28 Jun 2013

Fiji's first capital becomes a World Heritage Area

4:57 pm on 28 June 2013

Residents of Fiji's first capital, Levuka, hope that the town being declared a world heritage area will help boost the economy and tourism.

The announcement by UNESCO was made in Cambodia over the weekend, and the Chief Executive of the town council says it's the result of years of hard work.

The list identifies places of special significance around the world with the aim of protecting them and Levuka is the first site in Fiji to appear on it.

Jamie Tahana reports:

UNESCO's Jing Feng says the town, and its low line of buildings among coconut and mango trees along the beachfront, was the first capital of Fiji, ceded to the British in 1874. He says Levuka is a rare example of a 19th-century Pacific port settlement, and reflects the influence of local building traditions and those of a supreme naval power, resulting in a unique landscape.

"JING FENG: This site has been recognised for its outstanding universal value, being the first colonial capital of Fiji peacefully settled by the British, by the King, and then later also it reflects the interaction between the culture of the South Pacific and the European culture."

The town was inscribed by UNESCO in Cambodia over the weekend, to the delight of the Fiji contingent in attendance. The Chief Executive of the Levuka town council, Suliana Sandys, says the listing is terrific news for both Levuka, and the rest of Fiji. She says the status is the result of decades of hard work by the people of Levuka.

SULIANA SANDYS: It's terrific, people are still trying to get it to sink in, you know? It's taken almost 30 long years. People are shaking hands with one another. Our phone hasn't stopped ringing, really. And for those who have been working long and tirelessly, they're on cloud number nine, I might say.

Suliana Sandys says Levuka has been in decline for years and she says the World Heritage status should give the town a much needed boost in both tourism and infrastructure.

SULIANA SANDYS: Since they've redirected the shipping routes, that's taken away some of the economic activities that used to be here, to Suva. Levuka has, economically, died a slow death - a slow, painful one, too. And all the people of the town decided that the only thing we had was a special brand of tourism, which was heritage.

Jing Feng says as a World Heritage area, the Fiji government must do what it can to protect Levuka's unique heritage. He says UNESCO has asked the government to implement a decree to protect the world heritage site.

JING FENG: The committee also asks further action by the state party of Fiji for its protection and management in terms of implementing the Fiji World Heritage decree and other specific requirements.

Suliana Sandys says, as a result of all of this, she expects tourism in the town to increase by about 20 percent.