Fiji is best experienced on one of its small offshore islands during one of those lazy, tropical afternoons when the sea is calm and a warm breeze ripples the water, rustling the palms growing at its edge. It’s better when the sky is overcast, the heat has abated and exotic birds make noises from hidden nests.
But most of this went missing in December when Evan, a Category Four cyclone and the most devastating storm to hit Fiji in 20 years, tore the country asunder, ripping roofs from houses, flooding roads and uprooting coconut palms. Resorts were evacuated and an estimated 8,000 people sought refuge in evacuation centers. But a mere few days after the storm Fiji was back on its feet and normalcy was quickly restored.
The storm was a tourism blow, but since it plays such an important part in the country’s economy and in the livelihood of its estimated 890,000 populace, the government put extra effort into reconstruction.
According to Ili Matatolu, regional director for Fiji Tourism, the Americas, “More than 98 percent of resorts were operational by Christmas and Fiji enjoyed a busy and festive holiday season, hosting visitors from both our traditional and emerging source markets, and major tourist regions around the country are enjoying brisk business.”
With the exception of some isolated cases, most resorts were fully operational within days after the cyclone hit, putting Fiji in its traditional place among the South Pacific’s premier leisure destinations. Time spent on any of its 300 islands will seem like a tropical dream. Fiji is where relaxation reaches new heights, where peace reigns and where the weather, land, sea and—most importantly—friendly people give it a zest like no other.
It takes less than a few minutes after first setting foot on the alluring island nation to realize that visiting here is like walking into a travel brochure designed by some unearthly genius.
Fiji simply stuns.
It’s not only that the islands are blessed with thrilling South Seas panoramas, but that there is a certain joy to the land and its people—something they call “bula spirit.” (“Bula” is an ubiquitous word heard a thousand times a day, literally meaning “health” but used as “hello,” “how are you?” or in any dozen ways). This bula spirit is indefinable, really, but permeates Fiji with a simpatico and genial spirit.
Adds Matatolu: “We have always been a popular destination because Fiji offers a culture unique to the South Pacific. Outsiders find it charming and welcoming. Our projections indicate that Fiji will become even more popular in the future, as travel becomes easier and amenities continue to develop.”
Approximately 80,000 U.S. visitors come every year, giving Fiji a more pronounced blip on the American travel radar than other Pacific destinations.
“Everybody speaks English,” she adds. “There are plenty of accommodations in practically every price range—and very few countries offer such a variety of culture, cuisine and beauty.”
Her statements are far from hyperbole.
Volumes have been written about Fiji’s allure. With its myriad islands (many remain uninhabited) sprawling over an area roughly the size of Pennsylvania, Fiji—with remote, deserted islands of white beaches and cobalt waters that seem to stretch to the end of the world—is the place to get away from it all.
For travel agents, selling Fiji is a no-brainer. With accommodations ranging from modest, backpacker-favored far-flung inns, to sprawling, manicured, all-inclusive, family-friendly modern complexes, to boutique, adults-only luxury resorts, Fiji has something for everyone. But to get a first-hand taste of its wonders one must leave Viti Levu and venture to more intimate destinations where Fiji literally glows.
Those seeking a taste of its luxury should consider three adults-only resorts that embody the country’s wide range of sumptuous accommodations and amenities, while showcasing three distinctive sides of island culture: Nukubati, on the island of the same name, is where South Seas atmosphere blends with traditional Fijian charm; Tadrai, an ultra-modern, secluded, five-star property on Mana Island, 15 miles from Viti Levu, is where seclusion and serenity underline pampering and luxury; and fetching Likuliku, Fiji’s most famous luxury property, shines with the only overwater bungalows in the country.
Nukubati is reached from Nadi International Airport after a 45-minute domestic airline flight to Fiji’s northern capital town, Labasa, (Pacific Sun, a subsidiary of Air Pacific, offers daily flights starting at approximately $180 pp roundtrip) followed by a 1-hour off-road trek through coconut plantations, rice fields and Fijian villages, to Nukubati’s quay. A 5-minute boat ride puts guests on the pristine beach where they are usually greeted by the staff singing traditional island songs and hand-made leis.
Nukubati—an idyllic haven for honeymooners—consists of seven bures (traditional Fijian bungalows) lying in a neat row along the island’s western shoreline to take full advantage of refreshing sea breezes. The rooms are airy and bright, with overhead fans and exotic wooden floors that keep them cool. There is no air conditioning since it adheres to strict carbon emission guidelines.
