FijiGuide Suva Walking Tour, Suva

FijiGuide Suva Walking Tour (Self Guided), Suva

Suva can lay certain claim to being the largest and perhaps the most livable city in the South Pacific outside New Zealand or Australia. The capital of Fiji since 1883, it is set on 15 sq km of peninsula adjacent to one of the finest naturally protected harbors in the South Seas, and is a home for about 330,000 residents (including suburbs and neighboring communities).

Apart from being the capital, Suva is also a traditional port of call for cruise ships and yachts, and as such, features a regular mixture of races and nationalities, with dozens of languages spoken daily. It’s a changeable city that sparkles in the sun and turns gray in the rain.

Prior to 1868, Suva was a small village, whose fortune changed that year thanks to an ambitious business proposal, hatched by the Australian-based Polynesia Company. The company purchased 23,000 acres of land in the Suva area with the intent of raising sugar cane. The cane endeavor didn’t work out though, but by 1877 the town had succeeded Levuka (the original capital on the island of Ovalau) to become the second capital of Fiji.

Once a bastion of colonial architecture, with white-suited and helmeted inhabitants to match, it now sports sleek high-rises and shopping centers, replete with modern conveniences. Hotels with verandas and billiard rooms have given way to modern monuments in some mythical Pan-Pacific style, complete with expansive swimming pools.

At first glance, these symbols of the present century seem to overwhelm the Suva of 150 years ago. But scattered about the city, sometimes in unexpected places, are the traces of the town that once was: the Fijian village turned planters’ settlement and then the capital. With a little sleuthing and historical perspective you can discover remnants of the old town.

These include attractions such as St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, one of the oldest surviving wooden buildings in Fiji, and the Ivi Triangle, the true historical center of the town. Among other sites of interest are the art deco Regal Theater, the bustling Suva Municipal Market, the Old Town Hall, the Grand Pacific Hotel, The Fiji Museum and the “Bat Trees”, near the Government Building gate.

Give yourself two to three hours to complete this self-guided introductory walk, and make sure to bring a bottle of water, umbrella and, generally, take your time. As a 1991 Los Angeles Times piece stated: “Stroll is the operative word. No one rushes in Suva. It is simply too hot and humid to go faster than a modified trot. Also, if you race, you will be stared at with vague disdain, the only disdain you’re likely to be shown in ultra-friendly Fiji.”

(This walk was created by Robert Kay, author of "Suva: A History and Guide" and fijiguide.com.)
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FijiGuide Suva Walking Tour Map

Guide Name: FijiGuide Suva Walking Tour
Guide Location: Fiji » Suva (See other walking tours in Suva)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 14
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.2 Km or 2 Miles
Author: ChristineS
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Suva Municipal Market
  • Curio & Handicraft Centre
  • The Ivi Triangle
  • Sacred Heart Cathedral
  • Regal Theater
  • Victoria Parade
  • Old Town Hall
  • Suva City Carnegie Library
  • St. Andrews Presbyterian Church
  • Naiqaqi/Government Buildings
  • Albert Park
  • Grand Pacific Hotel
  • Government House and the “Bat Trees”
  • Thurston Gardens and Fiji Museum
1
Suva Municipal Market

1) Suva Municipal Market (must see)

When you come to Suva — either by sea, via the Queen’s Road along the coast, or on Rodwell Road on your way in from the airport at Nausori — the Suva Municipal Market is one of the first reminders that this is, indeed, a cosmopolitan town. On the market’s ground floor you’ll see Polynesian, Chinese, Indian and Fijian vendors hawking everything a local household might need.

Choose your food: Fish? Freshwater prawns? Goat meat? Crab? Passion fruit? Taro? Cassava? Eggplant (also called “baigan” in Hindi or “baigani” in Fijian, depending on the language of the seller)?

