Fiji: Welcome to the last resort

By Andrew Stone

Andrew Stone enjoys the experience of being marooned on a desert island in Fiji.

Picnicking on a succulent array of seafood and tropical fruit while perched on a sandbar is the perfect introduction to a stay at Nukubati. Photo / Supplied
Picnicking on a succulent array of seafood and tropical fruit while perched on a sandbar is the perfect introduction to a stay at Nukubati. Photo / Supplied

Salote, our skipper, waved as she fired up the runabout.

"See you tomorrow," she laughed, enjoying the alarm registering on our faces. We were surrounded by the blue Pacific, alone on a tidal sandbank and 5km across the sea from our resort.

Well, not quite alone. Before Salote fizzed away, she had unloaded a picnic table and two chairs, a giant sun umbrella and chilly bin crammed with delights. So as the tide lapped in at least we wouldn't starve.

In a country crowded with getaway choices, this is how Fiji's Nukubati ( pronounced "Noo-kum-baati") Resort likes to welcome its guests. As a point of difference it has a lot going for it: the sea is warm year-round, and the packed lunch was first-class - chilli chicken pieces, sweet prawns, chunks of watermelon and pawpaw, and fresh baked homemade bread.

On this day the weather was a challenge. A strong sea breeze whipped across our deserted island but by tipping the giant brolly on its edge we made a shelter and spent three lazy hours wondering about Salote.

We needn't have. She returned, beaming, late in the afternoon and took us back to our water-edge bure via a group of locals spear-fishing in lagoon waters. One man proudly waved an octopus. Another held a bag up crammed with reef fish.

"We might be eating some of those," remarked Salote, as she nosed the boat towards the resort.

Nukubati is a tiny coconut-fringed private island, just off the northwest coast of Vanua Levu, Fiji's second island. Getting there involves a flight from Nadi or Suva to the sugar town of Labasa, and then an hour's drive down the coast through old copra plantations and regenerating rainforest.

That might seem an ask, but the effort to reach this little gem well off Fiji's main tourist axis is rewarding.

The resort has a South Seas feel: the seven bures all face the water, and high tide reaches within five metres of the porch. The owners have assembled a library with over 3000 books, many dealing with Pacific history and culture. Just the ticket for a relaxed browse. Ceiling fans lazily stir the tropical air and cane furniture is perfect for kicking back, cocktail at hand.

The food is top notch and contemporary Pacific in style and flavours. Fish - sold directly to the kitchen from local villagers - is super fresh and a prolific tropical garden ensures a steady supply of vegetables, herbs, spices and fresh fruit. Effectively a mini-village, the resort strives hard to be environmentally friendly. Power comes from an array of large solar panels, hidden from view by mango trees and lush bush. It's quiet, restful and private but this may change as the owners weigh up whether to turn their remote slice of paradise into a dive destination.

We spent two nights on Nukubati and had the island to ourselves. It rained half the time, which disappointed owner Jenny Leewai Bourke as she wanted us to see the resort's priceless drawcard - the Great Sea Reef. Thirty minutes away on the resort's dive boat, the 150km-long reef, still largely uncharted, is the third largest in the world. Underwater photographs on Nukubati's walls capture the rewards which await divers - manta rays, endangered green turtles and rare spinner dolphins, even whales at the right time of year. If snorkelling is more your thing, hectares of hard and soft corals lie in easy reach.

Sensing that we weren't going far - the island is just a few hectares and takes all of 25 minutes to stroll around - staff came to the party with an impromptu floor show dedicated to the coconut tree. Worshipped by Fijians as the tree of life, Nukubati has the full range of coconut specimens, from green emergent seedlings poking out of sturdy husks, to elegant 30m mature trees, crowned by fronds rustling in the tropical breeze.

Sitting cross-legged on the resort's lounge floor, we sip cool juice poured from a freshly opened immature coconut. This liquid, we learn, is like "mother's milk" for babies or sickly youngsters.

Flesh from a slightly older coconut is squeezed to make a thicker fluid we recognise as the milk for a tasty curry, or fresh fish entree. Clumsily we try to grate the white meat amid much giggling at our amateurish efforts.

A little oil is produced by squeezing and straining flesh - it feels silky smooth and smells a treat. While the life-giving qualities of the fruit are explained, several women expertly weave dried fronds into baskets, panels and mats.

Husk from an older nut is rolled into tough cords by practised hands - there is seemingly no end to the use of this tenacious plant.

The show ends with a dance or meke to celebrate the remarkable coconut. Fired with a few mouthfuls of kava, sipped - naturally - from coconut shells, we pad across the floor, feet shuffling over mats which a few days ago were growing outside in the rain.

CHECKLIST

* Getting there: Regional airline Pacific Sun flies to Labasa from Nadi or Suva. Sea planes can be arranged from Nadi, which land at the resort. A 4WD delivers visitors from Labasa airport.

* What to do: Explore the Great Sea Reef, fish, catch crabs, get married, take a 4m catamaran for a sail, unwind.

* Further information: nukubati.com

Andrew Stone stayed at Nukubati courtesy of the resort. Fiji Tourism assisted with travel.

- NZ Herald

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