Fiji: Lagoon lullaby

By Sharon Stephenson

It's not supposed to rain on tropical island resorts. The glossy brochures don't mention it, the photos don't show it, and the clear skies don't suggest it when we board a speedboat for the 35-minute ride to Fiji's Royal Davui, part of the archipelago of castaway islands off Veti Levu's southern coast.

But rain it does: huge, fat drops that, thankfully, provide some relief from the temperatures that have been spit roasting us all week.

The downpour also gives us the perfect excuse to hole up in the luxurious vale (villa) that the holiday gods have bestowed upon us.

One of only 16 dwellings on this 4ha island, the suite look as though it's only just had the bubble wrap taken off. A small internal garden
separates the living/bar area and the bedroom with its colonial-type muslin mosquito net that the staff unfurl for you each night.

Go up a few steps and you're in the bathroom, where a louvred roof lets
you see the stars while you lie in a tub that's almost large enough to do laps in.

But what really puts the sparkle in the Davui tiara are the views: from the two wraparound decks, you look across Beqa Lagoon on to water that's so ridiculously clear, we spot reef sharks doing whatever it is sharks do.

The deck is also where we spend hours drinking wine, admiring the visual bling and plotting how we could live forever in this island paradise.

By the time we awake, the clouds have parted and we're back into tropical territory: brilliant sunshine, turquoise water, and a sky so blue it looks as though someone has just painted it.

We eat breakfast in the open air restaurant, named after the majestic 250-year-old banyan tree that the entire resort was designed around.

Not surprisingly, the menu is Pacific Rim-influenced and executive chef Emosi Qio, who trained in Nadi, makes the most of the coastline's
prolific bounty.

The trout wrapped in banana leaves I have one night is so fresh, it tastes as though it was plucked from the sea 10 minutes earlier.

Climbing this many steps up the luxury ladder doesn't, of course, come
cheap. But all meals are included and Royal Davui is so stunning, it's worth saving your pennies for. It's also a favourite with honeymooners - so beware the glint of all those shiny, new wedding bands.

Manager Chris Southwick tells me, however, that most of the guests - the bulk of whom are Kiwis, Australians, Americans and a smattering of Europeans - come to de-stress.

"When some guests arrive, they're incredibly wound up," says the affable Aussie.

"They get nervous because they think they won't have enough to do,
but it doesn't take long for the island to work its magic and by the second day, they're saying 'I'll sleep in till 11am tomorrow, and
then maybe go for a swim or snorkel, and then have a sleep till dinner time'."

And that's the thing about Royal Davui - you can do nothing, or you can fill your day with the list of activities that are left on your pillow each night. Most are water-based, including snorkelling, kayaking, surfing or deep-sea fishing.

You could also feed the fish at the resort's jetty, or go on a thigh-straining hike to a nearby waterfall. And if you're brave, or stupid
enough, the boys from the resort's marine centre will take you deep into the briny to feed tiger, bull and grey reef sharks with nothing
but a wetsuit to separate you and the hereafter.

For those who've come for romance, make sure you get dropped off in the splendid isolation of the sand spit with just you, your beloved and a picnic basket for company. We could easily have stayed there all day, if it wasn't for the tide coming in. When the tide is out, however, you
can walk round the entire island in just 20 minutes.

One afternoon I send my husband off to go hobie cat sailing while I spend a glorious few hours in the spa having my face scrubbed with mango and coconut treatments, courtesy of the beautiful Pure Fiji range.

Not being much of a water baby means my arms are unused to so much swimming, so a massage also irons out the kinks in my muscles and relaxes me so much I almost roll off the table.

One of the highlights of a visit to Royal Davui is the traditional kava ceremony, which is held one night before dinner. We each have a drink of this mild narcotic, made from the roots of the kava, or pepper
plant, which is akin to drinking muddy water. A few of us report a slight and temporary numbing of the lips, but that's soon forgotten as we indulge in cocktail happy hour.

As with most things in life, the real beauty of this place is in the little touches - like the freshly-baked banana bread left in each
room made from Southwick's grandmother's recipe, using bananas from
the island's own plantation. Or when you get back to your vale after dinner, someone has sneaked in and turned on a relaxing CD, drawn the curtains and cocooned you from the world.

The basic premise at Royal Davui is that you'll want for nothing - and if you do, they'll get it for you before the words have barely left your mouth.

There aren't many places on earth that make me feel like crying when I
leave, but this was one of them. Fortunately, our transition back to reality is eased with a night at the luxurious Sheraton Fiji on Denarau, which had us wishing we could stay longer.

Sharon Stephenson was a guest of Royal Davui (www.royaldavui.com) and
Flight Centre (www.flightcentre.co.nz)

- Herald on Sunday

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