Other merchants sell spices, freshly gathered shellfish, coconut oil and bundles of dalo (taro root). A section of new kiosks, toward the bus station, is the place to purchase “Indian sweets,” which range from overly sugary to savory. The variety of produce and seafood is boundless. You can easily spend an hour or more wandering the dimly lit corridors of this massive expanse of a market.

If you’re interested in purchasing souvenirs, you may want to segue over to the recently rebuilt Suva Flea Market (a block up Rodwell Road) directly across the street from the bus stand. The market has 160 shops in a streamlined, modern setting, more akin to a mall rather than the bazaar that characterized the earlier incarnation. There are also inexpensive but decent eateries inside the Suva Flea Market.
Image Courtesy of Robert Kay.
2
Curio & Handicraft Centre

2) Curio & Handicraft Centre

The Curio and Handicraft Centre (sometimes called the Municipal Handicrafts Centre) is located next to the modern multi story car park on the corner of Edward Street and Stinson Parade. It’s a long cinderblock building populated by carvers and other craftspeople.

There is a plethora of stalls stuffed with carvings, shell necklaces, mats, handbags, and other items. Here you can learn to distinguish between the dark, finely patterned Fiji “masi” — tapa, or bark cloth — and the light brown Tongan “ngatu,” with its freer design. Or choose between the round or turtle-shaped “tānoa,” the bowls used for preparing and serving kava.

As you round the corner on Stinson Parade from the Curio Centre, you’ll have a wonderful vista of Suva Harbor and Joske’s Thumb (a bluff on the distant side of the harbor) which is featured on Fiji’s $10 banknote.
3
The Ivi Triangle

3) The Ivi Triangle

The true historical center of Suva is the Ivi Triangle, marked by the angular convergence of Renwick Road and Scott Street.

As was most of the land on the seaside of Victoria Parade, this area was filled in, and it now serves as a small park, with a bench under the ivi (Tahitian chestnut) tree at the apex, and (especially on ship days) a row of handicraft vendors at the base. Unfortunately, the venerable tree sustained enormous damage during Tropical Cyclone Ana, in January of 2021, but survived in diminished form. It’s hoped that, someday, it will return to its former glory.

Inside the triangle is what is usually called a “historic marker,” and it is a rather unusual one too, for three of its four inscriptions are wrong, even if only slightly so:

>> “Suva Proclaimed Capital in 1882.”
Well, not really. The Home Government approved the move in March 1877, the Queen gave her approval in May, and on Aug. 1 The London Times was the medium for the public proclamation. 1882 was the year of the government’s official move from Levuka.

>> “Cross and Cargill First Missionaries arrived 14th October 1835.”
Well, close. The correct date, confirmed by Cross’s and Cargill’s diaries, was Oct. 12, 1835.

>> “Public Land Sales on this spot 1880.”
Someone found the wrong ivi tree. The land sales were held farther down Thomson Street, near the site of Morris Hedstrom and Company’s (originally Morris, Hedstrom, Ltd.) store.

>> “British Crown Colony 10th October 1874.”
This one is right. Development has changed the appearance of much of Victoria Parade. But if you continue walking south, you can still find some buildings that reflect the earlier character of the street.
4
Sacred Heart Cathedral

4) Sacred Heart Cathedral

The Sacred Heart Cathedral, also known as the Cathedral of Suva, is Fiji’s most prominent Roman Catholic temple. Located on Pratt Street, its construction began 1894 but wasn’t completed until 1939, some 150 years after the first Marist missionaries arrived in Fiji. The Gothic design includes sandstone blocks imported from Australia, concrete staircases and balustrades, and two towers. The central stained-glass window, above the altar, contains an image of a bilo (coconut shell cup), beneath the Sacred Heart of Jesus.

The cathedral serves as the headquarters of the Metropolitan Archdiocese of Suva (Archidioecesis suvana), which was created in 1966 by Pope Paul VI by bull "Prophetarum voices". A crypt, completed in 1896, now contains the remains of Archbishop Emeritus Petero Mataca, who was entombed here in 2014. The cathedral is depicted on a Fiji stamp issued in 1979.

