Rafting Fiji's Navua Gorge

  |  Gorp.com

When Captain Bligh sailed just north of Fiji after being set adrift by the crew of the Bounty, little did he know that the cannibal-infested island of Viti Levu housed one of the most beautiful rivers in the Pacific. Had Bligh touched ashore—and procured a modern-day whitewater craft and dodged cannibals long enough—he might well have discovered the Navua River, which joins the Luva before they flow past the palm trees into the tropical Pacific 45 miles west of the capital of Suva.
Floatable year-round during a normal water year (although better during the rainy season from December through March), the Navua offers 25 miles of Class III-IV whitewater through a tropical jungle gorge that could keep Darwin busy for life. The trip can be done in one, two, or four days, with the shorter trips ending with a motorized-dugout canoe pickup where the Navua meets the Luva. Longer trips include two nights of camping in the gorge, followed by a night in the village at the confluence where participants can join in a ceremony with the village chief drinking Kava, a mild narcotic cocktail, out of freshly cut coconut shells.

The heart of the trip is in the upper gorge, where the river narrows to less than 25 feet and is surrounded by 200-foot cliffs on either side. Referred to as Fiji's Grand Canyon and a River Eden, the untouched gorge contains more than 400 waterfalls, countless hanging gardens and twisty-grotto side hikes that rival any found in Arizona's Grand Canyon. You won't see much wildlife—save for fruit bats, parrots, and freshwater prawns you can eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner—but the wild ginger flowers, palms and foliage containing the rarest conifer in the world more than make up for the country's mammal shortage.
So does the whitewater. After putting in under the shadow of 4,000-foot mountains in the village of Nabekelevu, day one provides eight miles of Class III-IV, jungle-filled rapids. Then you come to a 19-mile Class II-III gorge whose blackened volcanic walls contrast sharply with the surrounding lush, green foliage. If you opt for the longer trip, a Class I two-day float takes you to the take-out on a white-sand beach on the Pacific. And if, like Bligh, you're in the market for a warm-water bath, the Navua offers a welcome reprieve to temperatures up north; the river averages a temperature of 79 degrees F., with the sidestreams dropping to a frigid 77 degrees.
PRACTICALLY SPEAKING

Difficulty: Not too hard; Class II-IV.
Price Range: This is Fiji, after all, so it's gonna cost you to get there (roughly $800 from L.A.). Once there, though, there are bargains to be found in accommodations.
Best time to go: Floatable year-round during a normal water year (although better during the rainy season from December through March).

Published: 8 Jul 2005 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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