Into the mist
First we had to get to the river, which required a bumpy ride through some very beautiful scenery
This is my day kayaking down the Luva river in Viti Levu (the big island of Fiji). It was a blast.
I had probably hoped for a sunnier day but in Suva and the environs, that is all you can do. Hope. Then you just have to wake up in the morning and go with the flow. As it was, a cloudy day looked in the offing but at least it wasn’t raining.
First things first, I had to find a packed lunch to take with me. I knew the fridge was empty - I had checked the night before and of course, in the morning when for some illogical reason I checked again, nothing had changed. In any case, I had already formulated my plan. Get out of bed an extra 10 minutes early and pop into the bakery, the nearest “Hot Bread Kitchen” as they are called, and pick up some sausage rolls and a lamb or chicken pie. In the end it was 4 sausage rolls and a chicken pie. They do very nice sausage rolls. The pie is not bad either. And it’s all very cheap.
After picking up breakfast it was time to
Our bumpy ride took us through part of the Namosi highlands
get to the meeting point with the company who was taking us out on the river. The name of the company is Rivers Fiji and they are based about an hour out of Suva, at Pacific Harbour, or Pac Harbour as most of the locals call it. There are buses that go there but trying to catch a bus would have forced me to get out of bed even earlier. Getting up at 6.30 am was bad enough, so I decided to take a taxi. A slightly more expensive option (30 fijian dollars instead of around 10) but well worth it for the extra half hour sleep, not to mention at least another 45 minutes I would doze in the taxi.
Arriving in Pac Harbour I could see that the weather was not much better here. Oh well. The group that had assembled for the kayaking trip down the Luva river was quite small, just 6 of us, which suited me fine. There were also 3 guides coming with us, so that made a pretty good ratio. We bundled into the four wheel drive minibus which was going to take us through the Namosi highlands to the drop off
point on the river. It was going to be at least another hour drive but this time on a dirt road through the jungle and up into the hills.
I was not disappointed, the views along the way were magnificent. The hills were covered in jungle with barely a few patches of damaged forest to attest to human activities. The mist was swirling around the top of the hills, creating a romantic effect, if maybe hiding from us the full glory of the craggy peaks. The road was bumpy and muddy but clearly easily within the capabilities of our skilled driver. It had rained recently which added a bit of mud and therefore a bit more challenge but clearly our driver and his colleagues had seen this all before a thousand times. For me, it was quite exciting.
We passed a man on a horse, a family (walking to the market?) and a village down below us in a valley. It was all so peaceful and serene. Hard to believe that just 100 years ago (and less) the Fijians were a warlike nation, with tribal rivalries going back generations and each village fortified at the top of a
hill and ready to defend or launch raids on neighbouring tribes. But now all that is in the past and most of the villages reside near rivers or near the coast.
We continued on our bumpy ride. At around 10.30 we stopped for a snack of banana bread, one of my favourite Fijian treats, and orange squash, courtesy of our hosts. With a long day ahead, I had no objections to keeping my energy levels up, especially since I love banana bread (or did I already mention that?).
The next thing we had to do was visit a village to ask permission to kayak down their river. The village which owns the area around this part of the river has a long standing agreement with the company we were travelling with to let them use the river. In return they get a fee and the village also has to commit to preserving the forest as it is. No logging or burning along the river banks and in the surrounding area. I am not totally clear on the exact terms of the agreement but it's something like that.
We stopped at the entrance to the village and as
we got off the bus we all took care to cover our legs, arms and shoulders and to take hats and sunglasses off. It is rude to enter a village in shorts or trousers, especially for women, so everyone had to put on a sulu (or sarong), which is wrapped around the waste to look like a long skirt, which should reach to at least mid-calf. The village was very neat and tidy, the houses in rows, with gardens behind them.
We were led to the chief's house, where we had a brief audience with him. This included a kava ceremony (a ritual where the traditional Fijian drink is prepared and then handed around to all the people present for them to drink out of small cocnut shell bowls), during which our guides chanted in Fijian what I assume was the request to use the river and thanks for the permission being granted. Then we also had the chance to talk to the chief as he could speak some English. I realise that I should work harder on my Fijian.
Soon after leaving the village we arrived at the drop off point and we all grabbed our gear.
This is the plant whose roots are ground into powder to make kava (or yaqona in Fijian) - the traditional Fijian drink.
This was all provided by Aqua Trek and consisted of a helmet, a lifejacket and, of course, a paddle. We also had a kayak each (of the inflatable kind) but we didn’t have to carry those, they had already been helpfully deposited at the river bank by our hosts. So we made our way down a narrow, winding and quite muddy path down to the water’s edge and gamefully hopped into our kayaks.
It was quite a comfortable seat. Of course, we got a safety talk first and then a few basic instructions on how to control our raft. The river had a few small rapids but nothing major. I was confident there would be no flipping over. This was already so much fun and the kayaking had only just started. As it turned out the first rapid was the biggest and scariest and since I got past that with no problems, the rest of the trip down was a picnic. Best of all, the sun finally came out.
It was a picturesque journey with jungle on both sides. I felt (not for the first time in Fiji) as if I was in an Indiana Jones film. Each
little rapid added a bit of fun and excitement but most of the time it was a smooth and steady ride down. Our guides were never far, keeping a watchful eye and sometimes showing us the best path through the tricky bits. I am no kayaking expert, in fact I am more or less a beginner, but I experienced no problems at all and I could sit back, relax and enjoy the wonderful scenery.
From the river, the view of the surrounding jungle was completely different and at times we found ourselves in narrow canyons with high walls of rock surroundings us and the jungle looming from above. It was so beautiful, not something I can describe with a few words. I have a few photos but they do not do it justice either. Somewhere in one of these canyons, on one of the bends in the river, there was a short pebble beach, with a small waterfall on the other side where we stopped to have lunch. Just one of many idyllic spots.
On this trip there was also another treat. We stopped to see one of the biggest waterfalls in Fiji. Again, hard to describe. Even
harder to stand right under it but that is exactly what we tried to do. And it was so much fun! After the waterfall our trip was almost over as we reached the bottom of the river and it widened considerably. The weather also finally darkened and it started to rain. The adventure was almost over.
We pulled over on the side of the river, where a boat was waiting to pick us up and take us rather more speedily than in our kayaks down the last part of the river to our pick up point. Once there, we climbed back onto the minibus, thankful to be out of the rain. Changing into dry clothes was a bit of a challenge but I managed it and I dozed off on the way back to Pac harbour and pretty much all the rest of the way home to Suva.
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