By John Rozentals.
No, Australian rugby star and current social-media celebrity Israel Folau doesn’t hail from Sigatoka (pronounced Singatoka), a mid-sized old sugar town on the south-east coast of Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island.
In fact, his ethnicity is Tongan, not Fijian at all, yet a quick glance at Wikipedia shows that Sigatoka is a prolific breeding ground for outstanding rugby union and rugby league players.
More than half the 13 entries in its list of famous people from the town are footballers, generally big powerful men such as Nemani Nadalo, who recently excelled for the Canterbury Crusaders in the Super Rugby competition.
But Sigatoka is also the main town of Fiji’s famous tourism belt of the Coral Coast and offers plenty of attractions for visitors.
For me, the main drawcard was the large town market, which offered a huge diversity of goods to haggle over, and the bordering, largely family-run small shops.
The produce is mainly agricultural and it’s easy to see why the rich surrounding farming district is often referred to as ‘Fiji’s salad bowl’, but Sigatoka is a seaside town and enjoys one of the country’s largest rivers so there should be, and are, plenty of piscatorial delights.
And that river sure is the source of plenty of fun.
Some of the fun comes at the hands of Sigatoka River Safari, which offers excursions seemingly into the island’s heartland.
It took us to a small village where our elder was guest of honour at a local kava-sharing ceremony, which very obviously was still taken very seriously indeed.
And we tasted a range of local food in a very traditional ‘sit on the floor and share’ style — and delicious it was, too, especially the tropical fruit such as papaya.
You don’t realise, until you actually devour it, just what we’re missing out on — and why they produce such big powerful rugby players.
Then it’s back into the boat for a look at how the locals really spend their time. And, I can assure you, you will get wet, though the driver will warn you first with the wave of a hand.
And don’t miss Sigatoka’s famous ecosystem of sand dunes, which formed the site in 1987 of the country’s first national park.
It’s well worth a visit, though perhaps not for the suggested sprint up the slopes as part of a guided two-hour-long tour.