by Elinor Garely
Murmur “I’ve been to Fiji,” and there is instant envy at cocktail parties. Fiji, an island nation located in the South Pacific with a total land area of 18,250 km, is located east of Vanuatu. It is an archipelago with two sizeable islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu, and 300 additional islands; the capital and largest city is Suva. Fiji supports a population of approximately 850,000. Known as the “crossroads of the South Pacific,” Fiji is a destination that is slowly being discovered by North Americans as a holiday option that competes for attention and cash with Hawaii and Singapore.
Close your eyes, think Fiji, and images of fabulous hotels, beautiful beaches as well as exotic vistas, terrific diving, fishing, boating and swimming appear. Many travelers are turning the vision into a reality, and booking reservations for this exotic destination. In 2004 over 500,000 visitors selected Fiji for their holiday. As might be expected due to geography and price, most visitors to Fiji are from Australia (141,873), and New Zealand (75, 016), with the US (58,323), UK (49,794) and Pacific Islands (28,167) trailing behind. The purposes of the visits are primarily for holiday, business and connecting to friends and family.
The government of Fiji is very serious about enhancing the tourism product, investing millions in infrastructure development, including water treatment and sewage plants. It is also opening a college for the study of hospitality, travel and tourism. Luxury -level new hotels are in the pre-opening or planning stages and include Accor, Hilton,
Fiji is renowned as a destination for romance and many lovers select it for weddings, honeymoons, anniversaries, and secret rendezvous. The sexy lure of Fiji should be no surprise since love lost and found is one of the mythical foundations for this destination. Legend tells us that Tagimoucia, a young and beautiful princess was betrothed by her father, the king, to an old man from the village. Heartsick with the news that she could not wed her beloved, the beautiful princess ran into the forest. Exhausted from her flight, she stops at a beautiful lake, settles on a bed of vines, and weeps herself to sleep. The brine from her tears drop onto the vines, turning them into blood red blooms.
Finally the king returns to his castle and finding his daughter has runaway, sends a search party to find her. The envoys find the princess on a bed of flowering vines, and name the flowers Tagimoucia, which means, in Fijian – “tears of despair.”
A few hours later the princess awakens, and opening her eyes, she finds her beloved by her side. Her father has changed his mind! The young couple will be allowed to marry. To this day, the only place to find blood red flowers is in Fiji – on the island of Taveuni.
There are many wonderful hotels that qualify as ideal locations for trysts, weddings, honeymoons and hideaways. The question is – does the hotel or resort provide all the bells and whistles for romance? A quick (unscientific) survey turned up the following amenities as either critical or important to fulfilling the fantasy:
- Spacious interior designer-inspired accommodations
- Gourmet dining
- Non-stop vistas of palm trees, coconut groves, and blue green water
- Ocean and pool swimming (adult-only and kids)
- Quiet and solitude
- Snorkeling and scuba diving
- Separate programs for children
Many Fiji hotels are in the dream-fulfillment business and meet (sometimes exceed) most (if not all) of these wishes; however, daydreams don’t come cheap and in Fiji, where demand exceeds hotel rooms availability – the best hotel accommodations are premium priced. The reality is, of course, that as a long-haul traveler, investing the time to get to Fiji, guests are not about to limit an “over the top” experience by worrying about a few dollars.
Fiji at its Best
The two best hotel scenes that I noted in Fiji can be found at the Shangri-La Fijian located on the 109-acre private island of Yanuca on the Coral Coast, and the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort built on a 17-acrea coconut plantation that is located on the island of Vanua Levu and overlooks Savusavu Bay.
When guests land at Nadi International airport, it is an easy 45-minute drive to the 436-room Shangri-La Hotel. Guests are delightfully surprised to be greeted with a warm and memorable Bula song of welcome. (The van driver calls ahead – so the staff knows when to start singing). After a quick registration process, guests are escorted to a luxurious air-conditioned room, suite or bure (bungalow), complete with 24-hour room service, color TV/ remote control, international direct-dialing telephones, a refrigerator, and complimentary coffee and tea service.
An abundance of recreational facilities at the hotel means that there is not a moment for boredom. Folks traveling with children often arrange for the Nanny service and membership in the Little Chief’s Club, so the kids spend the day on nature walks, creatively engaged in arts and crafts activities, swimming in the children’s pool, and dining with folks there own age. The Shangri-La offers a Children’s Stay and Eat Free Program so families can vacation together without breaking into the kids’ piggy bank.
