Lockington's Everyday Fiji ... Life Goes On

Allen Lockington is a self-employed customs agent and business consultant who has regular articles published in www.connectme.com.fj/news/opinion. I thank Allen and Connect for permission to reprint some of them in this political blog. They remind us that life goes on, whatever the political situation. And it's good to know that.

The Grand Pacific Hotel

My brother came in from Australia and went to visit and also took photos of the Grand Pacific Hotel. The place is in a sorry state compared to its days of glory. I looked for information about the GPH and found many on the Internet. (Wikipedia) The Grand Pacific Hotel is located on the main sea front, on Victoria Parade in Suva. It was built by The Union Steamship Company in 1914 to serve the needs of passengers on its transpacific routes. The design of the hotel was to make the passengers think they had never gone ashore, for rooms in the GPH were like first-class staterooms, complete with saltwater bathrooms and plumbing fixtures identical to those on an ocean liner.

It has been a popular place to stay for many famous guests such as Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, Somerset Maugham, James A Michener and Queen Elisabeth II. All rooms were on the second floor, and guests could step outside on a 15-foot (4.6 m)-wide veranda overlooking the harbor and walk completely around the building — as if walking on the deck. When members of the British royal family visited Fiji, they stood atop the wrought-iron portico, the "bow" of the Grand Pacific, and addressed their subjects massed across Victoria Parade in Albert Park. The hotel was built on the landing spot for the original Suva village, called Vu-ni-vesi after the trees nearby. There was a hotel on the site previously called Hotel Suva, which was little more than a shack.

Another website myfijifriends.com says: The Grand Pacific, faded queen of South Seas hotels, may soon return to her throne. The GPH, as she is internationally known, has been closed since 1992, a paint-peeling white shadow of her former grandeur. Now a joint venture company has been launched to redevelop the 93-year-old hotel on Suva's waterfront at a cost estimated at $33.6 million. Work is expected to begin early next year, according to an official announcement from the two partners, FNPF (Fiji National Provident Fund) Investments Ltd and Fiji Investments Corporation. 

In its heyday, the GPH was compared with such international icons as the Raffles Hotel in Singapore, Shepherd's in Cairo and the Ritz in London. Among past visitors have been hundreds of VIPs from the late authors Somerset Maugham and James Michener to millionaires, presidents and royalty including Queen Elizabeth II.  Australia's "Smithy" - aviator Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith - stayed there after landing in nearby Albert Park on his trans-Pacific flight in 1928.  In the old days, guests were greeted with ceremony by a Sikh in colourful uniform and turban, and ushered into the lobby cooled by slowly revolving ceiling fans. The GPH prided itself on its dignified atmosphere, high-ceilinged rooms, immaculate furnishings and flawless service.  A favourite spot every evening was to sit on the rear verandah, gin and tonic on hand, and watch ships of all sizes chug around Suva harbour. 

In the 1990s the hotel was the subject of a lengthy dispute between the Fiji government and the phosphate-rich Pacific island of Nauru.  The Nauru Phosphate Royalties Trust Fund announced plans to take over, renovate and reopen the hotel.  But after years of inaction, the Fiji Government of Mahendra Chaudhry took over the premises in 2000 and accused the Nauru body of breaching an agreement to redevelop the GPH.

"We have taken possession of the hotel," the prime minister said. "It is part of our national heritage.  "We cannot allow it to go to ruin and be a blight on our foreshore."  A few weeks later Mr. Chaudhry was reported planning to announce that the Hawaii-based Outrigger group would refurbish and manage the GPH when he was deposed in a coup led by George Speight in May.  That put all plans on "hold" again - until now.  The GPH is located on Suva's main street Victoria Parade, a ten-minute stroll from the central business district and close by government offices, the Fiji president's residence and Thurston Gardens with its collection of South Pacific flora.

This from James A Michener's description of the Grand Pacific Hotel in his book The World is My Home (1992) pp 28-29.

"And then came the target of my trip I would ever make to Fiji: one of the memorable hotels of the world, not majestic and not particularly spacious, but a haven to all who crossed the Pacific on tourist ships or who now came by airplane. It was the Grand Pacific Hotel, famed G.P.H of the travel books, a big squarish building of several floors, with a huge central dining area filled with small tables, each meticulously fitted with fine silver and china, bud vases, and a facing porch leading out to the lawn that went down to the sea. It was grand, and it certainly was pacific, and the barefoot Indians who served the meals had a grace that few hotels in the world could offer and none surpass." I agree one hundred per cent. Along with other members of Navy Patrol Squadron VP-23, I spent two nights in the G.P.H in January 1944 waiting for a typhoon to clear the area. Room rent was one pound per day.


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