You can’t help but be on “Fiji time” on Taveuni. Even if you want to go fast, the dirt roads, wandering dogs, and friendly locals make it virtually impossible. Thinking you’re going to rush off to the airport? Nope, staff at your hotel are going to serenade you with beautiful Fijian farewell songs. It’s almost as though Taveuni has been preserved in some type of tropical time capsule, protecting it from glitzy mega resorts and the over development that plague other popular vacation destinations. If you’re looking to travel back in time to an era when you find places by asking people for directions rather than relying on google, make your way to Taveuni.
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Things to Do in Taveuni
For a small island there are a surprising number of things to do, particularly if you enjoy hiking and diving. Give yourself at least three or four days if you want to see the most popular attractions and a few additional days if you want to get off the beaten path a little.
Lavena Walk: Deserted beaches with palm trees dotting the shoreline, lush jungle foliage, and a magical waterfall make this easy 5km hike a must do while you’re on Taveuni. At the visitor center they will ask if you would like to be accompanied by a guide. Probably the biggest advantage of going with a guide is getting to learn more about the different species of plants and animals that inhabit the area.
It’s definitely doable to do the Lavena Walk without a guide, the trail is straightforward and the visitor center will provide you with very detailed instructions. The only slightly difficult section is a river crossing. The current is moderate and there is a rope spanning the river to hold for balance. I recommend water shoes or sandals to protect your feet, and a dry bag to safeguard against camera mishaps.
If you swim in the falls or have a picnic lunch, plan on it taking approximately three hours. When you get back to the village check out the workshop where local artists create intricate bone carvings using traditional techniques. Buy one and bring home an unique Fijian souvenir while helping support a good cause.
Tips for the Lavena walk:
- Bring goggles for checking out the freshwater fish in the river.
- There isn’t food readily available in the village, bring a packed lunch.
- You’ll need cash for the entry fee
Tavoro Falls: Three spectacular waterfalls, two of which are perfect for swimming make the this hike in Bouma National Heritage Park a popular attraction on Taveuni. Like Lavena you must pay an entry fee and the staff at the visitor center will give you instructions. The first waterfall is a flat 15-20 minute walk from the parking area (maybe even quicker if you are a fast hiker). After that you’ll start up a steep set of stairs and reach a nice viewpoint. There’s a little shelter and a bench that make a nice spot to catch your breath. Continue onward to the second waterfall. The mist from these falls is incredibly refreshing after the humid uphill trek however the rocks are very slippery and the pool isn’t as ideal for swimming. Keep your clothes on and proceed to the third waterfall. The third waterfall has a pristine pool for cooling off in and if you’re feeling bold there is a ledge you can jump off of. The walk back to the trailhead is much quicker since it’s mainly downhill.
Tips for Tavoro Falls
- It is possible to combine a trip to Tavoro Falls with the Lavena Walk if you’re short on time or want to save on taxi money. This would be a very full day and you’ll want to make sure you have ample water/food.
- Mid-day seems to be when the falls get the most sunlight on them
- There are bathrooms/changing area near the first falls
- Wear shoes with good traction since sections of the trail are muddy/ slippery
- Bring cash for the entry fee
The White Cross
If you’re down on this side of the island and have a little extra time, the walk up to the “white cross” rewards you with sweeping views of the island. More dirt road than trail, I was pleasantly surprised by how scenic the walk was. To get to the dirt road leading up the white cross, it’s about a twenty minute walk south from Waiyevo. Walk past the school and the church and you’ll see a road leading up the hill. From the main road to the cross and back takes about an hour.
- Do the walk in the morning or evening. There isn’t much shade and it gets stifling hot mid-day
Water Adventures on Taveuni
The Waitavala Water Slides: Plan on getting a few bruises with your laughs at the waterslides. Somewhat smooth sections of rock in the creek form natural waterslides that locals and tourists slide down.
The prison is your best landmark for finding the water slides. From the main road along the coast, follow the dirt road up the mountain, keep right at the fork. When you get to a small prison, which could possibly be the world’s most picturesque corrections facility, turn down the narrow dirt road across from the prison. Walk a few minutes and you’ll come to a creek. Don’t cross the creek. Head upstream along a narrow trail and continue on until the trail ends at the waterslide section (5-10 minutes of walking).
Tips for the waterslides
- After a heavy rain the creek moves dangerously fast. Assess the conditions before throwing your body into a rocky rapidly moving creek.
