To help protect one of the most extraordinary and beautiful areas in Fiji, the Upper Navua Gorge, the NatureFiji-MareqetiViti Team is assisting Rivers Fiji to conduct a distinctive awareness campaign—rafting trips—currently underway until early March for members of the mataqalis, or traditional clans, that own the land.
Although only 40 kilometers from Pacific Harbor in Serua Province, this gorge is an unspoiled area where the Upper Navua River is channeled into a narrow, sheer-walled canyon. At some points, the more than 40-meter high volcanic cliffs are only five meters apart—it’s not much wider than the rafts that make the awe-inspiring trip down the river! In certain spots, you can see fossilized coral and petrified wood in layers of mudstone. The landscape’s stark grandeur shifts dramatically as the walls become robed in green—at first, simply algae, but then giving way to lush, tropical forest as the cliffs ease into gentle slopes. All along, the scenery is punctuated by waterfalls (anywhere from 50 to 100 of them, depending on the season!), each with a character of its own.
In 2000, with the help of the mataqalis—Sauturaga l, Sauturaga ll, Ketenatukani, Vuanitavola, Vunimoli, Cawanisa, Naviaraki l, Naviaraki ll, and Navau—the Upper Navua Conservation Area (UNCA) was established to safeguard 615 hectares of this majestic area. In 2006, it was recognized as Fiji’s first Wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands.
Through a unique arrangement, Rivers Fiji Ltd. operates commercial white-water rafting trips in the UNCA by lease with the nine landowning mataqalis. But the UNCA is more than purely beautiful—it contains a remarkable count of Fiji’s native and/or endemic species, including 15 of Viti Levu’s 17 endemic land birds, and one of the largest remaining stands of the very threatened sago palm. It is also a significant portion of the migratory pathway and spawning grounds for freshwater gobies.
To encourage the landowners to continue protecting this extraordinary terrain, five years ago, Rivers Fiji first offered them a free rafting trip through the gorge, and invited NatureFiji-MareqetiViti to assist them by sending specialists on the trips to help educate the mataqali about the species that live in and depend on the UNCA. The trip was significant because many of the clan members had never been to the river; although it’s on their land, their villages are far from the river, and the terrain around the gorge is quite rugged and therefore remote. That first trip was so successful, they continue to offer these trips once a year specifically for the clan members, with NatureFiji-MareqetiViti continuing to provide background on the species that need continued protection. Current mataqali trips are taking place from 25 January through 3 March. Members of the public can make a similar trip to this unspoiled river gorge by contacting Rivers Fiji.