Reference: Fiji

Title: Upriver in Fiji.

Length: 1200 words.

Publishing rights: All rights.

Travel companies: Orient Lines.

Copyright: Derrick Grover.

(Please click on thumbnails of photographs on this page to see enlargement, there is sometimes distortion when they are reduced.)

Upriver in Fiji.

Canoe trip

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 her.

"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.

Meeting house

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 calm water.

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 current.

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 with us.

My wife was pleased with the trip. "It was very exciting," she said.

View some photographs supporting this article here.

River boat, The Kava ceremony in Melanesian meeting house, Houses in Melanesian village, etc


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