- Sturdy sandals or water shoes are your best footwear option. If you wear flip flops you’ll end up chasing them down the stream.
- Bring mosquito repellent. It can be buggy.
Snorkel Rainbow Reef: We went out to Rainbow Reef in absolutely horrible snorkeling conditions and it was still incredible. Choppy seas, wind, heavy cloud cover, and pelting rain didn’t detract from the magnificence of the reef. We booked our snorkel tour with Taveuni Ocean Sports and I can’t say enough good things about them. The staff was exceptionally knowledgeable, and made a concerted effort to keep people safe and happy. We received a little lesson on the marine creatures that live in the rainbow reef vicinity and the provided snacks (wraps, homemade hummus, fresh fruit!) were top notch. We’ve gone on snorkel trips all over the world and Taveuni Ocean Sports was one of the best experiences we’ve ever had!
Tips for snorkeling/diving rainbow reef
- Consider wearing a wetsuit! Julie, the owner, recommended that I wear a wetsuit for our snorkel trip. I never would have thought that I would need a wetsuit for snorkeling in the tropics but it was a great decision. I stayed toasty warm which made the experience even better. There’s nothing worse than having to get out of the water because your cold! Btw wetsuits are complimentary so why not bring one along on the boat just in case?
- Light breakfast/ focus on an object on land for a better boat trip. If you’re like me you are a water enthusiast but your stomach isn’t wild about boat rides. If I’m going out on a boat in the morning I keep my breakfast light and give myself ample digestion time before setting sail. Once I’m on the boat I find an object on land to keep focused on. This trick works wonders.
- Book in advance. Taveuni Ocean Sports has small tour group sizes. This means they fill up fast.
Kayak to your own island: Many of the places to stay on Taveuni offer kayaks for guests to used. Off the coast of Coconut Grove Beach Cottages there is a little chain of uninhabited islands. In calm conditions it’s a fairly mild paddle, about thirty-forty minutes to the third island. The third island has a sandy little section that’s easy to beach your kayak and from there’s some decent snorkeling straight out from the beach.
Tips for Kayaking
- Mid-high tide is the best. At low tide the reef is exposed and it’s difficult to kayak without damaging the reef or yourself
- If you have a dry bag bring it! Between the nature of kayaking in the ocean and the always changing weather, you’re stuff is likely to get wet. Either leave electronics in your bure or come up with a good game plan for dealing with rogue rain showers and ocean splashes.
Other Things to do on Tavenui
International Dateline: I wouldn’t spend money on a taxi just to see the international dateline. However, if you happen to be in the area it’s a quick stop that lets you take some cheesy tourist pics. And how often can you and your traveling companions get to give each other a high five from different days?
Take a Day Trip to Qamea Island: Maqai Beach Eco Resort is a laid back eco-resort on the nearby island of Qamea. Popular with surfers searching for empty waves, Maqai is set on a pristine stretch of sand. It’s only a thirty minute boat ride from Taveuni but sleepy Qamea makes Taveuni feel like Las Vegas. The resort can set up a day trip for those looking to spend a day kayaking, surfing, snorkeling or playing beach volleyball. Chances are you’ll want to come back and stay longer. Read my article on surfing in Fiji to find out more about Maqai Beach Eco-Resort.
Places to Stay on Taveuni
Coconut Grove Beach Cottages: These popular bures book up fast, and for good reason. Located a stones throw from the airport (strangely airplane noise isn’t an issue) and situated on a pretty little sandy beach, the Coconut Grove Beach Cottages are a convenient and comfortable option for your stay on Taveuni. The food lives up to the hype and I highly recommend treating yourself to a massage on the beach.
Aroha Taveuni Resort: Don’t let the name fool you, Aroha Taveuni isn’t the sprawling monstrosity that you picture when you hear the word “resort”. Intimate and low-key but also spotless and beautifully decorated, the Aroha takes impeccable care of it’s guests. The bures are spacious and appointed with porches and outdoor showers so that you can embrace the balmy warm weather. And if you do need a break from the heat the bure’s have air-conditioning and there’s a beautiful outdoor pool to cool off in after a day of adventuring.
Where to Eat on Taveuni
There aren’t a lot of options for dining on Taveuni. And with the cost of getting a taxi it’s easier just to stay someplace that has good food. The money that you save by not driving to a restaurant you can spend on having an extra tropical cocktail, and be that much closer to your bed when you’re belly is full.
