THE TAVORO WATERFALLS
Well rested from a festive New Year’s Eve Meke (traditional Fijian dance) and Buffer Dinner last night, Julie and I got up at 5:30am and immediately left the Garden Island Resort in the hired SUV. By now, I had grown used to using the left-handed stick shift and I started to get into my old habits of driving one-handed with the other on the stick.
There wasn’t much going on this early in the morning on the first day of the new year but then again, traffic is not a problem on Taveuni Island. There’s only one main road and it doesn’t circle the island due to the rugged terrain of the southern east coast. But we were headed out from Waiyevo to Bouma and eventually Lavena on the eastern side of the island.
The drive was mostly uneventful as it hugged the western coast of the island on a paved road. A few minutes after crossing over the northern tip of the island and its airport, the road became unpaved. It was passable by a passenger car, I reckoned, but we were in a high clearance vehicle so the condition of the road wasn’t a worrisome issue.
At 7am, Julie and I saw the well-signed Bouma Falls Visitor Center, which was basically someone’s humble-looking house with some nature signs posted in front of it. Obviously it was closed this hour but someone did come out to collect the day fee. After she directed us to park in an empty grassy area off the main road, we said our hellos (i.e. the everpresent “Bula!”), paid our fees, said our thank yous (i.e. “Vinaka”), and we were off into the muddy and wet grass of the trail across the dirt road.
With hiking sticks in hand and Chacos on our feet (since we knew we were going to get wet), we made decent progress on the wet and muddy grassy trail. It had rained when we arrived on the island yesterday so the ground was still saturated. We saw frogs hopping about on the trail – some of which startled Julie when she didn’t expect to see them.
And by 7:10am, we had already heard the familiar yet satisfying sounds of falling water. Indeed, we had laid our eyes upon the first Tavoro Waterfall (or the Bouma Falls as they are also called). In my trip research, I knew there were three of them, and we were determined to see all three. This particular one was the tallest, and it was also the most popular. They even have a change facility here so you could change out of wet clothes after going for a swim. But we weren’t going to use the facility this early in the morning; especially when mosquitoes were waiting to get their syringes into us when we stopped.
So in the early morning shadows, Julie and took photos of the 24m waterfall before we proceeded along the trail. It didn’t take long for the trail to begin climbing. It also got progressively more rockier but it was still pretty easy going.
By the time we huffed and puffed our way towards the top of the climb, we noticed a beat-up bench. This indicated to us that it was a resting spot and probably a good view. So we turned around and beheld the panorama that was before us.
The hot tropical sun was already well above the horizon at this point, but I knew we could get better photos here on the way back. So with that in mind, we kept going.
Soon, the trail mercifully started to flatten out and re-enter the shaded confines of the jungle. We had to negotiate a fairly tame rope-assisted stream crossing, which we did without incident despite the slick footing on the wet rocks.
Then, the trail continued through the jungle until we quickly were before the base of the second Tavoro Waterfall at 8am.
This one wasn’t as tall as the first, but we were much closer to it. We could feel some of the light mist coming from the waterfall, which was cool and refreshing considering the increasing heat and humidity as the day wore on.
So far so good.
The hiking was tame and we had already seen two of the three waterfalls we wanted to see here. Now, we continued along the trail and past the sign that indicated the trail was more difficult.
“How difficult could it be?” we thought. Well we were soon about to find out.
The trail noticeable got narrow, muddy, and quite slippery – especially over the smooth wet boulders that lay strewn about on the trail. The trail continued to climb uphill and there were some narrow sections where it seemed the trail eroded in a mudslide.
Since we were in Chacos, we had to tread carefully so we didn’t twist our ankles in a misstep.
So with the difficult conditions, it had been over an hour since the last Tavoro Waterfall we had seen. The footing remained slippery with almost every step we took and we had to endure three rope-assisted stream crossings up to this point. There was nothing but silence broken by the footsteps of our Chacos and hiking sticks as we concentrated on the trail. “When are we getting to that last waterfall?” we thought aloud.
But a few minutes after the last stream crossing, we started to hear the sound of falling water again. We hoped it wasn’t another false alarm of rapids, and our fears were unfounded as we had finally reached the plunge pool of the third Tavoro Waterfall! It was now 9:05am.
From the end of the trail, we couldn’t see the falls very well so I went ahead and waded into the middle of the stream. Fortunately, there were rocks that were large enough for me to use as makeshift tripods. And with them, I took some satisfying photos of the multi-columned waterfall.
Even though this one wasn’t as tall as the previous two, the width and shape of it as well as the arduous and somewhat treacherous hike made the falls memorable. So Julie and I lingered here a little longer before we turned back for the trailhead. We didn’t entertain any thoughts of going any further to see the legendary Tagimaucia flower atop the mountain. Besides, given the already tough terrain, we probably wouldn’t have made it without a guide.
It was still slow going as we hiked back to the trailhead. But at least the terrain was familiar and we were generally going downhill. By 10am, we had passed the second waterfall and returned to that beat-up bench with the eastern Taveuni panorama. And as I had suspected, the lighting was better and the view was breathtaking.
After taking a few photos, we continued to descend the trail. By 10:15am, we had returned to the first Tavoro Waterfall. Now, the radiant rays of the sun had shone on the falls and the inviting plunge pool. We stopped to take a few more photos while dipping our feet in the waters near the bridge.
