Fiji’s Sugar Railroads

One key industry shaped this land and still has an impact on Fiji to this day. Travel journalist, Ian Cross, takes to the road for a series of short reports on people, places and events across the globe – The Grassroots Tour…

GRT - Fiji's Sugar Railroad 01

Across the Fijian island of Vitu Levu the landscape is dotted with sugar plantations; an industry that changed the economy of Fiji forever. In the 19th Century, tens of thousands of poor Indian workers were press ganged by The British colonial government into leaving India to work the cane fields. Their descendants still cut the cane today.

The appropriately named Colonial Sugar Refinery, which ran the enterprise, constructed a network of narrow gauge railways covering hundreds of miles which transported cane from the cane fields to its sugar refinery in Lautoka. Now some of these railroads are still in use, cutting across roads and through communities. A track still runs down the main street of Lautoka, Fiji’s second biggest city, en route to the refinery.

The trains may still be active but more and more cane is now transported by road. Trucks laden with raw cane queue outside the mill. It’s more than a hundred years old but remains the largest refinery in the Pacific.

Sugar is extremely important to the Fijian economy, and to Lautoka in particular. For 150 years the lives of the people here have been dominated by the refinery; One of the biggest events here? The annual sugar festival.

Fiji's Sugar Railroad 02


Presenter/voice/producer: Ian Cross

Photography: Robin Constable