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Credit: Tourism Fiji

The call of the wild: Viti Levu’s lush rainforest interior.

Experience The Ride Of Your Life In Fiji’s Lush Rainforest

By Tim Johnson

When people picture Fiji, they see paradise: beaches as white as icing sugar, warm, inviting, aquamarine waters and palm trees bending gently in the breeze.

But dense jungle pierced only by canyons shot through with rushing rapids? While that’s far from anyone’s image of the South Pacific, it’s where I find myself today.

Having bumped up and down an old dirt road and plunging 30 kilometres deep into the heart of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu, I’ve arrived near the remote village of Nabukelevu and waded into the cold waters of the Upper Navua River.

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Water, water everywhere: Crashing down the Upper Navua River.

Joined by a group of fellow adventurers, we’re ready to ride the rapids – a series of Class III and IV cataracts flowing several kilometres into some of the wildest country that Fiji has to offer.

Our guide is named Noah, a big Polynesian man with legs like tree trunks and a seriously stoic personality. He walks us through a safety briefing and then – heads in helmets and hands on the oars – we’re off, rolling merrily in bright yellow rafts into the very heart of Fiji.

And while sun is usually a big part of a great vacation, we see little of it today – and we don’t care one bit. A true rainforest, Fiji’s lush interior receives precipitation by the bucket-load, and as we crash and spin down the river, the rain falls on us in sheets, pouring down the lip of my helmet and soaking me to the skin. And I love it.

Sky and river combine into one watery reality. Black, volcanic walls rise on each side – as high as 40 metres – narrowing the river in places to a width of just a couple metres, while as many as 70 waterfalls splash down from both directions and add even more water to our adventure.

We stop for lunch, enjoying a few moments on solid ground after pulling the rafts up onto a flat riverbank while Noah and the other guides from rafting company Rivers Fiji prepare a delicious lunch of sandwiches and an array of fresh fruits, pineapple and citrus fruits that could have been picked from the surrounding emerald trees.

Our hunger sated, a few of us scramble up part of a nearby cliff to stand carefully under the white veil of a waterfall and let the torrent – which tumbled over multiple dramatic formations in the rock – wash over us. Noah breaks through his stoicism for a brief moment, hamming it up by doing a few rather theatrical push-ups under the waterfall.

After we pass through our final, whirling rapid, the cliffs slowly recede and the water flattens out. Our thrill ride now a lazy river, Noah takes a few minutes to tell us about life in this part of Fiji. Not long ago, he said, the interior of Viti Levu was largely cut off from the coast – and the rest of the outside world. And while electricity and telephone lines have now fully connected Nabukelevu, people here still largely live in the traditional way. While the Coral Coast, one of the island’s prime destinations for luxury resorts, lies just a short drive away, in Nabukelevu, spears and machetes are brandished on a regular basis.

“My grandparents still live out here,” he explained. “People in the community live off the land; they farm root vegetables like taro and cava, and they hunt wild boar.”

As we coasted to the place where we would take the rafts out of the river, I gazed up at the dark ridgelines of the mountains all around. A land of surprises and secrets, I wondered what the days ahead would hold on the remainder of my Fiji adventure. As I helped to haul the big yellow boat out of the Upper Navua, I couldn’t wait to find out.

When You Go

Fly: Fiji Airways offers regular non-stop flights from Los Angeles International Airport to the national capital, Nadi, aboard its fleet of brand new Airbus A330 aircraft. The planes feature dramatic lighting, in-seat USB power and entertainment on demand, and provide a comfortable ride, even in economy class. www.fijiairways.com

Stay: Located on Fiji’s stunning Coral Coast, Outrigger on the Lagoon is a full-service hotel that offers all the best of the beach, within close driving distance of Viti Levu’s interior wilds. www.outrigger.com

Ride: Rivers Fiji offers a number of rafting packages, from its eight-day ‘Highlands to Island’ ultimate trip and inflatable kayak adventures on the Luva River, to big yellow rafts on the Upper Navua. www.riversfiji.com

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