Story and photos by Helen Hewetson
Jen’s voice can be heard above the rushing water and jungle noises. She is clearly excited about something, and exclaims again: “No WAY Mike, you didn’t!! You DIDN’T!”
Is she happy? Or upset? It’s difficult to tell. I’ve just body-surfed down a natural rock waterslide, deep in a remote corner of Fiji’s Taveuni Island, and I’m still trying to catch my bearings and dislodge about a gallon of water from each ear.
Then, a little louder, “How could you lose it Mike? You’ve only had it three days!!”
That could really only mean one thing. By now I’ve found my steamy glasses and can just make out a person. There’s Mike, one of the two delightful honeymooners in my group for the day. He’s standing in the middle of the river, holding up his bare left hand in a gesture of defeat.
Apparently he took a slightly more adventurous route down the waterslide than I, losing his brand-new wedding ring in the process. Brutal! I shuffle around with my towel, picking up my damp clothes, trying to give them a little privacy.
But, only a moment later, I hear a giggle, and a splash, and then, “You loser!”
And, that, it seems, is that. The wedding ring is irretrievably lost, and there are no tears, and no arguments. In fact, the conversation has changed to getting a picture of their adventure. I look sideways at our guide, and she smiles, gently shakes her head and quietly says, “Fiji is a magical place”.
Now, only a little subdued, we carefully make our way back down the slippery, muddy path beside the river, swollen and fast from recent rainfall. This is known as the Garden Island for a reason. Everything here is full of life; enormous glossy, ragged banana leaves; gently unfurling ferns; long, dangly vines and endless shoots and leaves. The steamy air seems to just drip with myriad shades of green.
Emerging from the jungle, we hop back in our SUV and head for our next stop, a little wooden display to show the location of the International Date Line, where we all take the obligatory pictures for Facebook. Then it’s another waterfall swim, a quick stop at a market stand for a bag of incredibly flavourful, sweet-tart passion fruit, and it’s time to head back to Matangi Private Island Resort: sunburned, exhausted and content.
When I get back, I decide to check out the rest of the island – it’s tiny and only takes a few minutes to circumnavigate by speedboat (and the friendly staff are all too happy to oblige). From the water, it’s easy to see the (thankfully empty) private beach where couples go for a secluded afternoon – and the island’s own pineapple plantation.
My impromptu guide also points toward a much larger nearby island, covered in trees and apparently nothing else – though it is too big to get a clear idea what’s there. That island, he says, in an only very slightly impressed tone, is owned by an international soft drink company; they invite celebrity guests to vacation there and enjoy the amenities – but the island is otherwise unoccupied. I try to imagine, just for a moment…
Later, after a terrific dinner at the on-site restaurant, I head back to my luxury tree house bure (Fijian for hut) to sit on my balcony and enjoy a drink and my book for a while, then head for a soak in the private outdoor Jacuzzi. Yummy amenities from Pure Fiji smell incredible – and set the tone for total relaxation.
I wake up to my alarm while it’s still dark; keen to see the stars before the first rays of dawn. I’ve been looking forward to seeing the night sky on this trip to Fiji – where there are no city lights to contend with. Navigating by the bright moon, I drag a beach lounger right into the middle of the sand, curl up under my sarong and watch the twinkly stars and bright satellites until I gently doze off. Waking up to the sound of a crab clattering over the leg of my chair, I reluctantly go back to my tree house to start packing for the next stop, amazed at how still and calm everything is in the early morning light.
After the journey to the airport – a speedboat ride to Taveuni Island, and a 20-minute ride through the countryside to the tiny airstrip, I enjoy my easy flight to nearby Vanua Levu Island. Though, even by my second stop, the names have already started to get confusing.
Now it’s time for Namale: an all inclusive, deluxe property owned by a famous American motivational speaker. I’m picked up from the airport right on time, but my beaming driver pauses several times on the short journey to enthusiastically point out some seriously un-scenic photo opportunities. After I voice my confusion and eagerness to get going, I giggle when he tells me that my flight was earlier than expected and the resort staff are not yet gathered to sing me the now-familiar traditional Fijian welcome song.
This country has some of the friendliest, most genuine-seeming people I’ve ever encountered. Wherever I go, people are relaxed and happy. The resort staff joke around casually with me – and each other – and they seem to actually care that I should enjoy myself. It’s a delight.
Of course, it would be difficult to imagine not enjoying myself here! My enormous villa (I laughed when I learned that it is also called a bure) has a staircase leading down to my own private beach, an infinity plunge pool, sundeck, outdoor rainhead shower, full kitchen with snacks and a stocked fridge (water, soft drinks, wine, bubbles, all three varieties of the local beer, Fiji Gold, two types of milk for tea or coffee), a deluxe bathroom full of plush towels, top quality amenities, a satellite television and access to countless movies and programs, a pool table, and basically everything an imaginative human could wish for.
First stop, however, was the spa. Here, after a long soak in the hydrotherapy baths, it’s time for a massage and a foot scrub. I soon find myself enveloped in a gigantic fluffy robe, sitting on a comfy chair, drinking a beer, watching the waves crash and roll in across the bay, as my feet are scrubbed with aromatic oils.
