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Just back from a fortnight in Fiji, where @@GnuGnu and I headed for the smaller islands of Vanua Levu and Taveuni in order to escape the resort crowd and explore the back blocks of Fiji. We stayed at the low key 3 star Daku Resort on Vanua Levu and Cadra Ni Vula, a hilltop house on Taveuni. We used some public transport to travel around rural Fiji to discover villages, surprising wildlife and communities devastated by cyclones. Recurring themes of this trip are weather, village life and colourful flowers and birds.


Weather – Northern Fiji was hard hit by Cyclone Winston on 19th-20 February which destroyed schools, crops and homes. Cyclone Zena touched some of the islands in early April a week before we arrived and while we were there a tropical depression developed into Cyclone Amos which left heavy rain, high winds and serious mudslides in its wake. There was rain most days and we became very adept at dodging showers in order to see as much of the islands as possible.


Village life – many Fijians live in village communities and maintain strong ties with family and religion. The church is usually the largest building in the village, we saw simple wooden buildings to more robust stone and concrete structures.









Villagers grow crops such as taro, cassava and coconuts which are staple foods as well as keeping some domestic livestock such as sheep, goats, pigs and cattle. Horses are used to travel from village to farm land.









Wildlife – Fiji has few mammals, the 2 most common being fruit bats and Indian mongoose. However, birds are well represented with some gems such as Orange Dove and Maroon Shining Parrot.







Devastated southern Taveuni




the beautiful tropical flowers brightened up the dullest of days.










Day 1


I left Hobart on a grey day on an uneventful one hour flight to Melbourne where I met @gnu gnu. We checked in quickly and were pleased to upgrade to premium economy seats for $59. After a quick shop in duty free, we boarded the Fiji Airways flight to Nadi. The flight took 5 hours, so after a delicious lamb curry I settled in with the iPod and an extended Bruce Springsteen session.


We landed in Nadi where Customs and Immigration were mercifully quick allowing us to transfer to the domestic airport with time to spare. Noisy common mynas sang, hopped and squabbled at the terminal. The one hour flight to Savusavu took us over the northeast coast of Viti Levu and I was surprised to see how green, hilly and densely populated the island is. Walking trails link the villages, appearing as distinct pathways from the air.



We landed in Savusavu one hour later, where Tui from Daku Resort was waiting. Thirty minutes later we are enjoying a tropical breakfast of fresh fruit, eggs, cereal and toast. As the day is already hot and humid we decide to go into Savusavu to find an ATM and explore the town. Savusavu is like many African rural centres with a couple of banks, supermarkets, a local produce market and a busy bus and taxi station.






There are few reminders of a colonial past (Fiji gained independence from Britain in 1970).









The harbour is a yachties mecca.





Lunch is at the Captains Cafe where they do excellent pizza, iced tea and home-made ice-cream.






I opt for a snooze in the afternoon to make up for lost sleep the previous night. There is time for a gin and tonic before dinner while we watch the bats returning to the coconut palms. Other wildlife seen today includes Indian mongoose, horrid cane toads and geckos that do a great job keeping the mosquitos and sand flies at bay.



Edited by Treepol
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@@egilio I looked unsuccessfully for the iguanas, and the guides hadn't seen many since the cyclone. Oh well, a good reason to go back!

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Bummer, but indeed a good reason to go back!

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I'm very pleased to see this report. I think it's the first time I've seen one which documents the wildlife (on land and in the air ) in Fiji. Looking forward to more.

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Day 2


We have a full day tour to Labasa and northern Savusavu today. Raj, the taxi driver booked by the hotel is here at 9am so we set off around the coast passing villages every few kilometres. Most villages have a church, maybe a school and furthest villages may have a medical station or clinic as well as a college. The church in this village has a red roof that is used as a navigation beacon for boats in the channel at Savusavu.





The views looking back along the coast as we climb in altitude are amazing and would be so much better on a good day.




We stop at a bridge for photos of a Collared Kingfisher, while a domestic pig grunts happily at the roadside.







At the highest point on the road there is a fresh water spring where people fill water bottles. Opposite the spring a couple of local women are selling home-made custard tarts and a stodgy, sweet dish served in banana leaves. We tried both, the custard tart was my favourite.


Staple crops of taro, cassava and corn give way to sugarcane the further we drive from the coast. People and traffic increase as we get closer to Labasa a large market town, where we visit the Snake Temple where local Hindus worship. During our visit the local women were preparing for the 9 day Navratri Festival






We leave Labasa after lunch stopping for a pair of Red Avadavats that obligingly posed on a fence.




