During the first week of the expedition groups spend 2 nights in a traditional Fijian village before trekking up the mountains into the heart of the Natewa National Park to experience local Fijian culture and customs. During their 5 days and nights in the forest, students will complete a course on Pacific Island Ecology which summarises published literature over the last 10 years and has been written by Professor Martin Speight from Oxford University. During the day the students will join the research teams exploring the peninsula. The projects include quadrat surveys to assess forest structure and carbon levels, invertebrate surveys, bird point counts and transects in different parts of the peninsula and mist nets in order to describe patterns and trends in breeding, and, surveys of the invasive mongoose.
During their second week students will complete five days of training in marine ecology at the Natewa Marine Research Centre. The work of Operation Wallacea has helped to establish a marine research centre and groups will be staying in two-person tents or homestays with views of the bay. During the marine week, the students have the option of completing their PADI Open Water diver qualification. If they are already dive trained or don’t want to learn to dive then they can do the Pacific Reef Ecology Course (with the practicals done either by diving or snorkelling). Some of the practicals involve working with the marine biologists on site who are completing 3D modelling of the reefs and stereo video surveys of fish communities. A third alternative is to complete their theory and confined water practicals before coming out and then just do their 4 open water dives to achieve the PADI Open Water diver qualification and then move onto the reef ecology course. Students will be occupied in the evenings through a series of science talks, documentary viewings and discussions/activities relative to the ecology course.
PADI Open Water diver training course
Pacific reef ecology and survey techniques course*
*Can be completed by snorkelling or as a fully qualified diver
There are no substantially sized national parks in Fiji because most of the land is owned by family groups (called mataqali). One of the best candidates for a national park would be the Natewa peninsula on the island of Vanua Levu. This ‘almost island’ is connected only by a 2km wide strip of land to the rest of the island and has a number of species of birds, invertebrates and trees that are unique to the peninsula and the nearby island of Taveuni. The Opwall science teams are helping to identify the biodiversity value of this peninsula and of the nearby Natewa Bay.
The first surveys in 2017 & 2018 discovered a number of Fiji endemic species including 15 birds, 3 reptiles, 4 butterflies, 22 snails and 26 trees. Amongst this group of endemics though are the Natewa Silktail and the newly described Natewa Swallowtail that are both endemic just to the peninsula!
From 2022 onwards the surveys are being completed across the whole of the peninsula with mobile survey teams. In addition a marine research programme is being established in Natewa Bay to build a species list of fish, coral and macroinvertebrates on these virtually unsurveyed reefs. Using new technology such as stereo video and 3D mapping an annual monitoring programme on a selection of reefs is being established so that changes in reef fish community structure or coral cover within the bay can be quantified.
The objective of these studies is to identify the best remaining areas of forest within the peninsula so that they can be declared as a national park. However, one of the early findings of the surveys has been how widespread the invasive mongoose has become across the whole peninsula. The mongoose have had an enormous impact on the reptile and amphibians in the forest and also on some ground bird species. The intention is to develop a trapping programme using local communities to reduce, or preferably eliminate, the introduced mongoose, rat, feral cat and cane toad species from the Natewa peninsula. A predator proof fence across the narrow neck of the peninsula is also being proposed so that the Natewa forests and the outstanding reefs in the Natewa Bay can be become an important visitor attraction for Fiji.
The costs of a school group expedition can be highly variable. There is a standard fee paid to Opwall for all expeditions but the location you are flying from, the size of your group, and how you wish to pay all impact the overall cost.
You can choose to book the expedition as a package (which includes your international flights) or you can organise your travel yourself and just pay us for the expedition related elements.
If you are booking your expedition as a package, you also have the option of being invoiced as a group, or on an individual basis.
In Fiji the first two nights are generally in homestays in a small Fijian village down by the sea. You will have a shared room with another student from your school (teachers have their own rooms) and there are bathrooms with showers in each of the houses. In the forest camp you will be in tents (generally two per tent) but these are on platforms and under a sheltering roof. There are thin mattresses inside each tent and pillows. The forest camp has flush toilets and cold water showers. Drinking water is effectively on filtered tap Fiji Spring water since the pipe comes directly from the top of the mountain to the camp.
The marine camp is down around the shoreline of the largest bay in the South Pacific. The whole coast is very sheltered and accommodation will be in tents on platforms under a roof and with mattresses and pillows in each tent. There are flush toilets and cold water showers on site. Just like the forest site drinking water is piped directly (via a covered reservoir) from the top of the mountain to the camp.
Temperatures during the day are likely to be around 25 – 30 Celsius and drop to around 18 – 20 Celsius at night. A cooling trade wind blows from the east or south-east and stops the days feeling too hot, and the winds drop at night and pick up again by mid morning. The Opwall season is outside the wet season but there is always the chance of a rain shower.