Ditch the Beach: A Whitewater Rafting Adventure in Fiji
Doctors in the Highlands
River Rafting Adventure in Fiji Takes You to Untouched Interior of Veti Levu
River Rafting in the Pristine Wilderness
Feel Good, Do Good
WVU Making a Difference in Fiji
Appreciating What We Have
Nature on Her Mind
Fantastic Day Trip
Defying Odds on Rough River Terrain
Into the Wilds
2010 Fiji Tourism Services
Exporter of the Year Award
Virgin Holidays Responsible Tourism Awards
2009 – “Best for Conservation of Cultural Heritage” Highly Commended
Islands Magazine “Blue List”
2007 – “Hot 100” list of the top 100 tourism industry operators
Fiji’s “Excellence in Tourism Award” sponsored by AON Insurance Brokers
2006 – “Eco Tourism Award”
2006 – “Adventure Tourism Award”
2003 – “Eco Tourism Award”
2001 – “Eco Tourism Award”
1999 – “Best Activity Award”
-National Geographic Traveler “50 Tours of a Lifetime” May/June, 2009
-Forbes Traveler.com/MSNBC.com “World’s 10 Best River Trips” June 2008
-Virtuoso Life “The Fiji Wai” August, 2003
-Men's Journal “Fiji's Wilder Side” March, 2003
-Islands Magazine “Adventures In Paradise” February, 2000
-Fiji Times “Rafting A River Of Adventure” March 25, 2000
-Air Pacific Inflight Magazine “Rivers Run Through It” 2000
-Outside Magazine “ The Year’s Best Trips” September, 1999
-Paddler Magazine “12 Top Jungle Rivers” January/February, 1999
-Air Pacific Inflight Magazine “Rivers Run Through It” 1998
By Celeste Mitchell
The minibus is screaming in second gear as we bump and climb our way up the perilously steep and rocky red clay road.
Loose rocks catapult up into the chassis; the windows are rattling so much I fear they’ll pop out or smash at any moment. And I can’t wipe the grin off my face.
“We call it the cowboy seat at the back,” our guide Moses had warned us as we boarded the bus in Pacific Harbour.
“There’s going to be bumps the whole way.”
We’ve been driving for about half an hour on the “scenic route” towards Nabukelevu village for a day of whitewater rafting on the Upper Navua River
There’s still about 90 minutes to go.
Moses gives it to us straight – there’s about 24km and four to five hours of paddling waiting for us when we get there – but only if we work as a team. “If you just let the guide paddle we’re going to end up on Fiji time,” he says with a grin.
As the only single rider in the group, I’m assigned a new “family” – dad Brendon and his kids Alex and Baxter, who have left mum to relax by the pool. Baxter is stoked he’s made the minimum age requirements and I’m impressed they’re brave enough to head out on Class II to III rapids.
“I hope it’s not too rough,” Brendon says to me through the side of his mouth.
There’s a fair amount of trepidation that comes with any rafting adventure. What will the rapids be like? Will I be able to stay inside the raft? How am I (or more specifically my arms) going to manage a whole day of paddling?
“This is a friendly river – there’s no crocodiles, no snakes, no bears,” another charismatic guide called Abraham tells us just before we jump into our rafts. “There are some spiders but they’re nice spiders. They’ll even say bula to you!”
Our guide Noah (sensing a trend here?) is perched at the back end of the raft wielding two long paddles and looks ready for action.
With our backsides in place on the edges of the raft and a quick lesson in paddling technique, we’re off and heading towards the first, rather serene, set of rapids. So far, so good.
The brochure called this “Fiji’s Grand Canyon” and almost as soon as we turn the first bend, layer upon layer of sedimentary rock towers over 40m high on either side of us, creating a relatively narrow passage to pass through. The water is clearer than a winter ocean, and I try to remember to keep up my share of the paddling while ogling the sights around me.
Waterfalls sprout from above us on both sides, seemingly every few metres, from small sheer mists to ones that appear as if someone turned a tap on inside the cliff face. Large, smooth boulders gather at the sides, green ferns and moss cover the canyon walls, and schools of fish join us as we float in the current towards each set of rapids.
The water level is a little low at the moment, Noah tells us, but to imagine this volume of water doubling in the wet season is staggering.
The rapids are placid enough that you don’t really have to hold on, but fun enough that we’re still shrieking and giggling and copping a face full of water every now and then.
Noah manoeuvres the raft with practiced strokes and a pathway through each rapid etched in his mind from four years of guiding tours down this river. At one point he angles the raft into the drop-off just right so that we spin and bounce in nature’s jacuzzi for a good two minutes before the rapids shoot us back out into the arms of the calm water.
Sago palms, ferns, native and thicker Asian bamboo, and a vine with heart-shaped leaves, which has all but smothered every tree in the rainforest, tower over us. In one section of the river we have to battle our way across a bunch of gigantic palm fronds that have gathered in their own attempt at a breakwall. In another, we switch sides to avoid paddling under a dead palm hanging precariously upside down, ready to drop at any moment.
“It looks like chunks of cake – chocolate and vanilla with cream in between!” Alex says, and I secretly store her observation in my mind to use right here. Indeed, the canyon walls are a millions-year-old trifle of smooth sandstone, post-volcanic gravel and coral.
Thankfully this slice of heaven is protected, which is why it looks as though most areas have never had a human foot upon them.
Rivers Fiji decided to band together with nine mataqali (landowning clans), two villages, a logging company and the Native Land Trust Board to form the Upper Navua Conservation Area back in 2000, to keep the loggers and diggers out of this pristine playground. The result? Not only are they able to run their rafting tours here, but they pump conservation funds (gathered from tour fees) back into the surrounding villages via educational outreach programs, an annual medical clinic and free transport.
There’s hundreds of picturesque picnic spots but where we stop for lunch, at one particularly impressive waterfall with a sandy “beach”, is pretty hard to top. Ravenous from all the paddling, we polish off ham and salad rolls, oranges and slices of chocolate cake.
Later, we stop at another waterfall and take turns to step into what the guides have dubbed the “Fiji massager” for photos.