We then decided to take the longer scenic route back to Savusavu. Raj drove us through an intensive rice farming district which was serviced by a local mill.





The drive from here back to Savusavu was past mostly subsistence villages where people may earn a little extra income from the sale of surplus vegetables or from copra. This part of the road was unsealed and narrow and as darkness fell it became much more difficult to see horses, cattle and people at the roadside.




Finally arrived back at Daku at 8.20pm after a marathon 7 hour drive from Labasa. This long diversion showed us the lifestyle of many rural Fijians as well as some of the damage wrought by Cyclone Winston. Uprooted trees, roofless homes, boarded-up houses and bedraggled coconut palms mark Winston’s path. Coconuts are an important food source for the locals - they are nutritious and coconut milk enhances the flavour of many dishes.




Edited by Treepol
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Next morning the alarm goes off early, as in 3.30 am early and I'm out to breakfast before heading out to the Tunuloa Peninsula in search of Silktail and Orange Dove with George, the bird guide from Daku. The early part of the drive is in darkness, yet already there are people walking along the road towards Savusavu. Around 5.45 am the sky grows lighter and within 15 minutes the sun is up. We drive past coastal villages and wonderful scenery. George stops to collect a local guide, however he had too much kava the night before and wasn't awake. We drive on and turn up a bush track to reach another village where we learn our guide was arrested the previous day for growing marijuana.


So another guide is found and first we have to cross 'a little bit water' this turns out to be a knee deep stream which is flowing very quickly. Soaked to the knee we follow an overgrown trail to a stand of secondary forest where the guide locates six silk tails jumping about in the treetops - sadly no photos. Suddenly George spots an Orange Dove sitting high in a tree - what a stunning bird. I am so pleased to see this birding gem on our first outing.




We pass a man cutting the trail back as we leave the trees, he says that next time the trail will be ready for us and the bridge will be rebuilt. We stop at the village where George's father lives and are show into the main room where we sit on a large reed mat and are entertained by the man of the house who talks to us about Daku Lodge when he used to work there.


We drive back to Daku, change and head into town for pizza and ice-cream.


Day 4


Its raining this morning so we wait at the resort before deciding to get a car and do a short drive along the Natewa Bay Road, which is supposedly very scenic. Quick stop at the ATM and we are way for another adventure with George and Raj. The road runs close to the coast and passes many villages. Our first stop is at a river for Barking Pigeon which quickly disappears. Further along a pair of Fiji Woodswallows perch on a wire and then we see three Collared Kingfishers perched on a wire - Collared Kingfishers in Fiji are like LBRs in Africa.




These castaway bures are another reminder of the cyclone – they broke free from a mooring at the Koro Sun Resort and washed across the bay and over a cordon of mangroves to be left high and dry on the opposite side of the bay. There are various theories on how to restore them to their mooring within the resort complex.




This village copra drier provides local employment and is a handy perch for the doves.






Raj spotted this White-faced Heron on the side of a bridge from where it flew off to perch on an uprooted coconut palm.







Edited by Treepol
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It sounds like a fascinating trip - and it does bring home the impact of a cyclone on small island communities.

Lovely photos all through, but that Collared Kingfisher is beautiful. Well done with the Orange Dove - a great sighting.

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Yes, lovely photos.

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Day 5


Today it is pouring with rain, so after a morning of reading and birding from the doorstep we head into town for lunch, take a few photos and shop at Jack's of Fiji. I did manage to get photos of some soggy birds this morning.


Wattled Honeyeater




Red-vented Bulbul



Tonight the resort is hosting a child's birthday party to which 150 people have been invited. We head into town for dinner at the Planters Club where the food and atmosphere are very disappointing. There are 3 or 4 planter types in the bar and a few photos of members and events from the glory days together with honour rolls.


Day 6


It rained most of the night and once again the sky is overcast and sombre. We manage a short walk around the garden between showers and find fruit bats roosting in the trees.




Later there is time for a quick walk towards town where see a Pacific Reef Heron, a pair of Collared Kingfishers and a pair of Pacific Swallows.



Edited by Treepol
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Day 7


We planned to take the local bus to Natewa Bay and onto Labasa, however a mudslide closed the main road on the island. Plan B was to retrace the trip to where we saw the silk tails and Orange Dove, this time on public transport so that we could see more of the island and especially village life. I snapped this photo of a Wattled Honeyeater in the garden just before we left.




