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Taveuni, known as Fiji’s Garden Island, is an elongated emerald enclave (42 kilometers long and averaging 11 kilometers wide). The third largest island in the Fiji archipelago, it is located just south of Vanua Levu (Fiji’s second largest island) across from the Somosomo Strait. TaveuniVerdant, rugged and volcanic in origin, it reaches a maximum height of 1241 meters at Mt. Uluigala. The island’s fertile volcanic soil provides a perfect medium for the abundant flora.
Copious rainfall has produced some spectacular waterfalls and the moisture, combined with the fecund earth, has created a thick carpet of vegetation. The dense, virgin rainforests are festooned with orchids and ferns. High in the center of the island is Lake Tagimaucia, famous for the indigenous red and white tagimaucia flower.
Taveuni is noteworthy for the diversity of flora and fauna, particularly the island’s bird life. Perhaps the main reason for the variety of bird life is the absence of the mongoose, which was introduced on many of the other islands (particularly where cane was grown) to control the rat population. Taveuni’s relatively inaccessible mountains and abundant food supply also have made it a haven for many species once found throughout the group.
Bird watchers consider Taveuni among the best of the big islands. Bird fauna has been impacted less here and the big pigeons and parrots are easy to see. Among the birds on everyone’s wish the Azure Crowned Flycatcher.
Perhaps the most famous of all Taveuni’s birds is the fabled Orange Dove. The male of the species has green-speckled plumage that changes in season to flaming orange. No photographs exist of this pigeon and the paintings one sees in the bird texts leave you unprepared for the brilliance of its plumage which is florescent orange. Unlike the Orange Dove, which is hard to find, the Taveuni Parrot is ubiquitous. It’s squawk and guttural sounds can be heard throughout the island. They are a sight to behold with backs and wings an iridescent emerald green rimmed with sky blue. Sometimes they will gather in feeding flocks of several dozen or more to reach mangos, guavas or other fruit trees. You don’t have to go far to see this bird. I’ve seen them in the palm trees just a few meters from the air strip at Matei.
Years before Europeans arrived, Taveuni was famous for its Kula—a species of parrot also endemic to the area. In ancient times trading parties of Tongans would journey to Fiji to barter is also one of only two islands in the north of Fiji (the other is Cicia) where the Australian magpie was introduced to control coconut pests. Now a conspicuous part of the avian life, it is admired for its curiously melodic song. In addition to several varieties of dove, there is also a species of Goshawk, with a salmon pink breast, and the Vanikoro Broadbill that has a gunmetal blue head, dark blue wings and orange breast.
Birdwatching groups often stay at the Garden Island Resort and with good reason. The hotel is comfortable but not overpriced, the food is good, the water is safe and access to Des Voeux Peak is close by. Why is the latter important? From the road up to th e peak one passesTaveuni through the territory of the Collard Lory, Vanikoro Broadbill, Black-naped Tern, Wattled Honeyeater, and Fiji Goshawk (Falcon.)
Taveuni is also home to several species of reptiles such as the Pacific Boa, which is still fairly common in the rainforest but is not generally seen by the visitor. The largely unexplored forest and mountains also harbor several known species of palms and other plants not found elsewhere on earth.
Taveuni’s magnificent natural rainforest is not only attractive to eco-tourists and naturalists. Sadly, only a few years ago, the island’s trees were being cut down by an Asian logging company. This activity, which was approved by the highest levels of government, raised the ire of local environmentalists and dive operators who feared that without proper ground cover the soil will be washed into the lagoon thus ruining the delicate ecology of the reef system. Fortunately the again.
Tavoro Falls (top photo) and Lavena area (right) (Ravilevu) Nature Reserves Both these areas are nature reserves protected from logging and development of any manner. Bouma is located in Tavoro National Park about one hour’s drive north of the hotel. The taxi will take you to a point just past the village of Bouma from which the falls are only a ten minute walk. Along some of the steeper grades there are step-like wooden levels with hand rails. Occasionally you must ford a creek but there is a rope to help navigate the rocks. There is an admission fee to the park and you’ll need to hire a taxi. Your taxi can take up to five people so the trip can be quite reasonable if you have group.
Lavena Village & Ravilevu Nature Reserve Excursion
This trip can be done in combination with Bouma Falls or separately. Past the falls turnoff you travel another 20 minutes along the road which brings you to one of the most picturesque villages on the island. This is the best beach on the island and is excellent for snorkeling. There is a five kilometer path that leads through the village vegetable gardens and along the pristine coastline. There are Fijian crafts for sale at the reception bure. (There is also an admission fee to the park.) Scott Putnam a frequent traveler to Taveuni, says that you can visit a famous waterfall that fell into the ocean and used to shoot out far enough to fill U.S. Navy tenders. Reports Putnam: At the Lavena Lodge, you're given the option of boat ride (you get to see more of the Taveuni coast if you take this option and this option is the only one that will take you to the famous WWII waterfall), kayak (you only paddle to the attached waterfall) or hike (to the famous waterfall you've been to). The boat option costs $300 Fijian - a sum too large for all tourists prior to me (no kidding). The folks at Lavena were ecstatic over my trip ($$$ signs were shining in their eyes). They'd never had anyone from Matangi (or Qamea for that matter) make the trip or choose the boat option. After my trip, I talked other guests at Matangi into taking the trip, but they didn't enjoy it as much as me. The boat trip is not protected by reefs and if you're prone to sea sickness - it's brutal. Combined with the rain and sea spray, any tourist that does this trip needs to be adventurous."