If you retrace your steps back to the Ivi Triangle and cross Scott Street, you’ll find Suva’s most distinctive art deco treasure.
Sight description based on Wikipedia.
5
Regal Theater

5) Regal Theater

According to a February 22, 2021 Fiji Sun article, the Regal was the original flagship theater of the Damodar Cinemas in Fiji—one of the preeminent cinemas in town. It was air-conditioned, which was unusual for the era. In 1997 the theater closed its doors and was transformed into an arcade, filled with coin-operated games. The building was further converted, into a two-story retail outlet, in August 2019. A second-hand women’s clothing store currently occupies the bottom floor, while a men’s shop, along with the book section and the Catch Up Café, are on the top.

The architecture of the Regal Theater is art-deco and modernist design, a style that was popular in Australia, Britain and the USA. Built around 1920, the edifice characteristically includes vertical, zigzagged elements and round-fanned geometric art deco features. The front-facing symmetrical exterior has two bays, fronting walls and minimal elements flanking the main primary decorative and centralized bay. Balconies for each bay extend above the street level veranda. In general, the architect also may have been influenced by Cubism, Constructivism, Modernism and Futurism – movements in vogue during the 1920s.

If you continue walking down Scott Street, on your right-hand side you will find Ratu Sukuna Park. The boundary of this park, at the junction of Gordon Street and Scott Street, marks the beginning of Victoria Parade.
Image Courtesy of Robert Kay.
6
Victoria Parade

6) Victoria Parade

Suva’s showcase, Victoria Parade begins at the convergence of Gordon and Scott streets. Originally an unpaved street, with only a row of raintrees separating it from the shore, the city’s main drag has seen the sea recede as more and more land has been reclaimed over the years. Ambitious city plans once showed a visitors’ village nestled among man-made lagoons in the vicinity of the Civic Centre. In view of global warming, it’s probably best that the project never materialized.

Nowadays, Victoria Parade remains the throbbing epicenter of business, government, and shopping. Every bank, bureaucratic complex and travel bureau is found here, or within a stone’s throw. To sightsee in Suva means strolling down Victoria Parade and perhaps chatting with a friendly local.

Victoria Parade’s past is less glamorous and certainly less visitor-friendly. For years, its condition did not pay the reigning monarch much honor. An early issue of the Suva Times contained this complaint:

"At present there is barely room for a handcart to be drawn over and in consequence occasional cartloads are precipitated into the ditch with no benefit to the contents at any time and sometimes with grievous damage. We do not speak of the danger of life and limb because that is beneath the reckoning of any road maker from railway companies downward, but we may suggest that an effort to meet the one difficulty would also facilitate the passage of Her Majesty’s subjects in their goings to and from on Victoria Parade. A pair of lovers are scarcely safe in the present state of things if tempted to wander under a shadowy moonlight. "

Even by the mid-20th century, things had not improved much. The streets of the town were surfaced with coral, and on one occasion Victoria Parade was top-dressed with red soil, and before long, it was a sea of mud, inches deep. Eventually, a length of road near the Town Hall was properly formed and tar-sealed, and this was such a success that later the whole Parade was done in the same way.

The footpath, however, stopped at the corner of Macarthur Street, a circumstance reflected by John Russell, a well-known writer of short stories about the South Pacific, in the title of his 1921 book, Where the Pavement Ends.

In 1914, to facilitate the tourist trade, the street was extended “out of town” to the newly-built Grand Pacific Hotel.
7
Old Town Hall

7) Old Town Hall

Built in the early years of the 20th century as Queen Victoria Memorial Hall, Suva Town Hall — located on Victoria Parade, next door to the Suva City Library — was praised as one of the town’s amenities of civilization.

