The warmth of the people is the winner, writes Guy Heveldt.

Two words that will forever put a smile on my face: "Bula Vinaka!" From the moment I stepped off the plane in Nadi, to setting foot on the flight home, these two words — often shouted and projected from the happiest of faces — were the highlight of my time in Fiji.

Yes, there are the beautiful beaches and incredible reefs just off the coast, along with delicious food, fresh fruit and endless outdoor activities under the golden sun, but it's the people who make Fiji feel like home.

Making the 45-minute drive from Nadi airport to five-star InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa in Natadola Bay is a humbling and eye-opening experience. Knowing you're heading towards bliss while speeding past Third World villages is sobering.

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However, you have only to look at the smiles of the villagers to warm the very depths of the heart.

No matter the weather, there's a game of rugby, football or some sort of tag/bullrush to keep the cries of laughter and joy emanating around the eye-catching scenery.

"Bula Vinaka!" rings out again on arrival at the InterContinental, where it seems that every guest is treated like royalty. From the ceremonial-type presentation of a shell necklace when walking into the open-air reception area, it's difficult not to be instantly relaxed.

The ever-reliable in-resort transport is on hand to escort guests to rooms all across the vast expanse of the InterContinental.

And the rooms — or downstairs villa in my fortunate case — are perfect. An ideal size for a couple, with all the privacy you would hope and expect from a five-star resort.

Smiles are everywhere. Photo / 123RF
Smiles are everywhere. Photo / 123RF

The air-conditioning proved a godsend when needing to escape the Fijian heat, or, if you'd prefer to cool down in another way, there's your own pool just a few steps outside the villa door.

For those keen to satisfy their palate, there's a fine range of options. Navo — the InterContinental's top range restaurant, is pricey, but worth every cent with delectable dishes from a broad menu, to a vast range of wines. There are also three other dining options on offer — all with quality choices on the menu.

Dust off the golf clubs because Natadola Bay Golf Club — the home of the Fiji International — is just a short journey up the hill. But be prepared — it's no Sunday stroll.

This is a golf course that will provide a test for even top-level golfers, especially if the wind is blowing, which is almost a certainty.

The windswept freeways can be a challenge. Photo / Guy Heveldt
The windswept freeways can be a challenge. Photo / Guy Heveldt

Although the course will provide a challenge, it's equally as difficult to not be distracted by the endless views along rolling fairways out to the Pacific Ocean.

If you are interested in watching the professionals attempt to tame Natadola Bay, book your trip around the Fiji International — this year taking place from August 17-20.

Despite it not being a huge tournament on the global golfing calendar, it is starting to attract some of the top players. The past two tournaments have been won by Americans — PGA Tour regular Matt Kuchar and recently-crowned Ryder Cup winner Brandt Snedeker.

For those who find golf "a good walk ruined", days could be spent walking the coastline, relaxing on the beach or getting a massage or spa treatment, the choice is yours.

Almost anywhere you are in Fiji, you're not far from the golden beaches and blue ocean water. But if you want to get closer still, Blue Lagoon Cruises offer trips around some of the most idyllic islands in the country. These cruises are ideal for those who want to enjoy a swim, snorkel, sunbathe as well as some dancing on the boat when the sun goes down.

For those susceptible to sea-sickness, it's best to take some pills just in case it's the rainy season (we were certainly thrown around for a few hours, which made for extra adventure).

Throughout all of these activities (no matter the weather) there's always one constant - the people, who will go out of their way for you. A scenic paradise yes, but the beautiful, content, caring people are what make Fiji a must visit destination.

Bula Vinaka, indeed.

The Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa.
The Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa.

CHECKLIST

Getting there:

Fiji Airways

flies from Auckland to Nadi.

Further information: See intercontinental.com/Fiji, natadolabay.com and fijiinternational.com.