I think I fell in love with Ovalau island in general, and Levuka in particular, the moment we stepped off the ferry and looked along the main street that runs alongside the seawall. If there was one place in Fiji in which I could imagine staying put long term, this is it.
There was just something about the old buildings, the character and feeling of a place that time forgot. Levuka was granted world heritage status in 2013, a testament to the long history of Fiji’s first capital. In fact when I look back at old black and white photos (circa 1930s) of Levukas main street, it seems almost nothing has changed, other than the vehicles are a bit more modern.
When we arrived, there were few friendly locals out and about and buying selling produce on the roadside, the occasional vehicle, and an overwhelming sense that life was to be lived and experienced, not rushed. As John from the Levuka Homestay informed me, “taking a nap is a legitimate activity here.”
While this is not the typical island destination you associate with Fiji (white sandy beaches, cocktails by the pool and kid friendly resorts), it has it’s own “old world” charm.
Tourism doesn’t play a huge role in the Ovalau economy, party due to the fact that it’s a little more difficult to get to, and partly due to a lack of promotion. The main tourist corridor on Viti levu (along the Coral Coast) has a well organised and extensive transport system, getting people to and from their resorts quickly and easily. It’s the same with the Mamanuca and Yasawa island groups. So naturally, these are the places your travel agency will offer you when you make an inquiry about a holiday in Fiji.
Ovalau on the other hand, takes a lot more effort to reach. We spend a few days there and I don’t recall actually seeing ANY tourists. Perhaps they were there and we just didn’t see them, but the fact remains – they are few and far between.
And you know what? maybe that’s how it should be. Perhaps the day will come when travel agencies offer Ovalau as a destination, the main street begins to fill with souvenir shops, and the lives of the islanders start to change. While I would love to see the prosperity that a booming tourist trade would bring to the local people, I can’t help but feel Ovalau would lose some of it’s magical charm in the process. I hope it’s not for a long time yet.
Getting To Ovalau
You have a choice of travelling by bus and ferry, or a short 15 min flight from Suva. We have done both ways, and enjoyed one as much as the other. Sometimes travel is just something you put up with to get to your destination. Not this time, the journey is part of the Ovalau experience!
Flights From Nadi: Your first task is to get from Nadi to Nausori airport, and Fiji Airways have an early morning flight that arrives in time to connect to the Suva-Ovalau flight. This departs Nadi at 6.30am, arriving in Suva 30 min later, in time for the 8am flight to Ovalau. Prices are quite cheap. At the time of writing this (Aug 2019) you could get a one way flight from as low as FJ$43.65, with return flights for under 100. Definitely the way to go, to cut travel times, compared to using bus/ferry and taxis.
Flights From Suva: The Northern Air flight departs Suva airport at 8am, and as the plane only holds a handful of passengers, it pays to book ahead in plenty of time. The last time we took this flight, the cost was in the region of fj$90 one way, and takes around 15 minutes. The plane doesn’t reach a great height, perhaps a few thousand feet, almost low enough to see individual coconuts in the treetops.
This makes for a fantastic view of the myriad of coral reef circles around the numerous small islands and atolls that your pass on the way to Ovalau. And even better, every person on the plane gets a window seat.
Patterson Bros Bus/Ferry From Suva: The bus departs from the main station (near the flea market) at 1pm, travels north to Navoti landing, and then drives onto the ferry. A short 1hr or less sailing gets you to Ovalau, then it’s back on the bus for a 1hr (or thereabouts) trip around the coastal road to Levuka. Cost is in the region of fj$35, and you need to book ahead.
Venu Shipping Bus/Ferry From Suva: There is now a new service that does the Suva to levuka route using the bus/ferry combination. Their ferry (the St Mary) is more modern, and instead of docking on the western side and bussing around to Levuka, the ferry goes there directly.
