By Richard Varr
It might be the lowest I’ve ever bent my 6’4” inch frame, dipping down and gripping – for support – a wobbly bamboo stick stretched under a two- to three-foot-high passageway.
In a foot of water, I’m squirming my contorted body through the so-called “pregnancy gap” of Fiji’s Naihehe Cave, my shorts now drenched in the warm water as I must almost crawl under the jagged outcrops of rock.
It’s a squeeze well worth it, however, as the passageway leads to a spacious subterranean cavern with glistening and chalky stalactites and stalagmites tinted in earthen hues, seemingly dabbed on the cave’s walls with an artist’s touch.
“This one looks like a flower,” says Jona, one of our tour guides whose fluorescent lamplights are giving us a glimpse of the limestone formations in Naihehe Cave’s Grand Cathedral Chamber. “Next to that is a turtle. You can see the head and shell go backwards. At the bottom is the formation of a big blanket.” And there’s also “bigfoot” – what looks like the imprint of a giant foot. “That’s naturally formed as well,” says Jona.
Naihehe Cave is situated deep within the “Salad Bowl” or farming region of Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island. To reach the cave, we first float along the Sigatoka River on “bilibili” bamboo rafts to a trail on which we hike 15 minutes or so to the cave’s entrance – all in view of a stunning panorama of Viti Levu’s lush and mountainous tropical interior.
The most fascinating part of my spelunking journey is yet to come. We approach the cannibal oven – literally a hole in one side of the cave’s wall. Naihehe Cave was used by the last known cannibal tribes of Fiji, in the mid 19thcentury. “This is where they killed people, heated up stones and threw the stones and person in the oven,” says Waqa, another tour guide as he clutches a bone. “Cannibalism wasn’t done for fun. It was done for serious occasions, like the installation of a chief, hosting another chief or to celebrate when warriors returned from the battlefield.”
“When is the last time this oven was used?” I ask.
“It’s not recorded,” he replies with a grin.
The tour operator, Adventures in Paradise, offers tours of the cave from Viti Levu’s Coral Coast and Nadi area. www.adventuresinparadisefiji.com
Air Pacific flies to Fiji from LAX