Volcanic jungles, underground cooking and sunrises that torch the ocean—Taveuni is residence to tips of time.
In Fiji, coconut is the tree of life and all components of the tree and fruit—shell, leaves, meat, milk, husk, water, and oil—are honoured in every day use. Picture by: Don Mammoser/shutterstock
Damaged Clocks and Different Magic Issues
When it occurs, I’m using shotgun with the lengthy blue kaftan of the Pacific rippling within the rear-view. To my left, I’ve the hills of Taveuni island, a knocked-over chessboard of taro timber, plantains, and hot-pink hibiscus the scale of beagle ears. I’m tracing the Lavena Coastal Stroll—a five-kilometre path that winds previous seashores and villages, all the best way as much as the island’s rainforests. It’s reflexive, the stray tear down the cheek. Embarrassing too, as a result of Duncan Osborne, my drive-around mate for the day, catches me flick it away. “I’m not unhappy. Simply very, very blissful,” I mumble. “I get it. You’re feeling fortunate to see magnificence,” he nods. I do know it’s a matter of seconds earlier than his mouth curls into the fluorescent Fijian smile one can anticipate anyplace within the archipelago of 330 islands.
It’s been half a day since I’ve set foot on this South Pacific speck. 16.8414° S, 179.9813° W, because the map tells me. The truth that the volcanic ‘backyard’ island is documented in coordinates is necessary. It tells me that the sights and sounds that introduced out weepy existential woman aren’t a part of an enchanted sleep. I am transferring round a landmass that appears like an infinite tree tunnel. These fields of pineapple, combed school-ready by the ocean breeze, are actual. The crimson ginger blossoms, and the prayer circle of periwinkles by the lagoon too, exist. “They filmed Return of the Blue Lagoon right here,” remarks Duncan. I’m not shocked. A lot of Taveuni wears the look of a trickster that’s managed to short-change time. Look within the path of pawpaw and wild mango timber gnawing out of hills, and you understand how.
Time, for its half, has pulled a quantity on the island. As we roll previous backpackers’ shacks scattered with divers, Duncan mentions that the 180° meridian and the Worldwide Dateline reduce by means of Taveuni smack dab. Which suggests technically, Taveuni is suspended between at present (west) and yesterday (east). The islanders comply with uniform time, however you may make your method to a hilly ledge in Waiyevo—Taveuni’s administrative centre—and stand between two no-frills plaques marking this uncommon limbo on land.
There’s rather a lot to take in, and two days to my identify. For now, I’m content material to lock eyes with the island solar that’s marinating my brown pores and skin browner by the minute.
Summer season within the Rainforest
I go away Duncan and his automotive on the fringe of land to take a ship to the beginning of the hike in Bouma Nationwide Heritage Park, which protects over 80 per cent of Taveuni’s land, together with its rainforest. (I’m slicing brief the six-hour-long Lavena path to cram in different experiences.) My companion on water is native information Paul, who’s unfazed by the afternoon swell that flings our vessel round. I’ve made the error of exhibiting up in flip-flops, so once we clamber over rocks stained with lichen, they really feel chilly and moist as a frog’s tongue below my toes. The path strikes by means of knots of coconut palms, breadfruits and monster ferns, the greens darkening as we’re sucked into the forest’s sunless abdomen. The place the stone cracks disguise wildflowers, my heels tickle. A free step sends me hurtling, and jungle mynas cackle. However between a sighting of the “very shy, very uncommon” orange dove, and the water’s xylophone upping its quantity, a bloody toe appears acceptable.
Paul grants me huff-and-puff time, dragging his stride to accommodate second glances at fallen frangipanis. Once we come to the bend past which the mighty Wainibau Waterfall rages, I don’t need to transfer. It’s that outdated longing to delay what might transform a quantum second; stretch it out, so you may hold it round somewhat longer. However like solar by means of gin-clear water, my second passes, and I wade in. “Can’t swim properly?” “Can’t swim,” I yell by means of the mist that levitates between us; Paul has already made his method to the deeper finish of the rock pool. When he comes again for me, I’m positive he’s misunderstood. “Can’t,” I shake my head stupidly. “Journey my again and don’t drag me down.” And identical to that, I’m piggybacking a person I’ve met lower than two hours in the past into the gaping swirls. He deposits me on high of a boulder, Spidermans up the ridge and wrecks the water with a—splunk!
A ship trip again to Duncan and a fast automotive haul leads us to Bouma’s different huge path of the Tavoro Waterfalls. A 10-minute stroll by means of flatland floras lets me linger on the first and the largest of the three cascades alongside this route. Right here, within the achy afterglow of swims, I hearken to the lore of the Tagimoucia. Fiji at giant boasts some 800 species of crops discovered nowhere else on the earth. However the ruby-and-milk flower embossed on the nation’s FJD50 notice is treasured for rising virtually solely alongside the shores of Taveuni’s Lake Tagimoucia, untouched at an altitude of over 2,600 toes. My disappointment at not seeing the volcanic crater dissolves when Paul tells me that the flower makes a fleeting look by means of November to January. Like all good legends, the legend of the Tagimoucia has a number of variations. In a single a lovelorn princess escapes to the highlands when the person of her selection is vetoed by elders, slipping into drained and tearful sleep (tagi: cry; moce: sleep). One other remembers somewhat woman who lay crying by the waters after being scolded by mother and father—the tears of the broken-hearted reworking into Fiji’s proclaimed nationwide flower.
That’s one too many unhappy girls for my liking, however I notice the identical cynical enchantment that passes over me when Paul factors to a white horse within the wild and says, “Look, it brings good luck.”
