My teen daughter and I recently visited Viti Levu, Fiji’s main island, and stayed at the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa. The property overlooks Natadola Bay, which many consider to be the best beach on the island. Tropical gardens and native Polynesian art adorn the resort grounds. Tiki torches illuminate the 14-hectare property’s winding, paved paths.
It would have been easy to stay and enjoy this paradise for days, but on the concierge’s recommendation, we chose a tour with Sigatoka River Safari, which allows visitors to the island to experience daily village life and traditions.
The Sigatoka River is Fiji’s longest. It winds through the centre of the island, with most of its banks still undeveloped. Our tour guide, “Captain Jack,” as he refers to himself, leads a group of about ten of us on a jet boat ride down the river.
Captain Jack, who is both entertaining and knowledgeable, periodically stops the boat to tell stories about Fiji’s history and the river. His anecdotes range from Fiji’s ancient wars to rugby pride to gory details about Reverend Thomas Baker, Fiji’s last victim of cannibalism (in 1867!).
“He made one error,” Captain Jack admits. “He made a disrespectful gesture by touching the chief on the head.”
We see a farmer leading his animals to water, goats perched on jagged rocks, and a man riding his horse across the river to the other side.
“Until recently, many of the children in the villages along the river put their school uniforms in a bag and then walked through the river to get to school,” Captain Jack explains. “There was just one elementary school.”
There is now a new preschool, a new school bus, and other types of infrastructure, thanks in part to government funding and proceeds from this tour.