I’m lazily floating in the warm waters of Fiji’s Mamanuca Islands, not a care in the world, when suddenly I feel a swift nudge on my leg. I ignore it at first but then it happens again - an unmistakable shove. There’s no one else around me so I start to feel a little nervous, especially as just a day earlier, I’d been snorkelling with sharks not far from this spot. Am I about to be attacked?
I look closer through the gin-clear water and breathe a big sigh of relief. It's just a fish. Albeit a very angry one who seems to object to my being here. I take the hint and wade back to the white sand beach. I can sympathise. If I lived at Vomo Island, a luxury resort off Viti Levu's northwest corner, I wouldn't want to share it either.
Thankfully, this is the only less-than-satisfactory experience across my three-day stay. Everything else is flawless, from my arrival via speed boat transfer from the mainland marina, to the pitch-perfect harmonies of the Vomo team as they sing Isa Lei while waving me goodbye.
The resort is the only one on the 87ha island, so it's a place you can live your "stranded on a tropical island" dream. However, this version of stranded involves luxurious bures, infinity pools, delectable food, spa treatments and a team of staff ready to assist your every need.
I admit to feeling some anxiety on the flight over, with Omicron raging through New Zealand and the fear of what might happen if I test positive during my holiday.
But at Vomo, this is just another worry that melts away under the heat of the South Pacific sun. The resort is the epitome of indoor-outdoor flow, with the only enclosed space being my beach-front bure, which I have all to myself.
Social distancing is easy on this spacious island, with a maximum of just 90 guests at any one time. And, if I were unfortunate enough to get sick while here, there's a dedicated doctor at the resort who could give me all the care I needed.
Without meaning to be glib, I start to think it wouldn’t be so bad if I start showing Covid symptoms. If I do, the isolation period would be spent in one of the resort’s hillside bures, with gourmet meals delivered to my door. Tim Tuiqali, Vomo’s guest experience manager, tells me isolating guests can even use the beach on the far side of the island if they’re feeling up to it - there’s so much space here, the risk of close contact with another guest is minuscule.
However, it's something I don't need to worry about - I stay safe and well for my visit, allowing me the freedom to explore the island and all it has to offer.
Guests can be as active or sloth-like as they choose. Watersports are complimentary (snorkelling, stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, sailing, windsurfing), and there's a rugged 2km hiking trail up to a yoga platform at the top of Mt Vomo. The resort used to have an in-house yoga teacher but she left when borders were closed and there were no guests to instruct. Tim tells me they've been struggling to find a replacement as there aren't many qualified yoga teachers in Fiji. "Fijians are already relaxed, we don't need yoga," he says with a shrug. Those who can't live without their daily sun salutation can grab the mat provided in their room and do a self-guided class at their leisure.
Getting on, in and under the water is my main priority, so I go out with a couple of other guests for a morning's snorkelling. Two of the resort's activities crew come with us, powering us over the rough waves in a high-speed tinny to White Rock – "it's actually black but the birds are painting it for us," the skipper says.
Wearing life jackets, we drift with the current following the reef edge, floating over colourful coral and thousands of tropical fish. I spy parrot, angel, Napoleon wrasse, trigger, and clown, as well as a shock of tiny electric blue fish pulsing like a heartbeat around an anemone.
The boat follows our progress and picks us up after half-an-hour in the water. We whizz over to another spot not far away, tie the tinny to a buoy, then drop back in the water to snorkel with black-tip reef sharks. There's a pack of them – at least five, maybe more – and they're big enough to cause shivers of trepidation. But they take absolutely no interest in us, instead chasing fish and weaving effortlessly around us.
As we cruise back to the island, I decide I'm happy to let that be the peak of my active experiences for this holiday and spend the rest of my trip in prime relaxation mode, enjoying a luxurious massage at the spa and plenty of time lying on the beach and by the pool.
At the western tip of the island is The Rocks, the resort's adults-only area with bar, restaurant, stunning infinity pool and photogenic lounging spots at every vantage point. It's certainly in the running for the world's best infinity pool, thanks to its ocean views from a raised vantage point, shady cabanas, sun loungers (both on the deck and in the pool), lush tropical plants and palm trees.
