Fiji: Star treatment

By Fiona Hawtin

Tipou's strong, coconut oil-soaked hand travelled slowly, expertly up my back. My eyes had been closed for a good 10 minutes, but somehow I managed to jolt myself awake as I felt myself about to dribble into the hole in the massage bed where your head goes. Just as well, as the snoring would have followed.

That's how relaxed the traditional Fijian Bobo (say it bombo), at Shangri-La's Fijian Resort & Spa, had made me feel. That's 75 minutes of firm massage with coconut oil and warm poultices of local herbs such as mikita and macou to draw out toxins and reduce tension.

Inner peace is much easier to achieve than you think when you're at a just-finished luxury tropical spa that is a temple of indulgence - the handmaidens working there well-practised in the art of pampering.

The high-minded idea of the Chi Spa - as with every single Shangri-La spa the world over - is to align your chi or "universal life force that governs well-being and personal vitality" and restore "balance and harmony to mind and body". By all accounts if your chi's not flowing freely, you get sick.

The nerve centre of the spa is a couple of pavilions. From there, you're guided to one of six swish spa bures. Four have ocean views; the others are in the middle of the resort's rainforest.

So there I was in the rainforest, with ceiling-to-floor views of the trees, Tipou kneading my back, when this feeling of total peace came over me - purr.

I preferred the rainforest bure over the ocean view one I was in the day before for my Chi Journey.

Well, I would say that, given they had me down as a wood personality - ascertained by a short written quiz asking my favourite colour and so on which I'd done at the outset. This personality trait was being treated or "balanced" by incorporating chamomile and lavender oil into my treatments. Water types (there's also metal, fire and earth), would doubtless have been drawn to the ocean view bures.

It's not often you get a view in a spa, so looking out over the coral reef is special. It was in one of the ocean bures that I had the Serenity Ritual, a three-and-a-half-hour treatment, which started with a Himalayan Water Therapy Bath. It sounds more grandiose than what it actually was: an outdoor spa bath with floating frangipani, hibiscus and butter flowers and bath salts from the Himalayas.

Marlene, my spa therapist, wondered if I'd like just 15 minutes floating round in it instead of the usual 30 because the tropical rainstorm was coming down hard onto my face. Sucker for punishment that I am, I opted for the full 30.

It wasn't until the Aromatic Herbal Steam that I started to chill out, although I did have a moment thinking I could sweat as much standing around outside in Fiji's humidity. weather.

Marlene fetched me as I was starting to drift off. The Aroma Algae Wrap usually follows the steam, although she improvised and felt I needed a Fijian clay wrap more. So after a bit of a scrub, she painted the mud all over and wrapped me in industrial lengths of tinfoil.

While the wrap was doing its thing, Marlene gave me a hair and scalp massage.

Then off to the outdoor shower in an enclosed courtyard with me to get rid of the mud before going back onto the therapist's bed for a Nature's Recipe Facial.

This is popular, given the fashion for all things natural; but I prefer my facials to have more active ingredients in. This used fresh coconut milk, papaya, cucumber, yoghurt, banana, honey, rice oats, egg white, local clay and lime - the kind of thing teen mags rave about to their young, firm-skinned readership.

It was nice, but it was a wasted opportunity to get some serious anti-ageing, rehydrating happening. If I had another I'd have requested one using Futuresse, a posh German skincare range the spa also uses.

Blame it on the utter luxury of my surroundings, but before I arrived I had ideas about using the time to detox for five days away from my two children, pecking at raw food only, exercising and using the spa to look as pampered looking as a Fifth Ave princess.

Well-laid plans and all that, but the Shangri-La is about indulgence, not denial. The complex takes the whole of 44ha of what is technically the island of Yanuca, but is separated by a short causeway from the western side of Viti Levu, about an hour's drive from Nadi.

And I was in one of the six brand new ocean view bures that come with outdoor spa pool, outdoor shower in a private courtyard, indoor bath and steps down to the coral beach. It's a toss-up whether the best thing about the exclusive bure was that I had my own butler - a dashing young Fijian called Abbo - or the keys to a golf cart.

Okay, the golf cart wins, but Abbo was lovely and obliging and useful in my orientation of the resort. It's just that I'm not that good at bossing someone round. I thought I would be but it turns out I'd rather iron my own clothes, thank you very much.

He did come into his own though when he responded to my distress call after 10pm about an enormous bug crawling around the bure. He and two other butlers arrived godspeed and spent ages coaxing out what was finally identified as a cockroach. He did, however, keep wanting to chauffeur me round in my golf cart, and I REALLY wanted to drive it myself.

I had dismissed the golf cart as a plaything of the idle rich but one five-minute walk to breakfast in the humidity converted me to its joys. From then on I even drove myself the 50 metres to the spa, because it was so much fun to drive.

Don't get the idea that the Shangri-La is all about lying around having full-on pore restoration. It's also a decent place for a family holiday they just don't get to stay in the ocean view bures. The Little Chiefs Club looks after the kids so you don't have to, freeing you up to relax poolside. And in the evenings, wholesome family entertainment includes the onsite fire dancing and weekly fire walking in the resort's purpose-built Fijian village. Kava is optional.

There's also a gym, tennis courts and a nine-hole golf course, in case one felt so inclined, but lying on the hotel's white sand beach or swimming in one of the three pools will win out every time.

By day four though, even I felt the time had come for some exercise. I settled on a bike ride. Official status as a VIP (well the bure is F$1500 a night) meant somehow I ended up being escorted on the bike ride by my trusty butler Abbo and Becks from the bike shop. They imagined I wanted a gentle 20 minutes to the first village of Cuvu and back.

It must be how Madonna feels when she's out for a jog with her security detail. Flanked and emboldened by the pair, we got to the main road and just kept going. We pressed on until Becks warned that Sigatoka, the local town, was 15 minutes away. Goody. I had secretly wanted retail therapy as well as exercise. But it was Sunday and all but three of the shops were closed.

I was red-faced and exhausted, as were the boys. I hadn't sweated as much since, oh, the day before in the steam room and now, we had to go all the way back - a round trip of two hours 20 minutes.

Damn it, I deserved a body scrub after that, so I headed across the path in my golf cart to see Tipou once more for the Mountain Tsampa Rub. Tsampa, or Himalayan barley, is softer than salt and leaves skin looking amazing.

Another few days and I really could have lost touch with reality, developing a Naomi Campbell complex believing everyone was at my beck and call.

Miss Fiona would like her reflexology in 30 minutes. Hello? Why is no one listening?

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Getting there
Air Pacific flies from Auckland to Nadi 11 times per week. See www airpacific.com.

Shangri-La Fijian Resort
Bures start at $1250 a night with dedicated butler service, buggy and full buffet breakfast for two included. There are a number of excellent bars right on the water plus cafes and fine dining restaurants. Daily activities include organised walks and the picturesque Seaside Wedding Chapel seats 40.

Of the Chi Spa Fiona Hawtin says: Pure bliss. The setting is picture perfect, the purpose-built spa treatment bures are sublime and the service is fantastic.

Further information
See www.shangri-la.com/en/property/yanucaisland/fijianresort

- NZ Herald

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