Fiji’s second city, Lautoka (population 52,000), is the focus of the country’s sugar and timber industries, a major port, and the Western Division and Ba Province headquarters. It’s a likable place with a row of towering royal palms lining the main street and a lovely seaside walk along Marine Drive. Although Lautoka grew up around the Fijian village of Namoli, the temples and mosques standing prominently in town today reflect the large Indo-Fijian population. In recent years, things have changed somewhat, with many Indo-Fijians abandoning Fiji as indigenous Fijians move in to take their place, and Lautoka’s population is now almost evenly balanced between the groups. Yet in the countryside, Indo-Fijians still comprise a majority.
The Lautoka Sugar Mill, one of the largest in the Southern Hemisphere, was founded in 1903. It’s busiest from June to December, with trains and trucks constantly depositing loads of cane to be fed into the crushers. Mill tours are not offered, but you can get a good view of the operation from the main gate on the south side of the complex. South Pacific Distilleries on Navutu Road south of the mill bottles Bounty rum, Regal gin, Royal whiskey, and Tribe vodka. Molasses from the sugar mill, of course, is the distillery’s main raw material. The fertilizer factory, across the highway from the distillery, uses mill mud from the sugar-making process. To the north, just beyond the conveyor belts used to load raw sugar onto the ships, is a veritable mountain of pine chips ready for export to Japan, where they are used to make paper.
Lautoka is the main base for Blue Lagoon Cruises to the Yasawa Islands, yet because Lautoka doesn’t have a good beach and isn’t dependant on tourism, you get a truer picture of ordinary life than you would in Nadi, and the city has a rambunctious nightlife. There’s some shopping, but mainly this is just a pleasant place to wander around on foot. Beware of sword sellers and other scam artists who seem to have migrated to the Lautoka waterfront after being run out of Nadi.
(Text from Moon Fiji published by Avalon Travel – reproduction prohibited.)