Recently I told a few people at work about an adventure I had many years ago when traveling through the South Pacific. One of my coworkers remarked, “You have had many exciting adventures!” My initial reaction was to downplay that comment, but then I thought back to some of the events in my past and realized that there were definitely some interesting moments. Perhaps one of the more exciting ones involved a trip to Fiji.
I have family in New Zealand and the trips I’ve made to visit them have been on Air New Zealand from Los Angeles. I don’t know if they still offer it but years ago, for a slightly higher than normal airfare, Air New Zealand offered the option to basically island hop in the Pacific. As a result, I got to briefly visit exotic places like Rarotonga, Tahiti, and Fiji.
On one trip, traveling with a family friend, I spent several days in Fiji on the way home from New Zealand. It was a wonderful time with many interesting experiences. For example, I got so entranced by snorkeling on the Coral Coast of Viti Levu, that I lost track of time and received the worst sunburn of my life. Then there was the time my friend and I walked the beaches at night, hunting for coconut crabs and scaring ourselves silly. Or the time we were invited to participate in a traditional kava ceremony in a Fijian islander community after befriending a worker in the resort where we were staying.
Partway through our visit, though, we heard news of an approaching cyclone. Although we were staying on the leeward side of Viti Levu and therefore a bit more protected, we grew increasingly concerned about the potential for harm. This concern sharpened when Fiji’s main radar station conked out completely, leaving everyone in the dark about the exact whereabouts of the cyclone and unsure of when it would hit. Funnily enough, my friend was more concerned about getting hit by falling coconuts than anything else!
We decided to get out of the country if possible, ahead of the storm. As it turned out, we were able to catch the last flight from Nadi. Because of the inability to know exactly where the storm was centered, flight preparation was more tense than usual, and I was quite nervous on takeoff. What made it worse was that the pilots flew the plane low for about an hour, constantly switching direction as they tried to find a safe way through the storm. It was a tense time, but we eventually made it. I’ll never forget that feeling, though, of just hanging in the sky at night, continually at a sharp takeoff angle and therefore pressed back into our seats, waiting to see if we’d make it through.
My friend and I have often laughed about the whole experience since then, but it was definitely something I don’t want to go through ever again. It turned out that it was a very wise choice for us to leave when we did because the cyclone was one of the most devastating in Fiji’s history, killing many people and wiping out the roads we travelled from our resort to the airport. There is even a Wikipedia entry about Cyclone Kina.
Below are a few photos from the trip to give context. Unfortunately, since then, I’ve never had the opportunity to go back. Some day, maybe. I’d really enjoy spending more time in Rarotonga, especially, if I ever got the chance.