I spend my first evening here, enjoying cocktail and canape hour while the sky blushes pink and fruit bats glide high overhead. As a solo traveller, it's a great place to have some peace without the background noise of children being cajoled into polite table manners by their parents.
That's another of the highlights at Vomo – the choice to find a space that completely suits you and your travelling party's needs. Families can dine together at The Reef restaurant; couples looking for a romantic night can eat dinner at The Rocks. Parents with kids can choose to have a break too – Vomo offers kids clubs and babysitting services, so they can have a night of adult-only time, too.
Everyone comes together on a Wednesday night, however, for the weekly lovo (a Fijian version of a hāngī) and meke (cultural performance) night. When I arrive back at my bure after an afternoon at The Rocks pool, there's a colourful sarong placed on my bed, and a note encouraging me to wear it for the occasion. I half-heartedly tie it over my dress, feeling a little self-conscious, but as I make my way to The Reef, I see all the other guests are getting in the spirit too. The crowd is resplendent in colourful fabric, and the Vomo bar team are busily distributing pina coladas served in hollowed-out fresh coconuts. Delicious canapes are being handed out and guests are mingling, sharing tales from their holidays so far.
Before dinner, we sit in rows and enjoy the meke – harmonious song, dance and music with the Vomo staff in traditional Fijian dress. It's also a chance for the younger guests to show off the routines they've been learning at The Kids Village, with varying degrees of co-ordination and enthusiasm.
Dinner is a feast, with meats, fish and vegetables cooked lovo-style, as well as plenty of salads and vegetarian dishes, followed by teeth-achingly sweet desserts to round it all off. Food is certainly one of the highlights at Vomo. Executive chef Iain Todd, a Tasmanian expat, sources as much local produce as possible, and many of the organic herbs, fruits and vegetables are grown on the island itself.
The festivities finish with a kava ceremony, giving the adult guests the chance to try the traditional drink. Things are slightly different these days, with everyone given their own individual serving in a small cup, rather than the customary shared bowls from pre-pandemic times. It's no less enjoyable, of course, and at breakfast the next morning I hear other guests complaining of sore heads after indulging in more kava and cocktails, staying up till the early hours. No one seems too remorseful though … after the trials and stresses of the past two years, we can all agree we've earned the right to let our hair down a little. Vomo is just the place to do it.
CARING FOR VOMO
As well as being a stunning luxury resort with excellent dining and abundant activities, there are other reasons to choose Vomo for your next Fiji holiday – namely its eco-friendly and green initiatives. They include:
• Vomo belongs to the Mamanuca Environment Society, an organisation founded in 2001 with the aim of protecting the local marine environment. Guests support the society’s work thanks to a nominal fee of FJ$5 ($3.60) per stay, which is added to the room charge. It’s voluntary and can be removed if guests choose not to participate … but really. It is the least we can do to help protect the pristine waters surrounding the island. Give more if you can.
• The resort is single-use plastic free. There’s a bottling plant on the island that provides guests with purified drinking water in sterilised, sealed, reusable glass bottles.
• Vomo has commissioned its own range of scented soaps and lotions, which are provided in hand-crafted ceramic dispensers.
• Grey water is collected and recycled, and used on resort grounds.
• Lighting has been changed to LED wherever possible, and electric buggies are used to transport goods around the island.
• Beaches and waterways are kept clear of stray debris and rubbish with regular Clean Up days.
• Through the Pack for a Purpose scheme, guests can bring supplies for distribution at local villages and schools in need. Items required include clothing, shoes, linen, books for all ages, educational material and stationery. Items donated will be passed onto the villagers by the Vomo team.
CHECKLIST: VOMO ISLAND
GETTING THERE Fiji Airways flies 10 times a week from Auckland to Nadi, twice weekly from Wellington, and three times per week from Christchurch. fijiairways.com DETAILS There are 7 hillside and 21 beachside bures on Vomo Island. Six private luxury residences are available, offering three to five bedrooms, private pools, lounges, kitchens and plenty of space for entertaining. vomoisland.com
This story originally appeared in The New Zealand Herald Travel here.