While the children are having their own “wow” vacation, Mom and Dad are relaxing at the adult-only pool, spending a few private moments napping, swimming or actually having a grown-up conversation. The Shangri-La activity check-list includes beach massages, canoeing, cycling, horseback riding, jet skiing, parasailing, a 9-hole golf course, water-skiing, windsurfing, sailing, bay fishing, and shopping. If a personal dream is not on this list, the very accommodating hotel Manager, Scott Macwhinny will do his best to make it happen. The dining options are numerous, and night-time live entertainment and disco keeps guests up – way past their bedtime.
The hotel is also a fabulous venue for business meetings, and the staff organizes events that bring modern technology together with dramatic gourmet food and beverage presentations making the meeting planner and executive winners in the eyes of their staff and clients.
The Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort brings a village setting into the 21st century. The 440 sq. ft. bures with 225 sq. ft. decks provide privacy and comfort for the most discriminating traveler. Don’t look for telephones or TV, they are forbidden! For emergencies there is a land-line and Internet connectivity in the Cousteau office. Cell phones may work – if you stand at the very end of a very long dock. While the bures are lovely, it is the Point Reef Villas that bridges the artificial divide between indoor and outdoor living at its most elegant and enchanting. The architecture and interior design is a tasteful blend of contemporary and Fijian that creates the “wo” in wonderful! Dining is elegant and gourmet, water sports (including swimming in the sea and pool) are plentiful, especially since the hotel employs a Marine biologist to lead scuba and snorkel adventures.
Outer – in In
The adventure of Vatulele starts the minute you get on a very small inter-island plane or sea plane, and fly to the remote island that supports this luxurious hideaway. Fashioned by the Emmy Award winning Australian Henry Crawford, and Martin Livingston, a 5th generation European Fijian and hotelier, Vatulele is located on the Outer Islands. The enormous interior designed bures are so beautiful that there is a temptation to never leave (not even for gourmet dining in the main building). Lunch and dinner hours are prescribed by management to encourage guests to dine together. Prefer to be alone? Reservations for a “secret” dinner can be arranged. If you shopped at Neiman Marcus before leaving on your Fiji holiday, the good news is that there is a dress code at Vatulele where shoes are always optional, and casual dress is ok for breakfast and lunch, but dress-up is de rigueur for dinner.
If you believe that less is more, Vatulele is perfect for you. By appointment Fijian massage is available in your bure, and scuba dives can be scheduled (at additional costs). Cave and lighthouse walks, village trips as well as snorkeling, kayaking, tennis and volleyball are offered to guests looking for more than just being together.
Silence is golden at Vatulele. To keep the atmosphere as quiet and personal as possible, cell phones are discouraged in general and forbidden in public spaces, including the beach. Want to reach a staff member? Place a flag in the sand near your beach shelter and an employee arrives to grant your every wish. Guests so adore this exotic location and incredible property – that they stay away from their office for 5 -7 nights; while honeymooners usually stay for 10 nights.
For a smaller budget, and informal atmosphere, young folks with their families will find Castaway Island a pleasant interlude. Reached by ferry, the resort is located on 174 acres covered with lush tropical vegetation, and coral reefs. Guests enjoy snorkeling, windsurfing, parasailing, catamarans and waterskiing in the water-front lagoon, as well as island hopping by speed boat to deserted small island retreats. Divers will be excited by the 20 outstanding recreational sites that are within a 20 minute boat ride from the resort. Bures are comfortable and cooled by the island breezes and a variety of dining options are available.
Namale is the brain child of motivational speaker Anthony Robbins. Located on Savusavu, the southeast coast of the second largest island in Fiji, Vanu Levu, the resort is a ten minute drive from Savusavu or a one-hour flight from Nadi International Airport. Namale has been developed on a 300 acre sanctuary for romance and spiritual awakening, according to information supplied by the hotel. The mission statement offers it as a “place of love and bliss- an indigenous island sanctuary that honors your spirit and offers you a diverse array of healing arts from around the world.” I found Namale to be a very attractive resort, with large well designed bures, adequate cuisine, and so spread-out that golf-cart transportation is used to move people and equipment around the property.
While the spa facility is beautifully designed and offers an extensive menu of well-priced services, not all services may be available on the day and time that you request, so don’t wait until the last minute to decide you need a manicure. With only one shower and toilet in the ladies locker room – there may be a wait to complete your spa experience if the hotel is sold out. The exercise room is seriously under-equipped and disappointing to anyone who includes a daily workout as an important part of a daily routine. Meal time is regimented, and guests are summoned to the dining room by the beating of drum. Private dining can be arranged for guests who want more romance than conversation.