Each bend brings a new chapter, new scenery and eventually the tall slabs of rock and mountains of rainforest give way to farmland. Horses and cows graze near the shoreline of river rocks and trickling mini rapids give way to calm crystalline fresh water. I can’t help thinking how much I’d love to come back here with a mask and snorkel... and perhaps a lilo.
Noah tells us the men from this village used to travel down the river on bamboo rafts – a three to four day journey – to sell their vegetables at the markets, then ride their horses back up. Now they have wooden longboats with small outboards, making the return trip a one-day affair.
We pass one man in the water with his mask on and spear in hand, hunting for dinner while his wife looks on from the shore where their washing is laid out across the river rocks to dry. It’s a fantastic trip back in time.
As we pull up at our final destination of Wainadiro village, the local kids come rushing down to help us dismantle and deflate the boats, slinging on our lifejackets and helmets and laughing hysterically as I take a few snaps. It’s as authentic a welcome as you can get and a heartwarming end to our journey.
Most people travel to Fiji for the turquoise seas and the white sand beaches, but I’d argue you can’t say you’ve seen Fiji until you’ve seen its green heart.
By Solomoni Biumaiono | The Fiji Times
The villagers of Wainadiro in the Serua highlands were working quietly to stage a feast for the visiting medical students and doctor from West Virginia University in the United States.
The men had gone spear fishing in the upper reaches of the Navua River, and dug up cassava and dalo from their gardens, while the women of the village had also gone to gather edible ferns and leafy vegetables for the feast.
The rest of the villagers wait on the student doctors in the village, making sure their clinic is running smoothly by ensuring that waiting patients are accommodated well, and also that the doctors are well fed.
Wainadiro villager Batikolikoli Qereqeretabua said the doctors were a godsend as many villagers in this remote part of the highlands did not have access to medical services which were readily available to villages along the coastal highway.
Speaking in the Bauan dialect, Batikolikoli said that villagers from six villages and the two settlements near Wainadiro walked for miles or travelled by boat on the Navua River to get a free medical check-up from these doctors.
"We are preparing this feast for them to show our appreciation for their services , and I do hope that they will return next year. If they do, I believe more people will make use of their services," he said.
The leader of the group, Dr Jan Palmer, a professor at the School of Medicine at the West Virginia University, brought four senior medical students on the university's Global Health Rotation program — a program where medical students who are about to graduate, travel to countries outside of the United States, to work in different health care environments.
"So we have chosen Fiji and we have come here with the help of Rivers Fiji and been able to come to Nakavika for the last three years, and to Wainadiro here this year. We bring our own supplies with us, we set up the clinic and provide health care for the villagers, and in this village and the surrounding villages," Dr Palmer said.
The group spent their first week in Fiji working at the Colonial War Memorial Hospital emergency department and spent the second week working at the Navua Hospital. Their third week was spent at Wainadiro. This week, they were working at Waiyevo Health Centre on Taveuni.
During their stay at Wainadiro, the student doctors saw patients from Nuku, Naimasimasi, Masi, Waibogi and Wainadiro villages, as well as students from a nearby school and people from Wainikai and Melita settlements.
In the last three years, final year medical students from West Virginia University used to visit Nakavika Village in the Namosi province. Dr Palmer said their visits had always been welcomed by many.
"Last year, we had the busiest week in Nakavika. It was when we saw 800 patients in one week. This year, it's a little smaller area. We will see probably 200 here this week; in the other areas, probably a similar amount, so probably 200 a week," Dr Palmer said.
For 26-year-old Michael Miller who hails from West Virginia, this is the first time he has traveled outside of the United States, and he has been overwhelmed by his experience in Fiji, especially in Wainadiro.
"The experience was absolutely phenomenal. I think that the hospitality that we received in the villages is absolutely memorable and very meaningful and I think that people are generally very healthy even though they do not have easy access to care.
"They are very active people and work hard. We saw people who have chronic pain for working in the fields a lot and doing physical labour, but you don't see the chronic diseases like diabetes and high blood pressure, congestive heart failures as you do in the United States.
"You find that the physicians here have to rely more on their clinical skills as far as listening, and kind of picking up cues from the patients on what their diseases are, rather than relying on MRIs, CT scans, so you find that the physicians rely heavily on their physical exams," Miller said.
Another final year medical student, Katie Hill, traveled to the African country of Sierra Leone earlier this year before coming to Fiji.
"The Fiji experience has been a wonderful thing, it has been an interesting mix of things starting from the emergency department in the capital Suva, going to Navua for a week which was kind of an interesting community hospital and living here in the village for a week — it was a wonderful thing, it's probably been my favourite in the trip so far.
"Sierra Leone is very interesting, it's still very much a war-torn country and the health care is a little bit less — they don't have free health care, so they had a lot of trouble paying for medicines and a lot of very infectious diseases that are very acute.
"In Fiji, it's nice that everyone can access medical care, having free medical care helps because people do not have to worry about how they can pay for it.
"It seems that people here are a lot more healthier — we're starting to see diseases like we see in America but, then you still have some of the infections. Here we have seen a lot of dengue," Hill said.
These final year medical students' trip to Fiji was sponsored by Rivers Fiji, a company which specialises in river rafting and kayaking.
Rivers Fiji pays for the shipment of medical equipment and customs clearance as well as accommodating the visiting medical students during their stay in Fiji.
"The Rivers Fiji people are run and owned by Nate and Kelly Bricker from the US, who used to work at West Virginia University. I first heard about the Fiji opportunity through them. They run the Rivers Fiji company and they were interested in trying to get health care for the people in the highlands.
"We were interested in finding places to go and it looked like a good match and it has worked out well. I think the people of Fiji always thank us for coming and donating our time and we would like to thank them for sharing their lives.
"This is a very rewarding experience for these young doctors to live in a society like this, because people here welcome us with open arms and are very gracious," Dr Palmer said.
Miller said the medical knowledge he gained from working in Fiji would definitely help him in the future.
