By Day Four of our heritage cruise voyage, our luck with the weather gods had run out. That morning, we awoke to pouring tropical rains and a sky covered with thick dark grey clouds. The island of Taveuni appeared outside our window, its silhouette shrouded in a blur of trickling rain.
Rugged and green, Taveuni is known as the Garden Island of Fiji for good reasons. Due to the trade winds that occur in the wet season, Taveuni experiences a colossal amount of rainfall, blessing the island with acres of thick rainforest, an array of rare flora and fauna, and a sprinkling of waterfalls and mountain lakes.
Despite the unfavorable weather, we were eager to head inland for a different peek of Fiji. Just before we headed to shore, a pod of dolphins came cheekily swimming by our boat, wildly diving in and out of the water as if they were curiously checking us out. We took this as a sign – a sign that our day wasn’t about to be ruined by the rain.
In the drizzling rain, we hopped on a local bus with the wind and rain whipping our faces and the sun poking out of the clouds, excited to head into the unknown.
Winding our way inland, we steered away from the coast that we’ve become so familiar with, into a different world of emerald green banana trees, bright red ginger flower, swaying coconut palms and thatched bamboo huts.
Lush, tropical vegetation flank both sides of the muddy road that run alongside the beachfront before turning up into the hilly slopes further inland. Tall papaya and pineapple trees stood side by side in the wet tropical garden, next to sprawling taro fields. Locals – young and old – peeked out from these plantations, waving enthusiastically at us, shouting ‘bula!’
Our bus driver carefully navigated through gentle flowing streams, passing raging rivers along the way. Several rivers run through the island, most of which originate from the mountains and snaking all the way into the sea. Villages were few and far between but farmers and school children were all eager to say hello to us visitors – an uncommon sight in the backcountry of Taveuni.
Our destination was the Bouma National Heritage Park on the eastern side of the island. We were here to hike up to the Bouma Waterfalls (also known as Tavoro Falls), made famous by the movie ‘The Return of the Blue Lagoon’ which shot Brooke Shields to fame. The park’s located in the Bouma district, a conglomeration of five villages stretching from the hill slopes deeply entrenched above the valley, all the way to the coast. Over 5,000 people live in this district, which is considered a large community in Fijian terms.
Upon arriving at the entrance of the heritage park, our local guide Tale led us on a hiking trail that was neatly carved out from the green grass. We traipsed alongside a gently flowing channel, snapping photos of the beautiful red ginger flowers that hung poetically from the vines into the water. Along the way, we found several tiny toads hopping from one spot to another. Tale pointed out the local plants that were used for cooking and medicinal purposes but we were too distracted by the sounds of the roaring water.
It wasn’t long before we found ourselves at the base of the Lower Bouma Falls: the raging water water cascaded down a height of almost 24 meters, bellowing so loudly that we could hardly hear ourselves. Water sprayed in all directions and cold wind whipped our faces. The river and waterfalls were flowing at their highest level – this was the height of the rainy season and it had poured that morning. Even from a distance, we could hear the thundering of the water and feel the spray on our faces.
Higher and Higher
Most of our travel mates could barely wait to dive in, but we wanted to forge ahead, higher up the slopes to the upper falls. The steep trail snaked higher and higher up the muddy slopes, curving around the bends and up above the canopy of the trees. The hike was easy enough and soon we were at a panoramic point with a view of the rain forest, coconut groves and the dark blue waters of the Pacific Ocean before us.
A quick rest at the viewpoint later, we continued trudging up the path which became more slippery and muddy with each step. The path soon twisted its way around to the other side of the valley, revealing a different landscape. Gone was the ocean and in its place was acres and acres of emerald green forest, with coconut palms poking above the canopy and ferns draping over giant mango trees. A mountain rose in the far distance, its peak shrouded by puffy clouds in the dark sky.
By the time we passed the Middle Falls, the dirt track was already covered with mud and overgrown with algae. At one point, it was so slippery we had to hang on tight to the algae-covered wooden railing along the trail to stop from slipping or sliding. Puddles of rainwater had formed along the second half of the rock-strewn path, and we were soon hopping from one to another.
Reaping Our Rewards
Eventually, the thick rain forest opened up to reveal a river where turbulent water was running over a rocky riverbed – we had arrived at a river crossing. Thankfully a thick rope hung overhead, connecting one end of the river to the other. I took a look at the rope then at the river and shuddered at the thought of being swept away by the water. But Alberto agilely scampered over the rocks and made it look awfully easy. I braced myself and started to make my way across by hanging on tight to the rope with one hand and using the other to feel my way around the rocks to make sure I didn’t slip into any holes (which could easily make me sprain an ankle). As we navigated the slippery rocks, we pushed ourselves to trudge forward despite the powerful force of the water.
With much determination, we were out of the water and soon we were continuing our hike to the Upper Waterfall. After a quick walk through the thick bamboo forest, we trekked even higher up into the valley, along the edge of steep slippery slopes. I had to avoid looking down in case of vertigo. 20 minutes or so of hiking later, the foliage finally opened up to a narrow water way that led to the double-barreled Upper Bouma Falls.
We were soaked in sweat and covered in mud by this time — it didn’t take us long to peel away our clothes and plunge straight into the cool, swirling water. The temperature was well below 20 degrees Celsius but it provided much respite from the sizzling tropical heat. This was surprisingly the smallest waterfall of the three, with a short drop at just 10m. But it was literally hidden within the jungle, offering a much more secluded and atmospheric setting for swimming and relaxing. The fact that we had to hike all this way to the waterfall made it well worth it.
That afternoon, we frolicked in the cool spring water, listening to the jungle orchestra echoing in the distance. It was just us and the waterfall, with not a single person in sight – just the way we liked it.
This was part of a half-day excursion on our heritage cruise with Captain Cook Cruises. The trip was free for all cruise passengers and included transportation. The trail is relatively easy and takes a total of 1.5 hours to walk up to the Upper Falls and back.
To visit yourself, you can hire a car or take the local bus to Bouma Heritage Park. Most resorts have shuttles as well. The entrance fee for the falls is FJ$8 (around US$5). You can also book a guided hike that will continue past the three waterfalls all the way to Lake Tagimaucia, at the top of the mountain.
Disclaimer: Our trip was made possible by Captain Cook Cruises, Air Pacific and Tourism Fiji, but all opinions expressed above are our own.