Nearly two years ago now, I asked my husband what he wanted for his 40th birthday, I thought he might want to upgrade his Garmin, head to New Zealand on holiday or just go to the beach for the weekend. ‘How about we hike across Viti Levu?’ he said.
As we own a hiking business in Fiji, this sounded quite a lot like work and not entirely normal. Plus, I really wasn’t in the best shape for a 180km walk.
It was with some trepidation that I found myself on standing on Viti Levu’s northern coast, at Yaqara’s office – a cattle farm on the Suncoast – with the lightest pack possible. Just the bare essentials – instant oats for breakfast, crackers and tuna for lunches, vacuumed packed Lami Kava for our sevusevu each night, a few hiking shirts, a first aid kit, a water filter and plenty of snacks. And, of course, a plan: to emerge on the island’s southern coast 10 days from now having crossed some pretty rugged terrain, trekked along various old village tracks, some gravel roads, and cooled off in many refreshing streams. So, 180km, here we go!
Day 1: Yaqara to Naivutu (25km)
As we farewelled the ocean we passed an elderly gentleman driving to work. He apologised that taking us to our destination would make him late for work. We explained we wanted to walk. ‘Isa’ he sighed with a look that we would become accustomed to over the next nine days!
With a relatively straightforward track and a first day spring to our step we made good pace through areas of reforested pine and teak. As the afternoon cooled we reached Naivutu, where our host for the night, Varaone, had generously given up his bed and had been fishing for our fantastic dinner.
Day 2: Naivutu to Nabalesere (15km)
Our guide for the day, Ratu, had calves that could only belong to a rugby player – so it was no great surprise to learn that he did indeed play rugby. He joked that he’d run back as part of his training. This was a short day so I tried to hide my relief as the green houses of Nabalesere emerged. Reaching the revitalising waters of the Savulelele falls involved a bit more walking but had the almost instantaneous desired effect on tired muscles. I almost skipped back down to the village!
Day 3: Nabalesere to Navai (20km)
Despite our insistence that our instant oats were breakfast enough, Milika emerged at first light with a plate of babakau. Armed with as many mangoes as we could carry we started the climb, ambitiously aiming for 2km an hour! From the ridgeline it was impossible not to reflect on how blessed Nabalesere’s situation is – surrounded by forest and water that comes straight from nature’s best filter. Cyclone Winston was definitely here though – there’s as much clambering over and under fallen trees as hiking. Paula, our guide for the day, had an amazing ability to disappear into the distance as soon as there was a decent stretch of track. At an opening in the canopy above a waterfall we refill our water supplies for the final 4km along old logging tracks. I’m delighted to see Joji (who is providing vehicle support and restocking our supplies every 3 days) jogging towards us. Knowing that the amazing views and beautiful forest today can only be experienced by hiking through them makes it all the more special.
Day 4: Navai to Naga (23km)
This area was a centre for forestry operations and old, overgrown logging tracks make for decent hiking trails. Despite the distance we’re at Naga village by 2pm, showered (from a shower with the best view in the interior!) and asleep in the community hall by 3pm for a welcome afternoon nap. Naga village is blessed with the perfect climate for temperate crops and we settle down to an evening meal of vegetables and potatoes! Sensing an opportunity, we ask if it would be possible to get a few cooked potatoes for lunch the next day – a welcome change from crackers!
Day 5: Naga to Nubutautau (11km)
Today is part of our Cross-Highland Hike and it feels great to be walking a route along the river that we know so well. There are a few bilibilis (bamboo rafts) about 8km in, leftover from a charity event we’d helped to organise a few weeks ago. So, we decide to use one as a table – a great idea! As we enjoy a swim the remains of lunch slowly start drifting off and have to be rescued. Thankfully, Matt’s knife (a previous, much easier to organise birthday present!) is easy to locate at the bottom of the river.
My approach to hills is slow and steady. The ascent out of the valley to the village of Nubutautau is steep but I refuse to take a break until we can look down the stunning Sigatoka Valley from the ridgeline. I’m pretty proud of my legs – over 90kms done!
Day 6: Vakacegu / Rest
The half-way mark and we have a day in Nubutautau to rest and recover. A cosy valevakaviti (traditional Fijian house) makes for the perfect sanctuary.
Day 7: Nubutautau to Korolevu (15km)
Another day in the upper reaches of the Sigatoka river valley and the memories flood back as we retrace the steps of a walk we’d first done eleven years ago with Mr Vilitati Rokovesa – or as he’s affectionately known Mr Roko – the inspiration behind Talanoa Treks. He doesn’t guide as much anymore but he’s insistent that he join us on this stretch and it’s a fantastic day of talanoa (conversation and story telling) recalling those initial hikes together and where they eventually took us.
Day 8: Korolevu to Korovou (15 km)
Back on the road for a section and the first day that our rain jackets make an appearance. I actually find myself shivering over lunch – and it suddenly feels reminiscent of hiking in New Zealand. The rain is gone as quickly as it arrived and we join grandparents and their grandson on the way to their farm for a few weeks during the school holidays. I can imagine that a few weeks with them learning to plant, harvesting food from the farm and the forest and cooking over open fires is a memorable way to spend the school holidays.
On arrival at Korovou, as we’re trying to locate our bed for the night, Joji drives in with our host Simi. Even better – he’s brought an ice box with Magnums up from Sigatoka!
Day 9: Korovou to Yalavou (25km)
This track doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic and we pass trees laden with mangoes at head height that haven’t been swiped yet. As we approach the village Joji is gathering more for our afternoon tea. I’m definitely making the most of this year’s mango season!
We arrive at Yalavou to find that the Head Teacher has patiently waited for us to arrive before heading off for the school holidays. Friends from Suva have joined us for the last day and are sprawled across Iva’s welcoming balcony. Baigani (eggplant) in lolo (coconut) and bele (island cabbage) are devoured for dinner.
Day 10: Yalavou to Malevu, 31km
We wake up and are surrounded in cloud and enjoy a few precious hours of shade before it burns off. Anticipating the challenge of a long final day, I’d neglected to actually look at the topography of the track and, in my head, the final stretch down to the coast at Malevu is mostly downhill. But no. It’s down then a steep up, down, then up. I’m pretty sure that there are no flat hiking trails in the country!
The ocean emerges in the distance, the unfamiliar sound of traffic grows louder and it’s not long before our hiking shoes are off and are toes are digging into the sand beneath the Pacific ocean. Remarkably, we’ve done it. Our hike across Viti Levu is at an end!
Two hours later and I’m in a bath on a balcony at the Intercontinental sipping a pretty well-deserved glass of champagne. We reflect on ten days of incredible hospitality, amazing views, deserted swimming spots and beautiful forests. Soon we’re missing the simple routine of waking, walking, and talking of all things big and small, before bedding down, and repeat.
We’re definitely going to remember this adventure!
We’re exploring the idea of running this hike across Viti Levu as an annual adventure trek. If you’d be interested in joining us, please get in touch using the enquiry form below.