"I think the greatest experience from it is getting a viewpoint of how other people manage health care, so you find people do a lot of things without the fancy technologies and still take good care of the patients without the expensive equipment and, you also get to diversify your views of humanity in general, you get cultural experiences and you kind of take that and apply it later.
"I am just thankful for the experience, it has been wonderful and the people of Fiji are so friendly and so welcoming and I can't thank them enough," Miller said.
By Cindy Thomas
The island paradise of Fiji is most well known for white sand beaches, swaying palms and clear ocean waters. Visitors envision a holiday relaxing in a lounge chair with a tropical drink in hand. But, don’t overlook the option to spend an exciting day white water rafting through lush rainforests and volcanic gorges with expert Fijian guides.
Rivers Fiji is an award winning company that runs several rafting and sea kayaking trips in Fiji. Their full day trip is a spectacular way to experience the highlands and interior of Viti Levu, Fiji’s principle island, while thrilling to Class III rapids.
Your day starts with an early morning pick up at your hotel or resort. Other participants meet at Rivers Fiji’s headquarters in Pacific Harbour. A short way up into the highlands, everyone consolidates into four wheel drive buses for the ride up through the rainforest to the Upper Navua Conservation Area. The ride to the put-in spot is an adventure itself, with gorgeous scenery unfolding as you wind along the mountain side on a bumpy dirt road. About halfway up, the buses stop and everyone piles out to stretch their legs and nibble on a mid-morning snack provided by Rivers Fiji which includes delicious homemade banana bread. The guides take advantage of the stop to give an overview of the day and to assign rafters to their boats and specific guide.
At the put-in place, rafters grab paddles, don life jackets and helmets, and listen to safety instructions. A short 10 minute walk thru the jungle brings everyone to the river’s edge to board their inflatable rafts and start downstream. Our guide was local Fijian Moses Batirua, who trained in the first Rivers Fiji class and is now the senior lead guide on the Upper Navua trip. He provided the steering and instructions as we got underway and quickly experienced our first of many stretches of rapids. In spots of calm, flat water he was a wealth of information about the local area, life along the river, Fijian history and culture, Rivers Fiji and the route ahead. He’s one of the most requested guides at Rivers Fiji and it’s easy to see why.
The river is punctuated with series of rapids, flat water, green lush jungle and volcanic canyons. At one point the canyon narrows to the point where you can nearly touch both sides from the raft. Crystalline waterfalls streak the dark lava walls that soar overhead. Moses invited those that were game to jump overboard and float alongside the raft as the current carried us downstream. Back in the raft, and further into the rainforest the group stops at a stunning waterfall for a picnic lunch that the guides unpack from waterproof bags. After lunch there is time to play in and under the roaring water.
Another stop provides an opportunity to walk behind a waterfall, and play among the rocks that line the river. Moses expertly maneuvered us up to other waterfalls along the way, catching the cooling mists. As the boats get closer to the pull-out point the topography changes, flattening out to farming and pasture lands. At Wainadiro Village, we beach the boats and assist the guides to deflate, roll and stow the boats in the trucks for the ride back. Changing into dry clothes the group snacks on cookies and juice, soaking up the warm sun before boarding the buses for the ride back to Rivers Fiji headquarters.
Rivers Fiji is a leader in eco-tourism in Fiji. They gained permission from traditional land owners along the river banks to start their operation in 1998. Many of the guides are local Fijians who come from the families that live along the river. The company takes great pride in their careful stewardship of this precious, wild resource.
As the sun sinks toward the horizon, rafters board buses to go back to their hotels and resorts. Everyone is tired from a day of paddling, but exhilarated to have experienced the magnificent Upper Navua River, a beautiful and special place.
By Sean Hobbs | Air Pacific Fiji Islands Magazine
Fiji's interior offers some stunning natural attractions.
One of these is the Upper Navua Conservation Area, an internationally acclaimed wetland.
This pristine wilderness is accessible - thanks to River's Fiji, an eco-tourism company that operates white-water rafting trips through the Upper Navua gorge.
I am heading to the conservation area for my maiden attempt at whitewater rafting. We meet early at the River's Fiji office on the grounds of The Pearl South Pacific Resort in Pacific Harbour, about a three-hour drive southeast from Nadi International Airport.
My guide for the day, Moses Batirua, begins to detail our itinerary by stabbing a large map on the wall with his finger. We will make our way to the Fijian highlands, he says, until we reach the vicinity of Nabukelevu village.
This will take about an hour. Here, we will board rafts and make our way 24 kilometres downstream on the Navua River, which will take around four hours including a stop for lunch.
The finger on the map traces the river's course until it stops at Wainadiro village.
At this point, Moses says we pack up our kit, change into dry clothes, get back on the bus and drive for a little over an hour back to Pacific Harbour.
On the 4WD bus, we bounce into the mountains along a rutted dirt track. I can smell the sweet, moist odour of rainforest and fertile earth.
The sun's morning rays stream through the bus windows and outside, there is a splendid vista of lush green forest.
There is also evidence of mahogany and pine logging along the track but once we make it to the conservation area, the vegetation changes noticeably.
The forest cover is now thicker and undisturbed. We are in the heart of Fiji. When we reach the end of the track, we exit the bus, don vests, helmets and get issued with a paddle.
There is an east ten-minute bushwalk to the "put-in' point where the rafts and equipment have been prepared in advance. After a paddling and safety demonstration, it is time to clamber into a yellow inflated raft.
I'm in the same boat as Moses who sits in the stern and steers using two large oars. We start our journey down-river by gliding gently into a picturesque canyon with high rock walls and abundant vegetation.
The scenery is very spectacular but the serenity doesn't last long as we soon begin picking up speed on a collision course with the first set of rapids.
As the whitewater comes into view, my adrenal glands kick into gear and my grip on the paddle tightens.
When we hit the rapids, water sprays high over our heads and a wave rolls over the front end of the boat. I am soaked instantly from head to toe.
I find myself sitting momentarily in an inflatable yellow bathtub filled to the brim. There is water everywhere and I can't help but be filled with glee, it's like being a kid all over again.
