Fiji: Sigatoka Sand Dunes, Natural and Prehistoric

The Sigatoka sand dunes were established in 1987, became designated as Fiji’s first National Park in 1989, and is managed by the National Trust of Fiji. Advertised as both  an educational and recreational tourist spot, and because I am drawn to every kind of natural landform, we (my visiting friend Kylie and I) drove the 84 kilometres from Pacific Harbour along the Queen’s Highway in the Coral Coast region to reach them.

The sand dunes rest on Sigatoka river’s estuary (the second largest river in Fiji), and are resultant of erosion in the coastal hinterland and the natural processes that form coastal dunes. The Sigatoka river transports sediments which are washed ashore by the surf and are blown into the dunes by the prevailing winds.  The vegetation on the dunes comprises mainly of native forest and other introduced herbaceous communities. The dunes, of a greyish colour due to its metallic properties (noticed as the sand stuck to the magnets of Kylie’s handbag clasps) occupy up to 650 hectares  of 20-60m dune height ranges, in a series of parabolic sand dunes of various ages. Furthermore, around half of this area is considered unstable, especially on the eastern side.  Through human intervention, however, in the 1960’s, a mahogany forest was planted in order to halt the dune’s continued growth on to the Queen’s Highway.

The sand dunes are not only a sight of beauty, with its grassy ridge walkways dividing the tropical greenery of rolling hills and the peppered-alabaster marbled dunes, but also a place of cultural and historical significance. The Sigatoka Sand Dunes have been forming for thousands of years, as archaeological excavations have uncovered pottery more than 2600 years old, as well as human remains and stone tools, declaring it as one of the largest burial sites in the Pacific. Despite this, and the continued uncovering of the above relics, the dunes were proposed as a World Heritage site back in 1999, but has yet to be accepted as such.

The day we ventured into the Sigatoka sand dunes, i drove passed it twice as the entrance driveway is incredibly narrow, and the exit was being reconstructed. The park operates from 8am to 5pm, and local rangers of the Park work at the visitor’s information centre, as well as offer guided tours. There are two main walks, a short one hour walk or an extended two hour long walk. What’s on offer at the dunes is a visit to the old archaeological sites to see ancient Lapita (prehistoric Pacific Ocean people 1600 BCE-c.500 BCE) artefacts, bird watching in the native dry forests and the ‘Going Native’ program where visitors  help local rangers and local community volunteers replant native trees.

We opted for the short one hour walk, given that it was the week of the tropical depression weather warning, and we braved being whipped almost constantly by stinging sand. Because of the poor weather conditions, we had the dunes all to ourselves. We traversed across the walkways, past warnings of shark infested waters highly recommending visitors not to take a splash, until we turned a corner and were faced with a stunning view of an empty tipi village constucted of driftwood. The sound of the crashing waves of the ocean, the peaceful expanse of rolling sand dunes empty of people, and the quirky yet slightly eerie tipi village held us there for a good long period of time.

Upon exit, although we discussed how the sand dunes would appear on a less breezier day with more sun, we had already made up our minds that we would return to further our exploration, even if it meant sharing the dunes with many other tourists. With an ice lolly in hand, sat stationery in the driving seat and planning our next move, we noticed we had still managed to catch the sun on our wind-battered skin under the cloudy skies. Exfoliated and sun-kissed post adventure further made our trip worthwhile.

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