ABOUT RIVERS FIJI

Rivers Fiji operates in this stunning wilderness. They are Fiji’s only river rafting company that operates classes 2 & 3 river sections. This is one of the South Pacific’s most pristine rivers, protected by one of the most unique conservation co-operations in the world. Land-owning clans (mataqali), local villages, Government and Rivers Fiji came together to protect the Upper Navua River, within the Upper Navua Conservation Area (UNCA)[efn_note]Upper Navua Conservation Area – (UNCA). 11/04/06; Serua; 615 ha; 18°07’28”S 177°56’52”E. The upper Navua River cuts a narrow gorge in the central highlands of Viti Levu, the main island – the gorge itself is some 75 meters deep and 5 to 25 meters wide and hosts important fauna and flora, including an abundance of the disappearing endemic sago palm Metroxylon vitiense. The waters of the site contain breeding populations of at least two endemic freshwater fish species (Redigibius leveri and Schismatogobius chrysonotus), and in the forests surrounding the gorge there are 17 endemic species of birds. Due to its relative inaccessibility, the site is in a nearly undisturbed state, but increased logging in the area poses a potential threat. The land is owned by traditional families and managed on their behalf by the Native Land Trust Board, and is presently leased to Rivers Fiji Ltd, an ecotourism and rafting venture which is designing training and education programmes, among other efforts, in order to develop sustainable ecotourism further. Villagers’ centuries-old traditional knowledge of the river and its systems is seen as the foundation for the long-term preservation and sustainable use of the river and near-river resources. Wetlands International – Oceania, Mainstream Environmental, and Rivers Fiji Ltd provided valuable assistance to the government in compiling data for this site designation. Ramsar site no. 1612. Most recent RIS information: 2013. [/efn_note].

In 2006, the UNCA became the first Ramsar site in Fiji. The Ramsar Convention is an intergovernmental treaty to protect fragile wetlands, which is extremely vital for the preservation of biodiversity and subsequently the health and well-being of the local communities.

Rivers Fiji is also affiliated to the Duavata Sustainable Collective. Taukeinikoro says. “The Duavata Sustainable Collective is a group of tourism operators and they all have the same thing in mind; to protect and preserve the environment, and be a voice for the communities.” [efn_note]Duavata Sustainable Collective – We’re the collective voice of like-minded tourism operators who believe tourism should enhance cultural heritage & the environment.[/efn_note].

By March 2020, the company employed 18 river guides and three office staff. Rivers Fijj operated raft and kayaking tours on two sections of the river – the Upper Navua and the Middle Navua River – operating three days a week on each river. They also ran multi-day camping and cultural experience trips for larger university groups to interact with these remote villages, learning about their way of life.

COVID-19

And then COVID-19 hit, and Fiji closed its borders and international visitors, who had been Rivers Fiji’s main customers, couldn’t enter Fiji.

“When COVID happened, it really struck us in the gut. The hardest moment was sending people home and seeing everyone struggle, but you can’t do anything about it,” says Taukeinikoro.

Taukeinikoro knew he had to think on his feet. Throughout the company’s 24-year history, they had faced obstacles. This pandemic, Taukeinikoro figured, was just another.

“The great challenge was that we had bills to pay, even though we were not operating,” he says. “We have the property to take care for and the insurance and the loans.” Forced to sell some of the company’s assets, Taukeinikoro made the decision to target the local tourism market by dropping prices for rafting and kayaking trips by 75 percent.

“We were just doing it to get the boys (guides) working and that was fine with us,” Taukeinikoro says. “So that’s what we did. We sent out fliers quickly and to the organizations and the locals and put an ad in the paper to say ‘hey, this is a 75 percent discount, and then… boom! It exploded and people were coming from everywhere.”

Though they were only making enough money to pay the guides, what mattered to Taukeinikoro was that money was still flowing into the remote villages and the landowning units (mataqali) of the Upper Navua Conservation Area.

Then, when COVID-19 hit Fiji itself in July 2021, the business had to close down completely. Even that didn’t stop Taukeinikoro’s committed involvement in the region.

As part of a collective health initiative, Rivers Fiji stepped up to help Fiji’s Ministry of Health in its vaccination campaign to reach the most remote villages of the region. He and his wife offered up their services to drive all-terrain vehicles deep into the Sigatoka River Basin to reach remote villages.

“Everyone was scared of COVID, but I said to my wife – we’ve got to do this for the boys (guides),” Taukeinikoro says. When some of the designated drivers for the mission were too frightened to go into infected villages, Taukeinikoro opted to take over the driving himself. They would have to isolate afterwards, be tested weekly and often not see family and friends for weeks.

They would have to visit many villages multiple times to ensure they vaccinated everyone who wanted to be vaccinated “Some of those villages we visited like 7 to 8 times just because, after we left the clinic, someone else wanted to get vaccinated, but we had to do it,” he says.

It became a tough task to track down Taukeinikoro, as he moved through the wilderness visiting villages. With his company not earning any income, he devoted most of his time as a volunteer. Taukeinikoro moved the operation of his rafting company to his house to keep costs down, but Taukeinikoro kept the business alive online to keep interested up for when international customers could return to Fiji.

As an environmentalist at heart, he knew the survival of Rivers Fiji should ensure the conservation of the river region the company operates on. He is passionate about working with the tiny remote communities that exist in the region, and knows their economic activities and potential is limited without the income and jobs the company offers.

He has worked with other members of the Duavata Sustainable Collective in the area to find new tourism activities to ensure remote villages are provided for, and to ensure the Upper Navua Conversation Area stays the same for generations to come.

Part of the new initiatives has been working with the collective to create a series of adventure races in the region to showcase the beauty of the river and its surroundings. Rivers Fiji was part of the team that brought the successful EcoChallenge series of races to this part of Fiji. Now they have set up a series of races with a local youth leadership program, Invisibilia, to promote the conservation of the area.

However, Taukeinikoro’s proudest moment since COVID-19 struck the world was the day he opened his rafting business back up when international travelers were allowed back into Fiji in December 2021.

“The best moment of the last 18 months was when we opened again,” he says. “All the guides came back. Even some guides who had found work elsewhere even came back, they wanted to be here on the day. It was a very proud moment for us because some companies didn’t make it, and we were one of those companies that did well. We have to carry on. But we have to remember one thing; we have everything to lose, so we have to protect this. This is our golden egg.”

Source | https://bit.ly/3pAmSIP

 

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