Australians have long had a love affair with Fiji. Tropical warmth, friendly people and endless islands surrounded by bright corals and colourful fish – what’s not to love?
However, perhaps proximity and familiarity sometimes see old favourites such as Fiji fall off our radar as we seek new places to explore.
The picturesque Sigatoka Valley
I have just come back from a holiday in Fiji and was impressed anew by the remarkable hospitality of the people.
The first time a local said “welcome home” it felt wrong but within a few hours I realised that they really did want me to feel that this was my home, too.
Spectacularly, the warm smiles and welcoming greetings start the minute the plane lands in Nadi. Even before clearing customs. I found myself fretting because there was a security officer in the arrival hall I hadn’t acknowledged with a return smile and “bula”.
She, like so many before her, had smiled warmly to welcome me but I’d been distracted with forms, bags, etc that should have been no excuse.
On previous visits to Fiji I’ve loved my visits to small island resorts where staff regard their role as hosts not servants. However, back then, I found the big mainland resorts were like resorts anywhere else in the world and dealings with staff were transactions, not conversations.
The beautiful interior of a luxury bure
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort near Sigatoka on the Coral Coast was a pleasant introduction to the new Fiji. The sprawling 254-room property is designed to resemble a Fijian beachside village and has more than 500 staff. Each of them apparently has time to talk and will stop whatever they are doing to help you or take you where you want to go.
After dinner on our last night a dozen staff came to our table and sang “Isa lei”, the moving Fijian farewell song. That was followed by hugs all round.
Dinner and a show: the hotel hosts know how to make their guests feel welcome
The spirit of fellowship works both ways. Up in the hills of the Sigatoka Valley we visited a local school and saw that one room was named the Eddie Betts Kindergarten because it was built and funded by Outrigger Resorts and the Adelaide Crows AFL team in their off-season, including the magical Eddie.
And we attended a fundraiser within the resort to pay for essential dialysis for a 12-year-old boy from Navua.
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort has 207 rooms in the hotel wings and 47 thatched bures, a few of which are on the beach and the rest spread throughout tropical gardens. There are six restaurants and as many bars, including a swim-up one, and the resort is dominated by a large lagoon-style swimming pool.
While it’s a sprawl in a hammock within the garden sort of place, the expansive resort – and the newly expanded Kula Wild Adventure Park next door – make it perfect for kids. Fiji in general and the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort in particular welcome Australian families for holidays.
Fortunately, for adults alone and parents aiming to escape 24/7 parental duties the resort has their needs well sorted with the expansive Vahavu adults-only area with its pool and swim-up bar.
As I walked through the gardens in the warm evening air on my first day here I constantly encountered Fijian ladies pushing prams. Only when I returned to my bure did I read that these are the Mei Meis or nannies who will look after your infants one-on-one during the day and in the evening while you go out for the evening.
The next day I discovered the large and well-staffed children’s area of the resort. There’s a complimentary kids club for 3 to 12 year olds as well as a teens program, that’s also free, for those aged 13 plus.
Overall, if you’re thinking of going away with the family on a multigenerational holiday then Fiji, where children are well appreciated, not shunned, makes a lot of sense.
Life on Castaway Island is pretty simple. It’s a beautiful sand-fringed island of palm trees about 30km from Nadi with a hill rising steeply behind the resort. There are 27 luxurious bures along the beaches and in the gardens and you’re only ever a few steps from the warm water lapping the white sand. A coral reef lies just off shore and there are sailing boats, kayaks and snorkels just begging to be used.
This is a place to swing in a hammock, with or without a book, take a swim or simply head to the bar for a drink. Life slows down to island time and it feels much better when you’ve done so.
Kick off your shoes and relax in front of beachfront views on an island bure
If this feels like the quintessential Fijian tropical island experience, it is. Indeed last November Castaway Island celebrated 50 years of operation – begun by an Australian, the late Dick Smith (the other one), it paved the way for the whole network of luxurious Fijian holiday islands we find today.
Located on a private island in the Mamanuca Island group Castaway Island has won many awards for its facilities, hospitality and cuisine.
As well as diving, fishing and sailing offshore from the island there’s also surfing. Indeed, when I was there, the World Surfing competition was not far away at Cloud Break that’s ranked amongst the 10 most challenging waves in the world with fast barrelling lefts over a shallow reef. Eek.
In the other direction you can take a day excursion across to Monuriki Island where Tom Hanks made the movie Cast Away in 2000 and you, too, can be a beachcomber for a day.
A Fijian holiday is a reminder of how simple life can be. Sun, sand, food and friendship is a fulfilling way to spend a week or two.
Have you been to the South Pacific? Where’s your favourite holiday spot?