I’ve set myself another travel challenge – to get myself to the furthest point away from home on planet Earth. I want to get myself to the complete opposite side of the world to Grimsby. But its going to take some doing.
It was an idea that came to me thanks to one of my friend Neil’s housemates in Alice Springs a couple of months ago. He was from Fiji, and handed me a magazine that outlined what there was to do in the islands. My eyes fell on a page all about the date line.
Now, this in itself is something very few people ever get to visit. The chance to stand half in today, half in tomorrow. Or half in yesterday, half in today. However you want to look at it. It confuses me to even think about it.
Anyway, there are only three places in the world where you can stand on the actual, true, international date line without getting wet in the Pacific Ocean. One is in Siberia, another is in the Arctic Circle, both of which I have no plans to go near anytime soon.
Which leaves one more – in Fiji. Which, incase you didn’t see my last post, is where I find myself for the next six days. It means I don’t have a great deal of time, and it’s a bit of a toss-up between switching off on a paradise island for a few days, or setting off on another adventure somewhere, seeing the country in the process.
Now, the thing that swung the decision for me was through a bit of research and slow realisation. The international date line sits on the 180° Meridian line, one of the imaginary lines used for time and dating around the world. And then I thought back to home.
Cleethorpes, the town next to Grimsby, has the Greenwich Meridian Line running straight through it. And that, it took me a while to realise, is in other words the 0° line.
Of course, a full circle, like the big circle that is the planet we all sit on, has 360° in it before you reach wherever you first started off. Which means 180° is exactly halfway around. Which means it is the exact furthest point you can be from 0°.
Now, for all of this, you can quite simply read that Fiji, or should I say, a part of Fiji, is precisely the furthest point away from Cleethorpes that you can get. And that, I think, is a fairly cool fact.
The slight snag is that the particular island the 180 line passes through is called Taveuni, and its pronunciation isn’t the problem. It’s the fact that it lies quite a long way north from Nadi, the town I landed in on the main island.
I looked into flights. There’s an airline called Pacific Sun that will fly me there from Nadi, but at a price. Over £300 return is a sizeable chunk of my remaining travel fund, and out of the question. I started to write off the idea. Besides, a week in the sun on an idyllic beach would be quite nice.
But then that nagging thought that has plagued me at moments like this throughout my journey came back. The voice in my head was telling me I’ll probably only ever be here this one time in my life. And once I have left these shores for Los Angeles, there will be no going back. No other chances to look on a map at where it says International Date Line and know that I have been there.
And I will always know that I had the chance to say I have been as far away from home as possible, but never took it.
That’s when I found out about a ferry. There are three a week, its relatively cheap and it leaves at a time that means I should be able to make it back to Nadi for my flight. But it leaves from Suva, on the south of the main island and a hefty drive away from Nadi. Already I have picked up that Fiji isn’t necessarily geared up for independent backpacking, but surely there is a way of reaching it.
Thankfully, while trying to drink the local poison of Kava, made from plant roots, I got talking to staff from a nearby hostel.
“You can do it, yeah you can do it. Infact, we have a trip leaving on Friday,” I was told
It was music to my ears.
And so, at 9.30am this morning, I had packed my bags, said goodbye to the staff where I had been staying and rolled up at the Bamboo hostel, where the travel guy was waiting for me.
“Bula! Good morning Phil,” he smiled, directing me to put my bags down.
“So, you’ll get a driver that will take you to Suva for FJ$18 (£6) then its an overnight ferry that leaves at 6pm for $68. That will get you to Taveuni for lunchtime on Saturday, you can stop off at the line, then spend the night at the hostel there before coming back on the ferry on Sunday, arriving back here for Monday.”
It is a long way to go, but the way I see it, I will see far more of Fiji, and experience more of life in these remote islands, by travelling with the locals and making my way to the northern islands in search of my unique spot on the globe.
There were three others who will make the long journey with me, two American guys called Craig and Michael, and a Canadian girl called Marie. We loaded our bags into the back of the people carrier and set off down the dusty road towards Nadi, where we dropped off a couple of people in the town centre.
The drive to Suva took us through the lush fertile landscape that Fiji is famous for. It was a drive that took us past fields full of sugar cane crops and colourful pink and blue houses set on hills, surrounded by fresh fruit and vegetables growing all around. The beautiful deep blue Pacific Ocean was sending waves crashing onto the surrounding reef. Out to sea, some of the many small islands that litter the coastline around the main island, swathes of bright blue water marking the areas of coral. This was more like the tropical island I had been expecting to see.