As we emerge from the other side of the rapid, the water empties from the vessel quickly and we ready ourselves for the next assault, just metres ahead. All around me I can hear screams of exhilaration ricocheting off the canyon walls as each group smashes into turbulent water.
After careening through multiple sets of rapids we enter another majestic canyon and float peacefully on glassy water.
This pattern continues for the next few hours as we alternate between gliding along sublime stretches of river with panoramic views and spearheading Class III rapids with steely determination and hearts in our throats. It's a fantastic adventure amidst awesome beauty.
A little over the halfway mark, we make a stop where a tributary feeds into the Navua River and disembark onto a rock platform. The guides retrieve food from waterproof bags and lay out a fresh lunch, thankfully plenty of it. Meanwhile the rest of the rafters lounge in translucent rock pools and relax beneath cool waterfalls.
During lunch I speak with Taholo Kami, the Regional Director in Oceanea for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Taholo and other members of the IUCN team have come to the Upper Navua to experience not just the thrill of whitewater rafting but also to appreciate the conservation area's unique biology and habitat.
"Coming through the gorge just makes me think 'Wow!', it's such a special space. It's worth preserving for the benefit of humankind," says Taholo.
The Upper Navua, like other RAMSAR sites, is a haven for endemic and endangered species. Many of these species are still unknown to science. Only recently new species of gobie fish have been recorded in the Navua River and it is believed that more aquatic and terrestrial species remain to be discovered in the area.
Rafting down the river it is possible to see numerous Sago Palms, which are unique to Fiji and threatened with extinction.
After lunch, all the wastes are stowed on the rafts and we paddle back into the current feeling energised and ready for another session. The next few hours are filled with excitement and splendour.
By the time we make it back to Pacific Harbour, I am both jubilant and exhausted.
Back at the office, Kim Anderson, the General Manager, tells me more about River's Fiji.
"We were the first ecological and sustainable tourism enterprise in Fiji. We are also the first and only land leased for conservation purposes in Fiji," he explains.
FIRST ECOLOGICAL TOURISM
The company leases land from nine mataquli or land owning clans along the river. "We established the conservation area and then in 2006 with help from the government and the Department of Environment we had the area recognised as a Ramsar site," Kim says.
"We are the stewards for the conservation area and approximately fifty-eight Fijian dollars from each tourist goes directly to the community, the mataqali, in the form of direct payments.
"That's not including the employment and other things we do for the villages. All of our guides are hired from the mataqali along the river. They represent their mataqali first and work for River's Fiji second," Kim says.
"We also fund medical outreaches fo rthe villages and provide free transport. A sizeable amount of the money River's Fiji makes goes back into the community - it's a marriage between us and the villages and people of the highlands."
The sun is setting and I feel great. I've spent an action-packed day in an incredable location and helped support the local environment and community along the way.
By Kate Stepan and Eugene Buchanan | Canoe & Kayak Magazine
5 paddling trips to boost your travel karma
FIND THE REAL FIJI
While guiding rafts in Bali and other far-flung corners of the globe, Nate and Kelly Bricker saw plenty of what the U.S. river permit system was designed to prevent: overcrowding, overuse and misuse by companies out to make a buck. When the Salt Lake City-based couple discovered a relatively untouched part of Fiji, they set out to bring tourism to the island in a way that would sustain its natural beauty and vibrant village culture. Rivers Fiji opened for business in 1998.
Running an American-style rafting company in a developing country is no small task. Though profits have been elusive, Rivers Fiji has been remarkably successful in protecting bird and fish habitat on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. The company leases 12 miles of river corridor from native landowners. The arrangement keeps international timber companies at bay, sparing the river valley’s old growth mahogany trees from becoming furniture in distant executive suites. Employing more than 25 Fijians as guides, drivers and office staff, plus dozens of equipment porters and trail workers, Rivers Fiji also contributes to water purification projects and organizes an annual village health clinic. All this while offering about 5,000 annual guests an inside look into what the South Pacific has to offer paddlers: stunning river gorges, splashy rapids, and an unrivaled warmth toward visiting foreigners.
When I visited Fiji in April, one of the raft guides, Mosese, invited me to stay in his native Nakavika village, nestled in remote misty highlands known as the “tropical Yosemite.” It’s the starting point for Rivers Fiji’s premier trip, which consists of a village visit and an inflatable kayak tour down the nearby Wainikoroiluva River (‘Luva for short). Wrapping a traditional sarong-like sulu over my board shorts, I followed Mosese past a smattering of dwellings hewn from wood and corrugated iron to the house of the village chief. Sitting on a mat of woven padaus, I presented Chief Leo with a sevusevu, a ritual gift of kava root. The root is mixed with water for a mildly numbing, earthy brew that’s shared at any Fijian gathering, casual or formal. When the bowl of murky liquid was passed to me, I mumbled my introduction and downed it all, as is the custom. Though the concoction resembles something akin to an acid rain mud puddle, I wouldn’t trade it, or that experience, for all the mini-umbrella cocktails on the island. Two days later, I paddled the‘Luva to the coast. After a few rocky Class III drops, the run gives way to a mellow Class II, and more time to ogle the steep gorge walls draped with tangles of jungle flora. Waterfalls tumbled from the volcanic cliffs while fruit bats swooped overhead. Arriving at the river mouth, tired and sunburned, I felt in tune with the island pace of life, though I didn’t fully appreciate the true meaning of “Fiji time” until touching down in Los Angeles, and merging into rush hour traffic, on the way home.
Samisoni Nabilivalu | Fiji Times Online
Students and faculty members from West Virginia University (WVU) are working on development projects in a village in the upper reaches of the Navua River.
The group will work with Rivers Fiji, a sustainable, eco-tourism rafting company run by Kim Anderson.
The group will also share a portion of the money members earn from working at the rafting company with the villagers who live in the highlands.
"Our goal will be to conduct a two-week general medicine clinic with a local physician to benefit Nakavika Village and its surrounding villages, adults and children alike," said professor of family medicine, Greg Juckett.
