Captain Cook Cruises Fiji: Off-the-beaten track ports' surprising past

Written by
Sarah Nicholson
Published on
February 26, 2022

Captain Cook Cruises Fiji: Off-the-beaten track ports' surprising past

John Milesi settles into a chair above the MV Reef Endeavour’s stern, puts his feet up, and looks across the remote Fijian town he now calls home.

“In Levuka, we have Levuka time, and that’s even slower than Fiji time,” the former West Australian says.

“This is one of the few places in the world where an afternoon nap is an accepted tourist activity. We find our guests slow down very quickly and sit on the veranda to have a nap while waiting for the sunset.”

John and his wife, Marilyn, own Levuka Homestay, ­­a home-away-from-home B&B in Fiji’s former colonial capital on Ovalau, and visit the Reef Endeavour when it stops for passengers to explore the island.

The couple fell in love with Levuka when they discovered it on their first overseas trip in 1984. They bought the hillside block where Levuka Homestay now sits and moved to Ovalau to build a life in the South Pacific.

Established in the early 19th century, Levuka was Fiji’s capital until a lack of land halted growth and forced a move to Suva on neighbouring Viti Levu in the 1880s. That was about when the clock stopped, and now walking around town feels like being on the set of a colonial-era film.

John says the town was once nicknamed Hell of the Pacific. Ship captains sat outside the reef until the tide turned, then followed the trail of rum bottles floating out to sea to pick a safe path through the coral; drunks were shanghaied to work on whaling ships, and linen-clad colonials took their quinine in liquid form at the toffee-nosed Ovalau Club.