Postcard-perfect white-sand beaches and azure waters are what first springs to mind when you think of Fiji, but venture into the hinterland, or even not too far from the coast and you'll find lush, green vegetation.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort (JCMR) on the island of Vanua Levu, may only be an hour's plane ride north of Nadi, but the tiny township of Savusavu feels as if it's in a completely different country.
After being farewelled from one of those white-sand beaches at Tropica Island Resort on Malolo Island in the Mamanucas with a moving rendition of Isa Lei, it had taken us just 15 minutes to fly back to Nadi Airport in an Island Hoppers helicopter.
From there we boarded a tiny Twin Otter Fiji Link jet for a hair-raising flight into Savusavu's quaint airport — a paddock complete with grazing animals and a shack for arrivals and departures.
A five-star eco-resort of 25 spread-out bures, JMCR is a 20-minute drive through the tiny but bustling township of Savusavu along a partially unsealed road. The nearly 7ha property, which wraps around a point thick with vibrant, tropical vegetation, once housed a coconut plantation. The son of French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau, Jean-Michel, an explorer and environmentalist in his own right, developed it in the mid-90s, creating a marine reserve on its doorstep.
The resort's grounds are beautifully maintained, with large mounds along the walkways a sign that land crabs are plentiful. Aside from the odd mongoose and harmless spider, this is as dangerous as the local wildlife gets.
Luxury happily co-exists with environmental sustainability here, and JMCR gives plenty back to the local village of Nukubalavu, whose residents make up the majority of its staff.
Like everywhere we went in Fiji, the warmth, spirit and generosity of the people are key to a memorable stay.
Many come here to scuba dive in the marine reserve, and they're catered for at an onsite dive centre. The all-inclusive (excluding alcohol) resort has a dizzying array of complimentary activities based around themed days, from educational visits to the mangroves and local village; medicine and eco walks; and excursions on the glass-bottom boat to snorkelling spots, the Savusavu Farmers' Market and the J. Hunter Pearl Farm. There's even a marine biologist on staff.
To really feel like you're one of the rich and famous, book an excursion to the resort's private island (from $FJD100 per bure) for a two-hour picnic — secluded bliss about a 10-minute boat ride from the jetty, which comes complete with its own sunloungers and eco-friendly loos, and a basket packed with food and drinks.
Best of all was a hike through rainforest to a local waterfall and swimming hole which us tourists tentatively leapt into, before watching as the guides clambered 20m up the rock face and entertained us for the next half hour by flinging themselves off the highest point they could.
The acoustic Bula Band plays every night, and there's the opportunity to try kava and a lovo (hangi). The kitchen, run by Chef Raymond Lee, features seriously good international and local cuisine. Four gardeners tend to an enormous onsite organic garden, which provides most of the resort's fruit, vegetables, flowers and herbs.
A big drawcard for families is the excellent Bula Club, with a dedicated nanny for each child aged 5 and under, and a buddy for those between 6-12, from 8.30am to 9pm. The kids have fantastic areas to play in, with treehouses, waterslides and playgrounds, and there is an emphasis on education, with plenty to keep them occupied while mum and dad are paddleboarding, kayaking, lounging by the adults-only pool or indulging in a traditional Bobo massage at one of the open-air Ocean Spa Bures.
IF YOU GO
Fiji Airways flies daily between Auckland and Nadi.
Further information: See fijiresort.com.