The best adventures can be had when you trust strangers, learns Tim Roxborogh

Several people who'd heard I was Fiji-bound had tried to scare me - not just about strangers, but strangers with machetes. "Fiji can be dangerous!" they warned. And there I was, in Fiji, being confronted by a man with a machete.

I'd gone for a walk round the headland from my hotel, Mango Bay Resort, to see some of the other bays. This was Fiji's Coral Coast, famous for leaning coconut trees that fringe the beach and a reef that causes the waves to break several hundred metres from the shore.

A local guy was animatedly waving his machete while talking with another tourist. Should I have been worried? Of course not! It soon became clear the machete was for vegetation and that this was a friendly conversation about fishing and the previous day's dodgy weather.

I had a good sense about Esa, a fisherman/coconut gatherer/all-round nice guy in his late 30s. A chat about me wanting to snorkel quickly turned into him promising a more unique experience for the following day: snorkelling with a dash of spear-fishing. Perhaps as the years fade I'll remember the story as me being the one doing the spear-fishing and catching our lunch. It will be a great yarn and I'm already looking forward to telling it, but in the meantime I'll settle for the almost-as-cool reality, which was me snorkelling while following Esa through the coral gardens. Esa would silently spot and then spear the fish with his underwater bow-and-arrow-like device while I watched on, trying to stay as still as possible in the water.

Esa prepares coconuts for our lunch at his village. Photo / Tim Roxborogh
Esa prepares coconuts for our lunch at his village. Photo / Tim Roxborogh

Then it was off to Esa's village. A coconut was shaved, a papaya lopped off the tree, cassava mashed and the fresh fish perfectly cooked over an open fire. The family's chickens, cat and dog all watched on as lunch was made, a rug with Jesus hanging on the wall and a large stereo the dominant possessions of a modest home.

A further sampling of village life came with a guided jungle walk to a waterfall. We entered a community hall halfway up a hill where you seek the locals' permission to visit their waterfall. Only this wasn't just village jungle and waterfall, it was also kava.

To join the ceremony, you pay a fee, sit cross-legged on a mat, hear an explanation about protocols and get nervous you'll forget how many "bulas!" to say and claps to give.

Despite all those horror stories of kava tasting like muddy water and a mouth so numb it's like you've been to the dentist, I was pleasantly surprised. With a tingly tongue, I set off on the 45-minute walk to the waterfall. The hinterland was a fun deviation away from the Fijian beach scene that is all many travellers see. Having swum in the cool waters, I sat on a rock to take it all in. Only problem was, when I stood up I heard a loud tearing sound. The entire back of my board-shorts was torn open.

While my guide cracked up laughing, I wrapped a towel around my waist and we headed back to the town of Sigatoka for new shorts.

I came home thinking that those warnings of not trusting strangers were a reminder that the best adventures happen when you do.



Fiji Airways flies from Auckland to Nadi with return Economy Class fares starting from $380.