Nukubati is the ultimate eco-chic property. There are no TVs or telephones, and the frenetic pace of modern life seems a galaxy removed.
This is a traditional elegant, very private and comfortable destination that, according to owner Jenny Bourke, focuses on the “simple creature comforts of a comfortable bed, cotton linen, soft bath towels and spacious bathrooms while serving exquisite food and giving friendly service to guests.”
One of the most popular activities is a fully catered picnic on a sandbar accessible by a half-hour boat ride where couples feast on dishes produced by Nukubati’s excellent chefs while surrounded by the vastness of the sea. Nearby is Fiji’s Great Sea Reef, considered the third largest of its kind, and Nukubati is the only place in Fiji where one can snorkel among dolphins, turtles, whales and manta rays.
Gordon Leewai, Bourke’s brother, manages the resort and he likes to stress that Nukubati has the largest solar power plant in the Fiji Islands and that it is an “environmentally conscious resort where its gardens produce most of the food which, combined with freshly caught seafood, creates the cuisine for which the resort has gained praise.” Rates range from approximately $790 per night dbl for a beachfront suite, to $950 for a honeymoon bure.
Mana Island is but a speck on maps, but it’s the jump-off spot to Tadrai Island Resort, a property custom-made for those who treasure seclusion laced with luxury. It epitomizes South Seas luxury spiced with an overwhelming sense of seclusion and tranquility.
If you can’t find peace and relaxation in Tadrai, you might as well hang it up. With only five bures, the all-inclusive resort is hidden on a low-lying bluff overlooking the sea. It’s luxurious and plush, yet retains a definite rustic island atmosphere.
Tadrai is laid out in a peaceful cove on Mana’s northern shore and is a 1-hour boat ride from Port Denarau’s marina. It’s usually reached through South Sea Cruises, a local line running a maritime web connecting Viti Levu to the Mamanuca Group Islands. Tadrai also offers complimentary helicopter transportation for guests staying more than five nights. South Sea Cruises vessels are regular sights heading for spots with exotic names like Malolo, Yasawa, Mana, Castaway Island and Bounty Island. Fare between Port Denarau and Mana is about $35.
Since opening its doors early last year, Tadrai has been named one of the top romantic hotels and resorts in consumer magazines, while its personalized service continues to gain praise.
According to resort manager Tim Grace, a friendly Australian whose wife serves as head chef, Tadrai is the brainchild of Raymond Prasad, an award-winning Australian architect who managed the nearly impossible: to blend an ultra-elegant space with the island’s natural habitat and rustic touches.
Grace says that in order to protect the island’s natural habitat all material in its construction was brought from Viti Levu and each bure was positioned to avoid uprooting native trees.
Although secluded and private, Tadrai has many activities to keep guests busy. These include snorkeling, surfing, kayaking, catamaran-sailing, sunset boat rides with complimentary champagne and inter-island excursions.
While the atmosphere is restoring, its villas are destinations in themselves. Every air-conditioned bure is more than 1,000 sq. ft. with a private plunge pool, indoor/outdoor showers, deck with daybed and modern conveniences like iPod docks and WiFi connection. Guests are even provided with iPads during their stay.
Aaron McGrath, resort owner, says, “Our intention was to build Tadrai as the ultimate paradise for guests who will experience a level of Fijian service and hospitality not yet seen in the Manamucas. We pride ourselves in providing personal service, giving guests their favorite foods, wine, music and even the choice of pillows they prefer before they arrive.”
In addition, guests have access to a private butler and the choice of classes ranging from basket weaving to photography and feasting on lovo (Fijian barbecue).
The restaurant serves exquisite dishes made with an emphasis on seafood and flavored with the Pacific Rim’s distinct flare.
Rates start at about $1,500 per night dbl.
According to Steve Anstey, manager of Likuliku Lagoon Resort, “The cyclone hit us at the worst time…a week before the holiday season. We had to wait until January to get everyone together to do full damage assessments, make plans and set a building schedule. At this stage, Likuliku is closed until April 1, and we will be moving heaven and earth to open by this date. We do not want to have her closed for longer than necessary but we don’t want to rush and bring back a luxury resort with just a quick makeover. We want to get her as right as she was before the storm, and we will not compromise on standards or quality.”
