Fiji: Pampered in paradise

By Beck Vass

Beck Vass in a traditional Fijian mud spa. Photo / Beck Vass
Beck Vass in a traditional Fijian mud spa. Photo / Beck Vass

I'm standing in thigh-high warm mud, sinking slowly into in a natural thermal pool, with a Fijian man I've only just met smearing mud on my face.

It's odd, though I've been in stranger situations I suppose, but it feels nice. I've always liked that squishy-mud-between-your-toes feeling which I am now experiencing over most of my legs.

I'm not really one of those "girly" girls, so getting covered in mud seemed a bit more my scene than the fancy massage and aromatherapy modern spa treatments planned for the rest of the trip, but either way I was keen to find out what this spa thing that people keep raving about was all about.

We're at Sabeto Mud Pools, slightly off the beaten track between Nadi and Lautoka, a cluster of natural thermal pools with a slightly sulphurous smell, which these days is marketed as a traditional Fijian spa.

I'm led out of the pool so I can scoop smooth mud out of a bucket, to smother it over my entire body. It feels awesome - not at all gritty, warm and gooey - and afterwards I'm left to stand there and wait for it to dry.

Luckily it doesn't crack or get itchy.

I get back into the pool to wash what I can off before wandering down to another pool for a final clean-up. The mud comes off surprisingly easily, even from my bikini and underneath my fingernails, so soon I'm sparkling clean again.

My short bathe in the 39C pool made the humid tropical air seem cool when I got out and I suddenly felt acclimatised after the sudden move from a chilly Auckland. The mud treatment also left me feeling refreshed for the rest of the day, with skin that felt soft and moisturised.

It was quite a contrast to the massage after our arrival in Fiji the previous evening when my introduction to the Fijian spa scene, at the Heavenly Spa at the Westin Denarau Island Resort, left me in a state that wasn't quite as glamorous as I'd expected.

Donning the robe and slippers provided, and minus makeup, I'd been led down a lily-pond pathway to a little private hut with no sides. I lay face down on the massage bed and a warm, wet towel was draped over my feet. It felt so good I almost dribbled into the frangipanis floating in the bowl on the floor below. Then my therapist started massaging my scalp before giving me a massage that sent shivers down my body.

I left an hour later with hair oily and roughed-up from a scalp massage, eyes glazed over, sheet marks on my face from lying face down, having had a most blissful experience at the hands of a stranger. I couldn't even remember her name. I understand now why it's called Heavenly Spa.

Later, when I reunited with my travelling companion Sharon O'Brien of Spa Travel, whom I'd met hours earlier as we left Auckland, she said I looked completely "blissed out".

Sharon is a former corporate travel agent who now takes groups away on specialised spa trips. She was looking pretty content herself.

I spent the rest of the evening in a bit of a daze. Conversation over dinner was slow and I felt happily vacant. I didn't even feel like a wine. Sleep came quickly that night.

The next day, we were shipped off to the Intercontinental Fiji Resort and Spa, which occupies a stunning spot overlooking Natadola Bay. There, to our delight, we were upgraded to $1000-a-night rooms which had their own personal infinity pools and outdoor Cleopatra baths, complete with beautiful bath milk and candles.

I made the most of this by doing a few bombs into my pool before being chauffeured by golf buggy to a beachfront dinner in our own private cabana.

In the morning we were whisked off to the spa, where we were given a nut and seed bar and a herbal tea before a two and a half-hour spa treatment which started with a foot soak and an all-over sugar scrub exfoliation.

This moved on to a "four hand" massage, involving two people massaging my back and legs, first stretching my limbs, then massaging and pressing warm herbal compresses into my skin.

Next came a facial, which felt great as my therapist did figure-of-eights around my eyes and nose, pressing on pressure points on my face. When it finished, with another scalp massage, I thought I would melt into the table.

Later, over a fresh melon and tropical fruit juice, I felt very clean and refreshed and Sharon noted that my eyes looked a brighter blue and my skin was "glowing".

It was a quiet ride to the Outrigger where we spent the final two nights of our Fiji spa experience. There, we found more of a laid-back vibe, with lots of families and young couples and the loudest "bula" you've ever heard.

It's a more traditional resort and so is its spa, stationed high on a hill overlooking the Coral Coast at Sigatoka. My therapist here used her hands and forearms to massage my legs as she pulled and stretched them to get to the muscle.

This was the most intense massage of the trip, because by then I had become confident enough to ask for what I wanted (a warmer room, more pressure). One again a warm wet towel was used, but this time over my entire body, creating a sensation which was very calming.

Sharon, who has a lot of experience with this sort of thing, reckons spa treatments are all about a journey. In fact Spa Travel's motto is "journey to the new you" because of the benefits - physically, emotionally and spiritually.

I'm not sure if my first experience with spas produced a new me. But I definitely discovered a slightly more exfoliated, smooth-skinned version, who may well have got used to being pampered. It turns out, I'm a bit girly after all.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air Pacific flies from New Zealand to both Nadi and Suva.

Where to stay and spa: See Westin Denarau Island Resort and Spa; Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa or Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji, home of Bebe Spa.

Things to do: Sabeto Mud Baths, a natural thermal mud spa.

Top tips: Take mosquito repellent and sun block. Wash off makeup before a massage or your face will get squashed on the pillow and you'll come out panda-eyed.

Further information: See Tourism Fiji's website.

- NZ Herald

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