Exploring Fiji's spectacular Mamanuca islands

By Kris Shannon

Kris Shannon explores Fijian islands with plenty of reasons to make you stay.

Monuriki Island is where Tom Hanks' character found himself marooned in the 2000 movie 'Castaway'.
Monuriki Island is where Tom Hanks' character found himself marooned in the 2000 movie 'Castaway'.

We were idling about 100 metres off the coast of Castaway Island, a slice of paradise that was the setting for the 2000 film, when we spotted a bright light and some shadowy figures on the beach.

Our island-hopping tour in the Mamanuca chain of Fiji's vast sprawl had previously been progressing so pleasantly. That steep cliff, our guide had said, was where "Tom Hanks tried to suicide himself". And those rock pools, he had relayed, was where Hanks' character found the bloated body of his doomed flight's captain.

Monuriki Island was uninhabited in the film - if a little less surrounded by the outcrops that would have left Hanks a short swim to salvation - and it was meant to be untouched now.

But amid the early-morning gloom there was what seemed to be a signal from a torch - had we just happened upon some real-life castaways?

Alas, as we contemplated a daring rescue mission, our boat's radio piped to life, with the voice at the other end telling us in no uncertain terms to move along.

Our "castaways" were in fact nothing more than the production team for the latest series of Survivor. But that's the type of company a tourist can keep in this area.

The Mamanucas have in recent years hosted Oprah Winfrey, Lenny Kravitz and even Benji Marshall. And at the heart of the chain is Malolo, home to twin resorts that are suitable for guests of all ranks - whether or not they have ever been on camera.

Although, a movie deal would probably help at Likuliku Lagoon, a luxurious couples-only retreat where Hanks, if he had any sense, should have stranded himself.

There would certainly be worse places to wash ashore in need of some R&R. The only resort in Fiji with over-water bures - the type where the tropical fish can be seen swimming under the coffee table - Likuliku is lush and lavishly appointed.

In fact, there can be little temptation to leave the rooms. Except perhaps to head for the deck, where an outdoor bed provides the perfect opportunity to stare out at the crystal-clear waters, while an adjacent plunge pool can assist those unwilling to stagger all the way to the beach.

If all the relaxation is proving too repetitive, however, book a ticket for the island-hopping tour or perhaps the sunset cruise. Malolo is, after all, known by locals as the "island where the sun comes to rest", and the sight of it dipping below the horizon is spectacular.

It's also rather romantic - or at least it would have been for the two couples on the small motorboat had a pesky journalist not been tagging along. Who knows, one thing could lead to another, and the next visit to Fiji may be around the bay at Malolo Island Resort, Likuliku's family-centric neighbour.

Featuring a little less luxury, it's nonetheless a lovely spot for a family vacation, with a plethora of activities to keep the little ones busy.

It's all enough for young and old to grow rather fond of life in the Mamanucas - and make you wonder why Hanks and his volleyball were so eager to leave.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Fiji Airways flies daily from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch to Nadi.

Further information: See fiji.travel.

- NZ Herald

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