Capture | Fiji
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Capture | Fiji

On February 20th, the islands of Fiji were hit by the worst storm to ever strike the southern hemisphere. The devastating Cyclone Winston killed at least 42 people and left tens of thousands without homes.

Rustic Pathways has worked in Fiji for over 20 years; our community partners in both the highlands and islands are members of the Rustic family. Nasivikoso village lost several homes, an essential bridge, and the majority of their crops (both farmed and naturally occurring), leaving them scarce of water, food, and supplies. Somosomo village suffered damage to 90% of their homes, seven of which are completely demolished, as well as extensive destruction to their primary school, and a similar loss of their food resources.

Through Rustic Pathways’ non-profit partner, The Rustic Pathways Foundation, there are several ways to help our friends in Fiji:

  1. Make a donation
  2. Create an individual, group, or school fundraising page
  3. Raise awareness with friends and family

As no surprise to any of us at Rustic, the people of Fiji are still smiling and carrying on with their everyday lives as much as possible as they start to rebuild their communities. Photographer Catherine Walters shared her beautiful photos and stories of her time in Fiji (pre-cyclone) to remind us of the happiness and kindness the communities of Fiji share with our students and the beauty of the country that still stands strong:

Big Fiji Explorer

Our Escape to the Fiji Islands students spent time working on several construction projects at the new kindergarten building in Somosomo Village on the island of Naviti. While our crew was taking a break, curious children came out of their classroom to say “Bula!” and play for a few moments. Having the time to meet and play with the children that would soon be learning in the building they were working on was a very memorable experience for many of our students.

While on the Marine Service and Adventure program we spent a lot of time on the beautiful sandy beach at our base camp on Naviti Island near Somosomo Village. When the tide was up we could swim and kayak, then went out it was fun to walk around on the wet sand and look for starfish, shells and aquatic creatures. While playing in the sand one morning I turned to see Lo, one of our incredibly funny and amazing chef’s at camp, walk back to her village with her son Kolé.

On all of our trips to Somosomo Village on Naviti Island we do a sunrise hike to the high point on the island. Many students are never really excited to get out of bed at 5am to hike, but walking quietly through the village in the dark with our path lit only by headlamps, students start to shake off the sleep as we make our way to the top. We arrive at the summit in the dark and find a quiet spot to sit to greet the sun when it appears. After that moment, all the students agreed that getting up so early was totally worth it.

Our Escape to the Fiji Islands group hiked below our tent camp at the very small village of Sasa to Lolo Waterfall, the highest waterfall in the Western District. Swimming in the cool, fresh water was a welcome change to the salty ocean water and it was fun watching the students try to swim under the falls.

My favorite part about shooting is when people are comfortable around you and just do their thing. I spotted these students racing through the water and love how small they are but how big their energy is against the grand peaceful ocean.

Escape to the Fiji Islands students and staff cool off in Lolo Waterfall, the highest waterfall in the Western District. We were all in awe at the massive height of the falls and the beautiful cliffs and forested area surrounding it.

I don’t recall missing many sunrises in Fiji, they were all incredibly different and spectacular. This shot is from a sunrise hike above Somosomo Village on Naviti Island.

The Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park is the first National Park to be established in Fiji and it was one of my favorite places to visit. Once we reached a high point at the dunes we would run and jump off them, sometimes rolling all the way to the bottom and getting sand in everything. Here’s of our students on the Marine Service and Adventure program taking a walk around to explore the expansive hills that pile up to the forests edge.

The beaches below where we stayed at Takalana Resort were covered in black sand where our students on the Marine Service and Adventure program could walk on the beach to look for shells, coral and aquatic critters. We came across this big, beautiful tree that grew out over the ocean and we couldn’t resist climbing on it.

Students on the Highlands and Islands Service and Immersion program completed a multi-day homestay in the small village of Nasivikoso. Two students stayed in this house with their newly adopted Fijian father, who they would call their Momo, who is dressed and waiting to attend church with his family. Sundays are a day of rest in Fiji where families go to church then spend the day at home together.

At the end of our stay in Nasivikoso Village children from the school we taught and worked at performed a traditional Fijian dance for our students. Locally called a meke, the singing and dancing told a story of their history and culture and was performed as a show of gratitude for the students’ work and play time at the school.

During the Highlands and Islands Service and Immersion program we stayed at a farm just outside of the Nasivikoso Village. After a full day of planting corn and cabbage seeds, stalks of cassava, and ploughing fields with cattle, our students played a game of volleyball with locals. By this time of day, other local staff are heading to the kitchen to prepare food where, by tradition, most cooking is done by women.

Students on the Marine Service and Adventure program spend a few days at the small and beautiful island of Kuata. In the morning we boated out to a reef to snorkel with Blacktip Reef sharks and later that evening we ventured off the beach to discover what came out at night.

One of the most unique places we stop for lunch in Fiji is appropriately named Cloud 9. This floating is located out in the middle of the ocean where you can order a wood-fired pizza then jump off the upper deck into the refreshing turquoise waters until it’s ready.

Originally from Wisconsin, Catherine Walters headed West for new adventures to Montana eleven years ago and now calls Missoula home. Up until recently, Catherine worked as Photo Editor and Photographer for the alt-weekly newspaper, the Missoula Independent and quarterly outdoor adventure magazine Montana Headwall. In the summer of 2015, she traveled to Fiji to work as a photo guide for Rustic Pathways leading trips and documenting students participating in the service and adventure programs. Currently, she freelances — focusing on adventure, lifestyle, and portrait photography and telling stories that portray our deep connections to the earth through tradition and food.

About the Author

Justin Kase Conder

International Photography Manager

Justin's insatiable curiosity and love of people inspire every aspect of his photography. Over the past 18 years, his work as a photographer has taken him to every U.S. state and 39 countries around the world. A native of California, he has worked as a photographer for USA Today and The Associated Press. Justin has photographed and led service and adventure programs all around the world for Rustic Pathways. He also coordinates the hiring and training of all of our summer Photographer Guides.