To experience the majesty of the Upper Navua River is all one needs to understand the motivation behind our efforts to protect such a unique place. Earth offers a host of mind-blowing venues, and one is in the heart of Fiji – The Upper Navua Gorge.
After coming to Fiji to help establish Rivers Fiji, Nate and Kelly Bricker envisioned protection for what they considered one of the most beautiful river canyons on Earth. It was this vision that inspired years of effort to gain such protection. For Fiji, it would be the first time a private entity leased land with the intention of conservation. It would be the first time anyone suggested that tourism replace natural resource extraction as a source of revenue for locals. It would be based on international standards of eco tourism and be a model for future tourism efforts in Fiji and worldwide.
One core goal of the project was the involvement of locals from the beginning to end – not just in its creation but in the resulting benefits. It was with this in mind that Rivers Fiji pursued protection of this amazing river canyon. Subsequently, working with 9 mataqali (landowning families), 2 villages, a logging company, and the Native Land Trust Board (NLTB) the company successfully negotiated with the government of Fiji and established the Upper Navua Conservation Area (UNCA) in 2000. This unique public-private partnership protects the pristine Upper Navua River Canyon, a 10.5-mile conservation corridor, from future logging or gravel extraction. In return, Rivers Fiji compensates the NLTB and landowners through employment opportunities, lease payments, and user fees, leading ultimately to full protection of the area.
To further protect and manage the conservation area, Rivers Fiji developed a comprehensive natural resource and tourism management plan with the help of the NLTB and associated mataqali. All guides are from mataqali and receive in-depth international training consisting of Guide School - including training in swift-water rescue, first-aid & C.P.R., and river & marine conservation related to operating tourism programs. Prior to visiting villages, Rivers Fiji guides educate their guests about the ecosystem, cultural traditions, heritage sites and local preservation issues, thus affording guests the rare opportunity to understand the daily life of indigenous Fijians in the rural highlands.
Historically Fiji's tourism development has been focused on the coastal communities - with Fiji's interior populations receiving little benefit. Rivers Fiji, however, provides economic alternatives to people whose previous development options were limited to resource extraction.
Today the UNCA is a success story. It employs members associated mataqali and villages, it provides substantial revenue for the mataqali and villages, and it benefits Fiji’s government through lease payments and recognition. Additionally, the UNCA protects the environment. What would otherwise be exploited for timber and other resources is now left untouched, which is good for our Earth.
In 2006, the UNCA became Fiji’s first, officially designated Ramsar site (protected wetland of international importance), making it part of more than 1280 wetlands around the world which now include nearly 2 million square kilometers of the Earth’s surface area.
We hope you choose to experience the UNCA by joining Rivers Fiji on our Upper Navua whitewater raft trip. You’ll travel with pride knowing you’re not only enjoying a once-in-a-lifetime trip but also, and more importantly, supporting grass-roots ecotourism that helps the local community.