Explore Fiji beauty via kayak on the Luva River
They say beauty is only skin deep. Indeed, Fiji’s unblemished beaches, smooth, crystal clear waters and radiant sunshine are what keep tourists coming back year after year. But if you’re feeling a little adventurous, you’ll discover Fiji’s true beauty is at her heart, on the Luva River.
We’re staying at The Pearl South Pacific Resort on the southern coast of Fiji, about 2.5 hours’ drive from Nadi. Waiting at the airport when we arrive after a four-hour flight from Sydney is our driver from Fiji Transfers. A one way transfer from the airport to The Pearl costs FJD$220 (about AUD$120) and allows you to stop at a supermarket to stock up on bottled water (it’s more expensive than alcohol at most of the resorts) and take in the rugged Fijian landscape. Alternatively, you could catch a local bus for about FJD$25 (AUD$12), but as most public transport usually stops for anyone walking along the side of the road – and there will be many walking along the side of the road – it’s anyone’s guess as to how long it would take you to arrive at your destination.
Arriving at The Pearl, located on both beach and river fronts, we realise we could easily spend our entire holiday holed up here. It’s got all the bases covered. The staff at the activities bure have daily offers such as village tours, shopping trips and cooking lessons (yes – I took every cooking class that was offered!). There are free kayaks, standing paddle boards for hire (FJD$25 / AUD$12 for 1 hour), a golf course (FJD$27 / AUD$15 for 18 holes), a free beachfront gym and fishing tours operating nearby. There is a spa, where you can get a one-hour full body massage for FJD$80 / AUD$40, and gift shop selling Fijian pearls and Billini footwear (random, but great!). There is a bar and bistro with a pool table, chess tables, and a themed menu every other night (such as Indian or Thai). The pool has a bar with an expansive cocktail list, local beer and spirits, and daily happy hour – complete with a Fijian three-piece band to entertain every night from 5pm. And for the foodies there is Manatree, a fine-dining restaurant with a menu that changes almost daily. On our last night we were devastated the seafood platter for two (FJD$98 /$AUD50) had not come back into rotation (after having opted for the bistro on our first night), but the chef happily whipped up for us lobster, Maui Maui fish skewers, salt and pepper squid, prawn skewers and oysters with all the trimmings – and without notice! Oh yes, we could have easily stay here for our entire seven-night stay. But there were further temptations at the resort’s tour desk and, before we got too relaxed, we are eager to experience more of Fiji.
We decide to go inland and tour the Namosi Highlands and Lavu River with Rivers Fiji, which operates kayaking and rafting tours daily (depending on numbers) and is based onsite at The Pearl. Our tour involves kayaking and I’m feeling a little hesitant – as I’ve never kayaked before – but I’m up for the challenge! At 8am we board a minibus that required a jump start (eek!) with our local guide Toby, the bus driver and two Fijian women, Salat and Bala. We travel east toward Suva then take a left turn toward the highlands. We stop at the highest point of our route to take in the ocean and island views and for a morning tea of homemade banana bread and juice. Continuing on, we pass by several small villages, men working in fields of root vegetables, boys riding horses bareback and carrying machetes – the essential work tool for the Fijian man – before arriving at Nakavika Village, deep in the Namosi Highlands. This is where our guide, Toby, lives. He takes us to meet his mother, then to the chief’s house for Kava – the nation’s traditional ceremonial drink.
When visiting a Fijian village it is customary to present the Chief with a gift of Kava – a muddy drink made from the dried, pounded roots of a local pepper plant that is consumed from a communal coconut shell. It has a mild sedative effect and makes your lips and tongue tingle or go numb. With our offering of Kava to the Chief we request and are granted permission to access the Navua River, which borders the land of his village.
Everything looks different on the water. After about an hour of navigating some low- to medium-intensity rapids, we stop for a swim and lunch at one of the bends in the river then continue on for some relaxed, smooth sailing. From our inflatable kayaks, the vegetation on the river’s mountain-like peaks appears as dense as moss-covered rocks. Sporadic clusters of bamboo shoot up like carrot tops in a vegetable patch from the rock face, which extends around every twist and bend as if the earth were freshly cracked and willing you to explore its never before-seen crevices. White, grey and speckled stones of varying size spread from the base of the cliff into the turquoise green waters of the Luva River to frame each bend. You could be in completely unchartered territory if it weren’t for the occasional Fijian villager you saw trekking the steep incline of the river’s edge, balancing two buckets of fresh water on a bamboo rod he carries over his back with the ease of a few decades’ practice. There is also the rare site of a half-dozen heard of cattle, dozing under a lazy sun on the waterfront stones like a group of bikini-clad women by a beachfront pool, that remind you that you are not alone in this serene jungle.
The “best” or most popular time to visit Fiji is June or July, when it’s summer and the mangoes and other tropical fruits are bountiful. But we traveled to Fiji in February, when the crowds were few and the weather was blissfully warm. No matter what time you go, make sure you take in more of Fiji than just it’s sun, sand and cocktails!