The River's Edge

River Fiji's itineraries reveal a side of the country not often seen by visitors

By: David Peterkofsky

Fiji without the beach and tourism and conservation hand in hand? Those concepts may surprise some travelers, but an outfit called Rivers Fiji is trying to change perception of the destination with river-rafting and kayaking trips throughout the interior of the country’s main island all with an eye to ecotourism ideals.

The company, which set up shop in the South Pacific in 1998, is no stranger to running rafting trips. Rivers Fiji is a division of Outdoor Adventure River Specialists, the Angels Camp, Calif.-based adventure travel firm with more than 30 years of experience running rafting trips throughout the American West.

But the founders’ appreciation of nature led the outfitter to take an unusual step in establishing itself in Fiji.

Hoping to preserve the lush rain forest from logging and gravel operations along the Upper Navua River one of the waterways used on Rivers Fiji trips the company successfully negotiated with the Fijian government to establish the Upper Navua Gorge Conservation Area.

Under terms of the agreement, the government designated Rivers Fiji as caretakers of the area, and OARS leases the river corridor and 200 meters on either side of the river from the government, paying for it through a $10 per person entrance fee to visitors.

Accolades ensued, with praise coming from groups as diverse as the World Tourism Organization to Outside Magazine and the Fiji Visitors Bureau. But most importantly, said Rivers Fiji President George Wendt, the concept passed muster with the locals.

“It’s exciting to see indigenous landowners embrace incredibly progressive ideas,” Wendt said, adding that government officials “came to believe that the landowners would get more money by leaving their trees in place than by letting a logging company come in for the one-time logging.”

Ultimately, Wendt would like to see the Upper Navua corridor designated as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, which would guarantee its preservation and perhaps extend the conservation area to beyond the river corridor.

Highlands to Islands

Rivers Fiji offers monthly departures in 2003 for its six-day Highlands to Islands itinerary, priced from $1,650 per person, double, land only.

The trip isn’t overly demanding from a physical standpoint, Wendt said. “Anybody with a reasonably adventurous spirit can do it if they are in reasonable physical condition,” he said, adding that the river features Class II rapids, and the typical client is in his or her 50s.

The trip begins with an early-morning arrival in Fiji. Travelers are brought to their accommodations at the Pacific Harbour Resort, on the southern coast of the island of Viti Levu, and start with a free day and evening. For restless paddlers, activities include sea kayaking past the mangrove forests along the shoreline.

Day two brings the group to the interior highlands for a two-day excursion on the ’Luva (that’s short for Wainikoroiluva) River. The day’s kayaking brings the group past villages, grottoes, plantations and other scenery of the rugged interior, with overnight accommodations at the company’s private campsite. That evening, the people of Nakavika prepare a lovo dinner (cooking with an oven that’s dug out of the ground) for the group.

The next morning, the group visits the village of Nakavika, then heads for the hills for a hike, where stops are made at waterfalls and swimming holes, before paddling the rest of the way down the ’Luva. The last leg of the day’s journey is by motorized longboat, back to the Pacific Harbour.

On day four, travelers visit the volcanic Beqa Island, crossing from one side of the island to the other via sea kayaks. Day five brings travelers through more rain forest to the Upper Navua River, on which they spend the day rafting past waterfalls and lush vegetation.

The final day is spent exploring Suva, Fiji’s capital, with dinner at the resort before the late-night flight to the United States.

In addition to Highlands to Islands, Rivers Fiji offers a two-day, one-night rafting trip on the ’Luva River for $365 per person, with overnight accommodations at a private campsite with tent platforms. Day trips, priced from $100 with lunch included, are offered on the Navua and ’Luva rivers.

Agents can book directly with Rivers Fiji, which pays 10% commission, or through one of its three wholesale partners: Travel Arrangements, Brendan Tours and South Pacific Holidays.

Rivers Fiji also can package the Highlands to Islands tour with extensions ranging from a “sailing safari” through the Yasawa island chain to a stay at the ultraexclusive Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort.

Call 800-446-2411. Web site: www.riversfiji. com.