No other Fiji island is as rich in wildlife as is rugged Kadavu, about 100km (62 miles) south of Viti Levu. No cane toads, no iguanas, no mongooses, and no myna birds live on Kadavu to destroy the native flora and fauna in its hills and valleys. As a result, bird-watchers stand a good chance of seeing the endemic Kadavu musk (or shining) parrot, the Kadavu fantail, the Kadavu honeyeater, and the Kadavu whistling dove.

What you will not see on Fiji's least-developed large island is modern civilization. Kadavu has only two dirt roads, and they really don't go anywhere. Kadavu's 10,000 or so residents, all of them Fijians, live in 70 small villages scattered along the serrated coastline. With tourism in its infancy on Kadavu, villagers make their livings the old-fashioned way, by fishing and subsistence farming. Consequently, this is an excellent place to visit a village and experience relatively unchanged Fijian culture.

The country's fourth-largest island, skinny Kadavu is about 60km (37 miles) long by just 14km (8 1/2 miles) wide -- and that's at its widest point. Several bays, including Galoa Harbour and Namalata Bay, almost cut it into pieces. The Kadavu airstrip and Vunisea, the government administrative center, are on the narrow Namalata Isthmus between them. Vunisea has a post office, a school, an infirmary, and a few small shops, but it doesn't qualify as a town. The area around Vunisea saw its heyday in the 19th century, when whalers and other ships would anchor behind the protection afforded by Galoa Island.

When I first flew down to Kadavu, I was startled to see much of the north coast skirted by several kilometers of Long Beach, the longest uninterrupted strip of white sand in Fiji. Around a corner I could see Matana Beach, another jewel.

But Kadavu is best known for the Great Astrolabe Reef, which forms a barrier along its eastern and southern sides and encloses its neighbor, Ono Island, and several other small dry landmasses to the north. Named for French admiral Dumont d'Urville, who nearly lost his ship, the Astrolabe, on it in 1827, the reef is today one of Fiji's most famous scuba dive destinations. The lagoon and mangrove forests along the coast also make Kadavu popular with sea kayakers.

Compared to Viti Levu, I found the weather to be cooler down here, thanks in large part to the southeast trade winds that blow strongly during much of the year.