Travel: Fiji spins magic

Given the cold, wet spring we've had, I didn't need much convincing to take up the offer of a trip to Sonaisali Island Resort in Fiji.

But there was a catch: I would be accompanied by about 300 strangers, on a chartered Air New Zealand flight for a three-day party on this tropical island.

My days of being able to sustain a three-day party, or even a one-day party, are well behind me, but I was determined to give it my best.

Along for the ride were 16 of New Zealand's top musicians and DJs, including Tiki Taane, State of Mind, Tim Phin, Dan Aux, Peter Urlich and Dick Johnson.

The "Blue Sky" Fiji trip was the brainchild of Auckland entrepreneur Rich Henry.

Looking at his friends and what they wanted out of a holiday and what was on offer in other parts of the world, he spotted a huge gap in the market.

"We have so many great events here, the Wellington Sevens, Rhythm and Vines, Queenstown Winter Festival, and people are prepared to spend a lot of money on them. We figured for the same costs, we could get them to Fiji for the ultimate weekend away," says Rich.

The chartered accountant started figuring out the numbers, but knew to get it off the ground would require key partnerships. He teamed up with Grabaseat to organise the charter flight, with George FM to tap into their pool of DJs and did a recce around some of Fiji's best resorts. After more than two years, they found Sonaisali.

Right from the start (6am check-in) it was clear the punters had one thing in mind, to have an epic time; guys already in their board shorts, girls decked out in leis and bikinis.

Despite the early departure time, there were plenty of on-board beverages and the party was in full swing as the plane touched down under some very grey Fijian skies.

"Everyone is just here to have a great time. As a musician, it is a great opportunity to come on holidays with a bunch of your colleagues who you normally only get to see in passing. You play together at night, then hang out together during the day."

Urlich says events such as these are exactly the reason he stays in the business. And all the DJs were in agreement; there is something very special about playing to an audience who are so clearly "up for it".

The charm and warmth of the Sonaisali staff soon won everyone over and from 10am to 3am the pool was a heaving hub of people having the time of their lives. The second night I ate in Sonaisali's fine dining restaurant, Plantation. When it comes to cuisine, Fiji does seafood better than anyone.

The sashimi tuna was delicious and full of flavour. That night, the party moved to Zero bar, a short trek through the palm trees to a clearing seemingly in the middle of nowhere.

DJ Karn Hall and State of Mind played amazing sets; I stood on a table and looked over a crowd jumping in unison as people floated and danced around outdoor fires, drank kava and took in the tropical surroundings.

As the hours and days wore on, the established groups of friends began to dissipate, new friendships formed and bonds were made. And that, Rich says, is what it is all about.

"We want people to come for a weekend of good times, making friends, chilling out. We want everyone to go home saying it was the best weekend of their lives." And most importantly, he wants them to sign up again next year.

Rich has big plans for Blue Sky: more trips from other centres and to destinations further afield.

Sonaisali was the perfect host, competent enough to deal with the invasion, while laid back enough to cope with the demands it placed on them. If you tire of the DJs, dancing and poolside frolicking, the island offers water activities, spa treatments and eating and drinking options.

I was lucky enough to see Tiki Taane visit a local primary school where he caused a near stampede while singing to some of the kids.

"I have done this in Rarotonga, Samoa and isolated parts of New Zealand before, but that was crazy, another thing to cross of my list," Tiki says.

After two nights on party island, I needed a little quiet time and was keen to visit one of the most popular destinations in Fiji, Denarau Island.

As soon as you drive on to Denarau, you feel relaxed. The lush tropical gardens and beautifully manicured lawns sweeping down to the sea, with a series of high-end luxury resorts hugging the coast. The reason Denarau is so popular with Kiwi families is the resorts are incredibly well set up for kids, and the Hilton, where I stayed, is a family paradise. With seven pools, a kids' club, luxurious spa and a multitude of activities, it is the perfect holiday for a family.

The rooms and villas at the Hilton are well-equipped, with great kitchens, balconies and barbecues.

As I sat and watched the sunset while enjoying a spectacular piece of tuna, it was hard to imagine it could get much better. At Nuku, I had a stunning starter of scallops and pork belly and a main of perfectly cooked tuna with iceberg lettuce, blue cheese, walnut and prosciutto salad. Other dishes included coconut crusted chicken and kokoda - lemon and lime-marinated reef fish.

With Kiwi executive chef Shane Avant, the Hilton's offerings are under a masterful hand and are as good as I've had in any hotel. After dinner I had time for a quick swim and a wander down the beach before settling into the biggest bed I have ever seen.

I met the Blue Sky group again at the airport, feeling very smug about my 12 hours' sleep the night before. The feedback on the flight was overwhelmingly positive, with organisers already fielding enquiries about next year. As for my verdict? Well, with a little more training I may manage the whole three days next time.

- Hamilton News

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