One of the interesting features, when cruising, is the opportunity to take
excursions ashore. This is particularly gratifying in the South
Pacific since there are many unspoilt islands. A choice of at
least five excursions is usually offered.
I chose the Navua River Cruise, but my wife was a bit doubtful. It was the
idea, of shooting the rapids on the fast flowing river that worried
"It won't be like shooting the rapids as you see on films," I
said, "For one thing we go down the same river as we go up and so
it can't be that fast."
"Are you sure?" She asked.
"In any case," I ventured, "it will be a broad river boat
seating perhaps fifty to a hundred people. There isn't much chance
of a problem there.
When we arrived at our destination we saw, lined up on the bank, several
narrow riverboats. Could these be for us I wondered? They were just
wide enough for two people to sit side by side. Each was 32 feet
long and had a 30 HP outboard engine; sufficient to plane over the
fast moving water at about 20 - 25 knots. They were replicas of
one we had seen lower down the river with a mountain of spray rising
from its bows. Our boat was to be no exception.
"There may be some spray but it won't turn over," our guide
assured us in answer to a worried passenger.
The freeboard of only six inches was disguised by the spray so that
passengers in adjoining boats appeared to be at water level. The six
inches would reduce to zero as the boat steered round bends in the
river and I would watch, bemused, wondering if the water, now
level with the edge of the boat, would slip over the top. When it
came, it deposited a cup full of water in my lap.
On the bank, high waterfalls cascaded down through the trees from crag to
crag. We passed a small village community on our left with children
swimming in the shallows. Soon a small tributary joined the river
from the right. From the gap in the bank a welcome breeze wafted
the spray over our faces. It was cooling and soon dried. Our
bigger problem was the man two seats in front. Every time he put
his hand in the water he deflected spray onto the passengers behind. Our
helmsman positioned our boat carefully before another foaming stretch of
rapids, then with a burst from the engine, we climbed over the
waves. Spray splashed out on either side. I watched the level of
water skimming by the edge of the boat. Would it rise too high I
wondered? I pulled the cover over the camera lens. We were
surprised that we remained dry and soon we were again on to a stretch of
After 30 minutes we arrived at our destination; a small native village
built adjacent to the river. The craft was driven up onto bamboo slats
and we disembarked onto dry land.
A swim in the cooling river was a must. The fast current carried us down
stream, so we had to walk back along the stony bank. Some intrepid
souls started upstream and drifted rapidly down to meet us. It was
important to swim towards the bank and not attempt to combat the
A feast was being prepared for us in the village meeting house but first a
welcome and then a drink of Kava - a local drink made from
ginger-like roots. It was said to be intoxicating but
non-alcoholic. The ritual accompanying the drinking of Kava had
been common to all the South Pacific islands we had visited. The
roots are steeped in water in a large wooden urn and strained
through coconut fibre. You had to give a single clap of the hands before being
handed a bowl of the muddy looking liquid. Its claim to make the
lips and mouth numb was unfounded. Perhaps they made a weaker
concoction for tourists - or perhaps we did not drink enough of it.
The natives sang a melodious chant and played on guitars. The music was
relaxing and reflected the easygoing temperament of the Polynesian
people. It continued for the length of our stay.
For the feast, barbecued meats and local fruits such as pineapple, melons
and bananas were laid out on mats. Sandwiches had been made up of
fish between two slices of cucumber, but no bread. Some of the
modern conveniences had reached the village. Paper napkins were
provided, but no cutlery. We sat cross-legged on the ground with a
beaker of fruit juice in the other hand. The native guitars
continued their melody in the background and young boys waved rushes
over the food to keep the flies away.
Outside the sun blazed down and villagers, selling trinkets, woven goods
and carvings by the path, were careful to sit in the shade of large
umbrellas. The meeting house was cool with thatched roof and
plaited walls. It was tempting to linger there. Many of the houses
were of plaited bamboo; two layers made up the wall, which
enclosed a communal living room. Their back garden was the jungle;
tall grasses and palm trees with fruits awaiting an agile climber. The
children befriended us as we walked among the houses and the villagers were
happy to show us their homes.
The return down river was easier; we knew what to expect. Seat number four
was designated the wet seat. It was where the spray was most easily
deflected. Those who had sat behind the hand-dipping gentleman
arrived early and secured seats at the front of the boat. We felt
that it was only fair that he should have his share of the spray. He
was soon wet and cool in the tropical heat.
We realised that our helmsman wanted to win the return journey and we took
a different channel to the others. Our journey home was shorter and
drier. We had travelled faster but the current and wind had been
My wife was pleased with the trip. "It was very exciting,"