“FIVE minutes to go … Fiji time? Maybe 10,” our guide Saka told us.
The cracking pace he had set through the rainforest was a shock to us girls, who had so far resembled cocktail-drinking sloths on our tropical holiday.
We had crossed the river no less than nine times on our way to the Biausevu waterfall on mainland Viti Levu’s Coral Coast.
I immediately regretted our choice of footwear as our thongs squelched in the muddy terrain throughout the 30-minute bush bash. Why had we declined to ride horses up to the falls? We had spotted plenty on the side of the track — and even some in the middle of the roads on our bike ride there.
But Saka kept our spirits high with jokes as he pointed out banana, mandarin and avocado trees growing along the trail. He even snapped the stem of a local bani cagi leaf and blew bubbles from the goo inside.
And soon enough our hair was blown back by the gusts of crashing water as we cooled off in our own private watering hole.
But like many adventures, the journey topped the destination. To get to the waterfall you must pass through Biausevu village, a community of 300 people in the middle of a lush rainforest. Here the bell sounds of kava being pounded rings through the trees, as does running water from the surrounding streams.
And children are playing everywhere: some race down hills in wheelbarrows, while others are dragged around in makeshift cars made of halved yellow oil containers, string and a handle bar. We had seen snippets of the real Fiji on our drive down to the Coral Coast — glimpses of village life through the greenery. We saw women selling oranges piled in little towers on the side of the road. Cooking fires burning. Men fishing in the turquoise shallows. Boys playing afternoon footy in open fields.
It was refreshingly different to the sunburnt tourists with bad braids we had encountered thus far.
If my muscles were tight from our “hike”, Sava worked the kinks out good and proper during my traditional Vakacegu massage that afternoon.
Sava was a big Fijian lady with warm hands, coconut breath and a firm touch.
I later found out her “warm hands” was a special herbal poultice of Fijian medicine — coconut-scented — used to reduce tension and muscular pain.
But I was playing it safe and had shied away from the assortment of seaweed wraps, hydrotherapy baths and hot stone massages on offer at the The Warwick Fiji Resort & Spa.
Once I was sufficiently oiled and docile, we were off to dinner at The Warwick’s Wicked Walu, one of five restaurants helmed by award-winning Swiss chef Martin Glutz.
This fine dining seafood restaurant on its own island felt more like a local’s cookout once you got inside.
The burre hut had sand floors and a wood-carved roof interior, and we were greeted with a welcome drink of kava.
The seafood Kwasewa platter for two was fresh and impossible to finish, a highlight being the whole lobster from neighbouring Lautoka.
It is hard to believe that earlier that morning we were sitting on the postcard-white beaches of Tokoriki Island, one of 333 in the Fijian archipelago.
A small spec in the Mamanuca island group, you can arrive here by boat, seaplane or helicopter.
Our beachfront burre at the Sheraton Tokoriki came with a plunge pool filled with hibiscus flowers just four steps from the shoreline.
But we spent most of our time on the other side of the island at the adults only Tokoriki Island Resort, which was unaffected by Australian school holidays.
Here we drank young coconuts (sometimes mixed with rum) and lazed by the picturesque beachside infinity pool.
One day I tried my hand at paddle boarding. The next I was snorkelling along the reef of Castaway Island — where Tom Hanks famously cried out for Wilson — while divers explored the depths beneath me.
And just a 45-minute boat ride away was Cloud 9, a two-level floating bar in the middle of the South Pacific Ocean with its own pizzeria.
We had our hearts set on going, but each day the wind gods had other ideas and eventually it was deemed too dangerous.
Cloud 9 will always be the one that got away, but it is just another reason to go back.
IF YOU GO
• The Warwick Fiji is on the Coral Coast of Viti Levu — about 90 minutes’ drive from Nadi International Airport.
• Tokoriki Island Resort is part of the Mamanuca Island group, located 35 kilometres off the west coast of Viti Levu. Guests can arrive by a 12-minute helicopter flight from Nadi International Airport, a one-hour catamaran ride direct from Port Denarau or by speedboat transfer.
The writer travelled independently.