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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Fijian Postcard Moment: Hidden Waterfall Hike


Stirring of kava in communal bowl for ceremonial drinking. Kavalu Bay village, Kadavu, Fiji.
Never mind that the salt content in heavily exported Fiji bottled water is saltier than our watermaker when it’s working properly, the stuff we sipped off a hidden Fiji waterfall was pretty darned tasty! 

It all started because we heard there was a waterfall near our anchorage off the isle of Kadavu, accessible off the mangroves at high tide.  We’d  “parked” just off the island’s primary store, between the villages of Kavalu and Solotavui, and asked some locals leaving the store in their skiff where the waterfall was.  “Go to the village thataway [they pointed to a small island, indicating the village was behind it], and ask them,” they replied.


Gaston of Bidule accepts kava in ceremony.  Kavalu Bay village, Kadavu, Fiji.
We dinghied around the indicated island, seeing no village, but looking for a big enough gap in the mangroves to lead to a village.   A brilliantly colored parrot passed overhead, its body a vivid scarlet red, its wings shiny cobalt-blue and emerald-green.  We entered a gap in the mangrove, eventually passing a bamboo raft with a pallet lashed atop it, a red dugout canoe, then, the mangrove opened into a wide dead-end, at the village’s doorstep. 

We were greeted by waves and shouts of “Bula! Bula!”  whilst one villager pantomimed the removal of a hat, as one of our friends was still wearing his, a faux pas when visiting a traditional Fijian village.  We later discovered we were the first yachties to visit their remote village this year.


Wayne drinks kava. Kavalu Bay village,
Kadavu, Fiji.
We tied our dinghy up to a tree next to a local skiff and asked to meet with the chief to offer our sevusevu.  Several men, led us to the community hut, warmly asking the usual “Where are you from?” questions.

We removed our shoes and entered the hut, joining the men already seated upon woven pandanus mats, the communal kava bowl already out and filled. 

I noticed unlike the Ono, Nagara village community house, there wasn’t a “no smoking” sign posted.  An older local man lit up an ultra-skinny obviously home-wrapped cigarette, tapping its ashes into a large clamshell he brought with him for that purpose.  We were told the tobacco was Fijian.

The chief, resplendent in his genuine Hawaiian beer shirt and sulu arrived and joined the widening circle.  He also asked us where we came from and about our travels, then accepted our sevusevu kava offering. There was a round of blessings in Fijian, after which the chief gave us his permission to “Do as we chose” upon his lands.  He then invited us to join the kava ceremony. 


Jimmy, from Kavalu Bay village, Kadavu,
Fiji guides us first through the mangroves
to a local waterfall.
The kava bowl was stylishly stirred by a young man with long, slender fingers.  He scooped from the bowl with one coconut shell cup, and poured the kava into a second cup, held by an intermediary.   The intermediary then passed the cup to the first recipient.  Before taking the cup, its recipient first clapped once, burst forth with a “Bula!” then accepted the cup, and drank it dry.  Once done, the drinker declared “Maca!” (or something like that -- which we’d heard third-hand meant “empty.”)  There was some combination of clapping, then the cup was passed back to the intermediary, who again had it filled from the server, then passed it the next person in the circle.  This continued until everyone was served.  It was determined we could imbibe in a second round of kava with time enough to make it out to the waterfall and back before the tide dropped too much.  And so we did.

We left feeling well and truly welcomed.

Apparently, Jimmy drew the short straw, as he was selected by the villagers as our guide to the waterfall.  Fit, tall and muscular, with slightly graying hair, Jimmy appeared to be in his forties; his English was excellent.  Jimmy’s 14-year-old son, his only child, went to school at the neighboring village.  His son’s mom lived in Suva, Jimmy told us.


Mangroves of Kadavu, Fiji at high tide.
Jimmy boarded our dinghy, only carrying a short machete, with a mahogany handle, which he made by neatly and securely binding the handle to its sturdy blade with fishing line., Our French-Canadian cruising friends from Bidule, Lizanne and Gaston, followed us in their dinghy.  As we headed off toward the waterfall, we noticed the friends Meaghan and Chris from the Canadian sailboat Tangatatu were at their boat.  They’d left hours prior in search of the waterfall. We stopped by and upon finding out they’d yet to find it (after turning down an offer to be taken there for $6/person from a villager near the store), invited them to join us, too.


