It's different, it's fun and it's only three hours away, Peter Malcouronne looks at island festivities.
It's meant to be the best day of the year (bar your birthday), but an Aotearoa Christmas usually means underwhelming weather, drunk uncles, grasping loot-laden brats and Snoopy and the bloody Red Baron. It doesn't have to be like this. Just three hours north, you can have the best Christmas since the Lego era. Here are eight reasons to head for Fiji:
1 - A White Island Christmas: He arrives by boat. Ponies stand in for reindeer. A splendidly decorated golf-buggy is his sleigh. Trailed by 100 kids, Father Christmas pootles around the Hilton-managed Fiji Beach Resort & Spa, doling out presents - bickies, toys, perhaps even a Transformer - to well-behaved small people. And though Fiji averages 31C in December, the Hiltonians have gone for a white island theme this year. So picture Doric columns and island cabanas sheathed in white - and now imagine you're lounging on a beanbag as Christmas lunch is served. Not bad. (Incidentally, Grinches can adjourn to one of the resort's four adult-only pools. No bombs allowed).
2 - Feast like a Medieval Despot: The Intercontinental is feted for its Christmas feasts of intergalactic proportions. The Navo restaurant has a special degustation menu on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day, though SaNasana's buffet banquets are legendary. Post-feast, it's recommended you waddle to the neighbouring Vijiay Singh-designed golf course where you can whip round in 70. Or so.
3 - Rub 'n' Rug: Fiji has more spas - and more gifted rugby players - per capita then anywhere else on the planet. Make the most of this. Spas give you the option of "silence" or "light conversation" with your masseuse, so opt for the latter, and then say the magic words "Sitiveni Sivivatu". If there is a heaven, it'll resemble the Fiji Beach Resort & Spa where your correspondent was more chillaxed than any man in a paper-tissue G-string has a right to be. I endured a "de-aging" saltmousse scrub, then an hour-long frangipani and coconut cream massage. And I can report that my masseuse, Meme, has sorted out the Blues' midfield for 2013.
4 - Channel Robinson Crusoe: Denaurau's beaches are not its strongest suit, but Starwood Hotels, which include the Westin, Sheraton Fiji Resort and extended-whanau-friendly Sheraton Denarau Villas in its stable, owns its own island. How Michael Fay. Akuilau is a kilometre off-shore, well within kayak range, though the hotels run a free transfer service there and back on the half hour. I had Daniel Defoe ready to go on the Kindle, but after busting open a coconut on a rock, decided to sleep instead.
5 - Farm out the Kids: The big resorts run excellent Kids' Clubs, although it can be a problem when it's time to head home and your kids pretend they don't know you. Plantation Island has Fijian dancing, crab-racing, T-shirt painting and basket-weaving on the programme, as well as traditional New Zealand cultural activities such as tug o' war and "go home, stay home" (though sadly no bullrush). An observation. Fifty per cent of Fiji's visitors are Australian, 15 per cent New Zealanders.
During a game of Musical Statues, in which the competitors must freeze and hold a pose when the music stops, I saw several eliminated Australians surreptitiously edging their way back into the game. I was outraged. But then I realised the little convicts couldn't help themselves - cheating's in their genes.
6 - A good excuse to hang on 'til New Years. Plantation's engaging Api Vasu has seen in 13 New Years on the island. We have the best music, he boasts. Certainly the RFMF - Royal Fiji Military Forces - band's repertoire is impressive: they do the classics - the Dancing Queens, the Nine to Fives, The Gamblers - and their rendition of the epic E Dua Na Siga Au Vakanananu is reportedly the best in all Fiji. "What about Single Ladies?" I asked Api. "Of course." "And, erm, Bananarama?" "Um, maybe." An inside tip: learn the Tui Boto (snake dance) before you go and dominate the dance floor. It's on YouTube.
7 - The usual Fiji Idyll: There are the thousand miles of beaches spread over 333 islands where the water's warm and you can snorkel all day and meet innumerable Nemos. Tennis courts, volleyball courts. Yet it's terribly easy to just do nothing when you're here. Having said that, I'd urge visitors to go to church on Sunday where the Wesleyan hymns are sung so lustily - no Anglo-Saxon diffidence here - that even Richard Dawkins would waver (and probably cry). Oh ... one more thing. Try some Christmas kava.
8 - Father Christmas. He Lives! Despite my schoolmates' derision, I believed in the big-bellied one until I was 8. That was the year I asked for a Tasmanian tiger - and then saw my father enter my room, read a letter not addressed to him, then drink Father Christmas' Raro and eat his Anzac biscuits. Terribly disillusioning.
But here you're given a reason to believe again. I'd been told the Hilton's Father Christmas moonlights as a concierge. I heard he had white hair and a bit of a tum. I was walking through the resort when I saw Pauliasi Vukinano. I look at him quizzically. He looks back, smile broadening. "Are you ... are you him? Are you Santa? Father Christmas?" Pauliasi looks confused for a moment, then laughs.
He puts his arm around my shoulders. "It is true," he says. "I am him. But you can't tell anybody."
* Peter Malcouronne travelled as a guest of Tourism Fiji.