Transportation to/through Fiji
From the US, the best way to reach Fiji is on Air Pacific from Los Angeles in Business Class. During the 10-hour flight the service is so good that it is reminiscent of what airlines “used to be.” Remember spacious seats, attentive staff, gourmet dining, and an altogether enjoyable flying experience? You can relive these memories by reserving a Business Class seat with Air Pacific. Actually the cordiality and assistance starts at the airport – at check in – where employees assist in getting luggage through security, and guiding passengers through the hassle of boarding.
Fiji supports two international airports: Nadi (western site) and Nausori (east coast of Viti Levu near Suva). Both airports provide connections to all the world’s major cities, including direct flights to the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and Korea. Air Pacific’s fleet includes Boeing 747s and 767s.
For inter-island flights, reservations can be made with Sun Air and destinations include the major Fiji islands including Savusavu, Suva, Taveuni and Labasa. Sun Air cabins are non-pressurized and fly at low altitudes, permitting fabulous views of the sea, mountains, and small villages. The planes are small, so luggage is limited by quantity and weight. Passengers are allowed one carry-on piece, and a pass-through bag that does not exceed 33 lbs. Surfboards, fishing gear and other sports equipment may be permitted as carry-on. Check with the airline for clarification.
Inter-island transportation is also available via ferry services that are scheduled to stop at the major islands. The ferries carry both cargo and people – so don’t expect your LV luggage to receive lots of TLC. It is also a good idea to pack a few water bottles – for getting to/from the commissary could take a very long time.
Plan carefully; Select wisely
The hotels in Fiji are set in very exotic locations and most are self-contained. When you arrive at the resort – this is where you will stay for your entire holiday. It is most important that you carefully choose your resort for it is not easy to move from one property to another.
Excursions are structured experiences arranged with ground operators and may include others. For additional costs guests can arrange their own private tours and guides. Fiji is not a destination where you can grab a map, hail a taxi, and explore.
Most hotels encourage casual dress, but this does not mean topless – although at many properties it does mean shoeless. Leave expensive clothing and jewelry at home and bring along low-key, low-maintenance clothing that can be washed and dried and – if it gets lost or misplaced will not become a tragedy. Include hats and scarves for sun protection and cotton sweaters/jackets for cool evenings. Include your prescription drugs (and back-ups) as well as favorite cold and headache remedies, cough drops, sun block and sun screen, bug repellent and an all-purpose first aid kit. There are no 7/11s or Walgreen’s for last minute remedies.
Leave the computer at home; in-room connectivity is very limited. Cell phones will require a local SIM card or Vodaphones can be rented. Check and double check with your cell phone service provider before leaving home to verify reception; however, the information from these companies may not be correct. T-Mobile sales representatives may either lie or are seriously misinformed about international services.
Lighting in many bures is very limited so pack a travel light and multi-purpose international plug for reading, makeup and other activities that “may” require more light.
Tipping to individuals is not encouraged, but is done at major hotels. In lieu of daily tipping, some resorts operate a staff Christmas fund for sharing. Guests are encouraged to put their gratuities in the holiday container available at the Front Desk.
Bring a valid passport that runs at least three months beyond the intended visit, plus a return ticket. Visitors traveling from Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, USA, Europe and many other countries are granted an entry visa on arrival for four months.
During Fiji holidays visitors are invited to participate in a Kava ceremony with staff and local Fijians. The kava root is pounded and processed with water to create a pulpy liquid that has a peppery taste and may leave the tongue and mouth feeling numb. The entire ceremony includes the making of the drink, passing the drink to members of the circle in small coconut cups, clapping and sipping the liquid in a very convivial atmosphere. It is appropriate to take a small taste to begin the ceremony; however if it doesn’t impress you – opt out on the second and third round. Do stay with the circle and enjoy the spirit of the evening.
Arranging the Escapade
Without a travel agent you are on your own! Visitors to Fiji can do an Internet search, read all the sites, and book online, but Fiji is a complex destination, requiring close coordination of international and domestic flights, ferry and ground transportation, and of course, there are reservations for hotels, meal plans, scuba diving, and a myriad of other wants/needs that may go unnoticed by first – time visitors. Working with travel professionals who have been there/done that will at least get travelers going in the right direction. Pacific Holidays (USA) and Rosie Holiday (Fiji) hold the leadership positions for expertise, and a call to Carl will help assure that the funds invested in making a Fiji fantasy come true will be well spent. Additional information of Fiji is also available on www.bulafiji.com and www.fijiguide.com