It could have been bulldozed and become just another fading memory on a yellowing black and white photograph. There have been, so very unfortunately, plenty of lovely, grand old colonial buildings that have met just such a tragic fate. Fortunately, good judgment prevailed on this occasion and this iconic building, far from meeting its ultimate demise, has finally been restored to its former glory.
Affectionately known as ‘the grand old dame’, the Grand Pacific Hotel was built in 1914 by the Union Steam Ship Company to provide accommodation on land for onboard passengers during their transpacific routes. Those were the days when travelling by ship meant luxury and the hotel aimed to match the luxury and design of the cruise liners, incorporating many of the fixtures aboard ship in its original design.
An architectural gem, this is one of the few remaining grand colonial buildings that once adorned the capitals of Pacific islands and one of the only remaining ones that, being a hotel, can be enjoyed for a night or a week, by everyone.
Of immense beauty, the Grand Pacific Hotel has seen more than her share of royalty and celebrities resting on her beds and strolling along the majestic wide verandas that grace the building. Sir Charles Kingsford Smith, Somerset Maugham, Queen Elizabeth II and most recently, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Damodardas Modi, have all been guests.
Novelist James A. Michener, best known for his ‘Tales of The South Pacific’ novel, staying at the hotel during his time in Fiji, wrote in his memoir ‘The World is my Home’ that ‘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’.
From its evocative beginnings back at the turn of the century, the hotel saw various keepers, innkeepers, and many more key-players passing through its doors. Then, after a progressive decline through the 80s, in 1992, the hotel closed.
Against everyone’s best hopes and intentions, it would take 22 long years for this iconic hotel to reopen. During that time, the hotel sat, closed and forgotten, a decaying and derelict building, positioned in the main street of Suva, the lovely oceanfront Victoria Parade, as an eyesore and reminder of Fiji’s lost former glory. This is no ordinary building and the matter of its decline and its revival is one that sits in Fijian hearts and involves the nation. So it was a great cause for celebration when finally, in July 2014, one hundred years after it was first built, and over US$50 million of renovation later, the Grand Pacific Hotel reopened, to the delight of many across the region. It opened bigger and it opened better. After having undergone extensive renovations to restore the building to its original state, the Grand Pacific Hotel opened as a youthful grand lady.
The pride of Suva and a symbol of Fiji, the hotel that has its face on a bank note and a postal stamp, has big shoes to fill in its current incarnation. There were big expectations for a building as unique and iconic as this; the new west wing had to blend in, and the restoration had to preserve the original charm while meeting the needs and standards of a five star hotel in the new millennium.
What can be said? They did a great job. And we are all happy, elated, in fact, that we can now walk through its majestic lobby and enjoy a G&T as we look ahead towards the endless ocean and soak up the evocative atmosphere of yesteryear.
The Grand Pacific Hotel now boasts 113 rooms, including 95 Deluxe, Superior and Premier rooms, eight Royal Club Rooms and ten Royal Suites. The Royal Suites have been carefully restored to provide a grand colonial feel, complete with antique telephones, high ceilings, spacious bathrooms and huge French glass doors opening onto the veranda.
A swimming pool, gym and spa including a sauna and offering a sumptuous menu of pampering treatments, tick all the modern must-have boxes. The meeting and conference facilities of the hotel are impressive, with several conference and banqueting rooms of different sizes to suit from small to large events. It of course also caters for weddings and other celebrations. High-speed complimentary WIFI all around, baby-sitting, shoeshine and yes, even a butler service are all available.
It is the main building with its stunning lobby with impossibly high ceilings, grand staircases, cane furniture, and large French windows and doors, that is the central jewel in the Grand’s crown, and it is around it that all restaurants and bars are positioned.
The lavish Victoria Lounge, with its opulent furnishing, is the hotel’s private lounge and bar, reserved for those staying in the Executives Suites and Royal Club Rooms. But fear not, because everyone can enjoy the Na Toba Pool Bar and Restaurant, with its cool seating surrounding the pool and packed at sunset even on a Wednesday night, with locals and expats in animated conversation, enjoying an after work drink.
The Steamship Bar completes the picture, offering an ‘elegant but casual’ space, and as some would say, ‘a proper bar’. An extra touch of decadence for good measure is added by boutiques such as Helen Hunter Pearls and the Swiss bakery is just divine.
A place is never complete without the people, and it is the people who ultimately, will drive your experience a little closer to perfection. ‘‘It is incredible, to see the Grand Pacific Hotel, rising like a phoenix out of the ruins. This is truly a symbol of Fiji and requires the best from everyone. Being part of it is a source of great pride for all of us at the Grand Pacific. Our aim is to provide the high quality and standards of a five star hotel not only in our amenities and facilities but in our service, making sure that everyone feels welcomed and at home.”
The Grand Pacific Hotel’s new General Manager, Peter Gee, has taken on the task to spread a sense of camaraderie and friendliness that starts with the staff and reaches every customer. His mission is to make the Grand Pacific the best that it can be, and he is certainly the right man for this property; elegant, with a touch of old world mystique, but warm and unassuming, just like the hotel.
The pride of Suva, this iconic hotel of the South Pacific, is finally open for business.
For more information visit grandpacifichotel.com.fj.
ISLAND LIFE MAGAZINE