"We won't be focusing only on children, although we expect many of our patients will be children."
Case studies from the South Pacific and other parts of the world will also be developed during the program to gain a global understanding of issues and practical applications of solutions, said Mr Juckett.
"This outreach is to provide more than just medical care for a remote group of villages. This is also an educational mission since our students will have an amazing cross-cultural experience and see some illnesses they might not see back home."
The group joins WVU engineering students to improve the local water supply, which is prone to contamination during the rainy season.
"This project will not only help the children, but the village as a whole, aiding in the improvement of their health. They will be receiving what everyone in the world should be offered, clean, readily available drinking water," said Shelby Taylor, a junior electrical engineering major.
The water treatment in the village is minimal with visible pipes tied with simple rope and a small concrete holding tank," she said.
"The images I've seen of the water management were shocking, having grown up where turning on a faucet was my source of clean drinking water and running water pipes were underground, hardly seen."
Mr Juckett will be travelling with the students to Fiji and will be replaced by Jan Palmer, director of WVU's student health, during the second week of the clinic.
He and Ms Palmer visited the village in June last year and were very encouraged by the overwhelming interest in WVU's involvement and the villagers extended wonderful hospitality.
"We are looking forward to returning their friendship and getting to know them better," said Mr Juckett.
By Colleen DeHart - WVU University Relations/News
In a small village on the other side of the world, West Virginia University is having a big impact.
Nakavika Village in the Namosi Highlands, on Viti Levu Island in Fiji, is home to around 250 people. The village is situated in a rainy jungle. It has only one dirt road, and one flushing toilet.
The terrain of the village makes it difficult for the people who live there to receive proper medical care, and many of them frequently go without.
In April, three WVU senior medical students and two faculty members will relocate their lives in order to provide medical care to the villagers. Later on a group from WVU’s Engineers without Borders hopes to follow to work on water issues.
The medical group will spend four weeks in Fiji. Their first and last week will be spent working at a hospital in the city of Suva, where they will assist local doctors. The middle two weeks will be spent in Nakavika Village, where it is estimated as many as 3,000 locals will travel to receive care.
The students and faculty will screen each patient as they come in and determine how and what they will need to do to treat them.
“It is important for us to reach out beyond our own world and participate in the health care needs of poorer nations,” said Dr. Gregory Juckett, professor in the Department of Family Medicine and director of the WELL WVU International Travel Clinic. “It is very important for our students to experience this and it can be life changing.”
Since the group will only be in the village for a short period of time, they also want to try to teach the villagers basic first-aid and prevention skills.
Juckett and Palmer will be overseeing the students on the trip.
Not only will be the trip be beneficial to the villagers, but it will also expose the students to medical conditions, diseases and ways of practicing medicine that they are not likely to encounter in the United States, Palmer said.
For one medical student the trip is personal.
Rebecca Hopper Seay, of Charleston, worked closely with Nakavika Village for a year in 2004 after she finished her undergraduate degree in parks, recreation and tourism at WVU. She and her husband, JB, managed a white water rafting company, called Rivers Fiji.
Shortly after they arrived in Fiji, the Seays found out they were pregnant with their first child.
The Seays were able to afford private medical care, unlike many of the people in the country.
“I was lucky I could pay what was an insurmountable sum for most families there, but really was far less than what we pay for healthcare,” said Rebecca, who is now a fourth-year medical student. “I had access whereas a lot of women didn’t and lots of people didn’t, not just by the economy but by geography. If the closest doctor is on another island, you can’t just go.”
After seeing the need for medical care, the Seays have been sending basic first-aid supplies to the village once a year. But, Rebecca has been anxious to return to the village.
“When I returned to the U.S., I was really acutely aware of how lucky I was to have health care and that made me want to go and do something to fill the void,” she said.
Engineers Without Borders
A contributing factor to illness and disease within the village is their water system. The villagers get their drinking water from local streams. During the rainy season, runoff from the farms in the village flows into the water and exposes the people to a variety of medical conditions.
In order to better combat the health problems of the village and create a more permanent solution, Juckett brought the problem to WVU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders.
The students in the organization were eager to help.
Plans are currently being arranged for two engineering students and one faculty member to travel to Nakavika Village to help improve the water system.
“I feel like everyone has the right to clean water, so if we can help somebody get that the better,” said Samantha Eberhardt, a sophomore industrial engineering student from Baltimore, Md. who will be traveling to Fiji.
The students plan to spend a week in the village testing the water and taking pictures to determine where the runoff is coming from. They will install some small treatment systems to provide a temporary solution, but plan to return for the next several years to implement a more permanent system, said Lian-Shin Lin, professor of environmental engineering at WVU. Lin will be traveling with the students.
“Our goal is to make a system that is easy for them to take care of themselves, something low cost and low maintenance,” said Shelby Taylor, a junior electrical and biometric systems engineering student from Baltimore, Md. and coordinator of the trip.
The students are awaiting approval from the national Engineers Without Borders chapter, but plan to travel to the area later in the year.
If it weren’t for Kelly and Nate Bricker, former faculty members at WVU and owners of Rivers Fiji, the University would not have been aware of the health needs of Fiji.
The Brickers, who now work at the University of Utah, have worked with WVU’s Adventure Fiji program and Greg Corio, the program’s director, since 2002. Through Adventure Fiji several WVU students travel to Fiji each year to learn the ropes of Rivers Fiji and the business of sustainable tourism.
The Brickers started Rivers Fiji in 1998 with the goal of proving a quality tourism experience for visitors, all while benefiting the local community economically and environmentally.
“Most tourism occurs on the coast lines and we wanted to bring economic alternatives to this area. They are typically the forgotten people,” she said. “We also realized there were a couple of places impacted by illegal logging and these were amazing natural assets to the community and we wanted to protect those.”
It took several years, but Kelly said, the company has been successful in meeting their goals.
They serve approximately 5,000 visitors a year, bringing in nearly $180,000. The small company also employees more than 20 local residents.
