"Just be careful not to fall off when we go over the bridge!"
I was already focused on avoiding snakes, crocodiles and the possibility of derailing as we glided through the forests of Fiji's main island so I laughed nervously, trying to figure out if our chronically cheerful guide was teasing me again. In reality I had nothing to worry about because this was an adventure with Ecotrax, one of Fiji's most family-friendly tours, so I turned my focus from non-existent dangers to the beauty of the scenery flying past us.
We had heard about Ecotrax through a friend who had recommended it as a fun and unique way to see Fiji's beautiful Coral Coast on the main island of Viti Levu. The 3-hour journey took us along an abandoned sugar cane railway track via small carts that were comprised of 2 electrically-assisted bicycles. The company offered two tours per day - a morning trip, and one in the early afternoon.
We booked the afternoon tour, arriving at the Ecotrax Fiji base only an hour after leaving Nadi. Though the company offers pickups, we had our own car and the base was easy enough to find, with a little help from Google.
* We were provided with a discounted rate from Ecotrax, however my opinions, as always, are honest ones.
We were the first guests to arrive for the afternoon tour, and Britney, one of the cheerful guides who checked us in, made us a latte and espresso and told us we could walk over to Cuvu Beach to relax until the other guests arrived. The beach was a short walk across the property (and over a thick patch of weeds and branches), and we sat in the sand for a while, enjoying a bit of a breeze.
The other guests had just arrived when we got back to the large shed and within minutes we were already being seated on the bikes so the staff could adjust the height of our seats. During the fitting, another guide named Dolly gave us some brief safety instructions and showed us how the controls worked. It was pretty easy - you simply had to pedal to gain speed, just like a bike, and anytime we wanted a break we could press a button that would kick in the electric motor.
Our bags were secured to a platform on the front of the bike and covered with a garbage bag in case of rain. We were also shown a small pouch on each bike that contained a rain poncho, and could hold our mobile phones so we could easily access them for photos.
Once the bikes had been adjusted to fit each guest, it was time for a group safety briefing, and we were ushered into a row of old airplane seats, which we later discovered had been used for the television show Wrecked (starring my favourite New Zealand comedian, Rhys Darby), which was filmed on the beach we'd be stopping at halfway through our trip.
During the short briefing, Mandy, one of the owners, came out to personally greet us and informed us that while there was no forecast of heavy rain, it did look like we might get some showers during our ride. We were told that if we wanted to reschedule the trip, they were happy to do so and would provide us with transportation back. We were also told that if any of us felt uncomfortable during the tour, one of the guides would escort us back to the base.
All of us were very keen to go, but it was comforting to know that the company did care that we had a good experience. We also saw this at the end of the tour, when we spoke with the other owner, Howie, who was the one who came up with the idea of putting bikes on the old railway line.
Both of the owners seemed incredibly down-to-earth and are respectful of not just their guests, but their new community as well. Howie explained to us that they were making every effort to run their business with as little impact on the environment as possible, and they were looking at more ways to work with the local villages.
When the briefing was finished, we each grabbed a helmet and hopped excitedly on our bikes. Cam and I were at the front of the group, with one guide sitting on the bench seat behind us, and our other guide sitting with the last cart. On the return journey, this was reversed, so don't worry if you're stuck on the end of the convoy - you'll get to lead the way on the ride back!
The full length of the tour is around 24 kilometers, with an hour-long break in the middle. Even though each sector of the trip is nearly an hour long, it goes by fast. The scenery changes from fields to thick tropical forest, and runs through two villages, where you have a chance to give the adorable local children high-fives (and gifts if you've brought any).
During the tour, you'll probably also see some local wildlife, including cows, goats, horses and dogs. We had to stop several times and wait for animals to move off the tracks, and there were a couple of times when our guide had to chase away some stubborn ones so we could get moving again!
Cam worked up a sweat pedaling the whole way, but I spent more time taking photos of the scenery, and mainly helped him out by pressing the button which kicked in the electrics. Both bikes have the option to use the electric function, which is the easiest way to enjoy the ride, but you can also do the trip the old-fashioned (and exhausting) way.
Things to know:
• The tour can be enjoyed by all ages - child seats are available for children as young as 1 year old, and the bench seat behind the bikes can be used by elderly guests.
• The tour will still run if it showers, but if the forecast calls for heavy rain or storms, it may be rescheduled for a different day.
• No meals are served, but there are light refreshments consisting of fresh fruit once the tour takes a break at the beach. Bottled water is supplied.
• Bathrooms are located at the Ecotrax base, as well as at the beach. There is no other time to use a toilet during the journey.
• Fijian culture is quite conservative, and since the tour runs through several villages, it’s recommended that you dress respectfully. (One of the most useful souvenirs you can buy in Fiji is a sarong called a sulu, which you can use to cover up whenever you visit a village.)
• Adults can wear sandals, but I personally recommend closed shoes if you have sensitive feet. Some of the branches on the side of the tracks might scratch you a bit as you pedal.
• There’s a secured place at the front of the cart to put small bags and personal items, which can also be covered with a garbage bag in case of rain. A small zippered storage bag is also available on each bike to store mobile phones and small cameras. The pouch also includes a rain poncho for you to use if it starts to rain.
• There is a coffee machine at reception and the staff use it well, so if you’re on the morning tour, you can purchase an energizing espresso!
Halfway through the tour, there's an hour-long break at beautiful Vunabua Beach, where the guides serve light refreshments of fruit and coconut water. During this time, you can splash in the crystal-clear water or just relax on the sand or under the shade of the trees. There are toilets here as well, which can also be used for changing into swimwear.
If you have snorkeling equipment, this is a great opportunity to use it. Make sure you keep track of the time though - the one-hour break seemed much shorter than we expected it to!
What to bring on your Ecotrax adventure:
• Sunscreen. Even though much of the track runs through the forest, there are some stretches out in the open and you'll be stopping a couple of times during each 1-hour segment of the trip. You'll also have the chance to go swimming at the beach so bring enough sunblock to reapply when you're out of the water!
• Bug spray. Mosquitos are the worst during Fiji's rainy season (November-April), though it's a good idea to use it at all times of the year to avoid tropical illnesses such as Dengue Fever and Zika.
• A fully-charged camera so you can take photos along the way (also a great excuse to take a break from pedaling!)
• Swimwear & towel for the hour-long break at the beach. Snorkeling equipment is great to bring as well, if you have it.
• Gifts for the village kids - this isn't a requirement, but things like colorful bandaids and colouring supplies are always welcome! Check out other ways you can give back during your time in Fiji.
Ecotrax Fiji showed us parts of the main island we would otherwise never have seen, while providing a fun group environment. We had an amazing time on the tour, and I would highly recommend it to families, couples, and even solo travelers looking for a unique experience. The tour was the perfect amount of time, and can be easily followed by a trip to the Sigatoka Sand Dunes, which are just a 15-minute drive away.
Ecotrax Station, where the tour begins and ends, is only a 1-hour drive from Nadi and 2 1/2 hours from Suva, making it a fun day trip regardless of which city you're staying in.
Ecotrax tours run Monday through Saturday, with one morning trip and one afternoon trip and they can be booked through the Ecotrax website. Prices (as of May 2019) are $149 FJD for adults and $79 FJD for children 4-15, with kids under 3 years old riding free. You can also connect with them on Facebook and Instagram.
NOTE: This post originally stated that Ecotrax tours run through the Sigatoka Valley. While the Ecotrax base is located near the town of Sigatoka, the tour actually does not run through the Sigatoka Valley, but along the Coral Coast. I apologise for any confusion.
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