Family Special: Fiji style

By Michael Brown

The relaxed pace of the Yasawas makes for quality family time away, discovers Michael Brown and his children.
Swimming with a mantaray in Fiji.
Swimming with a mantaray in Fiji.

There's something a little risky but also exciting about playing beer pong in front of your young children.

It's not only weird for them to witness you sculling beer - well, weird for me - but is also downright bizarre that they end up cheering you on as you attempt to toss ping-pong balls into cups laden with beer (the opposition are required to down the beer if a ball lobs into a cup and stays there).

It took me back to my 21st - only the ones doing the cheering were at least 15 years younger.

It's kind of what Fiji does to you.

Your senses go into a state of relaxation (even without the beer) and you find yourself playing beer pong in front of your kids.

The wife and I travelled extensively when we were (much) younger and always said we would save the Pacific Islands for when we had kids. We like to think we are pretty clever people and it turned out to be a wise choice.

Not only was it a brilliant escape for all of us, but it was also easy.

Our then 6 and 4-year-old loved it so much they both wanted to move to Fiji to live and even now, a few weeks later, frequently ask when we can go back.

There are a couple of things we would do differently if we had our time again but it went, for the most part, very smoothly.

We spent most of the trip in the Yasawas, a chain of islands off the northwest coast of the main island of Viti Levu, which are less commercialised than other areas.

Leo and Isla Brown at Mantaray Island Resort. Photo / Michael Brown
Leo and Isla Brown at Mantaray Island Resort. Photo / Michael Brown


Resorts typically accommodate fewer than 100 people, which is ideal if you're looking for a getaway, but not all of them offer beer pong.

GETTING THERE

Pretty easy, really. Nadi is a three-hour flight from Auckland, which is just long enough for the kids to watch Frozen or Star Wars but not too long that they start playing whack-a-mole with the poor unfortunates sitting in the row in front.

Most people spend a night at Denarau, a 30-minute taxi ride from Nadi Airport, before heading to the islands.

Many even stay at one of the resorts for the duration of their stay, which makes a stay in Fiji easy.

These can be big resorts - the Radisson Blu, for example, accommodates 800 - with multiple swimming pools (even adults-only ones so individuals can escape the kids), activities like sailing and jet-skiing, spas, daycares and cultural performances.

The ferry to the Yasawas runs daily, departing Denarau at 8.30am, and stops at all the major resorts along the way from the Mamanuca Islands - which takes 30 minutes - to the Blue Lagoon in the northern Yasawas, which takes four-and-a-half hours.

It's a relaxing way to travel, especially on a calm day, and a great way to see some of the islands. The return journey runs each afternoon.

The alternative, and what we would do next time, is to take a sea plane.

Leo leaving the resort. Photo / Michael Brown
Leo leaving the resort. Photo / Michael Brown


It takes a fraction of the time - about 30 minutes to the central Yasawas as opposed to three hours - and can be done on arrival in Denarau. It's obviously more expensive than the ferry but allows you to get all of your travel done in one day.

The temperature is pretty constant throughout the year (28C in July and 31C from December-April) but the summer wet season makes late March to early December the best time to go there.

The 6-year-old: "I loved it when the boat was rocking because I have sea legs."

Rating: 4/5

The 4-year-old: "I had chippies and a cold drink on the boat. I loved going to the front and looking where we were going."

Rating: 4/5 ("because I am 4")

• For more on the Yasawa Flyer ferry, see awesomefiji.com/transfers. For more on the sea plane option, see pacificislandair.com

WHERE TO STAY

There are about 15 resorts on the Yasawas and which suit all budgets.

We stayed in two places barely 2km apart (as the mynah bird flies).

Mantaray Island Resort had everything from dorm rooms ($30 a night) through to beautiful beachfront villas ($350 a night), while Paradise Cove is more upmarket with accommodation for couples from approximately $200-$730.

It's impossible to do your own thing when it comes to food, so daily meal plans are offered on top of the price for your room.

Again, a range is on offer from set menus to top-of-the-range a la carte dining and they even.

The 6-year-old: "They have an outside restaurant and they perform a dance. The Fijian people used sticks to fight."

Rating: 5/5

The 4-year-old: "I loved the flowers on the bed because I love flowers."

Rating: 5/5

• For more on Mantaray Island Resort, see mantarayisland.com. For Paradise Cove, see paradisecoveresortfiji.com.

Fijian children playing in the surf.
Fijian children playing in the surf.


DITCHING THE KIDS

Let's be honest, we all need space from the kids from time to time. The great thing about most Fijian resorts is the fact they offer babysitting services and, in many cases, daycare.

Our kids were asking if they could go to kids' club (maybe this section should be renamed, Ditching the Oldies), which offer cool activities like boat trips, cooking lessons, coconut husking, hair braiding and swimming and even supervise a kids' dinner so you can even have a dining experience like it used to be before the children came along.

Even if the resort doesn't have a daycare, the staff are amazing with kids and willing to help out for a few hours.

The 6-year-old: "It was fun because we got to do lots of activities and we watched movies at night."

Rating: 5/5

The 4-year-old: "I liked getting braids in my hair because Lani did them and I like Lani."

Rating: 5/5

WHAT TO DO

Doing pretty much nothing is possible in these resorts because of the childcare options but there are plenty of things to do.

High on your list should be swimming with the manta rays. These magnificent creatures are larger than stingrays (they can grow up to 7m wide and 1350kg).

They look and move a little like stealth bombers but are less threatening, given they have no sting in the tail, and feed in the channel directly off the beach of Mantaray Island Resort from May to October.

The diving is also world-class, the fishing excellent - and the beer pong fun.

Plus there's the beachside massage, cocktails and sunset cruises - and absence of the pesky jet-skis or para-sailingboats you get on the mainland - and it really is the perfect tropical retreat.

The 6-year-old: "I went on a snorkelling trip and I got to see a lot of cool fish, like a Nemo fish.

The manta rays look like they have a stinging thing but it doesn't actually sting."

Rating: 5/5

The 4-year-old: "I wish I was a baby butterfly because I like butterflies."

Rating: 5/5

Isla Brown at Mantaray Island Resort. Photo  Michael Brown
Isla Brown at Mantaray Island Resort. Photo Michael Brown


Checklist

Getting there

Fiji Airways flies direct between Auckland and Nadi, with return Economy fares starting at $615. fijiairways.com

Details
For information on planning a trip to Fiji, go to fiji.travel.

- NZ Herald

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