Shelley Bridgeman 's Opinion

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Holidaying in Fiji

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For many years, in the interests of uninterrupted holidaying pleasure, I conveniently overlooked Fiji's problems. Photo / Thinkstock
For many years, in the interests of uninterrupted holidaying pleasure, I conveniently overlooked Fiji's problems. Photo / Thinkstock

My love affair with Fiji began on a family visit when I was just five years old. I've lost count of the number of times I've holidayed there. I'm guessing it's over twenty, possibly close to thirty.

We visited Treasure Island even before its swimming pool was built. In 1971 Suliana, the housekeeper who tended to our room each day at Plantation Island Resort, pleaded unsuccessfully with my mother that we take her back to Hawkes Bay with us to be our maid.

I was a teenager when the (then) Regent hotel was built at Denarau. We embraced this five-star luxury rapidly. There was air-conditioning and an anonymity that the small island resorts didn't offer. At the Regent you could have a beach holiday without ever getting sand between your toes.

We watched the new Sheraton hotel being built nearby and wondered who on earth would choose a pink palace with fountains in the lobby over the Regent's authentic architecture and tapa cloth wall hangings. But as soon as the Sheraton opened, we promptly switched allegiances and declared the Regent "gloomy and a bit tired".

How fickle.

In the late eighties I fell down an exposed well at Musket Cove on the way back from the bar. Luckily my landing was softened by a thick layer of mud. Another year at Musket Cove my brother got the Bridgemans banned from ever hiring golf buggies again. In the nineties my future husband and I spent a week at the exclusive Vatulele Island Resort.

One December we took refuge at Raffles Gateway Hotel, opposite Nadi International Airport, while we waited for a hurricane to pass. Palm trees were bent to horizontal in the ferocious wind and, uncertain whether the windows in our room would hold, we dragged our mattress into the bathroom to sleep.

I like to think I was something of a Fiji holidaying pioneer but now it's so firmly established as something of a default destination for Kiwis it's lost some of its allure. There's something seriously amiss when you encounter more acquaintances poolside at Denarau than you do on a night out in Parnell.

But a sentiment deeper than holiday snobbery has kept me away since Fiji's most recent political disruption - apart from a whirlwind three-day visit to the Hilton in 2009 for my father's seventieth birthday celebrations. (Incidentally on this last trip I was uncomfortable enough with the regime to call myself a 'writer' on official documentation rather than the more descriptive 'journalist' and I also encouraged my husband to think up a more benign occupation than 'solicitor'.)

I've long been aware of the political instability in Fiji. My parents were at the Suva Travelodge during the first coup in 1987. My father had just raced his yacht across from Auckland and my mother had flown over to meet him. She swears she saw the armed men running into the parliament grounds. A New Zealand television journalist asked her to smuggle footage back home with her but she declined.

For many years, in the interests of uninterrupted holidaying pleasure, I conveniently overlooked Fiji's problems but having a child made me reconsider my position.

Grown adults may be perfectly entitled to holiday on islands controlled by a dictatorship with a dismantled judicial system and no freedom of the press but as a mother I feel obliged to choose destinations more wisely. After all, current travel advice from our government states that "New Zealanders in Fiji are advised to exercise particular caution and maintain a low profile".

So I was pleased to see TVNZ journalist Barbara Dreaver on Breakfast last week discussing Fiji and advising viewers to think carefully about where they holiday. Until then I thought I'd been alone in putting principles ahead of pleasures.

Over recent years we may have been regularly flying into Coolangatta and becoming intimate with the theme parks on Australia's Gold Coast but I've never really stopped hankering for palm trees, pina coladas, kokoda and warm Fijian hospitality. Bula!

Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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