Tui drove us to the bus station where we climbed aboard and selected our seats for the day out.




The bus left promptly at 10.30 and the first passenger flagged the driver just past the market stand. There are no official bus stops, although there are a few shelters. The driver stops anywhere to collect people, and when someone rings the bell he stops at the next driveway. The bell is literally a bell tied on to a length of cord that jangles when the cord is pulled. The bus is an old banger and I wondered several times if it will make it up the steep hills, which of course it does. This roadside kiosk is a favourite stop with both passengers and the drivers as it sells cake and cool drinks.







We passed Buca Bay as we headed east.




Our day out was curtailed by a collapsed bridge and there were 2 or 3 villages beyond the bridge that we couldn't reach.




The few remaining passengers patiently unloaded boxes of breakfast biscuits, sacks of Mill Mix and cartons of disposable nappies and made alternative plans to get home. I couldn't help but think of how this would have played out at home.


Top sights:

  • People washing clothes and themselves in rivers
  • Men using wheelbarrows to transport washing and children from the river
  • Beautiful Buca Bay
  • So many schools and colleges
  • Three perfectly aligned terns perched on old jetty posts
  • The same three kingfishers that we saw along the same stretch of road last Friday

Tonight is our last at Daku, we've paid the bill and packed for an early start tomorrow travelling to the island of Taveuni aboard the Taveuni Princess.

Edited by Treepol
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Day 8


This morning we travel on the local ferry to Taveuni, the third largest island in Fiji which is known as the rainforest island. Tui drove us to the bus stand and we set off along the same road as we had travelled the day before. The bus is very crowded and a local lady told us that they prefer this ‘fast’ bus and buy any seats not required by ferry passengers. Its quite hot waiting for the ferry although the sky remains gray


The ferry crossing takes almost 2 hours and is OK – the intermittent showers cause the people on the deck to rush inside to avoid the worst of the rain. Once we reach Taveuni, our driver Tomasi is there to meet us and take us to Cadra Ni Vula, our home for the next 5 nights. Here is a view of the beach and house on a good day,






and the deck and view on most days, wet and windy.





Day 9


Tomasi drove us to southern Taveuni, following the only sealed road on the island. Again, the weather is patchy, however we had a good look around.







The rain follows us once again, however in between the showers we get to see rural Fiji – cattle grazing beneath coconut palms was a strange sight!




The heavy rains were causing flooding and mudslides, sights like this swollen river were commonplace.




Three schools in three different villages were devastated by Cyclone Winston




and at Vuna, classes were held in tents supplied by UNICEF.




We passed many ruined homes and stands of coconut, and this is a real problem as the nutritious milk is used in many local dishes.







This lady had been gathering food just as we arrived in Vuna.




On the upside, this day we saw our first Red Shining Parrots,




and some impressive coastal scenery near the blowhole.









Edited by Treepol
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It is good to see the upside with the Red Shining Parrots - but also fascinating and shocking to see the devastation caused by the cyclone. It looks as if it will take a long time for things to recover for people.

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@@TonyQ I think it will take a long time for the effected villages to recover, this was certainly a very different holiday for me!


Day 10


There was more heavy rain during the night and it's still raining. Sick of reading and playing with the iPad, we talk about going home 2 days early, but check with Lagi the bird guide first. Lagi says that Saturday will be fine and that we can start birding at his village and travel down to Waiyevo. Tomasi will once again be our driver.


We decide to go down to Garden Island Resort for lunch to fill in the day. Tomasi turns up and it seems that Garden Island is closed to non-guests while repairs continue, however we were able to see the fruit bat colony that lives in the trees along the waterline. Instead we go for a drive through Taveuni Estates where many ex-pats have luxurious homes. High up on the estate is a good place to look for Orange Dove and pigeons, not at midday though. We do see a few of the brilliantly coloured Maroon Shining Parrots.





Tomasi stopped at Aroha for lunch, a place that is popular with the ex-pat community. The restaurant looks out onto a lagoon which would be a beautiful spot on a fine day.




We pass the Meridian store and Meridian Cinema on the way back to Cadra Ni Vula.







Cyclone Amos is about 400 km to the north of Fiji and is causing torrential rain and high winds. The local fishing boats have returned to the Fishermans Wharf just in case Amos changes direction and bears down on Taveuni.












