THERE'S a reason tourists fall for our tropical islands in the South Pacific - who can resist the sandy beaches, coconut fronds, breathtaking sunrises and sunsets over pristine waters not to mention the warm and friendly hospitality all around.
The latter is what The Sunday Times team received on a trip to Wainiyabia Village in Serua on Tuesday.
The village is of the yavusa Toluga, mataqali Nakauraki under the guidance of the turaga ni yavusa taukei Qamo, the vunivalu Ratu Romulo Rokubu.
The aim was to experience an hour's trek to the Waisese Waterfalls and back - this is also part of the Feejee Experience tour program in collaboration with Uprising Beach Resort in Deuba.
We met the village in a deep sleep - most were just getting out of bed or catching up on sleep after sending the kids of to school.
It was 9.30am and the weather seemed to favour our visit. As our driver David - who at the end of the trip became Uncle David to the guys - parked the vehicle inside the village compound, we were greeted by our guide for the day, Joseph Nayacalevu and later Romulo Rokubu Jr, both members of the chiefly family.
Joseph is quite experienced in the whole tour guiding thing having spent four years in the role at Uprising before opting for life in the village.
He continues to play the occasional role when visitors or guests arrive for special functions. According to Joseph, the waterfalls are the main tourist attraction in the village after a long trek through Para grass (Brachiaria mutica)-plagued grassland.
After presenting our sevusevu to the vunivalu Ratu Romulo Rokubu, we made our way to the seaside where Rafaele Rokotuitai, a former soldier and police officer and Atonio Sova manoeuvred the boat ready for pickup. We picked up three others upstream - farmer Simione Tekivakatini, mata ni vanua Setariki Raiwalui and Romulo Jr.
With our gear intact and everyone ready to go, Joseph turned on his guiding prowess, pointing and explaining in detail information that made his village special and unique.
Of course, it was information he normally fed to tourists but this was no ordinary tour. He and his village elders were willing to share with us their history and relationship with the people of Rewa, Korolevu in Serua and Beqa, their myths and 'sau' or 'mana' (supernatural power) of their ancestors.
But that's a story I'll share with you next week. This trip was especially to Waisese Waterfalls. Why is it a much-talked about attraction especially for tourists and travel agents alike? Does the water hold special powers or was it formed out of an ancient war back in the days?
Not much is known about the formation of the waterfalls or how it came into being - no one's alive to tell us how nature had formed itself into three waterfalls, each placed at different heights gushing out a powerful rush of cool water.
The fourth we're told is further up the mountainous range, about 45 minutes from the third pool according to Joseph.
"We've been there but hardly anyone goes up there. Tourists normally just reach the three pools after trekking from Taunovo airport," said Joseph adding before tourism developments popped up, the whole area was marshland.
Uprising stepped in to aid in irrigation efforts hence the collaboration to operate a waterfall tour with the village.
"Waisese means water that has lost its way. Back in the days, people that were not from this place could get lost around that area. They would hunt for wild boars in this area. You're lucky if you survived or found your way out at that time," he continued.
"One trip can take eight passengers up river so since the tour started in 2007 we have tours three times a week on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. We also make special trips on Friday and Saturday.
"Tourism plays an important role in the village but it's not the only source of income for families."
Adding to this, Ratu Romulo Snr said the waterfalls were named by his grandparents Roverto Diginacere and grandmother Joane Sera Rounds. He remembered when his father and aunty spoke about the waterfalls and its meaning.
"But how it was formed or the legend behind its making is not known - at least it wasn't told to me," he started in a slow but sure tone.
"As far as I know, it's been there for a long time. We didn't really see the tourism potential back then.
"We would use the waterfalls for swimming when we planted on the land nearby. Only when this tourism collaboration came into being that we started cleaning the area."
For Joseph and the rest of the group, it would have taken a mere 45 minutes to get to the waterfall after a 10 minute boat ride from the bridge beside Wainiyabia Village. Our travel and constant stops to see firsthand where their ancestors bathed or lived in the koromakawa (old village) expanded our visit.
When we reached a narrow stream to the grassland bank, it took us about an hour and a half to reach the waterfalls - this was definitely my exercise for the whole year - or so I felt. In between my requests to rest a while, Joseph explained how farmers had utilised the land for farming dalo and yam - cash crops farmers would benefit from.
The rainy days earlier in the week also made our track difficult, photographer Iva and I warming the ground with constant slips and slides along the way. There was nothing to be disgusted about on the way, bugs, crawly insects, soggy walkways, funny noises in the forests - it was an adventure and we certainly enjoyed every minute of it.
"This is a sago tree. In the old days, they used this to make their houses or bure," Romulo Jr said pointing to the wild palms guiding us to our destination. I stuck with him on my slow pace to get information on how their ancestors trekked.
"They knew this place like the back of their hand. Like the name of the waterfall suggests, people can get lost here if they don't live around here.
"In the old days, when our folks would pass through here, they would say 'Sa bula vinaka, sai keitou oqo. Keitou gole tiko ki ... Sa kerei na nomu veitaqomaki' (Hello, we are here. We're heading to ... we are asking for your guidance).
"When they're returning from the place, they would say 'Sa lesu tale oqo. Vinaka vakalevu na veimaroroi' (We are coming back. Thank you very much for your protection and guidance). They believe if they don't do this, they can get lost and never find their way out."
What made our trip worth the scratches and sweat was the sound of water trickling off the rocks. The sound of laughter and 'bula' from a group of tourists satisfied and pleased with our natural treasure brought life to our travelling party.