Sigatoka Sand Dunes – Fiji’s First National Park

Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park is not just an oceanside ecosystem. It’s also the site of major archeological discoveries that link Fiji to East Asia.

The lovely view of the Korotogo lagoon from the house at which we stay in Fiji extends to the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park. On a clear day from the top of the hill here, we not only hear the roar of the surf as it breaks along the Coral Coast, but see the breakers crash against the sand in the distance, raising all sorts of spray.

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

View across the Korotogo Lagoon to the distant Sigatoka Sand Dunes

 

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

Sigatoka Sand Dunes and breaking surf in the distance

Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park was established in the late 1980s as Fiji’s very first national park, and has been proposed as a UNESCO heritage site. Its fragile ecosystem supports a variety of wildlife and flora, including a second growth forest of mahogany trees just inland from the dunes’ ridgeline.

Legend has it that the sand dunes were formed when two spirit gods, Tamaku and Vodovata, came to this area because it was famous for rich clay soil and peaceful people. Tamaku stole some of the valuable clay and put it in a basket. When confronted by Vodovata about his theft, Tamaku dropped his basket of clay into the ocean, forming Vatulele Island (about 25km off the Coral Coast). Tamaku then flew back toward the land and began to throw sandstone rocks which fell along the coastline. The largest of these was crumbled by Vodovata over the coral coast, forming the dunes.

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

Unlike other places along the Coral Coast where a deep reef insulates the shoreline, the ocean breaks directly on Sigatoka Sand Dunes.

The mouth of the Sigatoka River was attractive to ancient people of the Lapita culture, who had come eastward beginning around 3000 years ago from Southeast Asia and the Philippines to New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago. Their migration spread from the South Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to Fiji and New Caledonia, and then beyond to Samoa, Tonga and the Marquesas. The Sigatoka delta provided Lapita artisans with the raw materials to make their intricately designed pottery, as well as fertile soil for growing food and rich marine life.

Archeological excavations beginning in the 1960s have revealed a burial site here which dates from around the 1st century. Containing the remains of more than 70 individuals beneath and around existing coral mounds, this site is the largest of its kind and age in the South Pacific.

On a recent visit to Sigatoka Sand Dunes, we walked the shorter of two loop trails beginning from the Visitors Center on Queens Highway.

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

The trails at Sigatoka Sand Dunes begin in the forest

Cheerful reminders about personal safety were posted at various locations.

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

A nice way to say what’s what!

The trail descended over the first ridgeline to the dune area beyond. The dunes, which range from 20 to 60 meters high, are creeping inland at the rate of about 3 meters per year.

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

You can just barely see Pete and the park ranger ahead of him on the slope to shore

The shorter loop veers westward along the shore to an activities area. There was a stark vibe as we moved among the driftwood tipis and gathering circle constructed by children’s groups. The Park has a considerable number of programs designed for schools and special interest groups. It was easy to imagine similar structures sheltering new arrivals to this place eons ago.

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

The coastal path to the tipis and gathering circle

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

A ghostly village in the sand and spray

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

Sand was already claiming these constructs

Pete thought it might be fun to camp overnight in one of these tipis. I disagreed. I felt a sad sort of presence here. UPDATE: October 12, 2015. On our flight out of Fiji today, the airline magazine referenced an additional myth. There is a small valley in the dunes which Fijians refer to as “Nadrio” (“darkness”). Their belief is that this valley is a portal or gateway to the underworld. Their legend says that Degei, the snake god, became angry and sent a huge wave which buried a village in the sand. The neighboring villagers in Kulukulu believe that the spirits of these dead can be heard within the dunes.

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

A lonely tree stands sentinel against the sea and sand

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

The short loop trail turns back inland at this location

The trail turns inland here, and there is a clear demarcation where visitors aren’t allowed. The sand was undisturbed and looked like it must have centuries before.

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

Undisturbed as it might have looked long ago

The path leads into a second-growth mahogany forest planted in the 1960s. Along the way there are places to rest and reflect.

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

A peaceful place to rest out of the sun

Along the forest path we encountered ghostly little tree huggers the children had built. We thought these whimsical apparitions made a perfect artistic statement as to the importance of nature to the people, as well as mahogany to the Fijian economy.

Sigatoka Sand Dunes

Are these the ghosts of tree huggers past along the woodland path?

Walking this route had me thinking of home. I spent my childhood summers playing at the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Monument, which has its own native legend, and other dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan. As well, the satisfying crunch our footsteps made on the leaf-strewn path had us thinking of other autumns in the American Midwest.

Our walk on the short loop took us about twice as long as the hour which is typically estimated. We ambled slowly, taking our time. While there were other visitors to the park, we seemingly had it to ourselves, encountering only the one ranger away from the Visitor Center. That’s about as perfect an experience you might hope to get.

Pinnable Image:

Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park

Tips and Practicalities:
The entrance to Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park, which is managed by the National Trust of Fiji, is located on the Queens Highway ten minutes west of Sigatoka (about 90 minutes from the international airport in Nadi). Two trails, the short loop (about one hour) and the long loop (about two hours), lead visitors through a variety of ecosystems. Some elevations are steep. Open daily 8am – 5pm. Admission is $10FJD per adult. Bottled water, other beverages and ice cream available for purchase at the Visitors Center.