Standards and quality is what has placed Likuliku among Fiji’s premier, all-adults resorts. Its 45 bures (10 are the legendary over-water quaint), trend-setting spa, gourmet restaurant and wide range of activities place it among the most alluring destinations in the South Pacific.
Most of the storm’s damage was to the property’s periphery, and Anstey says that no major rebuild to any structure is required.
Guests arrive on Manolo Island, about 45 minutes from Viti Levu, to be pampered by what may be Fiji’s signature resort. When viewed from the sea, Likuliku looks like an ancient South Pacific village, but upon arrival guests see a place that retains the charm of old Fiji and blends it with ultra-modern conveniences.
The most distinctive bures are those built over water, marvels made with local materials and furnished with elegant, stylish pieces accented with Fiji’s “magi magi” designs and fabrics. The bungalows are air-conditioned and all have music systems, WiFi, telephones and TVs. Each afternoon, guests are treated to a “chef’s canape plate” and freshly baked cookies.
Swimming in the lagoon is like swimming in an aquarium full of tropical fish and, although some consider the property to be an experience in itself, Likuliku offers scores of activities to those inclined to more active pastimes. Snorkeling, fishing, windsurfing, diving, or hikes along nature trails from where the beauty of the Mamanucas can often be breathtaking are among the more popular activities.
At night, dining in the open-air pavilion lit by starlight and torches is an unforgettable experience. Here, as well as throughout the property, guests receive personal care from attentive yet unobtrusive staff and are always greeted by a friendly “bula” followed by the guest’s first name whether encountering a gardener or a manager.
At all three destinations it is this feeling of sincere friendliness that has been known to bring tears to some visitor’s eyes when the staff gathers to sing a traditional farewell song as the holiday comes to an end and the boat departs.
Rates for Likuliku range from approximately $1,600 per night dbl for an overwater bure, to about $1,397 for a deluxe beachfront bungalow and $930 for a garden beachfront suite.
Reaching the islands is easy: Air Pacific—the national airline currently undergoing a re-branding—offers regular service from Los Angeles to Nadi on the west side of Viti Levu, the nation’s largest island, from as low as $1,359 pp roundtrip.
According to Dave Pflieger, Air Pacific’s managing director and CEO, “This is an exciting year. In June, the airline returns to its roots and original identity as Fiji Airways. Full re-branding, which creates a brand distinctive and unique to Fiji, will be completed by the end of the year. This includes three new A330-200 aircraft that are up to 45 percent more efficient than the Boeing 747s they are replacing—a crucial point, with fuel prices appearing to remain high for the foreseeable future.”
all of fiji in one luxurious package
Fiji Vacations (800-927-1923; fijivacations.com) is a small, family-owned tour operator based in Costa Mesa, CA, that, according to owner Melissa Pomeroy, “has been selling Fiji exclusively since 1989.”
Pomeroy, who has personally visited every resort in Fiji, says that the country is such an alluring destination that she decided to devote her efforts solely to Fiji in order to become one of the foremost tour operators taking visitors to the islands.
“We pride ourselves in taking care of every little detail, from the moment you leave the U.S., until you return,” she says. “Our experience in Fiji is so great that we are sure we place you at the perfect resort for your needs.”
Fiji Vacations offers packages that include the three legendary Fijian luxury resorts. According to Pomeroy, “The price for a 6-night stay includes airfare, meet and greet, transfers, accommodations, meals, beverages and non-motorized watersports.”
Nukubati (from $4,400 pp), Tadrai ($8,395) and Likuliku ($4,775 for a beachfront bure; $7,420 for an overwater bungalow) are designed to give travelers a unique and luxurious taste of Fiji.
In addition to offering a large choice of what she calls “adventure specialties”—tours revolving around active sports like diving and surfing—Fiji Vacations considers honeymoons to be what Pomeroy calls its “bread and butter.” It has arranged destination weddings in Fiji for more than 178 couples.
“There is no better and more romantic way to start a union than with a wedding or honeymoon in Fiji,” she adds.
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Air Pacific: (800) 227-4446; airpacific.com
Fiji Tourism: (310) 568-1616; fijime.com
Likuliku Lagoon Resort: (888) 946-5458; likulikulagoon.com
Nukubati: (888) 692-4375; nukubati.com
Tadrai Island Resort: (866) 783-1840; tadrai.com