On the western side of Viti Levu, Lautoka may be the second largest city on Fiji’s largest island, but don’t just stay in town. Sure, Lautoka’s much more working-people real than the touristy capital of Nadi and it’s the heart of sugar cane harvesting with its apt nickname of “Sugar City,” but it’s Koroyanitu National Park and the village of Abaca (pronounced “am-‘barth-ah”) that are a must-see.
The 40-minute vehicle trip from Lautoka to Abaca on a mostly very potholed 4WD road passes by namesake sugar plantations. Then it winds up the mountain, affording great views across to Lautoka and the ocean below.
There are six villages within Koroyanitu National Park that cooperate as part of an ecotourism project funded by The New Zealand Official Development Assistance Programme (NZODA) and Japan National Official Committee of the Pacific Economic Co-operation (JANPEC). The villagers maintain the landscape and tracks, and subsequently earn tourist dollars through overnights in the villages, guided walks, and selling souvenirs and official pamphlets describing the villages and park. So pay your admission happily since it supports the park and the people.
Abaca serves as the Koroyanitu National Park headquarters on the Lautoka side and is a small village set in the middle of practically nowhere in a tropical and somewhat primeval forest wilderness framed by a backdrop of dark green and brown lava-formed mountains from which ribbons of cascading water tumble down into spectacular swimming holes. In typical “Fiji time” manner, the tiny shack of an office may not be staffed, but somebody will saunter over soon enough to sell you a map, tickets, guides or whatever you want. You may even get a visit from shy but curious village kids.
The park itself is a hiker’s and adventurer’s paradise with trails snaking through native Dakua forests and grasslands, past numerous archeological sites, and up, over and into countless waterfalls and swimming holes. If you have the choice, take our word for it, please, and opt to spend a few extra Fijian dollars on a guide. Only with a guide will you will fully discover all the secrets this place has to offer (such as which trails might have recently been washed out by frequent torrential rains or how to avoid standing in thick brush wondering if this was really a trail and if the top was anywhere in your hiking future). Plus, you’ll fully begin to learn the names for untold plants and birds that make their home only in this region.
If you are fit enough to make the steep and challenging hike to the summit of Mt. Batilamu – a.k.a. Sleeping Giant — you will be rewarded with expansive views up along the western coast overlooking Nadi Bay and out to the Yasawa Islands.
You’ll even take in views all the way down into the Sabeto River Valley that contains another Fiji wonder worth seeing – the Garden of the Sleeping Giant containing over 2,000 varieties of rare orchids. The marked track leads its way upward from Abaca past Nasivi historic site and takes many four to five hours round trip – depending on your level of fitness and how much time you spend frozen in your tracks taking in the views. Just a bit before the sweeping overlook, there is a rustic (OK, very verrry rustic) hut for overnights, but don’t forget the bug spray. There is also a more casual two-hour hike from NASE Lodge just outside of Abaca that takes in the Savuione waterfall, the terraced gardens at Tunutunu and the Navuvatu old village site.