“It has achieved the objective of bringing in economic benefit, and through those tourism dollars we were able to establish protective status of the Upper Navua River,” she said.
The river is now recognized as a Ramsar Site, meaning it is a wetland of international importance. In addition, the business has allowed the Brickers to bring awareness to the importance of protecting the environment and how it is linked to the health of individuals.
Through the Brickers time spent in Fiji with Corio and the Adventure Fiji program, the group began to recognize the area’s need for medical care. Corio brought the issue to Juckett’s attention.
“Greg put the two pieces together,” Kelly said. “We really value the villagers we work with and a healthy community makes healthy people and a healthy environment. It is all connected.”
WVU’s Adventure Fiji program will take place from May 24-June 9 this year.
The six-credit course will teach students about sustainable tourism in the South Pacific.
Students will take a scuba diving course, participate in whitewater rafting and kayaking, Kava ceremonies, zip lining, cave snorkeling and meet with government officials and students from the University of the South Pacific, among other things.
The course explores the social, cultural and environmental impacts of tourism and planning issues. It will also look at the development and meaning of ecotourism, alternative tourism, adventure, natural, cultural and heritage tourism options in the Islands of Fiji.
“The program gives a great global perspective on how through tourism people can keep their culture and protect their land,” Corio said. “The students get an in-depth look at who the Fijians are and an inside view of their culture, while discovering the natural environment and the beauty of the South Pacific.”
Global Health Program
The medical students are traveling to Fiji as part of WVU’s Global Health Program.
Students from every health discipline are encouraged to take part in the global health experience, including medicine, dentistry, nursing, pharmacy and allied health.
In addition to Fiji, students can choose to do international health rotations in Barbuda, Guatemala, Ghana, Honduras, India, Italy, China and Peru, among others.
The program also provides an annual course in clinical tropical medicine and traveler’s health.
For more information on WVU’s Global Health Program, visit http://www.hsc.wvu.edu/som/tropmed/.
KAILA - Two groups of students and young adults from the village of Nakorovou in Serua toured the interior of the province along the Navua River to see for themselves what constitutes the Upper Navua Conservation Area (UNCA).
UNCA is a specially protected natural forests surrounding ‘never-seen-before' creatures along the Upper Navua Canyon.
The area was established in 2000 to support Rivers Fiji ecotourism activity as well as to protect some of the endangered species from dying.
Rivers Fiji is the company that was started in Pacific Harbour in 1997 offering whitewater kayaking and overnight camping on the Wainikoroiluva River along the Namosi Valley.
In 2006, UNCA was then accepted into the Ramsar Convention of Wetlands of International Importance which regard its conservation efforts very highly.
The area is now known to have some of the most protected species of plants, birds and animals that have become extinct in other areas around the country.
This year a new initiative was taken by Rivers Fiji and a conservation organisation called Nature Fiji (Mareqeti Viti) whereby the young people of the two landowning village of Nakorovou and Naboutini was invited to tour the area.
While the idea was to teach them at that early age the importance of their natural environment they were also given the opportunity to share their pictures and stories with the rest of the villagers.
The event was welcomed by the villagers and enjoyed by the children of the two landowning units because most of them had never been to the area before.
Last Friday, Kaila! was invited to be part of the children's presentation in front of the villagers of Nakorovou and got comments from the youths.
Salome Lauwai, 17: "I really like the trip since it was my first time up there. I have never known the important role played by the environment in our lives and as landowners we should just take stock and protect it."
Makelesi Miramira, 16: "I want to thank Rivers Fiji for the opportunity to go up there and see for ourselves what was out there in our forest and learn to appreciate its importance to our existence. Nowadays, we always tend to think of ourselves. I thought that I was going there to have fun but I was happy to see new creatures and plants that I have never seen before in my entire life."
Joape Kunadei, University of Fiji student: "The trip was an educational one. I like the voices of nature when the birds were singing and seeing how flowing water build rivers. It was an amazing sight. No wonder the tourists always like to visit the area as it brings us closer to the earth as our source of life. I believe we should protect it for our future and the coming generation."
Simione Koliloa, Lomary Secondary School student:
"I like the idea of going up their because if it was not for Mareqeti Viti and Rivers Fiji, I believe we would be blinded from seeing and appreciate our natural environment. I urge you all listening today not to think of ourselves only but to think about tomorrow and our children as well."
Jone Luvenitoga | Fiji Times OnlineThe long ride to the Upper Navua River was quite demanding with the unaccountable twists, bumps and turns that can toss you off your seat on the Rivers Fiji shuttle. Despite the hard ride on the airconditioned bus, our minds focus on the end of this bus trip and another which awaits us.
Rivers Fiji managing director Kim Andersen promises this will be worth every ounce of strength and energy used to get to the place - one of the remaining pieces of paradise that has come under the spotlight of so many studies, ravaged by unmonitored and destructive acts of logging.
This is a first trip for me, but the sixth for the children chosen and organized by Rivers Fiji to touch base and learn to appreciate nature and their surroundings. The important role that connected humans to nature had been the champion of the trip alone on the 216 acres of preserved land that borders the Navua Gorge.
Kim says the children are mostly from Serua's surrounding villages - a place that had for years, relied heavily on their natural resources as the only means of making money - big money - on timber that are being harvested in large amounts.
A billion dollar industry of quality local timber most hardware shops and exporters thrive on. Apart from that, the community with its tourism capital at Pacific Harbour had struggled to maintain its status being the capital of tourism destination in the country's southern division, two of the most reliant employment aspects for families to depend on, apart from farming for families living in Serua Province and Navua's wetlands.
Apart from the white sandy beaches and international resorts with its exquisite destination sites, timber has quietly risen in cost with higher demands through the years and is now wreaking havoc high up in the highlands in the hands of loggers. This being a worrying factor that will further deteriorate the already dying struggle of the southerners to maintain the natural resources which most hotels heavily rely on for tourist tours, picnics and adventures, not to mention tourists who flock to the country to experience village life.
Utah university environment activist and co-ordinator natural resource learning program, Nate Bricker, said that even though we must always allow space for financial gains among landowners with their natural habitation, responsible government ministries and stakeholders must always monitor work, mainly when was camouflaged by distance.