Comments

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Paula – Interestingly enough, I updated this post to include a reference to another Fijian myth and belief that this is the site of a portal to the underworld. So, yes, it could be this energy.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Yulia – I’m afraid this is thousands of miles south of Japan across the equator in the South Pacific.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Karla – I think it is a bit spooky, particularly now that I’m aware of the additional legend and belief. But we interpreted the kids as hugging the trees, so we were enchanted by them. Maybe, maybe not?

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Jackie – The tipis and the tree huggers are all fairly new, constructed with the children’s programs at the park. But they do give off a mysterious vibe, don’t they?

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Travelwith2ofus – Yes, and the additional legend explains a lot of what I felt during the walk, too, but couldn’t attach a reason to.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Melody – Fiji has a lot of facets that we love, the pristine paradise is just one. It’s a fascinating cultural and environmental mix.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Meg – You’re very, very close now. Aussies go to Fiji like Americans visit Hawaii or the Caribbean. Thanks so much for the Pinterest love. 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi James – Yes, Fiji has a lot of diversity in terms of ecology and even climate. On Viti Levu, the largest island, there is rainforest and desert-y climate, mahogany forests, mountains, coral reefs and even fjord-like bodies of water.

  1. Carol Colborn says

    As luck would have it, the second time=share membership we just acquired has a resort in Fiji so we will be sure to go there…maybe in 2016! I had often wondered what Fiji’s mystique is. This is definitely part of it. We had been to the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshoreon 15 miles of Lake Michigan and to the Jockey’s Ridge Sand Dunes State Park in the Outer Banks but, from your stories, the vibes of these sand dunes are quite different! Interested to read your other Fiji posts!

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Nancie – Glad I wasn’t the only one who had a hair-raising reaction. Hope you visit Fiji soon! We love it so.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Lyn – We love Fiji and will be returning in February. Perhaps we’ll take the longer loop at that time, as we found Sigatoka Sand Dunes really enjoyable.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Irene – It is so hard to gain a perspective of their size from a photo. I was glad to have some humans in that shot for reference.

  2. says

    Hi Betsy,
    So glad you and Pete have the opportunity to “live” in Fiji for your house sitting assignments. Tough job . . .
    Yeah, I’m not sure about those little tree huggers — are they creepy or sweet? I could go either way! Nevertheless, a good look at the dunes and overall island feel. Thanks!
    ~Josie
    Josie has an awesome blog post here: House Sitting Sites Evolved: A Review of Nomador.comMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Michele – Yes, there is definitely an eerie undercurrent there. Not overwhelming, but gives an edge to the visit for sure.

  3. says

    As a tree-hugger I love the basketry weavings of children appreciating how wonderful trees are!
    And I also enjoyed the myths – I’m sure the wind blowing through the dunes would sound eerily like lost souls –
    A bit like our Curlews (a nocturnal bird) here in Australia who make a wailing sound the Aboriginals say is the spirits of lost children.
    Linda ~ Journey Jottings has an awesome blog post here: But I Can’t DrawMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Linda – Interesting about the curlews. And yes, I loved the tree-hugger children, too. It appeared as though they were simultaneously holding the trees up and embracing them.

  4. says

    Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park looks like a fascinating place to visit. I wouldn’t have expected to find something like this is Fiji. (Not having been there, my image is largely shapely by travel brochure beach information.) I enjoyed reading about the legends. The ghostly feel of the tipis comes through in the photos.
    Donna Janke has an awesome blog post here: Canadian Museum for Human RightsMy Profile

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Donna – Yes, it really was quite unexpected, even though we’d looked at the dunes in the distance every day. 🙂

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Kristin – We loved visiting the sand hills region in Nebraska for the crane migration. I felt like this was more comparable to Sleeping Bear or Ludington in West Michigan, if only because of the water.

    • Betsy Wuebker says

      Hi Nathalie – Yes! Although Halloween isn’t celebrated in Fiji the way we celebrate it, perhaps the spirits would come out to play anyway. 😉

  5. says

    Fiji has long been on a list of places I’ve wanted to travel to. You really share a lot of fascinating facts that I simply didn’t know about. I’m with you on the tipis. I’d love to see them but sleeping on that dune would not be high on my to-do list.
    Sue Reddel has an awesome blog post here: When Is Sweetest Day?My Profile

  6. says

    I think there is something hard wired in human beings, a need to have some idea of where we came from. Every culture has a myth of creation, usually somehow tied to their physical location and landscape. I wonder if there are any linguistic similarities between the languages of the Native American tribes in the United States and people from the South Pacific region given the similarity between their dwellings, both in appearance and in name (tipis -tepees (sp?)) ?
    Suzanne Fluhr has an awesome blog post here: Woodloch Pines Resort in the Pennsylvania Pocono Mountains – A Boomeresque ReviewMy Profile

  7. says

    What a great looking place Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park is. I love the ocean and discovering neat places that front on it. The history of this area seems fascinating.

  8. says

    Wow, the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park is definitely a different look into Fiji. It’s so great that you are able to spend so much time in one place and find so many extraordinary sites. Fiji is on my tentative visit list for 2016. If it comes to fruition (I’ll be full-time travel writing starting 1/1/16 so finances will be tight… but…. YAY!), I’ll definitely have to go to the park.
    Patti Morrow has an awesome blog post here: 10 Photos that Prove the Florida Keys is the #1 U.S. DestinationMy Profile

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