|Peak||Mount Tomanivi (Mt Victoria)|
|Location||Viti Levu (North Coast)|
|Elevation||1323 metres (4341 feet)|
|Vertical Elevation||~600 metres|
|Total Distance||~4.5km one-way (2.7miles)|
|Climbing Time||6 hours return|
It was supposed to be a quick detour on an otherwise sundrenched, romantic Fiji getaway. A one day jaunt up the highest mountain in Fiji. I'd managed (yet again) to convince my girlfriend that climbing Mount Tomanivi would be easy. That we'd back from the mountain in time to spend a lazy afternoon by a resort pool.
Instead, we slogged it out for six hours straight up and then back down the side of a volcano. The glorious sun I'd promised turned out to be driving rain. And the well defined, easy-to-follow path turned out to be a muddy, rocky trail which often required more scrambling than a pleasant walk through the rainforest.
Welcome to the definitive site for all those wanting to follow in our footsteps and attempt the highest mountain in the Cannibal Isles (aka Fiji).
Mount Tomanivi (formerly Mount Victoria) is an extinct volcano located in the northern highlands of Viti Levu. Viti Levu is the main and biggest island in Fiji and with international airports at Nadi and Suva, getting to Tomanivi is relatively easy. At 1,323 metres (4341 feet) the mountain can be summitted in a single day (and yes, you can get back in time to hang out by a resort pool).
Our starting point for this adventure was Tavua Hotel, a 1930s simple hotel located in Tavua (the nearest town to the hike). Although given the relative ease in which you can travel around Viti Levu you could be starting from virtually anywhere on the island (West or North Coast obviously being closer). The few guide books on climbing Tomanivi all state that you must have a 4WD in order to reach Navai (the starting village for the climb). This isn't the case, although the road is very rough and I'm sure all of the car rental companys would refuse to rent you a car if they knew you were going to try and drive to Navai. However, while we were at Navai a 2WD sedan turned up.
We decided to rent our own 4WD from our hotel for the entirety of the trip and drive ourselves. Fiji is left-hand drive. Tavua Hotel can organise a driver and 4WD to get you to Navai and back.
Getting to Tavua means either:
1. Renting your own car (most of the bigger hotels can organise this for you) - approximately $100 per day for a 4WD.
2. Getting a driver/taxi to drive you to Tavua ($300 one-way) from Coral Coast.
3. Catching a bus (we didn't try this, but there are frequent buses running along the coast. Although many these only run between cities, meaning a few bus changes).
We spent our night before at Tavua Hotel (www.tavuahotel.com) to make our start time a little later in the morning, however you could easily start from any of the nearby towns/resorts and still get to Navai with no problems. The town of Tavua is pretty unspectacular. We had an afternoon there and really didn't find much to look at or do. You're inland, so it's also a little ways from the coast (ie aim to get to Tavua in the afternoon/evening and not early in the morning).
The Tavua Hotel is a simple but pleasant hotel. Nothing flash, but then again for what we were paying we weren't expecting much. There is a bar, restaurant, parking out the front and a 24-hour security guard. Our TV only showed one fuzzy channel and there were no towels in the room. But I've certainly stayed at much worse and for $70 per night we were happy.
NOTE: Update: 2016: It appears that Tavua Hotel has now closed. Their website is no longer active. Phone number: + 679 668 0522
The staff at the Tavua Hotel were also exceptionally friendly and helpful. We booked our hotel, a 4WD (although later cancelled) and guide all over the Internet.
We had planned to wake up early on Sunday (7am) to begin our climb, however somehow our phones didn't correct to Fiji time, so our alarm didn't go off until 8am. Fortunately, our guide just to Navai Village (one of the girls from the hotel) was running on Fiji time and didn't arrive to accompany us until 8.30am. However, we were off.
The drive to Navai village took about 1 hour 15 minutes. Head East from Tavua (along Kings Highway) and take the first major turn-off on the right (I think there is a sign for a Goldmine). Once on this road, you basically follow the road all the way. It's reasonably easy to follow as there is only one road for most of the way. You pass a few villages along the way and there is then an obvious fork in the road. The road continues uphill on the right and downhill on the left. Go left (we unfortunately took the right hand turn and only after another 20 minutes and asking someone did we realise we'd gone the wrong way).
We arrived at Navai village a short time later. At the far end of the village, there is a rutted road on the left and a house at the end of this road (about 100 metres long). I'd read that it was normal to visit the village Chief, present gifts etc before embarking on the climb. However, as the hike had already been organised for us, we instead were welcomed into this last house. As we found throughout Fiji we were warmly welcomed by both our hosts and a gaggle of kids (we did bring cookies for the children).
It was here we sorted out 'payment' for the climb. $60 included $20 for our guide and $40 as a village contribution (we even got a receipt).
After a few quick 'smiling' photo-snaps we were off. Apart from our guide and the girl from the Tavua Hotel, two Fijian youths from a nearby village were also joining us. Although they quickly disappeared ahead of us and we only occasionally caught up with them.