At 10:40am, we returned to the car park and the AC of the hired SUV that awaited us.
THE BOAT RIDE AND WAINIBAU FALLS
Julie and I continued to head further south from Bouma to the road’s end at the village of Lavena. It was a little after 11am when we got there.
With the bright and sunny New Years Day upon us in full effect, we walked over to the visitor center to inquire about seeing the Savulevu Yavonu Waterfall, which required a boat hire.
When they also learned that we also wanted to do the Lavena Coastal Walk, they told us that we could boat to the sea-bound waterfall first and then they could drop us off at the estuary downstream of Wainibau Falls so we could do the walk in just one direction.
I had never thought of this before and thought it was an excellent idea.
The only caveat to all this was whether the seas were calm enough to boat all the way out to the Savulevu Yavonu Waterfall. And to our relief, they said the seas were beautiful today.
So with that, we were on the primitive looking motor boat with two Fijians. One of them, who calls himself Augustino, was going to be our guide on the land-based walk while his larger compadre steered the boat.
Even though the seas were said to be calm, there was still lots of up-and-down action as the boat went over each swell. I hated to imagine being caught here in rougher seas. Nonetheless, we were treated to several sea-bound waterfalls on Taveuni’s scenic east coast. There was even one that fell behind a village that was further south from Lavena.
Austino told us that he has many relatives who live there and they make frequent hikes back and forth to do some family bonding. Of course, today was New Years Day and we knew there was lots of kava drinking and a general sense of community as we had witnessed this throughout this week.
At 12:15pm, we finally saw the attractive 20m Savulevu Yavonu Waterfall. I had read in Lonely Planet that sailors used to use this waterfall for drinking water. But given the oscillating seas and the jumbles of rocks at its base, I wondered how they accessed it safely without getting shipwrecked.
Austino told us that the waterfall used to flow directly into the sea before a landslide filled the base with rocks and sediment.
The falls were an interesting photo subject, but it wasn’t all that extraordinary.
So the boat started making its way back up the coast. As we got towards the confluence of the Wainibau Stream and the ocean, the boat driver decided he was getting too hot from the tropical heat. So he stopped the engine and jumped right into the relatively tame water for a swim. He went on to swim towards the spot where the boat was going to drop us off for our hike.
And with that, the driver regained the boat while Julie, Augustino, and I were now on the trail. The waterfall was only a few minutes upstream so I looked forward to going for a swim to cool off.
By 1:15pm, we had made it to the end of the trail. Along the way, Augustino pointed out an orange dove to us, which he said was rare. We weren’t really bird watchers, but seeing an orange bird isn’t something that you see everyday. Too bad I didn’t have a telephoto lens to capture it.
Anyways, Julie didn’t wasn’t in the mood to put her recently-learned swimming abilities to the test so she sat at trail’s end photographing both me and Augustino backstroking and breaststroking our way towards the falls. We had to swim towards the left side of the passage towards the embanking rock wall to avoid getting pushed downstream by the current.
Even though the falls could be seen from trail’s end, the swimming to the base of the falls revealed another smaller waterfall facing the main one. Augustino used that waterfall to jump off of it while I took photos with the waterproof disposable camera.
By 1:30pm, we regained our packs and started the hike back towards the village of Lavena.
THE LAVENA COASTAL WALK
As we were walking back along the coast, I noticed that Augustino was hiking barefoot the whole time. Now I had seen this before when a Fijian boy guided me to Uru’s Waterfall earlier in the trip in Viti Levu. But this was a pretty long 5km walk!
Anyways, as we made our way along the mostly shady trail, Augustino filled us in on how the movie “The Blue Lagoon” was filmed here. We couldn’t really tell or comment on that because neither of us had seen the movie.
By 2:30pm, we noticed some intriguing Pedestal Rocks (called Vatuni’epa in Fijian). The standing water was a bit hot at these rocks as it had baked in the sun for much of the day. Still, we enjoyed posing for photos by these weird rocks.
As we passed Naba village, it was getting near the end of the walk. Augustino noticed I didn’t have the same posture as I had earlier in the hike and asked if I was tired. He was probably right as I didn’t really feel like hunting for a way to photograph the waterfall behind the village. He even offered to carry my day pack but I told him I was fine.
Meanwhile, Julie was busy looking towards the coast as we walked because she wanted to find a sandy secluded beach and imagine she was Brooke Shields frolicking in the sand. It wasn’t until 3pm as we sensed we were getting close to Lavena that she got her wish. So we spent a few minutes checking out the scene even though I wasn’t quite sure this wasn’t exactly where they filmed it.
Finally at 3:15pm, Augustino had us walk through his village. Everyone we saw along the way smiled as they said “Bula!” to us. We felt a bit strange being these strangers walking through their village with this attention given to us. But it felt warm and genuine as had most of our interaction with Fijians on this trip.
When we finally arrived back at the visitor center, Augustino handed me a piece of paper with his name and address on it. Apparently, he wanted me to be his pen pal. So with that, we shook hands and said our good-byes.
Julie and I hopped back in the car and proceeded to drive back to the Garden Island Resort on the opposite side of the island. It was quite a relaxing drive back and it felt good to wave at everyone I saw on the road while they waved back in kind with smiles.
By 4:30pm, we returned to the resort for a well-earned dinner while enoying yet another tropical sunset to end this beautiful New Year’s Day…