It was a bumpy, dusty ride in places, the windows open slightly to let in a much needed breeze. Having thought we’d been put into a private transfer to Suva, we soon began to get some company in the form of locals along the way. With just one main road around the edge of the islands, hundreds of minibuses, like the one I’m on, ply for trade by cruising along the road, picking up anyone that indicates they need a ride. It’s a mode of transport that seems to work well, for just a few cents from the locals. Some would hop in and get out just a few miles down the road, some would climb onboard and stay for a while, getting out at a major town half an hour away. But all would jump in with a huge smile and a friendly ‘Bula!’ before settling into their seat. It’s a greeting we all return with gusto!
A couple of hours down the road we stopped at the service station, and while it was a welcome break to stretch our legs, a Welcome Break this was not. A small shack selling everything from toasted sandwiches and crisps to sausages and chips – pretty much everything you could want on a long trip, but in typically Fijian surroundings.
It was a typical small town on the island, and yet again the people were incredibly friendly. It was also cheap, with some fresh pineapple, a bottle of coke and three bags of crisps for the journey setting me back just over the equivalent of a pound. Maybe that was the biggest difference to the service stations back home – the fact you don’t need to remortgage your house for some refreshments.
Another two and half hours down the road, we arrived in Suva, the capital. We called at the port first, catching my first glimpse of the ferry that will become home for the next couple of days. I say ferry, it was more of a rusting cargo ship, a former Greek vessel that sailed the Aegean Sea, shuttling between the islands since it was built in the 1960s. It was certainly showing its age in places, and that was just by looking at it from the shore.
But there was still five hours to go before the 6pm sailing, so we were dropped off in the nearby city centre, and for me it was time to sort out a few errands while I was in relative civilisation – a new memory card for my camera, a postcard for the parents so it can be stuck on the world map they are plotting my journey on, a new t-shirt and a new towel, having left my Australia flag one in a hostel in New Zealand. I’ve replaced it with a Fiji flag – it’s a much nicer, bright blue anyway.
It was also a chance to grab a few supplies from the supermarket, as I’d been warned food onboard the ship was expensive. Having got fed up of bread and Vegemite, it was time for a change. Bread and peanut butter it was.
After a few photos around the city, it was time to meet the others and find a taxi back to the port and continue my journey to the far side of the world. It was FJ$68 for the one-way ticket to Taveuni, about £22. Considering I was paying more than that for one night at a hostel around Australia, it was a price worth paying for travel and accommodation for the night. The only catch is you don’t get a bed, it’s a case of sleeping in the seating area for the night, but having spent a fair few nights on Greyhounds or on planes in such a sleeping position, it shouldn’t be a problem.
We arrived at the port to find a completely different scene to the one we’d left a few hours previous, with crowds of people now gathered around the stern doors to the ferry, a busy scene of people saying goodbye to loved ones, hauling bags and boxes up onto the ship, and of lorries and vans trying to manoeuvre themselves up the steep ramp and into position in the hold of the ship.
“Taveuni?” nods a man from the ship, taking my bag and placing it with countless others that had been piled inside a shipping container. I made my way up through the fume-filled cargo area and up a steep rusting stairwell, covered in oil and grime, and across the decks towards the passenger area.
It was there that I found most seats had already been taken, with an abnormally high number of mothers spread out and lounging around with their offspring on mats on the floor. Many were between the rows of seats, others just clogged up the gangways. I managed to find a seat next to an older Fijian man called Henry, who was interested in my journey and where I had been.
“I’ve just got a new job, working at a hotel in Taveuni. This is the furthest I have ever travelled, I’ve never been on a big ship like this,” he tells me.
“I’m hoping its nice on the island. I don’t like leaving my friends and family behind.”
It was interesting to hear one of the locals talk about the journey like that, and a reminder that while the price is relatively cheap for myself, even on my dwindling budget, it is still a lot of money for those who live here. It is a journey few will ever make, although Henry is full of praise for me making a break away from the well-trodden party island routes of countless backpackers before me.
While Henry was a really nice bloke, he also happened to be one of the worst snorers I have come across on the trip so far. I had a warning when he took a very loud nap shortly after we drifted away from Suva, prompting me to have a good look around the ship. There were many more seating areas in the open air on deck, and people were already setting up to spend the night under the stars. I felt lucky to at least have a padded seat indoors.
After a round of peanut butter sandwiches, the lights suddenly went out. It was 8.30pm, and the crew had decided it was late enough for us all to still be awake, and so in a not so subtle manner, forced us all to bed. Thankfully I kept typing away under the glow from my netbook screen, while all around me began to settle for the night. I unfurled my sleeping bag and got as comfortable as I could before eventually trying to get some sleep myself. All was going well, even managing to fall asleep, until I heard a deep, bass-filled rumbling sound.
