There is just something special about the place; as soon as you get there you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a safer, more friendly old world, where people really care for visitors to their township, making you feel right at home.
It is certainly one of my all-time favourite little towns, as small old towns go – Levuka is right up there with the very best of them. So every whiff of a chance I get to visit, I make the most of it and just go.
Maybe it’s because I have family connections there in Lovoni Village and to many other families who once and some still do – call Levuka home.
My trip this time was to cover the Pacific Energy Ovalau 7s; a gem of a tournament that is gaining momentum and really has the potential to evolve into something special for the old capitol and for Fiji.
Levuka and the Pacific Energy Ovalau 7s as an event, certainly have the right mix of special ingredients to make it magic including:
- A special historical location in Fiji’s old Capitol – Levuka
- A great ground in Nasau Park with one of the best backdrops in Fiji
- Affordable and comfortable hotel accommodation within a couple of minutes walking distance from everything
- Only three hours easy journey from Suva, yet a world away in time
- Great communications connections with the outside world
- Some of the friendliest, most accommodating locals in Fiji
- Rugby-mad teams of players and their passionate fans
So there I was on a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon, cruising down the highway to Natovi jetty to catch my Patterson Brothers ferry for the short hop across to Buresala, Ovalau and the 18Km drive into old Levuka town.
I was delighted to find my ferry was George and Trevor’s latest small cruising ship, the “Spirit of Altruism”; which a local crew had sailed from her former port in northern Italy down the Mediterranean Sea, through the Suez Canal, over the Horn of Africa, across the vast Indian Ocean to Sri Lanka for their first pit stop, on through the Java Sea to Jakarta for their second stop, then across the top of Australia to their third and final stop in Port Moresby before hitting the home stretch to Suva in just under 50 days at sea in total – what a delivery voyage.
What a ship! She certainly adds tonnes of class to the local shipping industry; with her clean European lines testimony to her pedigree – being designed and built in Denmark.
On the Bridge for my crossing, was the Captain who had sailed her on her maiden voyage to Fiji, Captain Brian Hennings and it was easy to see how proud Captain Hennings was of his latest charge.
Leaving Buresala in a haze of dust at sunset, it was a very comfortable 45 minute cruise into Levuka in my Nissan Navara locked in at High 4WD.
Knowing that I had missed dinner at my place of lodging – the Mavida Guest House, I popped into MH Levuka for some healthy snacks made up of Oreos, Pulpy Orange juice and a packet of Patrick Fong’s famous mixed Bujha.
“Mrs Mavida” – the friendliest of hosts, Manageress Pa, was out, but I was shown to my room and after a quick shower and drawing the curtains back to let the cool sea breeze flow through the room across the King-size four-poster bed, I hit the sack and was out like a light; only to be woken by a loud banging on my door and Pa shouting out that the Ovalau Rugby Union wanted to have “a committee meeting” with me – yeah right, it was 8.30pm!
I must have been asleep for at least an hour and I suspected this was going to involve kava and in true Levuka style, lots of it.
Sure enough, downstairs on the lawn right beside the path from Beach Road to the front door of Mavida Guest House sat “the committee” with big grins on their faces and an even bigger Tanoa all smiling back up at me – only in Fiji I thought.
After exchanging pleasantries, with not a shred of a committee paper or Minute-taker in sight, our “committee meeting” commenced and flowed on into the night, until in a daze, my brain short-circuiting, I sensed a half-break in proceedings and wrangled myself out of the tsunami of kava and ran away shamelessly to the sanctuary of my room. It was close to midnight and Day 2 of the Pacific Energy Ovalau 7s beckoned.
I am an early riser, so this final morning before the start of daylight saving the next day, I enjoyed the first rays of the rising sun piercing the night sky just after 5am.
Levuka stirred and shortly after 6am I saw two “committee members” – true to their word the night before, making their way to Nasau Park to prepare for Day 2 – I was impressed. This is what it took to run any event successfully anywhere in the world – dedicated, unpaid volunteers performing true to form; delivering what they had signed up for with a smile.
