Cannibals and caves of off-road Fiji

Wendy Hoddinett
Monday, May 28, 2012
Entering the Naihehe cave system - the former home to cannibals. Image: Wendy Hoddinett
Entering the Naihehe cave system - the former home to cannibals. Image: Wendy Hoddinett
"The cave still contains a cannibal oven, a ritual platform, a sacred priest chamber and other eerie reminders of its cannibal past."
Wendy Hoddinett

Starting to go stir-crazy sitting around your Fiji resort, kicking back with a cocktail? Take a half-day tour on the Coral Coast and explore a Fijian cave system that used to be home to cannibals.

Founded by the Sigatoka River Safari company on Fiji's main island of Vitu Levu, this award-winning team now offers visitors the opportunity to join an off-road safari to explore Naihehe — the largest cave system in the Fiji islands.

The company will arrange a transfer from your resort to the town of Sigatoka. You'll then hop aboard a minibus which will take you to the river in the Sigatoka Valley — affectionately known as Fiji's salad bowl due to the lush scenery and high density of farm lands in the area.

It's a 30-minute drive until the adventure really begins. One quick ride across the river by jet boat, and you're boarding an open-air all-terrain vehicle. What really makes this tour a standout is the number of villages you'll drive past or through along the way to the caves system — many of which the company has had to negotiate to pass through with the village chief. It’s a chance to greet the locals, wave and experience why Fiji is known as "The Friendly Isles".

It's about 45 minutes out to the caves, but you are surrounded by lush scenery including freshwater lagoons, and you get to hear many stories about the area's history and locals. The drivers are also happy to stop the vehicle for photo opportunities, or if you want to chat more to any passing villagers.

Don't expect a typical tourist experience when you arrive at the caves — the charm of this tour is that you're entering a village and meeting the locals on their land. The cave is still relatively 'untouched' so it's important to be respectful and appreciate the fact that they've opened up their caves to visitors.

Before entering Naihehe guests will need to present their sevusevu (kava) to the 'betes' (priests), the traditional protectors of the Naihehe Cave, asking for permission to enter.

It's a short walk through the steamy jungle and then you're at the caves entrance which is ominously guarded by animal skulls. Naihehe, which means "a place where you can get lost", is more than 170m long, and was once a fortress for a cannibal tribe seeking to escape missionaries. The cave still contains a cannibal oven, a ritual platform, a sacred priest chamber and other eerie reminders of its cannibal past.

You'll learn how enemies were attacked should they enter the cave's main chamber unprepared via the "pregnancy gap", as well as how meals were prepared — human meat or vegetarian — and also see some impressive stalagmites and a deep fresh water lagoon. The tour is conducted via lantern light, so it is quite unnerving to hear what rituals have taken place in the cave over the years while standing in almost complete darkness.

Be prepared to get wet on this tour — to enter the cave the water will go up to your knees and later on you'll need to crouch under low rocks when squeezing through the "pregnancy gap".

Lunch is offered after the caves expedition as well as a chance to swim in the local fresh water lagoon before once again boarding the vehicles and heading back to Sigatoka.

Tour tip: Don't forget to pack shoes that can get wet as you'll need to protect your feet — aqua shoes are perfect. If you don't have any handy, most resorts should be able to supply you with a pair if you ask nicely.

Details: The Off-Road Cave Safari operates Monday to Saturday with tours departing at 8.30am and 1pm. All prices include lunch and for pick-ups from Coral Coast resorts. Adults are FJD$239 and children (four to 15 years) are FJD$110. Prices for pick-ups from Nadi/Denarau resorts are: Adults FJD$260 and Children (four to 15 years) FJD$120.

Bookings: Can be made via most resorts or by phoning 0800 6501 721 or visiting the Sigatoka River Safari website.

Where to stay: The beachside Outrigger on the Lagoon Resort is a short 10-minute drive from Sigatoka.

User comments
I was in 2005 in Fiji with the family and I did exactly the Safari tour and it was awesome.