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Taveuni is Fiji's Garden Island, and Fiji is already a lush country. Things just grow in the rich volcanic soil fed by nonstop rain. Jungles to thick to walk carpet most of the 4,000 foot island, a classic shield volcano island that catches the tradewind clouds drifting by at 3,000 feet. As the clouds rise over Taveuni's summit, they constantly drop rain that flows down the volcanic slopes, creating a classic tropical paradise filled with untouched hardwood jungles thick with orchids and exotic birds.

I was attracted to Taveuni's Ratilevu (Windward) coast right from my 1983 start in commercial sea kayaking. IMHO, Ratilevu ranks in Polynesia's top four coastlines, right in there with Hawai'i's dramatic cliff lined windward coastlines of Waipio, Koolau Moloka'i and Na Pali. The big difference is cliffs on young Taveuni are only starting to accept Tropical Pacific weathering - give then a couple of millions years.

Taveuni's youthful geology also creates a highly treacherous totally exposed fringing reef coastline. Normal tradewind seas are 15-25 knot winds with 4-6 foot seas dumping onto the concrete-hard reef. If you don't time the wave perfectly, the backwash sucks you backwards into the sea, with the sucking water exposing at least two meters of reef before the next wave hits. Expert paddlers can accomplish this trick, but on a coral reef the technique is flirting with disaster, so it's a definite N0-No on commercial trips.

In normal conditions the practical way to the beach is up a reef channel, notorious killers if one goes swimming - dumping surf pours into the channel from both sides, and the stream/river that created the channel in the first place empties into the channel at shore, mixing all three currents into water so confused it's impossible to swim, and sweeps the hapless swimmer out the channel into the open sea. Since it's impossible to swim back into the channel, the only way back in is bodysurfing across the reef!

The semi-cave is Ratilevu's best campsite but at least 2K from the nearest channel, so it's important to time landings for tides with precisely one foot of water on top of the reef. That gives you enough water to paddle your kayak inside the reef all the way to the semi-cave. Some surf gets over the reef, small enough to be manageable but disconcerting as its breaks abeam of your kayak. If the reef is two feet deep, full strength waves just run to the jungle and become shore break.

Despite the adrenalin rushes (or because of them), the rewards of Ratilevu are great.
It's the coastline of non-stop waterfalls and streams, exotic birds, dramatic marine life and unending beauty - and we always immerse ourselves in the local culture, camping and eating Fijian style. Cannibals until the dawn of the 20th century, Fijians present an awesome appearance yet are usually as gentle as lambs - except on the rugby pitch!

I'm not religious, but I am very spiritual, so I was quite taken by the Millennium midnight serenade in Levena village. Deep, moving, stirring and solemn yet joyous, I was privileged to share that magic moment in a remote Fijian village with Fijian deeply rooted in their faith.

One week later, we were camping in the very remote semi-cave when the Waterfall Man said ominously "John, you better handle this one."

I dropped everything and looked up the beach. Two large fearsome Fijians walked the beach straight for our camp with an obvious sense of purpose. My friend was a bit worried until I greeted the husband and wife. The huge guy replied. "Brother John, we know you are a long way from the market, so we caught these stream prawns for you - about four kilos." They walked and swam the rough coastline seven miles each way to deliver the gift. That's Fiji.

Don't miss the spectacular waterfalls on page two, the only time I've seen them pumping that strong. We planned a hike to Waivuso Falls but after a week of sunny skies, of course the day we picked for our major waterfall hike was raining so hard the slippery, muddy mountain slope "trail" was to dangerous to traverse.

The seas were big, but we decided a paddle around the point to the stream mouth, three excellent swimmers in one inflatable sea kayak. Certainly, walking up the stream bed was safer than a muddy hike on steep slopes.

Bad idea. In its narrow canyon, Waivuso stream ran five meters up each bank, and the stream mouth was a high volume cascade.

I recommended we paddle on down the coastline and check out the waterfalls - there's one we can paddle under in normal days. It was a bit of lunacy I would only attempt in a Sotar inflatable. Seas were running 6-10 feet with strong wind and rain. Near shore, waves reverberated off the rocks, creating large chop that tossed our Sotar like a cork in a washing machine, but we got the shots. Enjoy the dramatic results.

The storm lasted just this one day, and blue skies returned the next.

All of Taveuni is beautiful, and there's just the right mix of lodging to make the island convenient without losing its mystique. My problem was Tino never answered my emails or letters, preventing us from finalizing reservations. Tine and Levena is a spectacular experience - the village even maintains a modest guest house right on the water - but you've just go to go and show up in the village, so remote there's no telephone or electricity and the dirt road isn't even on Taveuni's topo map. Even so, it's well worth the flight to Taveuni.

That's Fiji.

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