Paradise on track: How a Kiwi couple created Ecotrax, the unique tourism phenomenon in Fiji

Newshub Travel's guide to Ecotrax in Fiji.
Photo credit: supplied/Ecotrax

One of the primary aims of any tourism venture is to find a point of difference and separate themselves from the field.

Many provide variations on tried and tested themes, but few offer experiences as refreshingly unique and authentic as the one you'll find at Fiji's Ecotrax.

Where else can you jump on a tandem electric bike mounted on an abandoned railway and pedal through scapes of lush tropical bush, alongside gorgeous turquoise waters, through villages lined with friendly locals en route to an empty beach that resembles a Windows screensaver? I'll wait.

It's a brilliant way to get a taste of all of the best Fiji has to offer - like a box of sampler biscuits where the Chocolate Thins are picturesque palm trees and the Cameo Cremes welcoming villagers.

The concept also just happens to be another shining example of classic Kiwi ingenuity as the brainchild of New Zealanders Mandy and Howie De Vries.

Back in 2015, the couple were in Fiji to roll out the photo system they used to install for tourism ventures. They'd also sent over a haul of old bikes from New Zealand to donate to locals, and it was while Howie taught some of the teenage kids there how to assemble and maintain them that he noticed the abandoned tram tracks that ran in front of the village.

The Ecotrax velociped.
The Ecotrax velociped. Photo credit: supplied

The tracks were a relic of the sugar farming that was once a thriving industry in Fiji, until flooding - which destroyed two critical bridges - and political instability forced the farmers to completely abandon the region and pivot to cultivating fruit and livestock.

Howie - described by his wife as a "computer geek with a bit of an engineering background" - set about designing a prototype for the carriages. In his pursuit for inspiration, he came across the velocipede; a device used in England to service train tracks that was essentially a penny farthing with a carriage strapped alongside.

A school along the Ecotrax route in Fiji.
A school along the Ecotrax route. Photo credit: Newshub.

Originally a single bike with an outrigger, it eventually evolved to the dual bike you see today - the inspiration being fostering more social interaction. They shipped in the electric units from Europe, added some storage to the front, and Ecotrax was born - almost.

Mandy and Howie approached the Fiji Sugar Corporation to inquire about the unused ramlines and were met with widespread bewilderment.

"They thought we were insane," Mandy recalled. "They didn't get it all."

"This crazy kaivalagi [the Fijian equivalent of Pākehā] is going to pay us to ride bikes on it?"

Ecotrax - awesome, Kiwi-run holiday experience in Fiji.
Photo credit: Newshub.

Happy to cash in on the dormant tracks, they offered Mandy and Howie a 10-year lease for their usage, and the final piece of the Ecotrax puzzle was in place.

What began as a six-month commitment over the winter quickly morphed into a full-time gig, and the couple made the decision to pack up their bags and relocate from Queenstown to make Fiji their permanent home.

The venture's defining break came just a couple of months after they'd opened for business with a feature on the hugely popular US reality show Bachelor in Paradise, making the ideal activity for a date with a difference.

Ecotrax: What to do while on holiday in Fiji.
Photo credit: Newshub.

They gave the producers a heavily discounted rate for the rare opportunity to have the Ecotrax website emblazoned across one of the carriages and carved into a block of wood. That decision paid instant dividends.

Demand instantly skyrocketed, transforming Ecotrax into a Fijian phenomenon. A spot on one of the bikes has become a highly sought after commodity and after a day out on the tramlines, it's easy to see why.

Fijian kids.
Photo credit: supplied

With ultra-fabulous guide Britney at the helm, whose knowledge of the area and its history is almost as sharp as her razor wit, we spent a pristine morning cruising through lush bush, abandoned sugar cane fields, soaking up a side of Fiji you'll never see in the sanitised resort-ville bubble of Denarau Island.

The tracks run alongside a stunning stretch of coastline and dissect three villages where locals went about their daily business but were always ready and willing with a 'Bula'. Britney provided insight about the composition of each, which all operate around the Chiefs' bures, passing a pair of schools and a gaggle of kids waving and shouting frantically while we pedalled by.

Winding through mangroves and across railway bridges, the journey came to a climax at a postcard-perfect beach, completely empty aside from a few wild horses and a family who were fishing for Octopus and cooking up their catch fresh on the shore. After happily posing for some pictures, they called me over to try some of their wares - the ideal complement to the fruit platter and Coconut water (straight from the husk, of course) which are inclusive with your Ecotrax ticket.

Stunning view in Fiji.
Photo credit: Newshub.

After about an hour on the beach, including a long soak in the bath-like translucent ocean, we were back on track to home base to complete the four-hour round trip.

From the outset, Mandy and Howie were determined to ensure that as the business flourished, so too should the region. As the awards rolled in and profits increased, the pair has also upped their contribution to the region.

They've set up a trust for the three villages featured along the Ecotrax route which provides financial support, including providing essentially all of the stationery for the two schools and sponsoring their sports teams. They also have their hands in numerous community projects, recently helping establish water into one of the villages.

With 17km of unused track to their name, there's plenty of scope for expansion and - given the enormous demand - increasing their scope is at the top of the De Vries' list of priorities.

Given Ecotrax's popularity, the couple's time spent back in New Zealand has rapidly decreased. Not that they're complaining.

It's now the No.1 ranked outdoor activity in Fiji on TripAdvisor, meaning they're booked out months in advance, so keen Kiwis need to get in early if they want to make it part of their next Pacific getaway.

"It's nowhere else in the world, " adds Mandy. 'It's literally unique."

She's right - Ecotrax undeniably delivers on the hype.

Newshub travelled to Fiji courtesy of Tourism Fiji and Fiji Airways.