Fiji: Between two worlds

By Scott Kara

Scott Kara takes his family to Fiji's Coral Coast where they experience two extremes of island life.

The Intercontinental Golf Resort and Spa in Fiji. Photo / Supplied
The Intercontinental Golf Resort and Spa in Fiji. Photo / Supplied

Orisi, a striking and mischievous-looking lad from the river village of Vunaqow, is a gentleman as he takes my little girl, Mia, by the hand and starts dancing.

At the end of the song, one of the many tunes the villagers entertain us with in the community hall after lunch, he kisses her hand politely and sits back down on the floor with the other kids.

But outside the hall he turns into a Fijian homie, posturing for the camera and throwing freaky finger salutes. He's excited and, like the many other kids, looks forward to Tuesdays when the tourists come up the Sigatoka River - Fiji's longest on the largest island of Viti Levu - bearing gifts of colouring-in pencils, rugby balls, and other goodies.

These gifts are valuable, because it's fair to say Vunaqow is a simple subsistence settlement of about 300 people.

They have had electricity for only 18 months, the buildings are patchworks of corrugated iron, concrete and wood, and in the fields bullocks and horses still pull the ploughs.

The village is a riproaring, half-hour jetboat ride up the river from the town of Sigatoka, which is also known as Rugby Town, an hour or so from Nadi on the rugby-mad Coral Coast.

To get here Mia and I jumped on board one of Sigatoka River Safari's thrill-seeking jetboats, which are made by New Zealand adventure jetboating pioneer Neil Ross.

The company makes the trip up the river twice a day, visiting a different village each day of the week.

Orisi and Mia Kara dancing at the Fijian village Vunaqow on the Sigatoka River.
Orisi and Mia Kara dancing at the Fijian village Vunaqow on the Sigatoka River.

As is tradition, we are welcomed at Vunaqow with a yaqona (kava) ceremony, with its speeches and ritual triple hand-claps. The muddy, tongue-tickling drink sure helps you slip into Fijian village time.

Throughout the visit Mia is intrigued, at times a little wary, but you can tell she's taking it all in, and is especially fascinated by these barefoot, slightly grubby and very happy-looking kids.

Going to the toilet is fascinating too - and a little scary.

She's never been in one like this before, with cracked and leaking concrete, thick cobwebs, and gaping holes in the walls.

She stops in the door way, and says sweetly, "They need to clean their toilet, Dad," before hopping tentatively on to the seat.

Ah yes, that's what travelling is all about - opening your eyes to the way other people live. Although I don't tell Mia about the large spider that pings out from underneath the lip of the toilet bowl when I flush it for her.

It's fair to say Mia's favourite part of the day is getting soaking wet as our jetboat driver, cheeky Captain Freddy, does a series of 360-degree spins on the way home.

But judging by the number of times she mentions Orisi, and how he kissed her hand, she's also pretty chuffed about her new Fijian boyfriend.

Back at the resort it could be another world. Katie, although only two, looks like an old hand at sunbathing as she lounges on her very own deck chair beside the pool eating an icecream.

Mia is in heaven too as she slurps on her slushy, even though her teeth are chattering, and her lips have turned blue having only just got out of the pool after more than an hour.

"This is the best day ever, Daddy," she says passionately.

Not that we've done much. Just got up, had breakfast, hit the beach and now we're at the pool. It helps we're at the Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa on the shores of Natadola Bay, one of Fiji's best beaches.

Perhaps the only thing that isn't perfect about this beautiful manicured luxury playground is the temperature of the pools.

They are chilly, even though it's around 28C outside.

Orisi and Mia Kara at the Fijian village Vunaqow on the Sigatoka River.
Orisi and Mia Kara at the Fijian village Vunaqow on the Sigatoka River.

Not that the kids care. Kids being kids, you take them to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world and they would rather swim in the pool.

So my wife, Libby, and I find ourselves, with other adults, walking gingerly through the water trying to avoid getting splashed as kids splash and play.

Oh well, it's mostly the girls' holiday, for the daylight hours at least. Libby longs to be back at the beach where the water is tropical and full of fish.

Me, I'm daydreaming about the best breakfast buffet I've ever had.

It was at SaNasana Restaurant this morning where I had a pastry, fresh fruit and delicious smoked fish.

Then there was last night at Navo - the resort's restaurant overlooking the beach and lagoon - where I had the best crayfish kokoda I've ever had. In fact, it's the only crayfish kokoda I've ever had, but it was the best thing I've eaten in years.

And then you can't beat the fish curry at the family-friendly Toba Bar and Grill.

The Intercontinental Golf Resort and Spa in Fiji.
The Intercontinental Golf Resort and Spa in Fiji.

Anyway, back in the real world, the kids are harping on about going back in the pool. So I brace myself, and take the plunge.

The pools may be freezing but tonight the Intercontinental comes up with the perfect sunset. Miraculously, over the course of the hour or so that the sun is going down, everyone in the family is happy doing their own thing.

I'm sitting on the grass with a beer, Libby has a glass of wine, Katie is building sandcastles and Mia is off running round happily with her new friend, Ava.

Rare moments of contented family holiday bliss like this are so precious that I wouldn't even trade them for a crayfish kokoda.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Fiji Airways fly daily to Nadi.

Where to stay: The Intercontinental Golf Resort and Spa, an hour's drive from Nadi.

What to do: Sigatoka River Safari.

Scott Kara and family travelled to Fiji with assistance from Tourism Fiji and stayed courtesy of Intercontinental Golf Resort and Spa.

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