A 1910 tourist guide proclaimed that “it is well lighted with gas, and has a good state drop scene and scenery. Here visiting companies perform, and local amateur shows, dances, bazaars are held. The Municipal Offices and the Council Chamber are on the ground floor, and the upper story is used as a museum, where many valuable island curios and antiquities are on view.”

Especially because of its balconies and ornamental iron, the Town Hall is recognized as one of Suva’s finest examples of colonial architecture.

These days, the building is the home of the Vineyard Palace Restaurant, located on the ground floor, while upstairs is the Indian restaurant, called Ashiyana. If you are an Indian food aficionado, don’t miss this eatery.

Behind the Old Town Hall is a very fine municipal Olympic-size swimming pool. It is open to the public, with an admission price of just F$3.
Image Courtesy of Robert Kay.
8
Suva City Carnegie Library

8) Suva City Carnegie Library

Along with many other countries, Fiji was once the recipient of a grant from Andrew Carnegie for a public library. In 1908, the philanthropic steel magnate provided £1,500 to build the library, with the Suva Town Board providing a building site and £150 per year to maintain the property.

According to Isimeli Cerelala and Frances Pene, writing in their book Suva City Carnegie Library 100th anniversary 1908-2008, the Fiji government “provided a prominent site for the library premises in Victoria Parade between the Victoria Memorial Hall and the former Suva Boys’ Grammar School, now occupied by Government’s ITC [Information Technology and Computing Services].”

The library, built on one of the two waterfront sites that did not have to be reclaimed, opened in late 1909 with an initial collection of 4,200 books. The foundation stone of the original section, in the middle of the current structure, was laid by Gov. Everard im Thurn on Sept. 1, 1908, while G.J. [Gabriel] Marks was warden (mayor) of Suva.

In 1953, the book depository's name was changed to Suva City Library. The next year, the Fiji Museum, which had occupied the top floor of the library since 1930, moved to its new quarters in the Suva Botanical Gardens, later renamed Thurston Gardens.

As for the library itself, it witnessed many changes throughout its first century, including a return of “Carnegie”, in 2008, to the official name, introduction of internet service, a children’s library, a mobile library service, a significant renovation and a number of progressive programs that integrate the library with the needs of its patrons.
9
St. Andrews Presbyterian Church

9) St. Andrews Presbyterian Church (must see)

Surrounded by a white picket fence, St. Andrews Presbyterian Church is one of the oldest wooden buildings in Fiji. On September 29, 1883, the Fiji Times (known then as the Suva Times) ran a story announcing the official opening of the church for public worship. Once associated primarily with the colonial settler families, it slowly absorbed a wider community including students from the Pacific Theological College and the University of the South Pacific. Today, it features a Facebook page and still offers regular services led by Rev. Dr. Bruce Yeates.

The St. Andrews Presbyterian Church is a folk Gothic Revival building with a front-facing gable form and two bays on either side. The symmetrical windows are pointed-arch shaped. The pair closest to the central entry is larger and more vertical, with original stain glass on one of the windows. The main entry is roofed with a gable-facing façade and wood-framed double doors.
10
Naiqaqi/Government Buildings

10) Naiqaqi/Government Buildings

Occupying the site of Fiji’s first sugar mill, Naiqaqi is the name that was informally given to a large swath of land which begins at the Dophin Plaza (on Victoria Parade and Loftus Street) and extends southward to the present day iTaukei Land Trust Board, the Fiji Broadcasting Commission and the Government Buildings area.

Naiqai translates from the Fijian Language as “the mill,” but etymologically and colloquially, it has become known as “the crusher.”

If you’re a real history detective, keep your eyes peeled for a large gear on display near the corner of Carnarvon and Loftus Streets, behind FNPF Place. Local lore has it that the 5-foot diameter gear once belonged to the mill.

Growing cane to feed the mill was what initially brought settlers, many of them planters, to Suva.

