Isolated stretches of land are scattered below me; some with patches of forest at the centre, others denser still. Together, they span all shades from greyish green to glowing turquoise. The closer we flew to Taveuni, Fiji’s third largest island, I knew that the definition of paradise would evolve.
Taveuni is separated from the mainland, Viti Levu, by a 90-minute flight. The island’s Somosomo Strait is home to some of the richest soft corals in the world.
But I was not diving here. I was going to explore this paradise on foot. In Duncan Raymond’s cab, I drove southwards to Bouma National Heritage Park, along the coast of the island. We passed through scenic beaches, sparsely inhabited villages and groves of hybrid coconut trees, ringed by emerald waters.
This symmetry changed when I took the boat from Lavena village to the mouth of the Wainibau stream. As we navigated choppy seas, the shallow bed of the South Pacific Ocean blended into the forest greens of the island. Paul, my guide, pointed out the 5 km Lavena Coastal Walk — the hike I would have done if my flight from Nadi had been on time. “There,” he pointed deep into the forest, “is where the suspension bridge was.” This bridge, one of the highlights of the hike, was washed off, to be replaced by a rope.
After a 15-minute boat ride, the mangroves on Wainibau’s snout marked the beginning of our short hike to the waterfalls. Exotic ferns, avocado and other native trees, red ginger flowers and orchids paved our path. Ten minutes into our hike, Paul stopped on a muddy flight of steps and pointed into a tree. I tip-toed to reach him and peered into the tree. An orange dove sat well camouflaged beyond layers of leaves and branches.
Soon, we arrived at Wainibau Falls, which emerged amid the rainforest ravines. In the clear waterbed, I saw a school of fish and black bugs. Closer to the falls, my companion swam in the plunge pool while I sat trying to spot Fijian birds. After some time, I heard his voice from atop the waterfall. He jumped into the pool like a kingfisher diving for its catch. As we packed up, I spotted a diminutive black bird with a fine white tail. Paul remarked, “Silktail!” — a species of bird endemic to Fiji.
The sun had lost its strength on our way back. Patches of blue sky appeared behind dark clouds as we drove from Lavena to Tavoro. Tavoro Waterfalls, also called Bouma Waterfalls, is a group of three waterfalls at different levels. We walked to the first, Tavoro Falls. “The falls comes alive during rain,” shouted Paul, as we got closer to the loud cascade of the 24 m-tall Bouma falls. The water sprayed in all directions. I sat on a wooden bridge facing the falls. My toes dipped in the cold stream as I tilted my head to see the tall mahogany trees behind me. Enclosed by the sound of water, seated under a green canopy and with my toes in pristine water, I held a new picture of paradise in my memory.