Few travelers are disappointed by the scenic wonders on the northern side of Viti Levu. Cane fields climb valleys to green mountain ridges. Dramatic cliffs and spires bound a stunning bay. A narrow mountain road winds along the Wainibuka River, once called the "Banana Highway" because in preroad days Fijians used it to float their crops down to Suva on disposable bilibili rafts made of bamboo.
A relatively dry climate beckons anyone who wants to catch a few rays -- so many rays that modern real estate developers call this the "Sun Coast." Local English-Fijian families appreciated the dryness long before the developers arrived, and some bought land and built vacation homes, especially on hilly Nananu-I-Ra Island, off the big island's northernmost point. They chose not to build along the main coast, which with a few exceptions is skirted by mangrove forests.
One family created the 6,800-hectare (17,000-acre) Yaqara Estate, Fiji's largest cattle ranch. Cowpokes still tend the steers, but the area is best known now for Fiji Water, which comes from artesian wells up in the hills above the ranch. A constant parade of trucks rumbles along the King's Road, either hauling bottles of Fiji Water to the port at Lautoka, and from there primarily to the United States, or bringing back empty containers for more.
During World War II American soldiers built an airstrip near the Fijian village of Rakiraki, the chiefly headquarters from which Viti Levu's northern tip gets its name. The air base is long gone, but the charming hotel they frequented is still in business. Now the Tanoa Rakiraki Hotel, it's the last accommodations left from Fiji's colonial era.
Like the English-Fijians before them, today's sun-seeking visitors are attracted to a small peninsula near Rakiraki, to Nananu-I-Ra Island, and to great diving on the reefs offshore. Thanks to prevailing trade winds funneling between Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, this also is the windsurfing capital of Fiji -- or surf kiting, the latest version of this arm-building sport. Despite the mangroves elsewhere, Volivoli Point, the island's northernmost extremity, has one of Fiji's great beaches.
There is only one drawback: It's a long way from Rakiraki to anywhere else in Fiji, and since there is no longer an airport up here, you must get to and from by car or bus via the King's Road. Consequently, most visitors are serious divers, windsurfers, and Australians and New Zealanders enjoying taking a break in the sun during the Austral winter from June through August.
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