A full day hiking tour up Mt. Batilamu (1195m) in Koroyanitu National Heritage Park is another great way to see the beauty of Fiji. There are several companies that offer this, so take your pic!
I went with a tour organizer by the name of George, whom was highly recommended on tripadvisor.com. We were quoted FJ$150 per person for pickup and drop-off from our hotel, the park entrance fee, to trek to the waterfalls, traditional Fijian lunch, and an additional FJ$20 per person to go up to the peak of Mt. Batilamu. We opted for the peak, so paid a total of FJ$340 for the both of us.
George picked us up from our hotel in his luxury SUV and started driving to what we thought would be our starting point for the trek. What great service, we thought! After 20min. or so of driving, we ended up at his house! He welcomed us into his covered porch, where he had us sign a guestbook and waiver signing our lives away (really!). At this point, we waited for a while until another pickup truck came. This one was significantly more beat up than the last one, so we knew this one had to be the one to take us to the base of the mountains.
The drive was actually quite fun. Going through local streets, seeing local Fijian activities as we passed by, I actually thought this was a great way to see what the real Fiji was all about. At one point we stopped on the side of an inclined slope and just waited there for a while. When asked what we were doing there, the driver let us know that the truck had overheated and that he was waiting for another vehicle to come and drive us the rest of the way!
The new truck eventually came and the small town tour ended as we turned a road and started making our trek on the bumpy unpaved road to the base of the mountains. After some time, we arrived at a small village, where we were greeted by the locals.
A shy child slowly made his way to us, curious about my iPhone. He swiped left and right, seemingly amused at what it was doing. Our guide eventually came out from one of the bures, and introduced himself, at which point we started our trek.
It wasn’t until a few years back that one was able to go up the mountains without a guide. But due to some unfortunate circumstances, a guide is now necessary for anybody to go up the mountains. And the importance of a guide was evident as soon as we started since he led us through thick brushes and fields where there were no seemingly obvious paths to follow—we would have been completely lost without his guidance!
Taking care not to overwork ourselves in the Fijian sun, we took a number of breaks throughout, at which point we could admire the beauty of the natural surroundings. We eventually made it to the highest point of our trek, which was some 900m above sea level. The view was fantastic from up there, and had it not been for the low-laying clouds, we would have been able to see more of the distant islands that Fiji is loved for. The guide was worried that rain would eventually be on its way.
On our way back down, we made a stop to the waterfalls (this was an optional route and cost an additional $20 per person) since the rain was still some time away. The falls were tall, beautiful, and very refreshing as we welcomed the waters after a long day of hiking to the top.
As a side note, this is where we unknowingly got our backpacks searched, and money taken from our wallets. We weren’t sure what was going on at the time, but decided to not make a commotion out of this since it was getting dark and we needed our way back to the village!
We eventually made it back to the village, where (a late) lunch was ready for us. I don’t recall the name of the vegetable that they served us, but the white, bland tasting root vegetable was actually quite tasty when eaten with other side dishes. It was the Fijian’s version of rice or potatoes.
The drive back to the tour organizer’s home was less eventful, but we made it before the weather got any worse. We signed the guestbook commenting like other tourists how wonderful the tour had been.
Not to sour the tour by any means, I did email George back after I returned home, and explained to him what had happened with our cash. He was shocked to hear the news, and immediately involved the local police. After a few emails going back and forth, he told us the guide was found (after he went into hiding), and was arrested. The guide admitted to stealing our money, but only admitted to stealing a fraction of what was actually taken.
Our money was never returned to us, but that’s ok as I wasn’t expecting to get it back anyway. I was more comforted at the fact that nothing else was taken at that point since there were more valuable and more difficult things to replace than cash.
Despite this, I would recommend the hike to anybody wanting to go—just be cautious of your belongings, and always be on the lookout if you need to depart from it. Better yet, just don’t bring anything of importance with you to the trek. The scenic views and the natural landscapes of Fiji are far more worthy of your time than worrying about something you can get more of from the local bank.