Viti Levu

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Viti Levu, Fiji

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Nadarivatu & Tomanivi
High in the mountains above the heat but often within the clouds is Nadarivatu, an old colonial settlement and once the penal colony for Fiji . It’s a wonderfully peaceful setting, located in a large depression surrounded by mountains and pine forests, and now acts as the government station serving many of the remote villages of the interior with a health centre, district officer and forestry headquarters. The journey up here from the coast is quite spectacular, accessed three kilometres east of Tavua Town via Nadarivatu Road . It takes fifty minutes to reach the settlement winding upwards along a dirt road, but with sweeping views along the way, particular on the steep ascent from pretty Waikubukubu Village , it will probably take longer. Nadarivatu translates as the stone bowl, named after a small black stone beside the road close to the health centre where legend tells of water sprouting in times of drought and this being the source of the mighty Sigatoka River .

You can stay at Nadarivatu Rest House, two serene cottages with stone flute fireplaces, wooden floors and three bedrooms each with kitchen, cold water showers and 24- hour electricity. The fireplaces are stocked with wood which is a good thing as at almost 1000- metres high, it gets pretty chilly up here at night, even in summer.

The main reason for visiting the region is to conquer Tomanivi, also known as Mt. Victoria , the highest point in Fiji standing at 1,323 metres. Unfortunately at this high elevation, the mountain appears to be nothing more than a hill although the 2- hour hike to the top is definitely strenuous. You’ll need to hire a guide for $20 from Navai Village , eight kilometres south of Nadarivatu, sign the visitor book at Leo Nautuka’s house, caretaker of the walking track, and pay a $20 admission fee which goes towards village projects. The lower part of the trail is extremely muddy, passing plantations and crossing a couple of streams. About half way up, the trail enters the government leased Tomanivi Nature Reserve where you’ll likely see masked shining parrots, long legged warblers and will probably hear whistling doves. From here on up follows an exceptionally steep ridge over rock boulders and contorted tree roots - it’s quite a scramble but thankfully the trail is hemmed in by thick forest. There are a couple of sweeping views along the way and the panorama from the top, on a clear day, takes you from the dry western valleys to the distant north coast and around to the south of Viti Levu overlooking rugged tropical mountains. The walk is best attempted on a dry day, setting off from Navai around 8am - any later and the trail becomes swelteringly hot, any earlier and the summit is likely doused in morning mist.

Navala Village
Along the remote road to Ba, the much photographed Navala Village is an iconic scene of Fiji . With almost two hundred traditionally hand crafted thatch bures, the only cement structures are the church, school and a few generator huts. Back in 1950, the community decided to reject modern building materials for the construction of their homes and enforced all school leavers to learn the art of traditional bure making. The result, sixty years on, is the last remaining thatch village in Fiji, earning handsomely from its uniqueness whilst retaining a gift passed on to them by their fore fathers. To visit the village, introduce yourself to the first person you come across on the roadside and they will take you to the village headman where you pay a $15 village entry fee. The money represents a sevusevu, but instead of going towards yaqona drinking, it helps with the upkeep of the village. Strolling around is a delightful experience, with the chiefly bures having distinctly designed roof tops and set in a neat line facing the village green - the more disorganized clusters of bures on the lower slopes of the Ba River are where the common people live. The village is surrounded by grassy mountains with distorted rock faces engraved with secret caves where the people once retreated to in times of war.

You can stay at Bulou’s Lodge, perched on the river banks five minutes walk south of Navala (towards Bukuya) and explore the hills with the energetic Tui.  The ten-bed dorm lodge forms part of Bulou’s house and is a bit cramped, but you’re likely have it to yourself. The two ensuite bures are set down a small trail on a hillside clearing overlooking the river.

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