It began as a dream.
In 1991, a 13-year-old Australian boy, Jay Whyte, visited Fiji for the first time with his family. Like most tourists who visit the Fijian Islands, they were instantly struck by the warmth and friendliness of the Fijian people. Little did they know that the hospitality shown to their family by one resort staff member would change Jay’s life forever.
While checking into their Denarau Island resort, a security guard named Pita greeted the family with a wide smile and a welcoming “Bula!”. Jay and Pita instantly formed a friendship and Jay became Pita’s shadow. He followed him everywhere on his rounds of the resort to listen to his stories about Fiji, his village and his family.
Touched by Jay’s insatiable curiosity, Pita invited Jay’s family to his village, which was situated deep in the Fijian interior on the Sigatoka River. A few days later, the family embarked on a two-hour inland excursion and were overwhelmed by what they experienced.
First, a kava ceremony was held to welcome them; ceremonial powder was then painted on their faces and woven necklaces of tropical flowers draped around their necks. The family were presented with a generous feast that had been cooked in a lovo (a traditional earth oven) followed by beautiful performances of singing and dancing.
The time the Whyte family spent in Pita’s village would stay in their hearts forever. The hospitality offered to them was truly extraordinary and Jay, in particular, fell in love with what he considered to be the ‘real Fiji’.
Pita and Jay kept in touch as pen pals and Jay returned to Fiji every two years thereafter. It was during one of these trips that Jay, still a teenager, dreamed of a way to be able to show tourists authentic Fijian culture, just as he had experienced it.
A few years later, a jet boat ride in New Zealand re-ignited the idea in Jay’s mind. Travelling at high speed and fuelled by adrenaline, Jay knew he had found the perfect way to transport tourists up Fiji’s Sigatoka River.
Years of research began. It was very important to Jay to strike a balance between ethical tourism and the village’s traditional ways. To preserve Fijian culture, Jay decided it would be best to work with multiple villages, on a rotating basis, so as not to encroach on daily lifestyle too much. Today, Sigatoka River Safari is careful to visit a different village every day, to minimise the impact of tourism on the village lifestyle.
In 2005, Jay contacted a jet boat builder from New Zealand and together they built a jet boat suited to the conditions of Fiji’s mighty Sigatoka River. Jay moved to Fiji in the August of 2005, registered the company in Fiji and asked his lifelong friend Pita to be his business partner. In March 2006, Fiji’s original and the world’s first-ever jet boating village experience came to life.
The goal of Sigatoka River Safari is to help improve the villages’ living standards, with a portion of tour profits contributing directly to the various villages they visit. To date, the Sigatoka River Safari has assisted in helping 15 rural communities directly and indirectly. In exchange for villagers sharing their amazing spirit and traditions with small groups of people from around the world, the vanua (people) of Navosa have enjoyed much-needed income. They have also seen assistance in the form of school scholarships, clothing, footpaths, church constructions, kindergartens and school supplies through financial donations.
Today, Sigatoka River Safari is a multi-award-winning ecotourism venture that transports guests deep into the heart of ‘real’ Fiji. Your guide will collect you from Club Wyndham Denarau Island for this half-day eco-adventure. This must-do Fijian experience transports you up the Sigatoka River in a custom-built jet boat to visit authentic Fijian villages and experience a day in a life of a real kaiviti Fijian. Your guide will bring the journey to life by introducing the rich culture of the people of Fiji, and sharing the history and customs of the area.