Lautoka, Fiji

Perched on the west coast, Lautoka, is not only the second-largest city among Fiji's 332 islands, it is also the second gateway, after the capital city Suva, to Fiji's experience of tropical paradise.

Idyllic beaches lead to the crystal-clear waters of the lagoon that forms a circle around the land. In itself, this is a blissful scene to behold, framed with lush terrain.

With warm temperatures throughout the year, there is never a bad time to journey to the island of Viti Levu. The beaches here are pristine, and it is easy to spend lazy days soaking up the sun’s warm rays under palm trees that gently sway overhead.

‘Spear hit’ is the literal translation of the name Lautoka from the native Fijian language, which gives an insight into the history and culture of this town. During a duel between two chiefs, one was hit in the chest by a spear and supposedly cried out “Lau-toka” as he died. Tribal traditions are still important in Fijian culture, with life centering on the local villages.

Known as the Sugar City, Lautoka’s main industry is sugar production, as the town is surrounded by fields full of tall sugar cane plants. Laukota Mill, which was built in 1903, is a huge source of local employment and is the biggest sugar mill in the southern hemisphere. Many people travelled to Lautoka from the Solomon Islands and India to find work here in the early 20th century, which has added to the island’s multicultural feel.

Beach lovers will not have any cause to leave the pure white sands of the beaches that line Lautoka. The lagoon that surrounds the island like a turquoise-encrusted ring is the perfect place for snorkeling, paddle boarding or simply idling in the warm waters, watching marine life dart in colorful schools beneath the surface.

For a break from the beach, there is plenty to see on the island of Viti Levu, on the outskirts of Lautoka. The village itself has a wide main street lined with lush green trees and dotted with cafes and restaurants, and it is from here that you can embark on adventures great and small.

With the largest per capita population of Hare Krishnas in the world, the Shri Krishna Kaliya Temple is a surprising cultural gem in the heart of Lautoka. Visitors on cruises to Lautoka can visit during Sunday prayers, which is a colorful and fascinating experience.

Pick up a local souvenir at the Lautoka Market, which is a favourite amongst locals and tourists alike. It is here that you will find fresh tropical fruit, clothing, spices and handicrafts like woven baskets and hats.

For a slightly more unusual experience in Lautoka, pay a visit to South Pacific Distilleries, who use the molasses that is made at the sugar mill to create rum and other liquors. Visitors can enjoy a free tour of the distillery during regular working hours.

To truly escape from civilization, take a journey to Koroyanitu National Heritage Park, which is a natural paradise of waterfalls, walking trails, and native flora and fauna. Bird watchers should keep their eyes peeled for the blue-crested broadbill and the Fiji goshawk, which cannot be found anywhere else in the world.