, a full-on Fijian feast! There were a couple of street vendors selling food over the road from the hospital, and I braved these a few times and managed to avoid getting sick. Similarly, there is a cafeteria in the FNU Pasifika Campus just over the road, depending on how brave you are feeling! Around the corner on Waimanu road, there were also a few shops where you could buy food, and I would often buy donuts and lamingtons here that were popular with the trainees during tutes or viva practice!

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