Juliette Sivertsen has a rebellious adventurer's soul but that's not all she needs.
"Excuse my Fijian shoes,'' Eddie offers, pointing to his bare feet. "Welcome to my house."
We've just squelched our way 20 minutes down a muddy path into Fiji's interior, to a little shelter at the base of a waterfall. "And this is my kitchen for our traditional Fijian feast," Eddie continues, pulling out some white bread buns. "With traditional Fijian roast pig." He opens a container of sausages and bacon.
The light-hearted tone has been set, so I taunt him for not hunting down a real pig.
I'd spent the previous hour blasting uphill in a grunty dune buggy which for the most part sounded like a damaged fighter jet trying to take off. There's no such thing as power steering and I'm convinced my cushiony biceps are at least 25 per cent firmer by the end of the day.
My TerraTrek Jungle Buggy excursion has taken me far from the familiar beachy sights of Fiji. Rather, it's propelled me into the depths of the mountainous Pacific Harbour region.
It fuels my inner rebellion. I feel badass; someone who doesn't care she's missing out on bronzing up on the beach. After all, nothing says hardcore adventurer more than wearing a motocross helmet while driving at speed through puddles of mud that leave you dirty, drenched and temporarily blinded.
But this is the Fiji I've come to love. The jungle is real and offers a totally opposite view of the stereotypical island image. In the heart of Fiji's main islands, there are no white sandy beaches. No warm turquoise waters or coral reefs. In fact, I'm hard pressed to find one coconut tree.
Instead, there's a lush rainforest of towering ferns and creeping vines. Dusty roads winding up mountains carpeted in tropical vegetation. Mighty waterfalls with swimming holes to cool you down, instead of the ocean's bathwater temperatures. Welcome to the jungle — Pacific Harbour's hidden oasis.
After chomping down on filled rolls and fruit, the waterfalls call. There are two adjacent pools, one much deeper than the other.
"The shallow one will give you a traditional Fijian massage," Eddie explains. It sounds heavenly as I imagine the water gently kneading across my shoulders. But, like most things in my life, reality has a different idea.
Drowning in insect repellent, I inch over the rocks and dip into the refreshing pool.
Eddie climbs up before launching off the cliff into the water. This seems to be a national pastime, as he's the fifth Fijian in 24 hours I've witnessed jump off the face of a waterfall from a dizzying height. I begin to wonder whether his Fijian shoes have special grips on the soles.
I float over to immerse myself under the gushing water. My wistful dream of nailing the Instagram pose with water gently cascading over my face is quickly replaced with squinty eyes, smudged mascara, the painful needling of water in my spine and the ungraceful splutter of someone narrowly avoiding drowning.
Eddie and the two Australians on my tour have bundled off over the rocks to check out the second waterfall.
Like a baby elephant on roller skates, I clamber up out of the pool to join them.
The Fijian massage in this pool isn't any more relaxing and my scrunched-up face can take it for only a few seconds at a time. But I remind myself that I'm a rebellious adventurer.
Refreshed and only mildly aching, it's time to squelch back through the mud we'd just cleaned off from our bodies, and back into the buggy for the final grind home. On the way, we veer off at a shelter mid-mountain to a striking lookout. In the distance is a strip of blue from the ocean, just a few shades darker than the sky. The middle third of the frame is a saturated green of the rainforest, with the red dirt track providing another contrast at the base of the scene.
I'd trade coconut trees for a jungle adventure any day. I just need some of those Fijian shoes.
flies daily from Auckland to Nadi, with return Economy Class fares starting from $625.
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