Kadavu is the fourth-largest island, and the southernmost point, of the Fijian archipelago. It’s only a one-hour flight, or a six-hour ferry ride, from the capital of Suva, but it feels like it’s a world away. It’s one of the least-developed parts of the country, which presents travellers with challenges as well as some amazing opportunities. There are few roads through the island’s interior, so most villages are accessed by motorboat; phone reception is patchy and Wi-Fi difficult to find; and outside of the main town of Vunisea, there’s little in the way of shops or processed food. But those who are willing to let go of some of the comforts of home will likely find themselves exploring untouched nature and sharing food and traditions with friendly locals. Learn more in the list below about how to pass the time on magical, isolated Kadavu Island.
At over 65 kilometres (40 miles) long, the Great Astrolabe Reef is one of the biggest barrier reefs in the world, and a breeding ground for tuna, marlin, giant trevally and sharks. Visibility is great, so even non-divers will see plenty with a mask and snorkel, including the amazing manta ray ‘ballet’ at Manta Reef.
Dive and snorkel gear is available to hire at some of the resorts on Kadavu and Ono (a smaller island that sits just north-east of Kadavu), including Mai Dive, Matava, Oneta and Kokomo. The water temperature ranges between 25 and 32 degrees Celsius (77 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit), making it ideal for snorkelling wetsuit-free. “The underwater world of the Great Astrolabe Reef is unlike anywhere else in the world,” says Jason Nalewabau of Mai Dive.
Kadavu has been dubbed ‘bird island’ for its breathtaking array of winged wonders, including four endemic birds: the rainbow-coloured shining musk parrot, drab Kadavu honeyeater, petite Kadavu fantail and distinctively voiced Kadavu whistling dove. Plenty of these birds can be seen without having to venture out too far, “but if you wish to travel deep into the bush,” says Matava resort owner Mark O’Brien, “It’s worth asking around for a knowledgeable local guide, as it’s easy to get lost in Kadavu’s wild interior.”
Another great birdwatching option is to take a cruise from Ono to the even-tinier, uninhabited island of Yabu, which is one of Fiji’s biggest nesting sites for red-footed and brown boobies. At sunset, the sky turns dark with hundreds of boobies returning from the ocean to roost.
Kadavu’s culture is particularly conservative, and churches play an important role. Services will be in Fijian, but are worth attending for the congregations’ beautiful singing in multi-part harmony – and to admire everyone’s pure-white Sunday best (particularly impressive in a place without washing machines!). “The power of their music will leave you mesmerised, and you won’t want the singing to end,” says O’Brien.
The biggest challenge might be choosing which church to go to, as locals adhere to a wide range of Christian denominations, including Catholic, Methodist, Anglican, Seventh-Day Adventist and Assemblies of God. Visitors should make sure it’s okay to attend, and dress appropriately in clothes that cover the shoulders and knees.
Yaqona (pronounced ‘yangona’, and known in other parts of the Pacific as ‘kava’) is a traditional ceremonial drink that is often used to settle arguments and make peace. The root of the Piper methysticum plant is ground by hand and mixed with water, producing a greyish liquid that resembles dishwater. It acts as a mild relaxant and can numb the lips and tongue.
Visitors to Kadavu are most likely to be invited to a yaqona circle at some point, and offered a coconut-shell bowl, called a bilo, of the bitter drink. Customary procedure is to clap once, say “Bula!” (hello/good health in Fijian), drain the bilo in one go, and clap three more times, then say “maca” (which means ‘finished’).
Too much yaqona can cause vomiting, so visitors are advised to go easy on the soporific beverage – and not try to drink their seasoned Fijian counterparts under the table!
Dravuni is kind of like the tropical island in the movie Moana: white beaches, a baby volcano to climb, a total area of only 0.8 square kilometres (0.3 square miles) and a population of just 125 people. There are no resorts, but a number of village families offer homestays, which are well worth it to enjoy traditional foods like fresh fish, coconut and taro, and learn about village life. Some of the women in the village make and sell stunning floor mats made from pandanus palm, which make gorgeous souvenirs. “The sea colour was amazing, just beautiful,” says visiting photographer Kevin Walker. “It is one of the Pacific’s most unspoilt destinations.”
Hire a sea kayak – or to nod to indigenous voyagers’ tradition, an outrigger canoe – and a guide, and set off around the island to explore lonely lagoons, visit isolated villages and check out the coral reefs up close with a mask and snorkel. “The Great Astrolabe Reef protects the lagoons and islands of the Kadavu group from the ocean swell,” says Anthony Norris of local kayak company Tamarillo Active Travel. “This creates an ideal environment for sea-kayaking.”
Tamarillo Active Travel and Astrolabe Reef Outrigger Canoes both offer a range of itineraries ranging from one to ten days, which include stays in various resorts around the island. On most tours, guests will paddle two to four hours per day, at their own pace; there are always support boats available for paddlers needing a break!
Kadavu is well-known for its gamefishing – a few International Game Fishing Association (IGFA) world records have been caught in its waters. In winter (June to September), there’s a run of Pacific sailfish, and huge packs of wahoo hang out around the reef edges; other species like mahimahi, giant trevally and blue marlin are present all year round. Bite Me Gamefishing Charters, which is based at Matava Lodge on Kadavu’s southeast coast, will sort visitors out with a satisfying fishing experience at any time of year. “Superb blue water gamefishing awaits you around the Great Astrolabe Barrier Reef, oceanic pinnacles, 4,000-metre-deep (13,000ft) trenches and nearby sea mounts,” says O’Brien.