Noa’ia, Rotuma. You barely felt the landing thanks to a grassy runway. But the slowing propellers and the quieting engine prove that you’ve really reached the island. It looks like a ceremony is being set up alongside the small airplane. You glance at your fellow passengers, many of whom appear to be Rotumans heading home, and wonder which one is important enough for all of the fuss. It turns out to be you. As a first-time visitor, you’re being welcomed with a modified version of a mamasa ceremony. A traditional one greeted arrivals from the sea; most people now fly, though. But sweet-smelling coconut oil, a gorgeous head lei, and an eventual pig roast are still bestowed upon guests when they first arrive.
Rotuma obviously doesn’t receive many visitors. That’s a result of both its location and the wishes of the islanders. The volcanic island may be a Fijian dependency, but it lies nearly 300 miles north of Viti Levu in the middle of the South Pacific. Due to the distance, the Rotuman people have been able to maintain their long-standing traditions. Chiefs, including the one who met your airplane, rule the small villages. Women head their families and make important decisions. Plus organized tourism was disavowed along ago.
But that doesn’t mean the Rotuman people forbid visitors. Clearly, from the warm reception you received, guests are welcome on the small island. You won’t find any hotels, restaurants, or tour operators, though. Instead, families take visitors, meals are made by the community, and you’re left to explore on your own.
Rotuma was formed by a shield volcano. Mount Suelhof and Satarua Peak are now covered with dense vegetation. A small isthmus separates the island’s larger eastern side and smaller western peninsula. A sandy road runs along the coast and between the small villages. Black basalt cliffs line the west coast; the south and the east are ringed by some of the most beautiful beaches in Fiji. Pristine coral reefs are beyond them. While practically hidden archaeological sites include the graves of former kings. You can’t wait to explore a place that few outsiders have ever seen. After that pig roast being made in your honor, of course.