In a kayak in a river on a mountain on an island in the South Pacific is a very good place to be! It didn’t matter that we’d had two swimmers (not me!) while navigating the Snake, the trickiest rapid on the upper Navua River Gorge. The water was warm, the river was fun, and the company was excellent.
The Navua carves a deep gash through the mountains of Viti Levu, the largest of the Fiji Islands. We paddled beneath black volcanic walls that rose more than 140 feet above us, through a canyon so tight that paddles clashed when two of our inflatable kayaks came abreast. Despite a two-month dry spell, the rain forest surrounding us remained lush and green, ferns and waterfalls cascading from the tops of the canyon walls.
We were in the seventh day of a 10-day multisport adventure, following in the tracks of the 2002 Eco-Challenge Fiji. Our challenges were not as daunting as those the racers had faced; we were led on this segment of the trip by experienced local guides from Rivers Fiji who know this river intimately. Rather than a nerve-racking dead-of-night high-water descent, we enjoyed a splashy paddle that highlighted the river’s spectacular scenery.
The Navua River trip began with a bus ride on a rutted, rocky road into the mountains, followed by a 20-minute walk deeper into the rain forest. At the put-in, we watched a couple of young men fishing with snorkel gear and spears as we prepared to launch. Fijians are master storytellers, and the standard river-safety talk from lead guide Moses Batirua came complete with dialogue and pantomime.
The group included my husband, Douglas King, our Fijian traveling companions from the multisport tour, fellow guest Jonateni Tagivetaua and tour leader Robin Maivusaroko, as well as four Australians. I was the most experienced kayaker among the guests, and my whitewater skills are limited: I claim to be a pretty solid Class II paddler, just right for a low-water run on the Navua. Guides Moses, Pita Wanaidrola, Steven Tamasi, and Seteri Tamasi (Steven’s son) picked our way down, finding the deep water lines through scrape-bottom rapids and setting us up for the Snake.
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Pita zipped ahead with Doug to set up for this zigzag run. You know it’s time to pay attention when the photographer is standing on a rock waiting for the paddlers to screw up. The raft-riding Australians had to climb out to allow their boats to be tilted through the narrow passage. Seteri zipped through, and I followed his line, hard right, hard left, hard right. It was the hard right at the top that snagged Jon, and the hard left in the middle that grabbed Robin Maivusaroko. Jon climbed onto a rock immediately, and the guides leaped into action to retrieve his paddle and boat. Robin was caught by the current and shoved against the canyon wall. He was pushed downstream and came up against one of the rafts, slipped under it and popped up on the other side, and finally made it to a rock in the river. It was only a minute of worry, but a reminder to us all of the power of the river, even on a low-water run.