For years, Rivers Fiji, together with its counterparts, has been fighting tooth and nail to preserve the environment since 1998. In March 2005 when their reports were tabled in parliament, the formal accession of the report was then forwarded to the convention depository UNESCO and Fiji became party to the RAMSAR convention in 2006. Pegs marking the boarders of the wetlands now boast a national reserve under the protection of the National Environment and HeritageTrust.
According to senior environment officer Eleni Tokaduadua who tabled the report, the physical features of the place can cater for hydrological values, ecological features, noteworthy flora, noteworthy fauna and social and cultural values. She stated that the potential of such reserves is equivalent to an educational institution when we consider the diversified similarities of learning abilities one can find in nature.
But having to drive through the countryside with its supposedly pristine beauty isn't the picture anymore after seeing bare lands looking like the ashes of a dying fire.
Not for long though because when we reached the Navua Gorge, I recognised the pictures my mind had always portrayed as paradise to expat fans who asked about my country. Seeing the happiness on children's faces and hearing them scream with joy drowned the raging sound of waterfalls as we made our journey down the winding river of the gorge.
For me, they brought out the best memory to tell of the adventure. Having to be tossed from your boat, amid laughter, by the strong currents and bumpy ride was all part of the trip, here in paradise. Breathing in the clean air and watching sago plants grow in abundance made us forget the sad story of the plant said to be nearing its distinction, in a land suffering from the hands of its own indigenous population.
The day ended with reports and ideas during dinner at Uprising Resort.
While the pictures of the trip had brought laughter to the reminicising crowd, I wondered how many of these children we would remember in three, five or maybe ten years time.
How many would still be interested in the cool waters that made them scream in delight that warm Saturday in October of 2010? How many would complete secondary school and continue on to university and get a good job? How many would end their days at an earlier class and resort to the logging industry where money is within reach from the doors of their home?
How many in the indigenous community return to their villages and maintain the good work they learnt from workshops they attended. How many actually get the courage to tell their relatives that they are doing something wrong by polluting their environment?
What needs to be done is to enrol them in a program. Whether at school or during their school breaks, the bond must never be servered or left idle. If changes need to be done, attitudes and thoughts must be changed first through continuous socialising and visits.
By Ruby Taylor-Newton | Fiji Times Online
Working in the area of conservation has changed AKISI BOLABOLA into an economical person.
The Coordinator Coastal Management and Inshore Fisheries for WWF South Pacific Programme in Suva tries her best to do right by the environmental through simple acts of protection like switching the power off when not in use or opening the windows for fresh air instead of using the air conditioning or electric fan. I met Akisi, 29, through a recent trip to Upper Navua Conservation Area through a Rivers Fiji initiative, and she was more than happy to share her work mission and ideologies with us.
Times: What is coastal management and inshore fisheries all about?
Bolabola: For us, its about working with communities as both resource owners and users to better manage their coastal environment and their inshore fisheries or their iqoliqoli. Our programme is not only limited to the coasts and inshore fisheries, as we work on and support policy on Ecosystem Based Management and Community Based Management approaches. We basically work with communities to safeguard their natural resources through networks of protected areas and also ensure their livelihoods are not compromised.
Times: What do you do in your current role?
Bolabola: I coordinate one of WWF SPPO's conservation programmes, which is the Coastal Management and Inshore Fisheries Programme. In other words, I ensure that both our field engagement and policy work are not only aligned to our network commitments but more importantly to Fiji's National Biodiversity Strategic Action Plan (NBSAP). I also work with our policy officers in advocating for effective national and regional policies for natural resource management.
Times: How passionate are you about your job and how has it changed you as a person?
Bolabola: I love my job and even if I were to be in another field, I think I'd do volunteer work for the environment. I am passionate for the environment and I like the outdoors. I only wish that our younger families and friends grow up to enjoy the same environment that we enjoy today. And I belieive in an "Ancient Indian Proverb" which goes somthing like; 'Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."
In terms of change, there's always something new to learn when you work in conservation, particularly how you as an individual can help the environment, like basic things such as switching off lights when not in use, or leave windows open instead of the use of air-con and grow and buy local products. I think its made me an economical person.
Times: What do you see lacking in society's appreciation for nature and what more needs to be done to educate people on its importance?
Bolabola: Basic things like not littering, I think we should treat the environment just as you treat your home, like simple things as placing your litter in the bin. I think Fiji's done well so far, people here at home are beginning to show some appreciation but there needs to be more awareness and outreach programme.
Times: What is WWF's role in helping the people of Fiji understand?
Bolabola: We have run and continue to engage in a number of campaigns to raise public awareness on issues such as turtles, cetaceans, and tuna, coral reefs and mangroves and land care. Our hope, however is that individual citizens instill passion for their natural surrounding and their contribution becomes voluntary.
Times: How long have you been working for WWF and what do you like best about your job?
Bolabola: This month (12th) marks my 5th year with WWF. My job is exciting because of the unique team I work with; the energy, the enthusiasm and the initiative we put together is what contributes to our conservation efforts.
Times: How many excursions have you gone through with your team and what do you try to stress each time you're out there?
Bolabola: In a year, I'm at least out in the field 10 times. I promote the need to work in a holistic manner, meaning we cannot work in isolation, say, Marine Protected areas will only succeed if there's proper land use practices happening in the inland communities and also the connecting freswater ecosystems. This is called Ecosystem Based Management approach.
Times: You went on your first river rafting trip with Rivers Fiji and the media a week ago to the Upper Navua Conservation Area. What were your observations about the excursion, the environment and participant's level of awareness?
Bolabola: Its an initiative that's offering an alternative to logging which is good and it is extremely positive and encouraging to note that guides are trained to talk about the natural surrounding and raise awareness for those on the excursion.
Our inland and forest communities are very important as their health determine the well-being of our freshwater/river ecosystems as well as estuaries and marine environments. therefore, the Upper Navua area's protection is significant.
