WHEN she was 22, Unaisi Waqanivere joined a team of Pacific voyagers on the Uto ni Yalo - that was in 2010 and she was one of three females on board at the time.
It was a startling journey for the young lady, now 24, who says the experience took her over-the-seas and heightened her knowledge of her iTaukei traditions and culture.
She is a National Trust of Fiji volunteer for climate change adaptation projects.
Last week, Una, as she is known to close friends and colleagues, helped facilitate a Climate Change Adaptation workshop on Yadua Island in the Northern Division, funded by the Global Environment Facility.
Originally from Nukuni in Ono-i-Lau, Una is no stranger to village life and it was evident when our team spent four full days at Denimanu Village on Yadua.
She got along well with the villagers, this being her second trip, and blended in well with the dos and don'ts of everyday life.
"I grew up in Ono-i-Lau and only came to Suva after Class Eight at Ono Levu District. My parents are back on the island and I live with my aunt and uncle. Being part of the Fiji Islands Voyaging Society onboard the Uto ni Yalo was an entirely worthwhile experience. It took me to countries I never thought I'd visit like New Zealand.
"I'd been on a boat before travelling from Lau to Suva but never on a traditional canoe, travelling the old traditional ways, navigating through the seas, living on water for three solid months."
After completing secondary education at Dudley High School in Suva, Una enrolled at the Fiji National University, successfully attaining a Bachelors degree in environmental science.
Offering her services free-of-charge, Una joined the Department of Environment as a volunteer for nine months, moving onto Conservation International (CI) for three months.
Eventually, her volunteer stint with CI took her to even greater heights - the United States for CI projects.
"I enjoyed the work in environmental conservation because it allowed me to travel to places outside of Fiji. It pushed me out of my comfort zone and was a real eye-opener for me," she said.
"With the Uto ni Yalo, it was by chance that I was asked to join. They were looking for girls to join the sailing team. My boss asked if I was interested and I never thought twice about it.
"I jumped at the opportunity and went for several trainings before we actually began the journey.
"There were two other girls on the boat, and it was just us among more than 10 guys.
"When we started sailing at first, I was a bit afraid being out at sea, especially when the weather wasn't favourable. What helped calm my nerves was having very experienced sailors around me. They knew what they were doing so that fear began to subside."
Of course when you're out at sea on a dainty canoe used by our ancestors to travel the deadly open waters, there's not much to enjoy apart from the company of great sailing minds.
Take the washroom for instance. It's no first class treatment but it's all about survival and learning to adapt to life on the seas.
"The toilets are on the canoe but before you go, you need to fetch your water from the sea. When it was time to bath, I was a bit embarrassed because it was at the back of the canoe and when you have guys around, being cautious is the feeling all around," she said.
"But as time passed, I got used to it and it became a normal routine. We were lucky to be given shower gels and lotions from Pure Fiji and it kept us refreshed and safe from the heat.
"Every time we reached land, we'd perform a cultural item and it made me realise how important and unique my iTaukei heritage is. "Those moments made me proud to be a Fijian and proud of the way our ancestors travelled in the old days. At the end of trip, I felt on top of the world because it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience."
Now that she's taken on climate change adaptation programmes, Una says the best part of her job is helping spread awareness on the environment and its impact on the livelihood and survival of local communities.