Edited by Treepol
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"Fiji has few mammals, the 2 most common being fruit bats and Indian mongoose." You found and photographed them both! That torpedoing Vanakoro Flycatcher is impressive too along with the brilliant orange dove. I never thought of them in orange. Nice Red Shining Parrots too. You even saw the pig in what looks like a river crossing, or maybe more of a soak. Looked like a pig was trying to cross the road as well.


You do go the most interesting places! A fortnight is actually a short getaway for you!

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Clever title for your TR. Such a shame your trip coincided with all the bad weather. The last 3 images in post #12 brought back some memories.

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I can almost feel the warmth and humidity in the pictures.

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@@Atravelynn this was a short break and considering the weather I'm pleased with what we managed to see and do in just 12 days. The goofy looking pig was soaking in a drain at the roadside - more pigs coming up!


@@Geoff and @@Livetowander thanks for your kind comments - Geoff have you spent time at Waiyevo?




Day 11


Another night of torrential rain during which the solar power ran out, Joe the caretaker started the generator around 6 am so we make tea and charge batteries etc. Breakfast once again next door at Coconut Grove - we fill in the morning as Tomasi is taking us for a drive to the north of the island this afternoon. Today is a better day weather wise, with just a single heavy rain in the morning which lifted and later in the day the sun broke through briefly. Tomasi was late and when the caretaker enquired, he said he was waiting for the river level to drop so that we could reach the village of Lavena.


We left at 2.30, headed for Lavena Village. Tomasi pointed out the location for the film Return to the blue lagoon and continued to greet his numerous friends and relatives along the way. The cyclone damage quickly became apparent and was equal to, if not worse than what we saw in the south at Vuna. There have been landslides in a couple of places and Tomasi carefully crossed the flooded river - he explained that ‘the river was too big for the bridge.’




The worst damage at Lavena looked to have occurred at the school where just one wall of a row of classrooms remained. The one local guesthouse was in ruins, many homes had been patched up with whatever building materials could be found and some places were being completely rebuilt.





Birds seen on the way home included Barking Pigeon, Collared Kingfisher and a Fiji Goshawk.








Edited by Treepol
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@@Geoff and @@Livetowander thanks for your kind comments - Geoff have you spent time at Waiyevo?



@@Treepol Yes, visited Waiyevo a few times and had a good look around on the day I went to Bobby's farm. Spent a few hours on a number of days on the natural waterfall slide, took my young son scuba diving on the Somosomo reef and did the Coastal Walk.


I was dismayed to read that the schools were badly damaged during the cyclone. We visited one of the schools (can't remember the name off the top of my head). It was Dental Hygiene week (we heard about it before leaving Australia) and we took 50 toothbrushes to hand out to the kids. We sat in on some classes and the Preppie classes sang for us. A very rewarding visit.

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Fascinating report with some very interesting birds and landscapes. Thansk @@Treepol



The devastation of the homes, schools and stands of coconut is dreadful. Just makes me wonder how they are going to ever get back to normal. We in the UK would just shout at the powers that be and say get it sorted. There I imagine it is a very different matter. Sad to see.

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@@Geoff sounds like you had a good look around Taveuni. @@wilddog the recovery will be sure to take a while, and the local expectations of government assistance are very different to those expected in our own countries.


Day 12


Today is our last full day in Fiji and we have asked local bird guide Lagi to show us some flashy birds. Tomasi picks us up and we drive to Qeleni village where Lagi is waiting, the sun is shining and the sky is blue - of course it is, we are going home tomorrow! :angry: The first bird is another posing Peale's Imperial Pigeon




We then head off up a side road past local homes until we are turned back by fallen trees.









This Polynesian Triller opted for a shady tree.




Once again we drove to the back of Taveuni Estates where the good weather afforded views of the islands and ocean,





There were many Golden Orb Weaver spiders out and about.






We were surprised to find a Collared Kingfisher with a kill.






The day had really warmed up and we decided to head home to escape the heat and to have lunch at Coconut Grove, the restaurant next door. We ate nearly all of our meals here as the food was excellent, and they would also deliver dinner to our door. We quickly got into a routine of taking our plates over at breakfast and they would be returned that evening carrying a delicious dinner.




The holiday is drawing to a close, here is a twilight photo from the deck.




All too soon its our last morning and we wander over to Coconut Grove for a final breakfast. A Pacific Reef Heron wades in front of our accommodation and its really hard to drag ourselves away to pack.










Edited by Treepol
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  • 3 weeks later...

@@Treepol Fascinating trip report. I knew nothing about Fiji so found every bit of this so interesting. Poor people though and sad to see such damage and destruction.

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