We followed the trail up a small rise behind the hut and slowly left the village behind us. We passed just a few more huts before reaching a crude wooden gate across the track. Here we picked a few Guava's from a number of overhanging branches. The track beyond this remained quite good for some distance. The lower part of the trail is used by crazing cattle, and while we only spied a few, there presence was certainly felt (and smelt). Given recent rain (which was about to get a whole lot worse) the trail we were on was very muddy and littered with cow-poo landmines.
It wasn't too long before our guide pointed out Tomanivi or at least a mountain which disappeared into the clouds. The entire mountain-top was covered in cloud. Our guide said something about the actual summit behind the summit which was in the clouds. It all became a little confusing. Needless to say we were at least heading in the right direction.
Unfortunately the weather (which had been on again - off again rain all morning) finally turned decidedly miserable. It started to rain. Essentially the rest of the walk (another 5 hours) was a mix of light rain, heavy rain and an absolute deluge of rain. The trail we were walking on quickly became a river and everything was eventually sodden wet. While higher up on the walk, the trail was just muddy, lower down (where we were now) was a mix of mud and cow poo. Not nice. But we had little choice. We simply sucked it up and walked through the water. My Gore-Tex shoes kept my feet dry for about an hour longer than Tiana's (my ever tolerant girlfriend), but eventually we were both squelching through the mud and water.
We soon crossed the first of two small creeks which essentially marked the starting point in which the trail starts to climb. From this point onwards, the fauna became much more temperate then tropical (unlike the lower areas which was more grassy). The cows also didn't get any higher, so the trail was slightly better.
The trail becomes steeper and steeper, although still not particularly difficult. At 'approximately' the halfway point (I think probably a little less than halfway) we reached an old dilapidated sign. Here we took a breather, snacked on some cookies (our only food) and drank some water. Somehow none of the Fijians had brought any water, so the 6 litres I had in my backpack was shared amongst us all.
Soon after leaving this spot, the Tavua Hotel girl turned back. It was actually getting considerably steeper now and given she was wearing a dress, I think she found it increasingly hard-going. I'm sure she was wondering what these crazy tourists found so interesting in climbing a mountain. I'm pretty sure Tiana was starting to wonder the same thing. At one point during the climb, uur guide told us that a Chuck Norris' brother had climbed Tomanivi three times (and in fact held the record for the fastest ascent 1.5 hours). Unfortunately, climbing with such acclaim didn't seem to be inspiring Tiana. Not surprisingly she became increasingly agitated at spending her Fijian holiday, climbing a mountain in the rain, covered in mud, and getting cuts from all the razor grass. Without sharing to the world some of the expletives I would soon witness, I will say I'm very proud she did eventually get to the top.
However, back to the story at hand. The final third of the mountain is actually a very difficult climb. The trail essentially skirts the bottom of an ancient volcano before climbing up a ridge. It then follows along the ridge before reaching a first then a second summit. Climbing this ridge is hard work.
Through brief breaks in the cloud and rain we occasionally spotted Navai village far below us. We had spectacular and scary views, as the mountain dropped away on our left. A stumble on some sections of the trail would result in a 30+ metre fall off the ridge. We found ourselves hand on hand climbing up some very steep sections of trail and our pace dropped right down.
Eventually the trail seemed to go no higher. This is the first summit and is essentially right on the 'crater' of the mountain. From here, you briefly descend again before another steep section and the summit proper.
The rain briefly stopped as we broke through the final trees and undergrowth and spotted a sign marking the highest point in Fiji. Previously called Mount Victoria, the sign is from a bygone era.
The two young Fijians who had forged ahead of us were on the summit already on their mobile phones, presumably telling their friends they were on Tomanivi.
We were completely enshrouded in cloud and couldn't see anything. Soon after it started to pour again. Five minutes after reaching our highpoint, we were on our way back down.
I'd thought our descent would be much faster than our ascent and anticipated 2 to 2.5 hours return. In reality, it took almost as long to get back down the mountain as did getting up (and we didn't take any breaks going down).
It rained a whole lot more going down and everything was 'extremely' muddy.
But 6 hours after leaving that morning, we were back at our truck. Covered in mud, smelly and wet, our hosts still welcomed us into their home, where we changed into dry clothes. It turned out the two young Fijians were related to our hosts and the entire family were there.
I really wanted to hang around and chat with them (Fijians are such friendly people) however Tiana only had a hot shower on her mind. I think if I'd stayed much longer, she would have left me behind.
We were soon back in our truck and driving back to Tavua.
We'd made it. We'd climbed the highest mountain in Fiji and we'd survived.
I'm hoping and I'm sure your adventure to Tomanivi will be as exciting, pleasurable and exhilarating as ours.
I hope this site helps you achieve this goal.
(As a side note. While it took us 6 hours to summit and return, I would rate our pace as average. I think had it just have been my guide and I, the return climb would have been closer to 4 to 5 hours).
|Nadi to Tavua||90km||1.25 hours (car)|
|Tavua to Navai||~28km||1 hour (4WD)|
|Navai to Summit||~4.5km||3 hours|
|Summit to Navai||2.75 hours|