Times: How do such trips benefit the participants?
Bolabola: It provides them with first hand experience, appreciate what we have here in Fiji.
The Rivers Fiji initiative provides both economic benefit for the communities as well as ensures the protection of biodiversity for the Upper Navua area. We take it for granted, but our environment is the very foundation that supports our livelihoods (social, economic and food security). Its necessary to protect and manage our natural resources wisely, so the future generation get to enjoy what we have today.
Bring your sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, swimsuits and shorts, bottle of water, and dry change of clothes - and a good pair of river shoes or lightweight sports shoes - if you don't mind those getting wet!
Rivers Fiji Luva River trip is an adventure that combines five unique Fijian experiences into one fantastic day trip!
You will be taken on an overland journey into the Namosi highlands, passing through the island's mountainous rainforest interior.
Atop jungle passes, enjoy breathtaking views out to sea before descending into the famed Namosi valley and travelling beneath its legendary sheer cliffs and jagged peaks.
This tropical paradise is home to the quaint village of Nakavika, where you're welcomed as a friend into the village with a traditional kava ceremony into the home of the chief.
A short walk brings you to the Wainikoroiluva (Luva) River where you take charge of your own inflatable kayak. After a brief training session with Rivers Fiji guides, you're off to play in the class II whitewater and rock mazes of the 'Luva River.
Basilio Cakaunivalu, a son of Nakavika village and Rivers Fiji Assistant Manager is Fiji's first to ever run 24 rivers including the Arizona river which runs through the famous Grand Canyon.
He's been taking people through Rivers Fiji trips for 13 years starting out as a guide and moving on from there.
"It's good stuff, you're in good company," he always tells anyone wanting a feel of what they have to offer.
"Here it's not like other working places - we go back to the landowners, they train someone from their mataqali - people who are from the conservation area - then we train them for two months."
Basilio said they have about 14 guides and operate six days a week, 3 days upper navua river, 3 days Luva river and sea kayaking.
Kim Anderson, Rivers Fiji General Manager said all their guides are suitably qualified so visitors are sure to be in safe hands throughout the trips.
According to him, all the Guides have completed training in:
A. Technique of whitewater rafting with oars and paddles.
B. Whitewater rescue of persons and equipment.
C. Equipment use, rigging, maintenance, and repair.
D. Camping skills and cooking.
All hold current standard first aid certification (Red Cross) and Current Certification in Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation. All the guides possess a high level of physical strength and endurance and knowledge of local river lore, history, geology and natural history. They also have the ability to interpret the environment for passengers.
Rivers Fiji began training guides when it first opened for business in 199. this provided economic tourism based opportunities to the often overlooked people of the interior.
More importantly, they are working with the people of Fiji to protect these important resources and biodioversity, while at the same time giving back to the landowners and people of Fiji.
These efforts include a commercial rafting and sea kayaking operation which provide economic incentives to the indiogenous community with the hopes of protecting the land and river for future generations.
Pasemaca Baleiwai, Rivers Fiji RAMSAR Focal Point and awareness coordinator is in charge of putting together awareness trips for landowners and goes to villages and sets all these up in advance.
During a recent media trip to the RAMSAR area with environmentalists, Rivers Fiji brought along children of the landowners for educational awareness to introduce them to their local backyard and make them realise the importance of protecting their land as well as that of their future generations.
The children were given waterproof cameras and encouraged to take pictures of what interested them on the excursion.
The trip involved 10 children from Mataqali Vunimoli and Vunitavola together with 3parents.
"The trips was initiated as part of Rivers Fiji awareness program for Fiji's wetland under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands of International Importance.
The UNCA (Upper Navua Conservation Area),is Fiji's first government-supported "lease for conservation" area and significantly Fiji's first Ramsar site. During the trip, the children will learn about the importance of the conservation area and why it exists.
The children will also be allowed the opportunity to take pictures of their experience, then we will have the pictures developed.
After the trip, we will use the photos and assist the children in building educational presentations that can be delivered by them to their schools and Mataqali," Pasemaca explained before the trip.
Pasemaca will follow up with each village during a debrief program where the photos the children have taken on the trips are presented, and the children give their own presentations to the Village of what they saw and what they took photos of.
By Ruby Taylor-Newton | Fiji Times Online
They say you haven't experienced the world famous Grand Canyon unless you've rafted through it.
One Fijian man dared to do what many would consider the unthinkable and conquered one of the wildest stretches of white water in the United States - the Colorado river that runs through the Grand Canyon!
Namosi man Basilio Cakaunivalu recently spent four months in the Western part of the United States as a Rivers Fiji representative to undertake three whitewater rafting courses which included 24 different rivers.
"My first course was California Whitewater Guide Training, Sierra Swift Water Rescue Course and National Outdoors Leadership Course (NOLS) that I did in the state of Utah. I spent two weeks in Coloma, California where I was trained with white water skills and also on how to count the rapids, and how to run boats down the rapids. The swift water rescue course took me three days. It was all about rescuing swimmers and other whitewater safety," Basilio explained.
The Whitewater NOLS course took Basilio, 15 other students and five instructors 16 days on the Desolation Canyon and the Green River.
According to him, the four main courses - Designated, Peer, Active and Self Leadership - were designed to train participants to become good leaders.
Basilio was also required to row 24 different rivers within the four months he spent in the States.
"The last river I ran was the Colorado River that runs through the Famous Grand Canyon National Park.
"It took us 13 days to raft down and we covered 225 miles! I had to be physically fit and strong to row my raft straight and avoid hitting rocks or flipping the raft upside down when going down the rapids. I also had to be mentally stable to judge where to go correctly," he pointed out.
To psyche himself for the challenge, Basilio learned power is all in the mind.
"I heard a lot about it before I ran it for 13 days, and I was ready for it. My soul, spirit, mind and heart was looking forward to rowing down that Colorado river because it was the famous, number one river in the whole world.
"The only thing that was running through my mind was to run a safe trip. Plus, I was motivated and encouraged by the thought that I was the first Fijian to row my own boat down the Grand Canyon," he said.