Men's Journal - March 2003

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Fiji's Wilder Side

Bored with Fiji's picture-perfect beaches? Head inland to discover the best whitewater rafting west of anywhere.

By Paul McHugh

I do not surf. I do not dive. And I have little patience for baking in the sun. So it's no wonder that Fiji, a 300-plus-island archipelago in the South Pacific that's known for its waves, reefs, and white-sand beaches (and as a byway for Captain Bligh), was barely on my radar. But a few months ago, I visited Fiji to watch the 2002 Eco-Challenge, the grueling multisport competition, and found that the interior of Fiji's biggest island, the 4,010-square-mile Viti Levu, is packed with rain forests, rivers, and mountains.

The Eco-Challenge, which airs in April on the USA Network, and a handful of new outfitters setting up shop on Viti Levu are helping to redefine Fiji as an adventure-sports mecca with the South Pacific's best hiking, mountain biking, and river rafting.

Nadi, on the western coast of Viti Levu, is home to the island's international airport and is a good base for hiking and mountain-biking trips. The crown jewel of local treks is the ten-mile, two-and-a-half-day Mount Batilamu route, in Koroyanitu National Heritage Park. The outfitter, Mount Batilamu Trek, picks you up in Nadi for the hour-long drive north to Navilawa village, where you'll partake of a kava-drinking ceremony (villagers brew a beverage from kava roots) and spend the night. The hike begins the next day at sea level, traversing grasslands and rain forest with birds like the giant honeyeater and the Polynesian triller. The trail gets steeper on the final scramble to Batilamu's 3,450-foot summit. The payoff? Panoramic ocean vistas and a chance to see Fiji's only native mammal, the flying fox.

Back in Nadi, the islands' first and only mountain-biking outfitter, one-year-old Wacking Stick Adventure Tours, leads custom trips and a rigorous daylong itinerary, with 12.5 miles of biking through cane fields and valleys on a front-suspension rig, interrupted by a hot-spring soak and a three-mile jungle hike in the 3,000-foot Sleeping Giant Mountain Range, ending at an 80-foot waterfall.

From Nadi, drive three hours east along the reef-fringed Coral Coast to the town of Pacific Harbour, the headquarters of whitewater-rafting outfitter Rivers Fiji. The Upper Navua River (Class II with some Class IV surprises) is your final destination. You'll squeeze through 130-foot-high walls of black volcanic stone, topped with rain forest and waterfalls, which narrow to just 23 feet in width -- still plenty broad, I learned, for jumping out and floating feet first whenever the urge strikes.

Pacific Harbour also happens to have world-class diving and surfing, but that's not why you'll be there, is it?