It was Henry, and he was fast asleep. And how. Amid all the background noise on the ship – the engines, the air conditioning, the screaming babies – Henry managed to outdo them all. Others, too, were looking over in my direction, having been awoken by Henry’s howls. My seat was vibrating with the force of his snoring, and there was little I could do but try to shut it out. I tried for half an hour, and then the baby right behind me began screaming. I couldn’t take anymore – I wriggled out of my sleeping bag, put my valuables in my pockets, and made my way to the top deck.
It might have been outside, it might have been on a rusting, gap-filled bench, and it might have been at the worst point on the ship to feel the full effect of the rolling Pacific Ocean waves, but at least it was relatively quite, aside from the sound of the water crashing against the ship. That, combined with the rocking of the boat, actually sent me off into a relatively deep sleep, apart from waking up periodically through the night thanks to some agonisingly uncomfortable aches from the hard metal bench.
It was lunchtime the following day before I finally got my first glimpse of Taveuni. It’s known as the Garden Island of Fiji, thanks to it being the wettest of all the islands, which in turn means it produces more fruit and vegetables than any other in the country. From across the magnificently deep blue sea we were sailing through, the island seemed shrouded in cloud, growing greener and greener the nearer we sailed to our final destination.
After almost 20 hours onboard the ship, we were finally allowed back down to the vehicle deck to collect our bags, and met by Rafa, who is part of the team from the delightfully named Tuvununu backpackers on the island. I asked him if we could stop off at the 180 Meridian on the way north to the resort, and thanks to a kind driver, he agreed.
It was just a five minute ride to the actual line. It is marked by a sign, divided into two, which sits at the far side of a playing field. Unbeknown to me, I have already crossed the International Date Line into ‘yesterday’, but this is something that becomes normal for the 9,000 people who live here. Because of the natural problems that having a country split in half by a day (imagine the TV listings for a start – who knows when Coronation Street would be on?!) the date line, for the sake of countries and islanders like those in Fiji, actually zig-zags around the land masses in the southern Pacific. But the true date line is at 180 degrees, and as I walk over towards the sign, I notice a building with ‘2000’ painted onto the roof.
“That’s because so many people from around the world came here for the Millennium,” Rafa tells me.
“This was the first place where the new Millennium dawned, when sun first rose in 2000, and so they marked it by painting the roof.”
I approached the sign along with the rest of the group from Nadi who had been taken in by my story of how I was about to stand at the complete opposite side of the globe to my home town. Only a couple of them had actually realised the significance of the line until I told them about it.
The sign was rotting slightly at the edges, but there was all the confirmation still remaining painted on it that I was indeed standing on the 180 Meridian. I looked out to the north, knowing that if I walked in a dead straight line – or swam over the wet bits – I would indeed eventually walk straight up onto the beach at Cleethorpes and along the coastal path in the town near the Humberston Fitties. It was a baffling thought, and I looked through the gap in the sign showing where the Meridian passes through, gazing out over the Pacific Ocean and thinking of home so many thousands of miles away.
My next baffling thought was that of what day I was standing in. Strangely, I was standing in both – my right side of the body was in 1pm ‘today’, Saturday, June 30, while the left side of my body was standing in 1pm ‘yesterday’. A strange phenomenon, and one that raises further questions when the sun sets at that particular point. I puzzled over which night you are actually seeing.
It was also a weird thought to look at how the island was divided by the line, knowing that in reality, two different days are ongoing. A few of us chatted about it, and agreed it changes your whole perspective on time, days and what actually constitutes a 24 hour period, as if by standing at that point had made us realise that actually, what we live our entire lives by is infact just a clever way of regulating life by the constant sunrise and sunsets that the revolution of the earth brings.
Having spent 20 minutes taking in the odd knowledge that I am as far away from home as possible, we all made our way back to the minivan and on to the accommodation. And for a backpacker hostel, what accommodation it was – a wooden deck overlooking an amazing blue lagoon, opposite a tropical island and surrounded by hammocks and relaxing chairs. It was a perfect place to relax, and I was already regretting only being there for one night. With the ferry returning the following day, and it being the best part of a week before it returns, I had to catch it to go back in order to make my onward flight to America.
I made the most of my time at the Tuvununu lodge though, getting to know people, sharing Kava and even taking a canoe out in the afternoon, being set a challenge by Rafa to make it across to the island on the opposite side of the lagoon.
