Jetting into ‘the real Fiji’
In Nadi, a high-speed boat transports to a slower, gentler way of life - a Fijian village.
elcome to the real Fiji,’’ announces my taxi driver as we scoot through Nadi. It’s Saturday morning and the markets’ carparks are packed with locals fetching their essentials: kava, veges and eggs, my driver says.
No time to stop though. Our white van speeds past the mishmash of vehicles and people.
Locals tell me Nadi is developing into a global city. Middle Eastern and Asian influences are spawning vibrant eateries and an eclectic mix of cultures is feeding a fledging music scene. If you look hard enough, Nadi has it all.
But I’m short on time. I’m here for just four days.
It makes sense to get the most out of a short break, which is where the Sigatoka jet boat comes in. Tourists pack into a red speed boat, the fastest boat around (built in Gore, it’s like the ones you find in Queenstown). They don their yellow life jackets, sit back and feel the wind pound their faces.
We roar through the blue veins of Sigatoka, a town 90 minutes’ drive from Nadi. Sigatoka is called the Salad Bowl of Fiji, thanks to its fertile grounds and the river, its lifeblood.
We hammer a turn. ‘‘Captain Freddy‘‘ sends the red ship spinning past protruding palms. Then we pick up speed. Ahead, is a green mound adorned with gnawed grass. We’re playing chicken with a mountain. Freddy pulls a hard left while simultaneously cutting the engines, and we drift to the river bank because the captain wants to talk.
Freddy, whose village is just up stream, tells us about the mountain. He talks a bit of ‘‘bula-crap’’, claiming the mountain here was the basis for James Cameron’s Avatar. I won’t vouch for his accuracy, but Freddy tells a good yarn.
He says investors want to buy this mountain for its rock. If they buy it, then the mountain could be gone. He’s worried about the future in Sigatoka, with commercialism is sweeping in.
That food for thought is blown away as we rattle on, heading for Naveyago.
Naveyago is a community of about 130 people. The village has its own church: a concrete building that stands strong at the top of the hill. The cracking blue paint and burgundy crosses look over the village.
Below, in the village, grandchildren duel for their grandparents’ knees. The elders gather in a tin hall as it’s lunch time, for the tourists that is.
As us tourists trail off our jet boats, our guides brief us about the village. We can present gifts, if we have any. Otherwise, our presence is enough. Sigatoka River Safari pays the village.
For lunch there is two-minute noodles, fruit and sausages.
The village’s elders and its preschoolers stay back from the food, chatting amongst themselves and watching on. A few cheeky toddlers manage to score a snack.
I head back to the kitchen, a shed. Its tin walls are warping out, the metal looks burnt, the ground is black with soot. Dirty pots have turned almost completely black and sit drying outside on a piece of old roofing.
The rest of my tour is back at the hall where Naveyago has ‘‘welcomed us as part of the family’’.
An aunt asks to photograph a young local because ‘‘you look just like my niece’’. The truth is, most of us have taken photos without asking.
Every week Sigatoka River Safari rotates to a new village. Its Australian owners say changing villages spreads the money across Sigatoka, leading to better water and power supply.
As we prepare to leave, the guides announce it’s time to dance.
The older men keep sipping their kava; their eyes still blank, they remain seated. This tourist attraction, also known as their living room, is nothing new. Naveyago has hosted about seven tour groups this week.
Suddenly boardshort-wearing dads are in a conga line. A few Naveyago women coax the tourists to their feet, but the preschoolers barely bat an eyelid as this strange sight unfolds. ❚
The writer travelled courtesy of Fiji Air, the Hilton, Fiji and the Sigatoka River Safari company.
The Naveyago village church sits overlooking every other building.
Boat loads of tourists arrive to see ‘‘the real Fiji’’.