The mill was built by Leicester Smith in 1873. Due to the shallow soil in the Suva area, the sugar venture was a failure. Eventually, the mill broke down and management did not honor its promise to buy the planters’ cane, so the mill was ultimately closed in late 1875.

Opposite the iTaukei Land Trust Board and Fiji Broadcasting Commission buildings, crossing Thurston Street, is the massive Government Building complex.

Until 1935, the area was a swamp, about 4 feet below present road level, with the mouth of a creek as its center and its bed in some places 60 feet lower than the surrounding areas. The swamp was filled with crushed soapstone, and although part of the creek was diverted to run alongside Albert Park, some water still flows through the loosely packed stones far below the buildings.

More than 3 miles of reinforced concrete piles, driven down to the creek bed, support the buildings. In 1937, the foundation stone was laid by Gov. Arthur Richards, and in 1939, the buildings were officially opened by Gov. Harry Luke.

The clock chimes, which divide the lives of Government Buildings office workers and nearby residents into 15 segments, from 6 a.m. to midnight, consist of five different tunes, all in the key of F major.

The new wing of Government Buildings was dedicated in 1967 by Gov. Derek Jakeway.
11
Albert Park

11) Albert Park

Albert Park was named for Prince Albert, the royal consort of Queen Victoria. Originally known as the Cricket Ground and Tennis Courts, it was a recreational reserve offered by merchants William Thomson and Samuel Renwick to the government as part of an inducement to move the capital from Levuka to Suva.

Albert Park has been the site of several historical events, but undoubtedly the most famous was as the ad hoc landing strip for Charles Kingsford Smith, who made the first aerial crossing of the Pacific — from Oakland, California to Brisbane, Australia — in 1928. The crew had never seen the proposed Suva landing place and did not know that a row of trees stretched across the middle of Albert Park.

Only the insistent urging of the Suva radio station manager, Robert Farquhar, persuaded the governor — against the wishes of the town authorities — to order the trees cut down and the ground leveled with cartloads of coral rock and sand, to accommodate the incoming plane. It worked. The Southern Cross had no brakes, but on the afternoon of June 5, 1928, with superb skill, Smith put the plane down in the park, with only feet to spare at the end as he swung the two-engine Fokker around almost at right angles and brought it to a stop.

By 2019, upgrades to Albert Park had transformed the venerable grounds into a modern sports complex. The level of the pitch was raised with new soil, the problem of flooding was solved by installing a modern drainage system, and the area was refurbished with high-quality sod, which vastly improved the surface of the playing field. New fencing around the periphery was also installed.

The park’s crowning glory was the construction of a massive grandstand that can seat up to 1,000 spectators and includes corporate lounges, VIP rooms, seating for the disabled, a control room and parking for 28 vehicles.

To get to the next landmark on our tour, the Grand Pacific Hotel, simply cross Victoria Parade.
Image Courtesy of Robert Kay.
12
Grand Pacific Hotel

12) Grand Pacific Hotel (must see)

The site of the Grand Pacific Hotel was reclaimed from the a narrow fringe of sand, mud and seaweed that marked the spot. In a little over 40 years, hotel accommodation in Fiji was changed from the rough shack that passed for the “Suva Hotel” to an edifice that set the standard for the entire Pacific. Built by the Union Steam Ship Co. as a staging point for New Zealand- and Canadian-based shipping services in the North and South Pacific, the hotel opened in May 1914.

The design of the hotel followed that of the first-class accommodations in ships of the day. On one side, the bedrooms opened onto wide decks. On the other, they gave access to a balcony that looked down on the main lounge and dining room. Saltwater baths and shipboard plumbing were further reminders of the hotel’s architectural inspiration.

Sadly, in the 1970s and ‘80s, the grand old lady inexorably declined. The past glory was etched indelibly on its façade, but during those years, it morphed into a sideshow, a dissolute Victorian-era caricature where rooms were often rented by the hour.

