Fiji: An offer you can't refuse

By Pam Neville

Pam Neville follows the Mob to a pristine piece of Fiji.

Paradise Cove Resort on Naukacuvu Island is about as out-of-the-way as you can get. Photo / Pam Neville
Paradise Cove Resort on Naukacuvu Island is about as out-of-the-way as you can get. Photo / Pam Neville

The Mafia got to paradise before us. The Italian underworld arrived with bags of money and big plans to build a hotel and casino on beautiful Naukacuvu Island in the Yasawa chain of Fiji.

It's easy to see why they came. This is about as out-of-the-way as you can get if you want a secret hideaway where the world won't see you enjoying your ill-gotten gains.

Naukacuvu is 40km off the coast of Viti Levu, Fiji's main island, and postcard-perfect.

The Mafioso taste in tropical islands is clearly impeccable.

If you could start from scratch and design the perfect tropical island, you might put a long, white-sand beach along the sheltered side, lapped by crystal-clear water and shaded by coconut palms. Perhaps a pristine snorkelling reef at one end and a surf break at the other end? And a rocky coastline facing the Pacific Ocean for fishing and diving?

Tick all those boxes for Mafia Island, as Naukacuvu is nowadays nicknamed.

About the only thing God - or whoever designed this island - forgot is a river and sparkling waterfall. But it wasn't the lack of fresh water that drove the Mafia away.

The story goes that an Italian hitman was chasing them. Something to do with unpaid debts and a dispute over which branch of the Mafia family actually owned the proceeds of crime being spent here.

No one knows the exact details, but the Italians suddenly abandoned Mafia Island - and the project they'd been working on for a decade - and disappeared. There has been no sign of them since. Are they back in Italy or did something more sinister happen?

They left behind a good road to the top of the island, the walls of extensive gardens they had begun and a derelict two-storey building - the first stage of the "Mafia hotel".

All this happened in the 1980s and 90s. After the Mafia vanished, the island reverted to the care of the local owners who live in Soso Village on neighbouring Naviti Island.

Mafia Island was pretty much unused for nearly 20 years until a sparkling new resort opened this year.

Paradise Cove Resort is as lovely as anything the Mafia could have planned. It is owned by the same people who run Blue Lagoon Resort and Octopus Island Resort in other islands of the Yasawas. They have a 99-year lease on the land.

The restaurant food is very good: you could be dining in one of the finer resorts on the mainland. Fresh fish, especially tuna and the delicious Spanish mackerel, is a speciality.

The swimming pool is more than adequate for the numbers of guests, and the poolside bar makes a decent flat white.

Visitors enjoy all-tide swimming off the beach, snorkelling, kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, fishing and diving trips. There are also the usual meke performances, cooking classes, yoga, walks, sulu-tying and kids' club.

There were very few downsides during my brief holiday. We did have a rat in our room one night - a rare event which led to a visit by the Paradise Cove rat-catcher carrying a Fijian rat trap. This is a dinner plate smothered in glue with a piece of coconut in the middle. Rat runs to eat the coconut, gets stuck, and the laughing rat-catcher carries him away. Works a treat.

When we visited, Paradise Cove had 18 bures and plans to double that number. Perhaps in a nod to the Italian connection, the bures here are called "villas".

Would I go again? Yes. Ideally, arriving and leaving by float plane, staying in a beach-front villa and spending at least a week on the island. Dreams are free.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Fiji Airways flies daily from Auckland to Nadi. The Mafia had a helipad, but it's a bit overgrown.

There are three main options to get to Naukacuvu Island: Float plane, the large Yasawa Flyer ferry, or the resort's own boat. The float plane is best, if budget allows. The Yasawa Flyer is the most comfortable sea option, but usually necessitates overnighting in Nadi. The resort's boat is fine for adults who don't mind a few bumps. It takes about two hours and usually ties in with flight arrivals and departures. If the sea is rough, I would not recommend it for preschoolers. Older children who can hold on to the seats are fine.

Further information: See paradisecoveresort.com.fj.

- NZ Herald

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