Fiji, a tropical paradise of clear blue waters, swaying palm trees, pristine sands providing a welcome respite from the rigours of busy city life and a below average Kiwi spring. It is one of New Zealand travelers' most popular holiday destinations, a mainstay of loved-up couples and families on school holidays.
But, for BlueSky's maiden island excursion, Fiji transformed into a destination for a plane full of Kiwi party-goers. The concept; a three-day long party, with 300 like-minded people and 15 of New Zealand's best musicians and DJs along for the ride.
The trip was conceived by Auckland entrepreneur Rich Henry almost two years ago. He was looking for new business ideas after leasing out his online magazines Get Frank and Chelsey and saw a huge gap in the market for offering "package" holidays, with a difference.
With Grabaseat providing the charter flight, George FM the lineup of musicians and DJs, and the exclusive use of Sonaisali Island resort, the pieces started to fall into place. Almost instantly the response was positive, with entry level packages from $999 for flights, three nights' accommodation, breakfast and three epic parties, it offered good value for money for those who want a different type of getaway but are too busy to organize it themselves.
The trip sold out, a total of 304 signing up for the BlueSky's maiden voyage. And what a voyage it was. The bleary-eyed travelers left Auckland airport on a grey, cold morning for the sunnier climes of Fiji. Ummm... Not quite. We were greeted by even greyer skies and more rain. But when you have a group of people completely committed to having a good time on a tropical island, the weather turns out to be irrelevant.
One of the musicians along for the ride was Tiki Taane. And one of the best experiences I had over the weekend was going with him to a local primary school to play music for the kids. It is something he has done before, in Samoa and Rarotonga, and he was keen to bring a bit of his Tiki magic to Fiji.
As the rain came down hundreds of kids gathered around mesmerised. It was quite something to see Tiki singing 'Always on my Mind' to a group of young Fijian school kids.
"The main reason I became a musician was I wanted to see the world and I didn't want to join the Navy!" Taane says. "To be able to come to Fiji, play some music and hang out with my mates is just awesome. And to play for the kids, that is something I can cross off my bucket list."
From there we went to settle in at our home for the next three days, Sonaisali Resort, a 20-minute drive from Nadi airport and then a short boat trip across to the island.
The BlueSky festivities centred around an impressive pool (the swim-up bar was particularly well frequented) and it was here the DJ booth was set up.
The first DJ to take to the decks was one of our most famous, Peter Urlich. A DJ for more than 32 years, he was joking he has been playing tunes for longer than many of the partygoers have been alive! Peter plays gigs and festivals all over the world.
But he and his wife Dani jumped at the chance to be part of this adventure: "Neing able to party all night then hang out with other DJs and musicians during the day without having to go back to the normality of life is awesome," Urlich says. "It's like a suspended reality."
And therein lies BlueSky's key point of difference. It is not just a music festival, it's not just a party, it's not just a holiday; it's a truly unique combination of all three. By the end of the trip, the established groups had dissipated and paid-for punters were mixing with their favourite DJs.
The best party of the weekend was on night two when it relocated to a makeshift bar surrounded by palm trees in the middle of nowhere. Two of the best sets of the weekend were here, Karn Hall followed by State of Mind. With the dancefloor packed with people in bikinis and jandals, the Kava flowing and outdoor fires flickering in the background, it was quite something to experience.
There are plans afoot for many more BlueSky adventures, from more centres and to different destinations. On the trip home, the team was already fielding enquiries about next year's BlueSky adventure, Auckland comedian Simon McKinney among them.
"It was a weekend of sheer happiness, radiant faces, music, fun, and laughter and all in beautiful surroundings," McKinney says. "It was such a shame the whole fantastic, dreamlike experience had to end."
And that's exactly the kind of feedback Rich Henry wants to hear.
"Ultimately we want people to go away saying it was the best weekend they ever had," Henry says. "If we can do that, then we have succeeded."
Mission accomplished, then.
For more information go to blueskyfiji.co.nz.