Monday, 23 February 2009

Dateline Taveuni

This is a trimmed-down version of a piece I had published about my visit to Taveuni, part of Fiji, some years ago...

When I arrived on the Fijian island of Taveuni, I heard a lot about ‘Fiji time’. “Fine,” I thought. “I know about this. It’s the same as Bali time, or Egypt time: a flexible approach to deadlines.”

Well, yes and no. It’s more than being unbothered about arriving late. It’s a relaxed approach to everyday life, a way of pacing your day so there’s still time to smell the tropical flowers. Sounds familiar? It may be the elusive work/life balance everyone talks about in the West, flourishing in the Pacific.

But you have to draw the line somewhere. And in the 19th century, needing to establish an International Dateline to distinguish one day from another for navigators, the dominant powers drew that line right through the middle of Taveuni, Fiji’s third-largest island, bisected by the 180th meridian of longitude.

By geographical chance, the island was divided into two days: on the east it was today, and on the west tomorrow. Or the other way round, if you prefer.

An apocryphal story claims that the owners of Taveuni’s plantation managed to work their farms every day of the week, by moving workers to whichever field wasn’t encountering a Sunday. Even Fiji has limits to time flexibility, however, and in 1879 the line was relocated, to bring the whole island into the same day.

However, Taveuni stills offers a sensation of fluid time. It may not be covered with five-star hotel towers, but it’s strikingly green, even for the Fijian chain of islands. Never heavily farmed, Taveuni features lush rainforest, particularly on its eastern windward side. Within this foliage are dramatic waterfalls and striking flowers.

The island also has a fine array of tropical bird life. A large variety of species long-vanished from other islands still thrive here. You’ll see and hear the green-blue Taveuni Parrot all over the island, or hear its distinctive squawk.

Nature’s attractions extend into the sea, where Taveuni’s reefs create plenty of interest for divers. In the millennium hype of 1999, dive companies were selling tours which (incorrectly) promised dives across the International Dateline as the calendar switched to 2000. But Taveuni’s diving sites are world class, whether invisible lines are your thing or not.

But if they are... on a road near Waiyevo village is a nondescript sign, which marks the location of the 180th meridian of longitude. Another marker, more precisely placed, can be found beyond the end of the Waiyevo village football field, overlooking the sea.

It’s possible to take a look at the traditional life of local villages, but it’s important to follow etiquette and ask permission from one of the village chiefs before entering. He will usually assign a local to show you around and explain things. Visitors should dress modestly, and make a donation toward the village school or church fund.

There’s a range of accommodation options across Taveuni, though few in the budget price range. But no matter how much you pay, you’re not going to find jumping nightlife in a place like Taveuni. Instead, the island offers an abundance of natural beauty, a measured pace, and a chance to catch your breath and relax. If you’re trapped in the 9 to 5 grind, that can sound like a gift from heaven.

Fiji time? Whatever. Who cares what time it is, if you can throw the watch in a drawer, lie on a tropical beach and let the day flow by? Whichever side of the dateline you’re on.

Note: As this article is based on personal experience from some years ago, the author takes no responsibility for readers' reliance on the information within.