Later, after a stroll on my little private section of beach, I head to the plunge pool for a quick dip under the stars. The ocean is calm and the resort is quiet. I am in heaven.
My next stop is Koro Sun Resort, where I can lie in my giant bed in my over-water bure and watch the sun dappling the waves in the bay. There is an on-site dive shop here, and a fellow guest assures me that it’s one of the best dive shops in the area. The number of people heading out on every trip seems to prove his point.
There’s a ladder down from my terrace into the channel, allowing me easy access to the reef for excellent snorkeling. After a hike through the nearby jungle to see a pretty waterfall, enormous rainforest trees and some stunning bromeliads, I head to the on-site spa for their signature treatment: a massage and scrub, followed by a moisturizing treatment and a banana leaf wrap.
Yes. There I was, lying on a massage table, in a hut in the Fijian jungle, listening to the raucous birds and the bubbling stream outside the window, surrounded by the scents of essential oils, with my entire body wrapped in a warm banana leaf. Moments like this don’t happen often!
The next few days were lazy and blissfully relaxing. My time included a jetboat ride through Fiji’s countryside, a visit to a nearby congregation (their voices were magnificent), reef snorkelling, an early morning yoga class, a visit to a local village, a solo shell-hunting expedition on a secluded beach, more visits to the spa, dinners under the stars, late-night dips and overindulgence.
Here, in this crazily remote place, the people are extraordinarily friendly, the local food couldn’t be fresher or more delicious, the landscape is surprising and, at times, breathtaking. The stars cover the sky like a blanket, and just about everyone is with someone special. It is, as our guide simply put it, magical.
As I make my way towards home at the end of this incredible trip, I’m amazed to run into Mike and Jen at the tiny airport. And I can’t help it – I tell them how impressed I was that they were unfazed by the loss of such an important ring.
Jen smiles and says “Ah well, in the end, it’s just a ring. It doesn’t make a difference to how much we love each other.”
Fiji is incredible any way you go, but it is a really special place for lovers.
IF YOU GO
- Fiji Airways has flights from Los Angeles (about 11 hours to Nadi International) Connections are available from most major gateways in Canada and it’s easy to combine Fiji with another destination like New Zealand
- Once you get to Fiji, it’s easy to catch short connector flights to the outer islands (and highly recommended) An easy way to visit several islands is to fly to the outer islands and then buy a ferry pass to go between
- Most people speak English
- The currency is the Fijian dollar, with exchange rates of approximately USD$1 = FJD$2
- The time difference from North America is dizzying: Fiji is 16 hours ahead of Toronto’s Eastern Standard Time
- The International Date Line goes through the islands (though everyone stays on one time for simplicity)
- If your resort doesn’t include meals, the many snack stops by the side of the roads offer cheap, tasty treats – but meals at sit-down restaurants are very affordable too
- The most important word you will need in Fiji is Bula! Said with enthusiasm, this is Hello in Fijian
- Thank you – which if you’re anything like me, you will find yourself using a great deal in Fiji – is Vinaka vaka levu, or “Vinaka” for short
- You are likely to experience a welcome ceremony with Kava juice – this bitter liquid is a very mild sedative and the taste for it can be challenging to acquire. As a guest it is polite to at least take part for the first round (or two): the liquid is generally consumed until it is finished, and everyone’s lips are numb (!)
Matangi Private Island Resort:
This was the first resort I stayed in, and I was absolutely blown away. The service was personal and friendly, the food was delicious and the surroundings were heavenly.
To get to Matangi, take a short flight from Nadi to Taveuni, and from there the resort has a transfer by van and boat. It’s a long trip but totally worth it.
The resort is adults-only and almost everyone goes as a couple. There are lots of excursions and activities nearby so it would be easy to spend a week here.
Namale Resort & Spa:
Namale is on Vanua Levu Island: land at Savusavu airport (a 50 minute flight from Nadi International) and the resort will pick you up for the short transfer.
This was one of the first all-inclusive resorts in Fiji, and every detail is taken care of; there’s almost nothing one could imagine that is not provided or available. With several private beaches and secluded hot tubs and plunge pools, this is a very romantic resort. There are also all sorts of activities like bowling (the only alley in Fiji), a golf simulator, pool tables; all the toys.
Koro Sun Resort:
Koro Sun Resort is a few minutes’ drive from Namale. Straddling the reef and the rainforest, this is a very different experience from other resorts. Koro Sun has a popular on-site dive shop, and little spa huts nestled in the rainforest.
There are a range of different room types, I was in a “Floating Bure” which was sumptuous and private, with easy access for snorkelling the reef.
As with the other resorts I visited in Fiji, the food was excellent and the service was genuine and caring.
Fiji Intercontinental Resort & Spa:
Located on Viti Levu Island, and under an hour’s drive from Nadi International Airport, this was the largest of the resorts I stayed in on this holiday.
I stayed in the “Club” section, which made it a slightly more intimate experience – and with many great inclusions, is well worth the extra.
The beach was enormous, empty, and stunning. The restaurants were truly top-quality; all of the meals I had were exceptional. There was even an adults-only restaurant, pool and beach area!