ON THE OTHER SIDE – HAPPINESS IN FIJI
Venture North-East to Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second-largest island. Its geography comprises mountain peaks in the central region that rise to over 9.14 meters high. On the East coast are the pristine waters of Natewa Bay, while the South coast’s main attraction is the town of Savusavu, also known as “The Hidden Paradise”.
There are two ways to get to Savusavu from Nadi. For a more scenic route, fly into Labasa, the commercial center of the island. From the airport, take a leisurely drive or hire a taxi to traverse the slightly winding and paved cross island road. Locals say they can cover that in 90 minutes. Realistically, it’s about a 2.5 hour journey taking into account time for photo stops along the way. Passing through pockets of settlements, mosques, and Hindu temples, the scenery quickly changes to eye-catching rugged mountain vistas, interspersed by dense forests and extensive sugar cane plantations.
For respite, stop by the recently opened Urata Lookout Café, built with funds from the local Rotary Club and the American Embassy. Offering great views of Savusavu Bay, this social enterprise is operated by the local Urata women and all proceeds go back to the community.
Soon, the topography changes as the land flattens out and old coconut plantations come into view. These plantations, with some trees standing over 305m tall, are a throwback to Savusavu’s copra (dried coconut meat where oil is extracted) industry.
UNTOUCHED PERFECTION SAVUSAVU
Savusavu’s Natewa peninsula is home to unique flora and fauna while Natewa Bay, the largest bay in the South Pacific, has an impressive biodiverse reef. The calm and pristine bay is home to hard and soft coral reefs, and abundant underwater life. Cuttlefish will float close to the surface, while spinner dolphins, green turtles, manta rays, reef sharks and hammerheads call this place home.
Ocean Ventures Fiji is an eco-tourism operator owned by marine biologist Sarah Carlson and Matthew Norman, a former chemist turned scuba enthusiast and conservation advocate. The company is one of a handful allowed to operate scuba diving and snorkeling trips in Natewa Bay, where guests can learn about and contribute to the coral restoration program through hands-on experience with the coral rope nurseries.
Collaborating with Operation Wallacea, an international volunteer conservation organization, the company hosts scientific research trips for high school students worldwide to Natewa’s remote areas of high biodiversity. When on such trips, they discovered the endemic Natewa Swallowtail butterfly and glimpsed birds like the Natewa Silktail and Orange Dove.
Ocean Ventures also conducts a conservation leadership program for local youths to create consciousness of sustainable management practices of their rainforests and the ocean. The company also works directly with villagers to teach them about environmental awareness and send guests to villages for homestays and activities in which the local hosts get paid directly.
Although logging is eliminating some of the dense forests, government entities and operators like KokoMana help educate local communities and drive income sources through stewardship and eco-tourism. KokoMana is the brainchild of Richard and Anne Markham whose love for cocoa and chocolate plus Richard’s background as an agricultural researcher helped to revitalize abandoned cocoa plantations. He turned them into an agroforestry environment that is home to a biodiversity of flora and fauna.
KokoMana features 400 cocoa trees plus 80 other plants, e.g. vanilla. The cocoa is fermented, sun dried and churned into delicious chocolates at their small manufacturing facility. The tour of the farm ends with a tasty chocolate sampling session where visitors can purchase these dairy free products.
For a different adventure, visitors can hop on board a kayak or paddleboard for a 45-minute trip on the Qaloqalo River, passing mangrove forests into the calm waters of Salt Lake. A great place for quiet solitude, the tranquil serenity of this excursion is broken only by the unusual canine sounds of barking imperial pigeons. In ancient times, this 100-acre lake was used as a shortcut to Natewa Bay.
Savusavu Bay is home to Fiji’s first black-pearl farm. Guests can check out these locally cultivated pearls with their unique, non-traditional colors at the J. Hunters Pearls shop in the town center. The farm is situated just outside the store.
A variety of accommodations are available in Savusavu. For example, situated on a 52-acre private island is the Savasi Island Resort with its 13 villas, each with a personal pool and outdoor verandahs. Units in this boutique property offer a back-to-nature concept with some villas featuring outdoor bathrooms.
For a different experience, there are five one-bedroom units on the Serenity, a luxury yacht moored in a channel and converted into permanent accommodations. Taking care of visitors is the effervescent guest services manager, Ma, with her signature laughter, who makes sure nothing is lacking.
TAKE ME TO TAVUENI
Lying off the southeastern coast of Vanua Levu, is Tavueni, the garden isle.
Its main attraction, Bouma Heritage National Park, covers 150 sq km of coastal forest and jungle and offers many different hikes that often end at a waterfall. Within the park lies Bouma (Tavoro) Falls, one of the most iconic waterfalls in Fiji. The first and the biggest one of this set of three waterfalls is about a 15-minute walk from the visitor center along a flat pathway amid a neatly groomed garden setting. The second and third waterfalls have smaller pools and require a bit of work to ascend the sometimes steep trails. En route, stop at the lookout point for a great view of the area.
To visit a local village, travelers must obtain permission and offer a gift to the chief; kava is often used as a present. While in a village, certain decorum is expected, e.g. shoulders and knees should be covered and wearing a hat is considered rude.
If invited, guests can enjoy a kava ceremony with the chief. Kava is a local mildly narcotic drink enjoyed by locals for relaxation. It is made from the powdered root of a pepper plant species which is soaked in cloth in a bowl of water. Even drinking this requires a set routine – clap once before drinking and three times after.
Some accommodations offer a meke, where villagers ranging from toddlers to the village chief participate in a traditional storytelling performance that incorporates dances and music.
Although this is the third largest island in Fiji, it is rather remote and supplies are a little hard to come by. But it is worth the effort to experience a slice of Fijian happiness.
Travel Press Article – Beatrice Ang | July 24, 2023
Sources of Information
- Finding Happiness In Fiji, Naturally Press Release PDF