From the hostel, it didn’t look too far, but it took a hard half an hour of frantic paddling to safely make it through the current and across the choppy waters to the palm-fringed island. I took shelter from the current in a small bay, even getting out of the Kayak to officially step foot on the island. There wasn’t a beach as such, just a rocky, shingle cove full of driftwood and rotting leaves that had been washed up onto the shore. I picked up a rock and a leaf to take back to Rafa as proof of making the crossing.
Thankfully, the return back was a little easier with a back wind, and I arrived in the hostel to a congratulatory word from Will, one of the residents who would also be sailing back with me to Suva the following day.
“I’ve been here a week and I’ve not managed to do that, so fair play to you for doing it on your first afternoon,” he said. Craig, who I had travelled from Nadi with, even took a photo of me after being surprised how far I’d had to paddle.
“It really shocked me to see the perspective of how small you looked,” he said.
My time in Taveuni came to an end far too quickly. Before I knew it, I was back in a taxi and heading back to the ferry terminal for the return trip onboard Sofi, the Spirit of the Fiji Islands. There was a bit of amusement for us all as we watching the crew of a neighbouring ship, the Lomaviti Princess, struggling to haul in a small boat that they had been using to bring in the mooring ropes.
Having struggled to slide the boat onto the stern door, they came up with a novel way of getting the problematic vessel back inside the mother ship – attaching it to a forklift truck, and driving the forklift as quickly as possible inside the ship. There was an almighty bang as it hit the door, but aside from that, they somehow got the boat back onboard.
It was entertaining to watch, and laughed in the face of all our health and safety laws and regulations back home. I can’t quite imagine one of the ships leaving Immingham Docks carrying out the same procedure in the Humber. It was while doing some research into the ship that I found this little gem on Wikipedia, and it made me smile. Its about the launch of the vessel, formerly a ferry in Canada
“The launching did not proceed without incident. The traditional smashing of a champagne bottle against the hull was to be performed by the wife of the Speaker of the Legislature, W H Murray. Moments before, however, a young boy ran across the dock and tripped over the rope which restrained the chains holding the vessel to the ways. Instead of being launched by the pull of a lever, the Queen of Prince Rupert was sent down the ways prematurely by accident.
Mrs. Murray belatedly pulled a second lever to propel the champagne bottle, but it missed the boat. Harold Husband, president of the shipping line, grabbed the bottle on its return swing and tried to smash it against the hull, but the bottle only bounced off. Then the winds pushed the unpowered vessel directly towards a grain dock. Nearby tugs quickly moved in to keep the QPR out of danger. To ensure that there would be no bad luck associated with an improperly christened ship, Mrs. Murray later “threw another bottle of bubbly at the frisky ferry” as it lay tied up to a pier.“
There is perhaps no wonder the crew can find it a struggle onboard that particular ship. I decided not to look into the mishaps that happened when my particular mode of transport was launched, but thankfully I found a much quieter lounge for the night, setting up a proper bed on the floor like the locals and getting a decent amount of sleep before arriving in Suva at dawn.
I had booked into the Beachouse, a place recommended to me by my friend Cat, who had stayed shortly before ending her travels around the world in March. It was also heavily advertised everywhere, so I thought it would be worth a try, and thankfully it was. With an early arrival at 9am, I was half expecting to be told to wait around until I could check in later in the day, but to my relief and surprise, I was shown to my room and told to help myself to breakfast.
“You’re only here for one night, but stay as long as you need and use all our facilities tomorrow too,” I was told. Refreshing.
I helped myself to breakfast, talking to the friendly staff and using the free wifi to catch up with events back home, while also making my parents slightly green by turning the camera around to show them my view of a paradise beach, turquoise waters and hammocks where I was to spend a lazy couple of days relaxing.
It was two days of perfect sunsets, afternoon tea and cakes (another great free touch by the Beachouse) meeting fellow travellers, catching up on the blog and exploring the shallow reef that was just a few metres from the hammocks I grew so attached to.
One of the highlights was walking out to the coral drop-off at low tide, watching the Pacific waves pounding against the reef, and looking at scores of blue starfish, commonly found in these waters, but for me a totally alien species that I was amazed by. They were an incredible colour, and there were so many of them.
I almost had to pinch myself on several occasions. Fiji is a country that lies so far away from home – quite literally on the other side of the world – that I am unlikely to ever visit again, yet I had found a place which summed up my expectations.
This was the paradise people had been speaking to me about, yet there are dozens of other islands that I am told are even better. Hard to imagine, yet in a place where you can stand in two days at once, find drinking something that tastes like pond water as enjoyable, and almost shatter windows with a snore, there’s little that can surprise me anymore here.
Combined with some of the friendliest people I have met – the Fijians are on a par with the Thais for the friendliest on the planet for me – it was a stay on a faraway island I will always remember