Captain Sparrow thrusts the throttle forward to send our jet boat lunging up river through rolling brown water. Josh Ratukuna, our young skipper, styles himself from the Johnny Depp handbook, wearing cool bandana and wrap-around sunglasses.
It’s part of the fun of a high-speed thrill ride into the green heart of Fiji’s Sigatoka Valley.
We’re racing up the Sigatoka River exploring what’s known as Fiji’s ‘salad bowl’. The valley’s a prime source of fresh fruit and vegetables for locals and for hotels along Fiji’s Coral Coast. The half-day river ride is a great chance to see farms, plantations and gardens along the river bank and learn a bit about village life. It’s one of Fiji’s top tourist attractions.
The Sigatoka is the longest river on Fiji’s main island of Vitu Levu, flowing from deep within the hills of Navosa province to the sea at Kulukulu on the Coral Coast. Until the late 1950s, this was the only route inland and it took days to travel upriver from the coast to Navosa.
Not any more! We power round bends, passing farmers on horseback and cooling off in the river. Women washing clothes on the river bank merrily return our waves, apparently unfazed by our hasty, noisy progress. Josh regularly stops the boat in mid-river to chat about our surroundings and answer questions. The Sigatoka, he says, provides water for both drinking and crop irrigation and a bounty of fish, eels, prawns and fresh water mussels.
As we eat we hear more about community culture and protocol and then participate in a traditional kava ceremony, sipping murky brown liquid from a wooden bowl. The kava numbs the lips and tongue a bit. Taken in quantity it’s soporific.
The villagers put on a short show of song and dance, after which we make our farewells and return to the river. As we clamber back into the jet boat I see a gleam come into Captain Sparrow’s eye. And soon our river ride gets frisky.
Choosing his moment, Josh yells a warning then flicks the throttle. A deft twist on the wheel and the boat dips its nose into the river and flicks around in a heart-stopping lurch and we’re all drenched in spray. It’s just like a fun park ride.
Our squeals echo off the high riverbank each time Captain Sparrow executes another stomach-churning pirouette. And so it goes …. until he flicks back the throttle and we settle into a tranquil glide through fertile farmland.