Dinghies tied off at trailhead to Fijian waterfall in Kadavu isles, Fiji.
After about 15 minutes down another mangrove channel, Jimmy directed us to a spot to tie off our three dinghies and begin our hike.  In a few spots, the trail was quite muddy.  Other points the vegetation was waist high or higher. At a stream crossing, as the shortest hiker, I foolishly tried going through the stream rather than billygoat-jumping across it and got dunked waist-deep, holding my non-water camera above my head to keep it dry.  I managed to dunk both times – there and back -- crossing the stream.  Several times Jimmy made use of his machete to clear the trail.  More parrots soared overhead, this time visible only in silhouette, though their chatter was quite audible. 

The trail to waterfall was a bit muddy
in spots.
Kadavu isles, Fiji.    
Then, after a particularly lush, damp, dense green spot of jungle, we arrived!  While the waterfall was only about 50 feet tall and made up of several short falls, it still feltas if we were stepping into a postcard.  The rocks over which the waterfall spilled were a deep charcoal color, with white sheets of water cascading down over them.  The lush foliage-fringed pool below the waterfall was clear, and could easily hold a party ten times the size of ours.

We stepped into the cool, refreshing water and made our way over to the rocks for a waterfall shower.  Bliss!   Ahhh… this is what we came to Fiji for!

We took a sip.  The water was fresh, sweet and mineral-y. Even though the waterfall supplied village water, were unsure whether it contained bacteria our system wasn’t adapted to.   With some regret, we didn’t drink deeply or fill our water bottles. 

No doubt about it – we were tramping through
an enchanting jungle to the waterfall. Kadavu isles, 
The hike back took only 15-20 minutes.  As we approached our sailboats, Chris and Meaghan invited us all, Jimmy included, to their boat for a cuppa. 

Over coffee and tea, we learned Jimmy’s village was keen on their solar power, which they relied on much more than other villages, who rely more on their generators.  The solar power for “Jimmy’s” village, with gel batteries lasting 10 years, were provided via an AID project from India.  They were maintained by a woman in their village who spent six months in India for training, surprising given the patriarchal nature of Fijian village life.  She also services the solar power for other local villages using it.  The solar power’s sufficient even for the movies they watch on a PC in the community house as well of course for charging their mobile phones.


Partial view of the waterfall; without my water
camera, wasn’t willing to risk my non-waterproof
camera for the full waterfall view.
Kadavu isles, Fiji.
In another 21st century touch, Jimmy claimed the store we anchored near was open 24/7 (though one of Wayne’s stop there, no one was manning it).  The store did not sell beer, though it could be ordered for delivery a week in advance when the Thursday supply ship came in. Jimmy, his pride evident, said, “We drink kava here.  It’s better.  Kadavu kava is the best, the strongest there is.” 

The time came for Jimmy to be returned to the village before the tide became too low for the mangrove passage in.  Meaghan and Chris took him in, just as the sun was beginning to set, early over the hills surrounding the verdant valley. 

It was a good day, living the life the stuff dreams, and bottled Fiji water, are made of.


Just before we got back to our sailboats, this rainbow greeted us. Kadavu isles, Fiji.
Location Location
We recently left Fiji’s Kadavu isles of Astrolabe Reef, where we spent nearly 2 weeks, from June 5 to June 17, 2016.  Sixty miles across, Astrolabe’s the fourth largest barrier reef in the world.   This post was written about our time at our third Kadavu isles anchorage, off Kadavu island, (S18.58.913 E178.25.164), and sent from Savusavu, Vanua Levu (S16.46.706  E179.19.785).

Cruising by the Numbers

December 2014 to November 2015 we sailed over 10,000 miles from Florida to New Zealand.  where spent cyclone season.   In May, we sailed 1,000+ miles to Fiji.  Then we’re off to Vanuatu, New Caledonia finishing in Australia, 4,500+ miles later.  There, around November, we’ll sell our boat, travel a bit, then go back to work …somewhere.