Fiji: Just 15 steps to crystal waters

By Pebbles Hooper

On her first trip to Fiji, Pebbles Hooper relaxes, learns to snorkel and savours friendly welcomes from charming people.

Sundowner restaurant is one of 10 restaurants and bars at Outrigger on the Lagoon resort, which caters well for for all ages.
Sundowner restaurant is one of 10 restaurants and bars at Outrigger on the Lagoon resort, which caters well for for all ages.

When thinking about Fiji, a very concise and particular set of thoughts are evoked when imagining the trip ahead. For many Kiwis, Fiji was experienced at an early age: trips with family, or friends, playing by the pool, getting your hair braided in unflattering corn-rows with multicoloured beads attached at the end, and spending most of the holiday confined within the boundaries of the resort.

So for me, at 24, I was curious to see what my first trip to Fiji would have in store, as I was travelling alone as an adult without a pack of children looking to rampage the complimentary buffet.

Before I left, friends warned me that Fijian resort food was terrible. This struck me as odd, considering they're surrounded by fresh seafood, tropical fruit and meat produce from neighbours New Zealand and Australia.

So, knowing little about the place, its culture and food, I embarked on a tour of Fiji with an open mind - ready to face a holiday of 80s prawn cocktails and pina coladas.

First stop was Outrigger on the Lagoon resort, in Sigatoka. It's a vast place, 16ha.

When I arrived, there were groups of all ages and it was clear the resort catered for the diverse clientele it attracted. It has two pools (separate for children and adults) and 10 bars and restaurants.

The management at Outrigger hotels has made huge changes in recent years, broadening the range of food and bringing in local Fijian chefs and meals.

Wherever you go in Fiji, a friendly call of "Bula!" is never far away. We took a village tour - I was eager to experience some Fijian culture, to see where and how the people of such a beautiful place live.

A group of us travelled by speedboat up Sirogata River to the village of Koronisagana, the name of which means "Thigh Village". This originates from its days of cannibalism. Not an image that usually pops up when you see these friendly faces, but it's all part of the experience.

Our tour guide explained to us that "Thigh Village" comes from the days when the chief would have first dibs after someone had been unlucky enough to make it on to the dinner plate. Thighs were the choicest cut.

Once there, we were given a tour around the village and a lunch hosted by the families - happily, most of the food was vegetarian. Sundays are their days to feast on wild boar - we visited on a Saturday, so no thighs on this trip.

Possibly my favourite activity on my trip was the two-hour appointment at Bebe Spa in Outrigger. It's located at the hotel on Vakalomalagi Hill, which overlooks the entire resort.

The spa is a sanctuary escape that feels like you've been whisked away to the middle of nowhere (in reality you're about four minutes in a golf buggy from the lobby of Outrigger). After a two-hour treatment of deep-tissue massage from one of their impossibly strong therapists, I thought how wonderful it is that Fiji encourages rest and relaxation wherever you go,

Our last nights in Fiji were spent at Castaway Island resort. This was separate from the main island, on Qalito Island, and accessible only by boat. A large part of travelling is indeed the travelling. We transferred from ferry to small motorboat mid-ocean. This was something I'd never seen before, but I was all over it, the total island experience wouldn't have been the same if we'd simply pulled up in a huge boat. No, we came humble and proper.

Greeted by yet more cheery shouts of "Bula!" and locals playing ukeleles on the beach, this resort was my kind of place.

Not to say there wasn't a child in sight, but the sheer hassle of getting there would surely discourage many large families. So I was happy.

This resort doesn't have as many facilities as Outrigger because it doesn't need to.

At any point on the island you're no more than a stone's throw from the ocean, and it has two pools, two restaurants, a bar and - crucially - a massage bure.

I was lucky enough to nab myself an Ocean View Bure. This meant when I walked out of my door, I was 15 steps from jumping into the cleanest, most crystal blue water I've ever seen since watching Finding Nemo.

Castaway Island resort offers a large list of activities, including scuba diving, snorkelling, waterskiing, parasailing, jet-skiing and more. I squeezed in my first snorkelling experience.

Being a Kiwi, I felt embarrassed that I'd never snorkelled before - so I winged it as all good Kiwis do.

Our guide, Aku, looked like a Fijian prince.

The ladies on my trip were becoming rosy-cheeked as he explained the safety brief and offered assistance with the flippers.

He would've undoubtedly have been a good selling point on the snorkelling package, I certainly wasn't complaining. This Castaway Island isn't the one made famous by the Tom Hanks movie of the same name - that's a 15-minute boat trip away, and one of the main tourist attractions for the hotel.

We took a boat to see the island and it's exactly what you'd expect. A big green island in the middle of paradise. Except there's no chance of getting stranded. The waters are busy with tourists.

There is something truly serene about these islands. Although you're surrounded by all the mod-cons to keep you comfortable - thank goodness for free Wi-Fi and air-conditioning as many are unaware of the thermonuclear temperatures Fiji can reach.

Both resorts have managed to retain a sense of the Fijians' culture and lifestyle, and it's hard to resist the genuine charm, friendliness and laidback ways of the islands' people.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Air New Zealand and Fiji Airways have daily departures from Auckland to Nadi.

Further information: See bulafiji.com.

The writer travelled courtesy of Outrigger Hotels and Resorts Fiji.

- NZ Herald

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