I'm a travel snob.
If I'm going to take time out of my busy schedule for a holiday, there'll be no backpacks, no smelly dorms and no "getting back to nature". So when I was offered a trip to Fiji hosted by 5 star resort, the Outrigger on the Lagoon, on the Coral Coast I was immediately excited.
I'd been to Fiji before, staying a long way from the Coral Coast at Denarau Island. For those who haven't been there, it's like Fiji's version of the Las Vegas strip. Denarau Island is packed with luxury resort after luxury resort. I considered it my kind of destination.
But I'm now a changed woman. There's more to a holiday than just being in awe of luxury.
The Coral Coast (at the bottom left of Fiji) has the best of both words. It's a combination of the fine things in life coupled with the real Fiji (minus the plastic coating).
The Outrigger is Fiji's first 5 star resort. But that doesn't mean it's old and rundown for a swanky joint.
It's just undergone a massive revamp, not only of the grounds and facilities, but management and staffing.
The team has more than doubled in the past year, going from about 600 workers to around 1300 - taking the level of service to beyond impressive.
There's two styles of accommodation over the expansive 16ha property - including 207 flash and roomy hotel rooms/suites and 47 free-standing thatched bures.
One of the coolest things about the resort is the young man who is employed to stand at the end of the resort's driveway and greet everyone as they head up to the main entrance.
His loud and welcoming voice sings "Bula, bulaaaaaaaa". I truly thought he was there just to welcome us, but turns out that's what he does all day.
As we arrived, the looks on the faces of the staff were excited. They swarmed over us like royalty. Do all guests get the same treatment? Turns out they do. What a way to start a break.
Five things you must not miss:
Go to the Coral Coast Fiji 7s:
The purpose of our trip was to experience the Coral Coast Fiji 7s. The relatively new tournament is building each year with teams coming from the surrounding islands, New Zealand and Australia. The goal is for the tournament to gain IRB status. Fiji is ready for this and deserves the exposure, plus it gives one of the world's most successful teams a chance to shine. The tournament is truly electric. Although still on a relatively small scale, the atmosphere and excitement at the grounds is fitting for a 7s tournament. The highlight of last year's tournament (for me at least) was having Jonah Lomu as a guest.
Go on a Sigatoka River Safari:
I have travelled to many countries and have experienced many great adventures but I can't remember enjoying anything more than this. This is where you truly meet the real Fiji. The warmth and hospitality of the locals blows you away. You board one of the jet boats and are taken on a trip of the river before arriving at one of the living villages where you experience a day in the life of the real Fijian people. There's singing, dancing, an amazing lunch and, of course, a kava session. Making leaving this amazing experience only slightly easier is knowing your witty jet boat driver is there to pick you up and take you on a thrill-seeking ride of the river to wrap up your experience perfectly.
Walk the Sigatoka Sand Dunes:
Who knew such a breathtaking sight existed in Fiji - desert-like mounds of sand right next to the beautiful coast. For those wanting a bit of exercise amid all the resort's cocktails, you can't go past the sand dunes. It's rich in archaeological history and is one of Fiji's earliest recorded prehistoric sites. Covering 650ha, the dunes are a great spot for a relaxing stroll or a more vigorous work out. Turns out, this is the spot where the Fijian rugby teams do their training. I'd recommend a guided two-hour walk, which is what we did, to ensure you learn about your surroundings and not take a wrong turn.
Treat yourself at the Outrigger on the Lagoon Bebe Spa Sanctuary:
Remember me saying I was a travel snob? No trip to a luxury resort is complete without indulging yourself in a spa treatment and the Outrigger's Bebe Spa Sanctuary is among the best in the world. The feeling of being pampered begins as you leave your room, are driven up the hill in a little cart to the highest point of the resort to see the breathtaking views. As you lounge around taking in the facilities in your robe, it's almost a shame to get the treatment underway. During my stay, I experienced two treatments, a two-person massage and a body scrub and massage. Both were amazing.
What about the food?:
I picked a bad week to watch what I ate. While Fiji is renowned for its amazing fruits and vegetables, don't go holding back sampling the outstanding cuisine at the Outrigger on the Lagoon. The resort boasts four main restaurants, all with very different menus and price ranges. We were lucky enough to sample all of them. But it was Ivi Restaurant that stole the show with its fine dining and service to match. It's no wonder this restaurant is the most awarded in Fiji. One of the highlights for me was hearing the sounds of live musicians sprinkled amid the restaurants and bars. The resort employs a team of musicians who chop and change their line-up according to what is required, from a seven-piece dance band to a soloist on acoustic guitar.
How to get there: There are heaps of flight and package deal options, but try Air Pacific to Nadi from Auckland for the standard fare of around $347 one way.
Where to stay: Outrigger on the Lagoon, Coral Coast.
Should I take the kids?: Of course? The Outrigger on the Lagoon has amazing facilities for children.
When should I go?: Anytime throughout the year. Fiji's average maximum temperature is always good, ranging from 28C to 31C. The rainy season hits January to March but it's nice and dry from April onwards (perfect if you're wanting to extend our summer).
Is it safe?: Definitely. Political unrest has settled and in terms of crime, like anywhere, all travellers should use common sense.