History of Nature Reserves
The development of two successful national park-like entities, which serve as nature reserves, in the Bouma Falls and Lavena Beach areas have demonstrated that logging is not the only way to earn hard currency for cash-poor villages. The inhabitants of Bouma Village, where a waterfall has been a major tourist attraction for many years, were also offered money to log their communal land. Instead of selling their birthright, at the behest of the New Zealand Government, they were offered a F$60,000 grant to improve the land and create a park centered around the waterfall. They weighed their options and came down on the side of conservation, rather than the lure of easy money from logging. With the funds, Bouma villagers have improved access to the Falls, constructed trails, BBQ pits, benches and picnic spots. When you visit and pay your F$5 admission, think of it as a contribution to the village. A similar project has occurred at the picnic reserve.
Site of International Dateline
The 180th Meridian is about one kilometer south of the Garden Island Resort. Take a right from the entrance of the hotel and go up the road toward the hospital watching for a monument on your right. This was where the international dateline once passed. The dateline was later changed so as not to bisect Taveuni. A five minute walk or less from the dateline is the Meridian Theater which was recently the subject of a documentary film (Reel Paradise). The theater was constructed in 1953. The photo on the left was taken by Rob Kay in the early 1980s (I think) and the photo on right, in 2002 or thereabouts by Amy C. Elliott(courtesy of the folks from Reel Paradise).
The Wairiki Mission, only 20 minutes walk south of the hotel, is the most architecturally interesting edifice on the island. Situated on the edge of a splendid coconut plantation, it is also known at The Taveuni Catholic mission. It’s a good example of British colonial Romanesque architecture. Located on a hill, it overlooks the historic site where Taveuni warriors turned back thousands of invading Tongans in a battle that was fought in canoes just off the beach. It was this particular battle that turned the tide in a war that had seen the Tongan stake over much of Fiji. The locals celebrated by cooking their enemies and eating them with breadfruit. Modern day visitors are invited to attend Mass on Sundays from 7 am to 9 am. Definitely check it out, the singing is wonderful. (Note that there are no pews or seats so be prepared to sit on the floor.)
As mentioned above, birding is world class on Taveuni. Access to Des Voeux Peak, a prime habitat is minutes from the Waiyevo area. You can either walk or take a 4-wheel drive vehicle nearly to the top of the 1195 meter peak, which is the second highest on the island. Likewise, Qeleni, on the northern end of the island also affords excellent bird watching. To get there one must take a 4-wheel drive vehicle about five kilometers up a mountain road. Both locales offer the chance to see Orange Breasted Doves, Silktails, Ferntails and Parrots.
Vuna Village, Blow Hole, Vatuwiri Estate and Navakawau
Michele Tarte at old village siteVuna, a village near the southernmost end of the island, played an important role in the early European settlement of the Island. The original plantations and homes of the early planters were purchased from Tui Vuna (the local chief) and at least one of the homes, Vatuwiri Farm, is within spitting distance of the village. (The Vatuwiri Estate is still owned by the Tarte family, who are descendants of the original settlers. On the property are the ruins of an old Fijian village and one can hike to an extinct volcanic crater). At the road’s terminus you reach Navakawau Village which translates as `end of the road’. En route you will pass a blow hole where the sea has eroded a passage at the edge of the shoreline. A stop at Vatuwiri Farm costs extra but higly recommended.
Lake Tagimaucia is the most famous geographical landmark in Taveuni. Situated in an extinct volcanic crater, at a height of 832 meters, the lake is filled with floating masses of vegetation. It is also home to the indigenous tangimaucia flower which produces red blooms with white centers. The lake is reachable on foot but the hike is an arduous all day affair. Better to take a 4-wheel drive vehicle and view the lake from afar.
Scrambler Ocean kayaks are available from Bill Madden in Matei and from the Garden Island Resort. They are easy to maneuver and one need not be a tri-athlete to use them. However, it helps to be in good physical condition. They can be rented on an hourly basis.
A new excursion in Taveuni that has had good reviews is the Vunivasa Tour, which visits the archeological site of fortified Fijian village. Here you learn how the ancient Fijians conducted warefare, how they lived and survived in the good old days. It culminates with a trip to a waterfall, wherein visitors are transported by a 'flying seat' that you'll need to experience to describe.
Golf & Tennis at Soqulu
A 15 minute drive south of the hotel is subdivision known as Soqulu Plantation or simply `Soqulu’ (pronounced Song-goo-loo). In addition to a number of homes, 30 condos and a club house, there is a 9-hole golf course, two tennis courts (one asphalt and one grass) and a lawn bowls green. All of the outdoor facilities are open to the public but the club house and condos, hasve been shut down. The links are situated on a gorgeous coastal strip of land. Unfortunately the condition of the course is less than magnificent but nonetheless it’s fun to play.
This waterslide is a 20 minute walk north of the Garden Island Resort. It’s a picturesque spot and quite popular with the local kids. It’ssecluded, verdant and filled with the laughter of children.
Warrior Buriel Cave
Created by a lava tube, this cave is about 350 meters long and terminates at the ocean edge. In former times it was used by Fijians as a secret burial cave for warriors. It is believed that Taveuni’s greatest warriors were buried here in order to keep their remains hidden from enemies. Most of the large bones were removed in the 1950s after the cave was found. Guides will proudly show you the biers where their ancestors were laid to rest. As one would expect the cave is dark and damp. Be sure and bring your hiking shoes. The entire trip, which includes a short visit to Soqulu Plantation, can be arranged from the Garden Island Resort. Take your flashlight.
If your serious about fishing John Llanes, formerly of the Big Island of Hawaii will take you out to catch four varieties of marlin-blue, black, sailfish, and striped. He also regularly snags wahoo (ono in Hawaii), dorado and other denizens of the deep blue for US$300 (half day) or $500 (full day).