Roughly 470 km (290 mi) north of Fiji, this small group – Rotuma Island plus four offshore islets – is a Fijian dependency and home to the unique race known as Rotumans. Actually, Rotuma isn’t the home it once was – economic hardship has caused roughly four-fifths of the indigenous population (of under 15.000 in total) to migrate to the main Fijian islands. Rotumans more closely resemble Polynesians (physically and culturally) than Fiji’s Melanesians, and those who remain live in coastal villages. Dependency status allows the island more political autonomy than other parts of Fiji, with the Ahau-based Council of Rotuma making key local decisions in conjunction with a government office.
It is possible to visit the isolated island, though the Rotumans voted against opening the place up to tourism as recently as 1985. Even now, the door is barely ajar, with visits strictly rationed by Rotuman elders who are determined that their island paradise will not be spoiled by the intrusive demands of mass tourism. The people are gracious, but expect visitors to respect their customs and be modest in behavior and dress.
There are no hotels or resorts on Rotuma, though simple accommodation can be arranged. The determined voyager will find a rugged volcanic island with many small cones that is covered in lush vegetation, measuring 13 km (8 mi) by 4 km (2.5 mi). It has a large reef, spectacular coral, abundant sea life (including dolphins and turtles) and some of the most beautiful and untouched beaches in all Fiji. Give it a serious go – the rewards will more than repay the effort, and you’ll be one of the tiny minority who’ve ever been privileged to visit this very special island
Population: 2.800 (2007 estimate)
When to go: The rainy season is best avoided, so make it April to October. Even then the humidity may come as a shock, though cool sea breezes can dilute the impact.
How to get there: Fly in to the airstrip on the north shore on Air Fiji’s weekly flight from Suva.
Highlights: The remarkable islet of Haf’lius (Split Island), with a fissure down the centre that’s large enough to take a boat through.
Mount Suelhof – at 256 m (840 ft) it’s a splendid vantage point for those willing to undertake the necessary hike.
A variety of old churches that serve as a reminder of the island’s colonial past (in which Christian missionaries loomed large, and largely succeeded in converting the islanders).
The many traditional ceremonies, including the installation of chiefs (there are a lot of those), religious occasions, weddings and funerals.
You should know: The first European sighting of Rotuma was by Captain Edward Edwards of HMS Pandora, who landed here in 1791 looking for Fletcher Christian and the mutinous crew of the Bounty (bad luck, wrong island).