Our Recommendation On Getting There From Nadi
Here is What We Recommend As The Best and Cheapest Way to Get There
For the easiest option, we recommend an early flight to Suva that connects to the flight to Ovalau. Reasonably cheap, this cuts out all the hassle of making connections, booking headaches etc, and really doesn’t cost a whole lot more than using taxis bus and ferry.
Or Bus/Ferry Going From Nadi to Ovalau…
1. Catch an early morning Express bus from Nadi to Suva. This will cost you under fj$20pp. The trip takes about 4 hours, along the Queens highway, with a 15min stop at Sigatoka. These leave on a regular basis from the main Nadi bus station, and from the airport every hour or so.
2. Take the Patterson Brothers Bus/Ferry trip that departs the main Suva bus station at 1.00pm. You will need to book in advance. The cost for bus and ferry is about fj$35, or thereabouts. The trip takes about 2.5hrs by bus to the wharf at Navoti Landing a 45min ferry crossing, and then another hr or so to Ovalau. When you look at the cost of approximately fj$65pp to travel from Nadi to Ovalau, it’s dirt cheap!
Patterson Bros website and their email address. firstname.lastname@example.org
2. Either a flight from Suva to Nadi (there is one at 10.am, and another at 12.15pm) or take a bus/taxi into town to get an express bus. Flight prices vary a lot on the Suva/Nadi route, depending on the time of year and how far you plan ahead. I found that booking several months in advance, I could find very cheap fares.
Where To Stay In Levuka
While there are plenty of accommodation choice on Ovalau (and not all of them in Levuka) we will just show you four that we know of and recommend. Which one you choose is up to you – it depends on your budget and requirements.
Levuka Homestay: For couples that want a comfortable bed, good conversation with the owners (Aussie expats John and Marylyn) as well as the most wonderful breakfast you can imagine, then book in at the Levuka Homestay. We loved it so much we extended our stay. This is on a hill overlooking the bay, a 5 min walk from the main street.
New Mavida Lodge Hotel: Located at the northern end of the main street, this is a very modern hotel wityh extrmely reasonable room rates. While we haven’t stayed here ourselves, we have talked with the owner, and looked around the rooms and facilities. We have to say… we would book accommodation here without hesitation. For those that are on a tighter budget, they have very clean dorms as well. They don’t have a website, so you email them at email@example.com
Royal Hotel: This has the distinction of being the oldest hotel in Fiji, and the history just oozes out of the place. The old gal is showing her age, but that just adds to the charm. Behind the hotel they have a variety of self contained cabins, so this makes a great choice for those that are on holiday with the kids.
Their website doesn’t have up-to-date rates, but their published prices in 2016 ranged from fj$35 for a single, to fj$80 for a quad room. Cottages at the back of the hotel started at fj$99 and have TV, kitchen etc. I’m sure rates have increased since then, but that gives you at least a ballpark figure. Website is http://www.royallevuka.com/ and you can email them at Royal@connect.com.fj
Claras Lodge (backpackers): This is probably the cheapest accommodation, but is kept clean, tidy, and with extremely friendly and helpful staff. There are single rooms as well as dorms. Staff can help you organise activities such as hiking tours, fishing, or even visits to some of the outlying islands.
Things To Do on Ovalau, And in Levuka
While Ovalau might appear to be asleep most of the time, appearances can be deceptive. There are plenty of trips and activities on offer – you just have to find out what’s available and generally book ahead.
If history and culture is your cup of tea, then Levuka is THE place to visit while in Fiji. It was granted world heritage site status not so long ago (2013), due to the historical significance of the town. You can see the history everywhere you look, but to get a better appreciation, some of the locals will conduct personalised walking tours. Just ask your accommodation provider.
There are a few pristine islands in the Lomaviti group, and the Levuka Informational website is a good place to make a start with finding out how to visit them.
For those that are reasonably fit and active, there are a number of hiking trips that can be arranged. These include a trip to Ovalau’s only inland village, which sits up in the hills in the middle of the island.