A treasure of a family affair

By Graham Hepburn

Jane and I had been talking about taking a Pacific Island holiday for years but things always got in the way - buying a house, new jobs or home renovations - so we kept putting it off for another year.

In that time we had two children, and they can alter your plans, too. So by the time the holiday reached the top of our list of things to do, we were looking for a family friendly destination.

Fiji seemed a safe option and Treasure Island in the Mamanuca group looked perfect for our girls, Sophie (aged 3) and Mia (1). Any notions of a carefree holiday were quickly dispelled at the airport when Mia exploded her nappy just as we got our boarding call. All her clean clothes were on the plane.

After a dash to the toilet, Mia and her clothes were doused in liquid soap, washed and dried, and almost as good as new when we boarded. Thankfully, it was only a three-hour flight to Nadi. A 15-minute taxi ride got us to Vuda Marina and a half-hour boat trip to Treasure Island, which we reached in the late afternoon.

For a family this is one of the beautiful things about the island. You can get to and from it in a day, avoiding the need for overnighting on the mainland and the stress of making connections, unpacking and repacking.

And you're there so quickly that with your city consciousness still clinging, it's a surreal scene stepping off the jetty to be welcomed by a group of singers on a beach bathed in a warm evening glow.

I suspect the staff have mistaken us for important people, but after a few days on the island I see that all guests are serenaded as they come and go.

The Fijian people's love of children is legendary but after we clamber ashore we've barely got sand between our toes before the kids are whisked away for cuddles and handed about.

Babies, in particular, are adored and Mia's blonde hair and generous proportions are a hit, and she's in danger of injury with all the cheek-chucking.

Once we've settled into our air-conditioned beachfront bure - one of 66 on the 5.8ha island - we stroll around what the staff tell us is our "second home". It takes about 10 minutes to do a lap of the pram-friendly concrete path that circles the island and you realise the resort is beautifully self-contained and safe for kids.

The main dining room and bar are just off the beach and take in the sunset. Out front is the prime attraction for Sophie - the swimming pool - and next to that is the games room, which is the base for the kids' club overseen by the vivacious Wati.

Here, the kids can give the ping-pong and pool tables a good thrashing before heading outdoors for more constructive activities such as crafts, fish-feeding and treasure hunts. The games room also has an icecream shop where Maraia dishes up cones for the kids and a mean espresso for the adults.

Further out the back is a kids' playground, floodlit tennis court and a volleyball court where the staff play rowdy games every evening. Beside the playground is a nursery for iguanas and a pool where staff are raising turtles to release into the wild. It's one of the many projects to improve the ecology of the island.

Staff, under the guidance of general manager Greg Cornwall, are also growing coral and releasing fish into a marine reserve that surrounds Treasure, Bounty and Beachcomber islands. They're also releasing clams because their excretions help coral growth.

All the bures lie around the perimeter of the island right on the beach and cool breezes waft through the mature trees that shade each slice of paradise. Each bure has a two-person hammock in the shade, ideal for lazing around in with cold drink in hand while the kids take a nap inside.

And for those who get twitchy at the thought of kicking back, there's a computer with a reasonably fast internet connection available 24 hours a day at reception.

The days quickly settle themselves into a routine of breakfast by the pool, obligatory swim in the pool, lunch and then lying back in the hammock reading or watching the banded rails peck and poke their way about in the sand. A bit of snorkelling in the afternoon, more swimming in the pool and then packing the kids off to bed after an early dinner.

It's amazing how busy you can get doing nothing. In seven days of lazing about I couldn't find time to take a scuba lesson at the resort's dive centre, although Jane managed to squeeze in a visit to the Senikai Spa for a facial. Neither of us got to the gym, nor lost any sleep over it.

But I regretted missing the weekly mini-putt tournament because an old dear from the Manawatu won it and I'm sure I could have taken her. There are organised activities each day, such as craft demonstrations, fish-feeding boat trips and cocktail-mixing lessons. These are listed on the blackboard outside the dining room and distributed by flyer to each bure the previous night.

The island also offers more strenuous pastimes, such as parasailing and water skiing, or you can use the free kayaks and catamarans.

All sorts of island-hopping trips are on offer, whether it's checking out other resorts or simply visiting an island, as Jane and I did when we took a short boat trip to neighbouring Bounty Island.

This is more of a backpacker destination, the facilities are more basic than on Treasure Island, but the welcome is just as warm. Treasure Island is renovating its bures, and Bounty Island is having a makeover, thanks to having been the home of Celebrity Love Island, a British reality TV show that was filmed on part of the island.

Facilities were upgraded to accommodate the stars and the production team; the buildings and jetty were used as sets and will become part of the guest facilities. The snorkelling off Bounty is wonderful. Jane and I swam out to the pontoon to see the clown fish colony the staff has started up.

Like Treasure Island, Bounty Island is involved in environmental projects. They are also growing coral and releasing fish and have begun planting medicinal trees beside the walking track.

The islanders grow as much of their fruit and vegetables as they can and they are also trying to plant every known food-producing plant in Fiji.

We left the children behind for our visit to Bounty. Sophie went to kids' club and Mia had a babysitter; at F$5 ($4.50) an hour, babysitters are a bargain.

And they are a godsend at night when Jane and I pack the kids off to bed and head to the restaurant. You have the choice of the main (Elevuka) restaurant or the slightly more upmarket (Ganilau) restaurant and its fire-juggling chef.

The night-time entertainment kicks in later with a live band and plenty of singing and dancing. There's also entertainment such as joke contests and silly hat competitions and the nightly "seagull dance". There are also tables around the pool where you can let the warm night-time breeze waft your cares away.

It is this sort of relaxed atmosphere that keeps people coming back. A Kiwi couple held the record with 75 holidays on the island since the resort opened in 1973.

The bride in a wedding party had been holidaying on Treasure Island since she was a child and in that time many of the long-serving staff had become friends and were invited to the nuptials.

When Sophie and I took a snorkelling trip out to the pontoon off Treasure Island, we bumped into Mariana from Australia who had holidayed here 18 times. "I know it sounds tragic," she says, "but the staff are so nice they just keep sucking you back."

And Treasure Island definitely struck a chord with Sophie who asked, "When we've finished living in our house, can we come and live in Fiji?" I'm not sure about living there but we'll definitely be back.

With our track record, if Jane and I start planning another family holiday, by the time we get there the kids will have left home and we'll have Treasure Island to ourselves. 

Checklist

FIJI

Treasure Island
Treasure Island is a white sand coral-fringed atoll with 66 beachfront bures and sits in a marine reserve. It has its own water supply piped from the mainland. Treasure Island is less than an hour from Nadi airport by speedboat, available 24 hours a day. Seaplane and helicopter links are also available.

Getting there
A typical seven-night deal for Treasure Island Resort over the next few months ranges from $1099 a person to $1799 each (twin/double). Prices are all from Auckland flying Air Pacific and include return airport transfers and all airline taxes and levies. Six nights on Bounty Island Resort costs around $999 each (twin/double), with meals extra. Air Pacific flies daily to Fiji from Auckland, with a reduced service out of Wellington and Christchurch.

Further information
Visit the links below.

* Graham Hepburn and family flew to Fiji courtesy of Air Pacific and were hosted by Treasure Island.

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