The Kadavu Archipelago

The Kadavu Island Group is located to the south of Fiji’s main island of Vitu Levu. It’s a volcanic archipelago whose main islands are Kadavu, Galoa, and Ono plus a number of smaller islands along the Great Astrolabe Reef. Kadavu is Fiji’s fourth largest island but the area is considered to be the least developed area in Fiji. Outside of the administration center of Vunisea where the only airport is located there are no roads on any of the islands. Travel in the area is only by boat or on foot. The local economy is mainly dependent on subsistence farming with small villages built along the coastline. A recent census puts the population of the entire Kadavu Archipelago at just over 10,000 people.

The Kadavu Archipelago retains almost 75% of its original rainforest cover thereby ensuring a rich bird diversity. There are four species that are endemic to the island – the velvet dove, the crimson shining parrot, the Kadavu honeyeater and the Kadavu fantail. One of the largest sea bird rookeries in Fiji lies just off of Ono Island. Thousands of Red Footed Boobies and Brown Boobies return to Yabu Island at sunset to roost.

The Great Astrolabe Reef stretches along the south side of Kadavu Island and then curves around Ono Island to the north. It is one of the longest barrier reefs in the world and one of the most pristine. The area around Ono island in particular is becoming more and more recognized for its world-class diving with colorful soft coral gardens and multitudes of different fish species.

According to archaeological evidence (mostly pottery), Fiji and the Kadavu area was probably settled in three distinct waves of migration. There is much discussion as to where the earliest wave dates between 1260 and 900 B.C. There is much discussion as where exactly this first migration came from but it is most likely that the ancestors of current day Fijians (and Kadavuans) came from the area around Papua New Guinea, along with the ancestors of all present day Polynesians. However, another well-known theory proposes that the people of Kadavu may have come from the East before settling in the area, as opposed to the rest of Fiji where movement was from the West. This is based on the similarity of words with the southernmost part of the Lauan group of islands.

A second group of migrants most likely came to Fiji between 400 and 100 B.C as suggested by a change by the emergence of a new style of pottery during that time. The final settlement of the area happened from 1000 to 1800 A.D. from Melanesia. This new group of people practiced a sophisticated form of terraced agriculture that helped support a large growth in the population.

William Bligh was the first (known) European to sight the Kadavu Island Group in 1792 on his second voyage to Fiji on the HMS Providence. He was followed in 1799 by the US vessel Ann & Hope en route from Australia, skippered by C. Bently. In 1827, French commander Dumont d’Urville nearly shipwrecked his boat, Astrolabe, on the reef that now bears the vessels name.

Today the people of the Kadavu Archipelago are resilient and resourceful and always welcoming to travelers. The fact that the area is remote and mostly untouched by development means that its people retain a more traditional way of life than other places in Fiji. The tribal system of government in Kadavu gives much greater authority to local chiefs and it is still appropriate when visiting a village to offer a sevusevu (usually a gift of yagona) upon arrival.