The bus stops here. All automated traffic stops here. Lavena is literally the end of the road, a village of 400 with one lodge, one shop and one trailhead.

The Lavena Coastal Walk is a three-hour trip along, and above, the beach and rocky coast of Taveuni’s eastern shore, leading at its terminus deep into the jungle to the spectacular Wainibau Waterfall – a double waterfall dropping into a single rocky enclosure.

With surf crashing on our left we plunged into the heat of the forest and arrived early at the falls, took a swim, ate some lunch and departed just as the tourists started to straggle in. Even so there were only a handful: this area truly deserves the designation “wilderness”: Wainibau, and the larger Bouma that encompasses it, is one of the least explored, least understood places in the central Pacific. Here alone are found numerous plant and animal species that are known to exist nowhere else in the world. Here, unique perhaps to the world, are found waterfalls within a kilometer of their deltas (most waterfalls are nearer to a river’s source, where it tends to be stronger).

“The last 15 minutes,” according to the Moon Handbook we faithfully toted around Fiji, “is a scramble up a creek bed, which can be very slippery as you wade along. Two falls here plunge into the same deep basalt pool and during the rainy season you must actually swim a short distance to see the second pool.”

Actually, you have to swim no matter what season it is. As many of you know, I am not the most avid swimmer; I prefer to say I lack the animal urge to insensibly leap into every available body of water. Regardless, being on an island in the middle of the ocean, I’ve been confronted by multiple unavoidable occasions requiring submersion and, I think, responded with aplomb. Lisa, whose job it is to chronicle my misadventures and frequently iterate and reiterate them, may disagree.

Digression concluded. I swam, and we finished the Lavena Coastal Walk and spent a quiet night as the only guests of the community-built-and-owned Lavena Lodge. We drank kava with Anna, the manager, and her husband, the acting village chief (the permanent chief being away on business) whose name, like many Fijian names, I can neither pronounce nor remember. It was our first authentic, away-from-the-throngs experience, but not the last.

The lodge was a nice place situated on a promontory sticking well out toward the breakers that provided a soundtrack to the two days and nights we spent there. Its lobby served as a thoroughfare for chickens, dogs, crabs and – almost – a giant poisonous sea snake. Our second and last night in Lavena requires description because it was then we met the lodge’s two new guests, both of whom became our companions for the next two days. One of them, David from the U.K., had worked several months directing work through Raleigh International (a sort of British Peace Corps) on the nearby Vidawa Rainforest Hike and proved a good salesman in convincing us to visit it.

The next morning the three of us – including our other new acquaintance, a Phishy from L.A. named Jon – accompanied David there, and he arranged a half-day tramp guided by Roussie, head man (but not chief, a distinction I’m not qualified to quantify) of the local village of Vidawa. The hike was magnificent: a four-hour climb into the misty hillsides that form the dark silhouette of the island as seen from the sea – the innards of Taveuni, the mysterious highlands, that few travelers witness. The walk came complete with a history lesson and demonstrations of practical skills, but it was the actual terrain we were most impressed with. The tangle of trees and vines and undergrowth was awe-inspiring in itself: then, when it seemed the green walls on either side would never break, an opening would appear suddenly on one side and a wide postcard view of the rolling florid hills and far-off sea would stagger us for a few moments before we plunged back into the thick, impenetrable jungle. The greenness of it hurt our eyes. The depth and variegation confounded the imagination. And that was just the flora. Three times we spotted the elusive orange dove, found only on Taveuni; we also noted such rarities as the golden whistler, kingfisher, musk parrot (koki, as the villagers name it), flying fox (a giant bat, also found only on this island) and several other denizens of the Garden Isle. A singular experience.

Over the course of the hike we were extended an invitation, gratefully accepted, to be guests of the village for the night. It was only the second time outsiders – white people – had had such a privilege.

We presented sevusevu – a formal offering in the form of several bags of ground kava – to the village chief and proceeded, over the course of the night, to drink approximately 76 bowls of the stuff with the chief, his brother Matia, his eldest daughter and a dozen or so other village luminaries. We told our respective life stories and were accepted as honorary life members of the village.

That night Lisa and I slept in the home of Matia, a former Suva policeman who lost his right leg after a bout with diabetes – a real problem in a country where sugar is an ingredient in 90 percent of the public diet – and his wife, Mere; against our wishes they slept on the floor while we took the bed.

The next morning they tried, but failed, to refuse any kind of remuneration. We took some group pictures, just the four of us, and promised to send them copies. They were very generous people. Ben and Miri, a younger couple who help run the rainforest hike, served dinner and breakfast, and the entire village – a poor place of corrugated-iron shanties and ramshackle board-and-cinder-block dwellings, with no electricity – but happy, painted pink and green and informed with a strong strain of the sunny disposition displayed in some degree by all Fijians – all of Vidawa made us feel very welcome, and deeply sorry to be leaving so soon.

We left on the morning bus with many a “vinaka” (thank you) and “vinaka vaka levu” (thank you very much).

Most of the residents of Vidawa are farmers; farming – taro, kava, cassava – is their ancient franchise and continues to be what they do best and with the most knowhow and success, despite recent forays into the world of ecotourism. Jon, a farmhand in one of his most recent occupations, had his most effusive moments in talking about the achievements of Taveuni’s farmers – and the exemplary soil they have to work with.

“You can chop a branch off a tree here, stick it in the ground, and watch it grow,” he said after his 12th bowl of kava. “In a month you’ll have a tree.

“This place doesn’t need fertilizer at all. That’s everything in farming. It’s one of the biggest expenses. People here have all they need: they work the land for about 16 hours a week and that’s enough.”

They do have problems: for one, the infestation of the cane toad, which has decimated the frog population: you can’t walk anywhere at night without squashing a couple. Ben encouraged the squashing of as many as possible. For another, the villages – which own 83 percent of the land across Fiji – face a constant but so far resisted pressure to develop, to cut down the trees and mine the islands’ resources. It is the same story across the archipelago. They did it once, in the 1960s, bowing to the enticements of the British government, and the old men who remember those days vow it will never happen again.

That’s why the Vidawa Rainforest Hike is so important: along with the Lavena Coastal Walk, Tavoro Waterfalls and a nearby marine park, it gives the village and its neighbors an alternate, sustainable means of income, one immune to the vagaries of farming, that will keep the people working in their own communities in a state of continual health and relative prosperity for the foreseeable future. Or so it is hoped. If done right.

They seem to be on the right track. We left a village full of smiling people, smiles on our own faces.