Greg Bruce finds a haven that opens its arms to his family — especially the little ones — and helps weary parents de-frazzle.
On our first night at Malolo Island, we were supposed to be eating dinner at the high-end, adults-only Treetops restaurant, while one of the resort's 155 staff provided babysitting for our sleeping children, but our flight had been delayed three hours, so it was already dinner time when we arrived and we were exhausted. We just took the kids to the family buffet.
We were no doubt looking a bit frazzled. We hadn't planned ahead very well and there was nowhere to put our baby — he was too small for a high chair and we'd left the pram in our room.
This did not matter because, as we arrived at the table, our waiter Malika immediately picked Casper up as if he was her own. She told us she would look after him while we helped ourselves at the buffet.
When we got back to the table, our other two children hanging all over us, Malika was there but Casper wasn't. "Don't worry," she said. "My boss has got him." She pointed over the balcony to where a woman held our baby, surrounded by a small group of other women, all cuddling and cooing at him as if he was their own.
We didn't get him back again until we were finished eating. It felt like if we hadn't asked for him, he would have just been absorbed into the island.
This set the scene for a stay in which our baby son was so beloved by the people of the island that it was as if he belonged not to us but to Fiji. We would not have been surprised to wake up one morning to see him standing in waist deep water, singing traditional Fijian folk songs, spearing fish and drinking from a coconut.
When I asked Malika why everybody there seemed to love babies so much, she said, "Every baby is a blessing."
Our room looked out across a few metres of grass, past a hammock strung between a couple of palm trees, over the white sand and across the blue blue sea to a lush green island. It was a stereotypical fantasy scene of such stereotypicality that it was almost laughable.
The next morning I lay in the hammock while my daughters swung me from side to side.
I felt so happy in that moment and dearly wished they would go and get me a book and a glass of something with lime in it and then leave me alone for half an hour.
They didn't, of course, but that was fine because, as I kept telling myself, I was here to enjoy my family, not escape them. Also, I knew that later that day I would be having an incredible one-hour massage by myself on an open-air platform set in the bush at the bottom of a hillside, where the soundtrack would be birdsong and gentle waves.
Over the four days we were there, we swam in the beautiful pool and our children screamed with joy in the warm clear waters of the sea, and played on the deserted white sand of the beach in the late afternoon. We ate garlic bread and drank beer and wine in the beachfront bar in the early evening with our children, and we got a babysitter and went for dinner in the Treetops restaurant, where we talked about our children.
One perfect morning in Malolo — and they were all perfect — we got in a small speedboat which sped us across the blue, blue water for an hour or so, eventually beaching us on a beautiful small island best known to tourists as the location of the blockbuster movie Castaway. Tom Hanks and his anthropomorphised volleyball are no longer there, but otherwise, they could start shooting again tomorrow.
We waded through the turquoise shallows and up the collapsing white sand of the narrow beach and we followed a trail through light bush. Our guide Jese shimmied up a coconut palm like a cat, then plucked a coconut and smashed it on the trunk, yelling "Bula!" and tipping the sweet juice into his mouth from on high, then started chucking coconuts down for the rest of us.
Our children were amazed and only slightly afraid.
We drank the sweet refreshing juice, scooped out the cool, wet white meat with our fingers, then went back to the beach to swim in the incredible water.
Jese tried to high five our children. He kept trying to play with them, sang to them, gently teased them, gave them balloons.
"Don't worry," he said to our 4-year-old, who continually ignored him, as she always does to every adult outside her family and even some inside it, "Soon you'll love me."
He climbed up on the boat's roof and jumped off into the sea. He pretended to be a monkey, he pretended to be Moana from the movie Moana. He tried so hard, but unless he had been a real mermaid from the movie The Little Mermaid — and maybe even then — the chances of either of our two older children interacting with him was absolute zero.
Our 4-year-old did laugh at him a couple of times, and even that was a source of amazement to us.
Zac, who Jese had introduced as "the boss" spent much of the trip home sitting and holding 6-month-old Casper in the front of the boat.
At one point, after I had been staring for a while at the astonishing view — just us, blue sea, clear sky, a few dotted islands — I looked over at Zac, who was staring into tiny, tiny Casper's eyes with something like adoration, and I enjoyed the second sight more.
In short, Malolo Island as a whole seemed to genuinely love our children, and there's nothing more uplifting for a parent than to see that.
It's a better feeling than having your kids spend all day at kids' club while you lie on the beach reading John Grisham and drinking mocktails; it's better than going snorkelling, parasailing, jetskiing, paddleboarding or kayaking. It's Malolo's great gift to parents.
House of Travel has Malolo Island holidays, flying Air New Zealand, on sale now. Get flights, 7 nights and transfers to Malolo Island from $6189 per family (2 adults, 2 children 2-11 years).
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