Taveuni (pronounced Tah-vee-ew-nee), the garden island of Fiji, is rugged, wet, verdant and pristine. It lies only seven kilometers off the southeast coast of Vanua Levu and is 42 kilometers long and averages about 11 kilometers wide. Taveuni is a archetypically beautiful tropical island, thick with vegetation and resplendent with tropical flowers. It offers the visitor a rich natural history, in particular, a fine array of bird life. Fortunately (unlike other islands in the Fiji archipelago) the mongoose was never introduced to Taveuni and consequently many of the birds that have vanished on Viti Levu and Vanua Levu still thrive on the Garden Island. Once the home of fierce warriors, Taveuni residents still exude pride and confidence in their step.
Definitely Do Not Miss
Take a day trip to both Bouma Falls and Lavena area (Ravilevu) Nature Reserves or visit Wairiki Mission, hike to Lake Tagimaucia, go bird watching or check out the old site of the International Dateline (see photo below) and see the nearby Meridian Theater.
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With a population of around 12,000 inhabitants, virtually all of whom live in traditional Fijian villages, Taveuni is sparsely populated. Once known for its coconut plantations, Taveuni’s attractions include world class diving.
According to Undercurrent, a prestigious dive magazine…
In addition to underwater attractions the terrestrial displays are signficant—there are water falls, and an array of rare, indigenous flora and fauna. Taveuni has a number of excellent low and mid-ranged accommodations. The island can be reached via air from Nadi or Suva or on a local ferryboat.
The latest trends in Taveuni mirror those occurring elsewhere in Fiji:
A real estate boomlet fueled by Americans, Germans and others purchasing choice freehold land on the island. An increasingly sophisticated tourist plant that features everything from F$25 backpacker hostels and excellent bungalows in the $US160 range to 5 Star US$1200/per night boutique resorts.
Farm to Table eating experiences are also finding a home in Taveuni Gaiatree Sanctuary, a family run organic spice plantation/garden has received kudos for their farm tour followed by a vegetarian dining experience. (See Taveuni Activities & Attractions).
Another family run company will soon be selling gelato in Matei, made from home grown fruits. I did taste some samples and can attest to their tastiness. Keep an eye open for them.
In other culinary news, a new eatery, Rosies Sea View Restaurant, is up and running on the Makaira Resort property.
Then there’s a Hollywood interpretation of the island…
To see that, check out Reel Paradise, a movie about the saga of American film maker John Pierson who in 2002 relocated his family to Taveuni for a year to show free movies at the venerable Meridian Cinema near Waiyevo. You might rent this flick (not so much to see the inner workings of the Pierson family) but to see a raw slice of Fijian life. The warts and all are there for the world to see about the Pierson family and some facets of Fijian life.
There’s plenty of dirty laundry aired but it’s equally distributed among the Piersons and the Fijians. John and Janet Pierson are not to be confused with Ozzie and Harriet Nelson nor are their Fijian neighbors always perfect models of propriety.
At the end of the film the Piersons’ sit, cross-legged, Fiji-style at a good bye party given by the local village in their honor and drink kava. The couple proclaim what they’ve learned after being in country for a year—that Fiji may be poor in material wealth but is incredibly rich in heart. Indeed, more heart than you’re ever likely to find in Hollywood.
Local Controversy about Reel Taveuni
According to a friend who lives on Taveuni, many of the local people were offended by the film. My friend’s comment was, “you have this American family, especially the father and daughter, who to put it nicely broke every social more on the island and expected the locals to roll with it. He was not a popular figure on Taveuni at all, with his forceful and oftentimes humiliating interactions with Fijians. In doing so he brought out the worst in the locals. The locals were offended by the movie because they feel like they were set up for failure. Like so many, he just didn’t get it and tried to force his culture and expectations onto the locals. Like so many he only lasted a short time.
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. Verdant, 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. The 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 (Photo Above). 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.
Bird watching 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 passes through the territory of the Collard Lory, Vanikoro Broadbill, Black-naped Tern, Wattled Honeyeater and the Fiji Goshawk.
Taveuni is also home to several species of reptiles such as the Pacific Boa, which is still fairly common in the rain forest 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.
The development of two successful national park-like entities, which serve as nature reserves, in the Bouma Falls and Lavena Beach (Photo Above) 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$36 admission, think of it as a contribution to the village. A similar project has occurred at the picnic reserve.
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