If you’re like me and set aside one day to do as much as possible whilst on holiday, leaving the rest of your trip to relax by the pool, then the Sigatoka River Safari is the thing to do in Fiji.
In what at first appears to be a clash of cultures (a jet boat ride followed by a traditional village visit), the tour works because of the genuine passion and understanding of company founder Jay Whyte.
“We first began operations in 2006 with the world’s first jetboat safari and village experience,” Jay says. “(The tour) offers visitors of all ages a half-day adventure into the heart and soul of Fiji. Passengers travel along the Sigatoka River aboard custom-built safari jet boats and visit authentic Fijian villages, experiencing a day in the life of the real ‘kaiviti’ (Fijian).”
In reality, it’s a winding 20-or-so-minute drive from Sigatoka town where the local guides entertain tourists with jokes about language and accents (ours, not theirs), football teams (who wants to own up to being a Wallaby fan in Fiji?) before arriving at the jet boat drop off centre. From there it’s a safety demonstration and gear up before getting in the bright red jet boats.
The tour was not what I expected; it’s not thrills-a-minute jet boating, rather a gentle tour up the river stopping along the way to learn about real village life.
You pass farming land, children swimming across the river to attend school, women washing clothes in the river, men using bullocks to plow land. It’s beautiful and humbling. After almost an hour we arrive at a local village where the female tourists are asked to put on provided sarongs before approaching the conservative village. Legs need to be covered and the eldest male tourist is selected to be our representative to offer gifts to the village chief in appreciation of our visit there today.
We walk through the village, full of smiling kids playing rugby, men sitting around chatting and women preparing lunch. This village has electricity and the houses, while modest, are well built from concrete blocks with neat gardens.
Children in these villages are raised by the community; if they’re at the neighbour’s house at meal time, they eat there. Marriages are arranged and women from other villages are sent for to join the community. Girls in this village are sent to other villages when it’s time to marry.
A traditional kava ceremony takes places, where the male tourists sit at the front, the women at the back. All are offered kava before a smorgasbord of food is laid out by the local village women.
It’s a real glimpse in to life away from the resorts, a taste of the real Fiji. Song and dance follow lunch before it’s time to head back to the boats. This time it is a thrill-a-minute, with the jet boat drivers wooing the crowd with sharp turns and spin outs.
The Sigatoka River Safari is suitable for kids and adults; it’s a great day out with complimentary return transfers available from the Coral Coast, Nadi and Denarau resorts. A percentage of ticket prices go to the local villages along the river.