What to do? Everyone seemed to have an idea, and ownership changed, but nothing substantial happened. Finally, in 1992, it shut down.

Fortunately, like a Phoenix, the place rose from its ashes after, in 2011, plans for its reconstruction were announced. A joint venture between the Fiji National Provident Fund, Papua New Guinea Superannuation Fund and Lamana Development PNG implemented the project taking pains to ensure accurate and “sympathetic” restoration of the building, with input from many sources, including the Fiji National Trust.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that those involved with the project did a magnificent job of restoration. Today the hotel is an icon once again.
13
Government House and the “Bat Trees”

13) Government House and the “Bat Trees”

Back in 1882, as the government was preparing to move the capital from Levuka to Suva, it was natural that a fitting residence be provided for the governor. In a series of fits and starts the current incarnation of the Government House (also known as the Presidential Palace) was completed in 1928.

The architectural style was Georgian revival. Classic features include symmetry, refinement, harmony, and elegance, with new shifts in the materials used for construction. There are a range of structural elements such as verandas and Regency-style porticoes, pediments, decorative ornaments, parapets and arched balconies. Other Regency influences included the use of recesses around windows to cast shadows and divide the facade of buildings into panels, and stucco, which was used as an exterior wall finish. There also are shutters and stylized motifs. The roofs are side-facing gables with eaves.

A stoic-looking soldier or two are posted at the gate, which indicates that this building is most certainly off limits. The guards are clad in starched whites sulus, or sarongs, and red tunics. The changing of the guard is an event popular with visitors. To find out the best time to see it, contact Tourism Fiji for the schedule.

Opposite the Government House is a path along the seawall that makes a wonderful promenade.

While you’re in the neighborhood, don’t forget the “Bat Trees,” which are on the premises of the Government House, just behind the imposing fence that encloses the property. You’ll need to stroll about 200 meters past the sentry to find the trees. You can spot the Bat Trees any time of the day. Fruit bats, the denizens of the trees (also called “flying foxes”), are rather large, noisy creatures. The real show begins at dusk when scores of the bats come to life.
14
Thurston Gardens and Fiji Museum

14) Thurston Gardens and Fiji Museum (must see)

Thurston Gardens was opened at the present site on August 15, 1913. (It had been previously situated in another neighborhood). The most prominent landmark in the park is the drinking fountain, erected by Mayor Henry Marks in January of 1914. Shortly after its inauguration, Mayor Marks was drowned in the St. Lawrence River, Canada, through the sinking of the S.S. Empress of Ireland, May 23, 1914. In his memory an octagonal bandstand, with its classical, columned clock tower was opened by the governor, Sir Bickham Sweet-Escott, on June 7, 1918.

The Fiji Museum, which is adjacent to the east end of the park, was founded on a collection presented to the Suva Town Board by former Gov. William Allardyce in 1904.

Among the exhibits are collections of war clubs, ivory necklaces, cannibal forks, spears, bowls, pottery, tools, cooking utensils, combs, and a replica of a huge drua, an ancient, double-hulled canoe. One of the war clubs, used in battle, has several notches chiseled in it, each representing an enemy slain.

The rear of the museum is dedicated to the arrival of European and U.S. sailing vessels, highlighting the bêche-de-mer, whaling and sandalwood eras. There is also an exhibit illustrating the saga of the Indian indenture period, and the infamous blackbirding trade that brought Micronesians and Melanesians to Fiji. In addition, you’ll see actual relics from the legendary HMS Bounty. There is also a superb collection of old masi (tapa bark cloth) in an air-con room.

Opening Hours:
Monday-Thursday, Saturday: 9:30 am – 4:30 pm; Friday 9:30 – 4 pm

Tips:
The Ginger Café, on the Museum’s deck, is a wonderful place to take a break and congratulate yourself for completing the walking tour. It’s a great spot to chill if you’re waiting to catch a cab back to your hotel.