Restaurant Tramonto: The one time we ventured away from our accommodation to dine we stopped by Tramonto for an early lunch. The open air restaurant is perched on the edge a cliff, needless to say the views are dreamy. The pizza isn’t anything special but when you’ve been traveling for awhile and have a hankering for some comfort food they hit the spot. Besides, you won’t be really tasting the pizza since you’ll be mesmerized by the view.
Coconut Grove Restaurant: The best food we had on Taveuni. The restaurant recommends calling ahead and making a reservation because they only make enough to feed the expected number of guests. This is probably why everything tastes so fresh and delicious!
Kai Time: Steps from the ocean, this restaurant is part of the Aroha Resort but is open to the public. Dining surrounded by tropical flowers and listening to the waves gently lap against the shore is the perfect remedy to jet lag. A great option if you’re on this end of the island and need a bite to eat after visiting the water slides or doing a sunset walk up to the white cross.
What to Bring to Taveuni
- Water sandals/ shoes
- Small backpack for hikes
- Water bottle (hydro flask is my favorite)
- Snorkel gear if you have it (nice for impromptu snorkel adventures)
- Bug repellent
- Cash for taxis/ entry fees
- Dry bag
- A good book for lazy afternoons
Getting to Taveuni
- Flights: At the time of writing this the only airline offering flights to Taveuni is Fiji Airways. The flight is about an hour from Nadi to Matei (the airport on Taveuni) . Matei is a small airport and expect to be taking a very small plane to get to Taveuni. There won’t be peanuts and drink service. You’ll be squished into a tight little cabin with about twenty other people. Needless to say if you have a fear of flying you might want to consider a) self medicating b) selecting a different method of getting to Taveuni
- The Ferry: Good news for those who are claustrophobic or have an aversion to small planes, there is another option for getting to Taveuni… the ferry. But the direct ferry from Suva takes 14-16 hours . The thought of a 16 hour ferry ride might be the cure to a fear of flying since everyone we met paid the extra money and flew to Taveuni.
Getting Around Taveuni
It’s a small island but getting anywhere is surprisingly slow. The main road follows the coastline, passing through various village. Just past Matei the pavement ends and it turns into a bumpy, dusty dirt road.
Taxis: Anywhere you stay can arrange to have a taxi pick you up. Typically the driver will wait for you while you do your activity which makes things easy. You can leave extra clothing in the taxi while you hike and know that you won’t be scrambling to find a ride back to your hotel at the end of your adventure.
Also, it’s normal for taxi drivers to make a quick stop or two along the way to pick up a few things to deliver to someone on a different section of the island. It adds only a few minutes to your travel time and it’s this sense of community and kindness that makes Taveuni such a special place. In other words don’t be scared if your driver pulls into the driveway of a random house on the way to your snorkeling trip.
Bus: There is a local bus that will take you around the island. I would only advise this is you are on a very tight budget since it’s always a bit tricky trying to time the duration of a hike around a bus schedule. On the bright side, you’ll have lovely island scenery to admire and public transit is always a great way to interact with locals!
Rental Car: We only encountered one group of people who “rented a car”, which they admitted was actually them just paying a local to use their car for the weekend. I never saw any type of car rental business so I’m not even sure if there is an actual official car rental agency on the island. If you do plan on driving yourself, remember that you’ll be driving on the left hand side of the road.
Other Helpful Things to Know About Taveuni
- Many of the shops are closed on Sundays
- Trying to learn a few Fijian words or at least a friendly “Bula!” (hello) is a nice gesture
- Even in the “winter” it’s warm. A long dress and a lightweight long sleeve shirt is probably all you’ll need for the coldest days.
- Fijians are fairly conservative. Bikini on the beach is perfectly fine. Bikini in the grocery store might make some of the locals feel uncomfortable.
- Hotels typically accept credit cards although there will be a transaction fee (3-5% at most places) added to your bill.
- Bring cash to the island if you can. If you have USD you can ask your hotel if they will exchange it to Fijian dollars for you.
- Prices aren’t exorbitant but they aren’t the deals that you’ll find in Central America. Expect to pay around $15 USD for a nice dinner entree. $100 gets you a nice meal with wine for two people.
The Bottom Line: If you want steamy jungle hikes, waterfall swims, colorful coral, and big smiles without all the crowds then Taveuni is the place for you.