Leaving a Light Footprint: Ecotourism in Fiji
Fiji's preponderance of pristine coral reefs, lush tropical rainforests, year-round sunshine, and sand-gilded shorelines presents something of a double-edged sword. Namely, how to balance the obvious boon of mass tourism with preservation of some of the South Pacific's finest environmental treasures.
Fortunately, for those looking to avoid the imprint of the ever-present luxury travel industry, Fiji's scattered, isolated islands offer a brimming palette of environmentally sound options. The government has established six national parks, four of them on the main island of Viti Levu. Moreover, efforts to preserve Fiji's landscape extend beyond the natural to the country's cultural heritage. In fact, it may be said that the best ecotourism is actually local, "people-oriented" tourism. Look for outfitters who work with local guides and who offer excursions to nearby villages and marketsthese activities directly benefiting local businesses and communities. Additionally, look for environmentally sensitive accommodations. For example, travelers can visit islands such as Koro, free of commercial lodging, where local families will open their homes to visitors with a welcoming "Bula!". Elsewhere, you can minister to your decadent paradise needs in simple bamboo bures (thatch-roof huts) that open directly onto white-sanded beachescertainly not a difficult way to breeze through a week.
Beyond the beach and your eco-friendly lethargy, Fiji's national parks are the place to cool your surf-side, itchy heels. Sigatoka Sand Dunes, Fiji's first national park and the largest dunes complex in the Pacific, cover 1,600 acres of Viti Levu. Rivers such as the Wainikoroiluva and Navua thread through the Namosi Highlands' lush rainforest and down some challenging whitewater. Good hiking can be had along some longer, ancient trailssuch as those within Koroyanitu National Heritage Parkleading hikers past tempting waterholes, through small villages, and up to green-swathed, panoramic summits such as "Sleeping Giant" Mount Batilamu.
Beyond Viti Levu on the "Garden Island" of Taveuni, the Lavena Coastal Walk is a tempting favorite that snakes through Bouma National Heritage Park. Although labeled a national park, this protected 58-square-mile sanctuary is actually privately owned and maintained by the four villages of Vanua Bouma. Emerging from Lavena Village, the relatively flat Coastal Walk follows Taveuni's southeastern shoreline, leading hikers and cyclists toward the picture-perfect Wainabau Falls. Within the park, three other immense waterfalls, including Buoma Buoma Falls, are all swim-worthy alternatives. Remember, though, as with all your interactions with any local communities, please respect Vanua Bouma customdress conservatively and refrain from skinny-dipping!
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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