The Little Lady in Kingston City
Once I first meet Una, she is working round in a frock that holds all the colors of a tropical fruit platter. I ponder if the eight-year-old is aware of how a lot she resembles Moana, Disney’s warrior princess from Polynesia. Duivosavosa, a rural settlement in northwest Taveuni, appears to be made of 1 big household. The patriarch Invoice Seru walks me by means of it, declaring painted, triangular homes that belong to varied brothers, nieces, cousins and nephews. I’m cautious to not pry, however crosses and rosaries hanging from asbestos partitions inside trace at Taveuni’s historical past—a wartime turnaround of religion from paganism to Catholicism within the 19th century. Tiny islands, it will appear, have sufficient room for outdated gods to exist alongside new ones; ditto for outdated traditions. I’m now aware about the island artwork of coconut husking, leaf basket weaving and lovo or earth-oven cooking.
Invoice’s brood of 9 youngsters and sixteen grandkids rallies round, guiding me by means of their self-sustained life. When prawns fished out of the village stream are dunked in palm-squeezed coconut milk, I inform a gaggle of aunts and grandaunts how my lunch tastes rather a lot like chingrir malaikari, an East Indian staple—and eyes widen. Lunch additionally consists of candy potatoes, yams and tapioca, steamed lovo-style. The prepping of lovo, a subterranean cooking technique widespread within the Polynesian islands (hangi in New Zealand, umu in Samoa), is sort of the spectacle. Earth is dug up, and inside it, white sizzling stones entrusted with the job of cooking feast-scale meals. The meals, something from powerful meat to vegetable or fish, is bundled up in banana and pandana leaves and positioned over coals. “You may cook dinner an entire goat, an entire pig or an entire buffalo in a single hour. You may cook dinner an entire elephant too, however no elephants in Fiji,” Invoice howls at his personal humour.
Because the chords of Fijian farewell tune “Isa lei” fall from the guitar, Una monkey-hugs me for causes identified solely to her. I ask the guitarist, considered one of Invoice’s daughters, if she will play one thing acquainted. A stanza of “Jamaican Farewell” and a few wordless goodbyes later, my coronary heart is down. The top too, is popping round, as a result of Duivosavosa, by some afternoon spell, has became my Kingston city.
Rainbow Underneath Water
Don’t thoughts the pleasant sharks.” Aaron Peckham is a positive teacher however I worry shark jokes aren’t going to assist my case. Neither will the clunky fins glued to my toes, however that one’s on me. I’m on a speedboat parked alongside the Rainbow Reef, a globally famend dive website within the Somosomo Strait, between Taveuni and Vanua Levu islands. If my first-ever snorkelling expertise should be within the open ocean, I’d as properly do it within the comfortable coral capital of the world, with a grand witness of over 1,200 species of fish. The prospect of assembly a Nemo or Dory down there makes it higher, however reef sharks? Thanks, subsequent. With restricted water expertise, my religion is tied to the rope I’ll seize onto, which in flip, will stay tied to the boat. There’s additionally the diving masks and the life jacket. And there’s Aaron, who waits patiently as I sit on the starboard sounding like a phlegmy dragon. Respiration by means of your mouth, it will seem, isn’t simple.
With a tug of jacket and a squeeze of lungs, I’m in. Pushed up virtually instantly, I can’t wait to look again. Within the few splintered seconds I’ve seen what might be Dalí’s underwater gallery and I want extra. Recent visions glide in entrance of my goggles. Right here, an anthia the color of Alphonso. There, a ballet class for sea anemones. Clumps and clumps of sea followers. Leather-based corals that movement like dervishes. Cabbage-frilled laborious corals. “As above, so under,” I breathe, grateful for the chaos. A lot of the fish I can’t determine, and there are such a lot of. Fats, fearless ones that transfer in violet shoals, solo-tripping introverts that keep away from eye contact. When it’s time to return up—we’re reduce brief by a change of present—Aaron laughs at my indignation. “Have a look at you, mermaid.” Mermaids I don’t find out about, however again on the boat, every little thing I’ve seen down there appears far out already, like folklore fading into time.
On land, I’m out of time. I’ve not seen all of it in any respect. I’ve not entered the Holy Cross Catholic Church, with partitions
of baked coral, and stained glass shipped by French missionaries. I’ve not picked up taro fritters from the shack that brags longitudinal rights to being the ‘world’s first store.’ I haven’t even watched a recreation of rugby, commemorated as Fiji’s “fourth faith.”
However that’s alright. As a result of I’ve felt Taveuni. Water, earth, air and all.
There are not any direct flights from India to Fiji. Flights from Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru to the gateway metropolis of Nadi on the archipelago’s Viti Levu island contain a number of layovers at Southeast Asian cities resembling Singapore and Hong Kong, or stops in Oceanian capitals like Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland.
There are two or extra direct flights to Taveuni day by day from Nadi Worldwide Airport.
Free entry visas are granted on arrival for a keep of as much as 4 months to nationals of choose nations, together with India. Travellers should possess a sound passport and a ticket for return or onward journey to a different nation they’re authorised to enter.
The writer stayed at Taveuni Palms Resort (doubles from $1,635/Rs1,14,700 together with all meals, actions resembling reef snorkelling and kokonda cooking class, and taxes; www.taveunipalms.com) and Taveuni Island Resort & Spa (doubles from $625/INR 43,600 together with all meals, return transfers to the airport and taxes; www.taveuniislandresort.com). The Lavena Coastal Stroll and motorised boat actions often come at extra prices.
It’s endorsed to discover Taveuni’s pure and cultural experiences with the assistance of resort guides, as there are restricted choices of impartial tour operators on the island.
Whereas travelling to villages resembling Duivoisavosa, it’s advisable to decorate modestly (lined knees and arms) and chorus from sporting hats as an indication of respect to native customs.