Samoa was up against Bukawaqa Two from Lovoni Village in the opening game of the second day of the Pacific Energy Ovalau 7s – the first Cup Quarterfinal at 10am and it was expected to be a cracker.
I had promised “the committee” that I would meet them at the ground at 9am, so at precisely 7pm GMT BBC time, I made my way downstairs for breakfast which consisted of fresh pawpaw and WeetBIX, followed by an omelette, coffee and a never-ending supply of toast; which reminded me of the last time I stayed at Mavida Guest House with Ben Ryan, where over a similar breakfast, he was telling me about how bad too much bread was for you and that we locals ate too much bread.
Meanwhile, quite unconsciously Ben put away like six slices of toast before he noticed what he was doing and laughed at himself! Yeah it is so easy to do because fresh bread in Fiji is so tasty and many people don’t think too much about this, but fresh bread makes the best toast.
Anyway, back to the rugby; Nasau Park as usual was a spectacular sight with the mountains behind her rising so sharply into contrast – what a setting!
“The committee” had done very well to give the visiting Samoan National 7s team, led by their new Coach Damien McGrath and his assistant, Brian Lima, a special site up high on the embankment, under the shade of a bank of new marquees, next to the old grandstand from where they had a great view of the battle field.
I must say, the field of play was very well appointed, with clean white lines highlighted by bright Pacific Energy flags flying in the wind and their specially made goal post pads adding the final touch.
Fiji time is slow and for visitors, takes some getting used to; but Levuka’s old capitol time is even slower and proceedings were held up a fraction past 10am for some late-running officials, who will remain nameless here.
Take my word for it, they were not part of “the committee” from the night before. Those guys say they went home early (for them) at 1.30am and they were all on duty on time – which I thought was very impressive.
The Samoans soon got going and hit their strides early, not allowing the Lovoni villagers to settle into any rhyme or rhythm and it was game-over shortly after halftime with the much fitter and physically stronger Samoans running straight and with purpose to break the Bukawaqa Two line for try after try.
Their Cup Semifinal versus the champions of Ovalau rugby in XVs and 7s, Tauranga Gold was the toughest test for Samoa and they were stretched before wrapping up the game with a brace of tries late, to book their place in the Cup final.
Duavata Young Boys were the surprise package of the Pacific Energy Ovalau 7s this year; sneaking into the playoffs after Day One and then tipping Ovalau One in the semifinal in a local epic, to come up against Samoa for the $3,000 cash prize money and the title.
Unfortunately, they played their final a game early and simply ran out of fizz in the final allowing the Samoans to run away with the final, the title and the cash.
Here are the main winners in the Pacific Energy Ovalau 7s 2016 tournament.
- Cup Winner: Samoa
- Cup Runners-up: Duavata Young Boys
- Cup 3rd Place: Ovalau One
- Cup 4th Place: Tauranga Gold
- Plate Winner: St. John’s
- Plate Runners-up: Bukawaqa One
- Bowl Winner: Bukawaqa Two
- Bowl Runners-up: Tauranga Red
Both Damien McGrath and Brian Lima were happy Coaches – their young team had won all six of their games well and some individual players had stood out, so trimming from 16 players they had brought to Levuka to 12 they would take to Auckland for the Oceania Regional 7s qualifying tournament for the Rio Olympics was going to be a little easier.
Later that evening the Village of Tokou hosted the Samoa 7s team to dinner and what an event that was; thank you Seresio, family and friends of Tokou for a truly wonderful evening.
Early the next morning, the All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup 2015 at Twickenham in style and watching it on my own, in my room at Mavida Guest House in Levuka was the last place on earth that I would have guessed where I would be watching the Rugby World Cup 2015 final.
At 8am the next day I joined the Samoans at Saint John’s College, Cawaci for Mass and breakfast afterwards with Fr. Manu and the boarders in a wonderfully youthful celebration of life and cultural exchange – Samoan and Fijian hymns, Nauruan and Samoan dances, topped by the singing of “Isa lei” – truly magical.
Samoan Coach, McGrath said to me later that coming to Levuka was a blessing and promised they would return next year to defend their title.
Once again, Levuka had spun its magic.
– Culden Kamea