A short boatride from the resort-dotted coastline of Denarau, Winston Aldworth finds a Fijian day retreat with a difference
You know you've arrived somewhere special when the boat to Malamala pulls up at the end of a very long, solid pier.
At the far end of the pier, a small tropical island floats on the Pacific, palm trees swaying in the breeze, the siren call of azure blue waters lapping around at the jetty's pillars.
You've landed at some kind of blue heaven. Someone's shorthand sketch of paradise writ large and made real.
Welcome to Malamala.
The trouble with Denarau, frequent visitors will tell you, is that it sometimes feels you're not in the real Fiji. The resorts are fine, the locals are friendly, the kids' clubs are a blessing. All these things keep the Kiwis heading up there for sunshine breaks. But visitors to Denarau don't tend to swim in the ocean — if your togs are wet, you're generally in the hotel pool.
At Fiji's newest destination, you're definitely going into the ocean.
Malamala Beach Club — about a 25-minute boat ride from Port Denarau — has only been open for a couple of months, but it's likely to become something of an institution for Kiwis who want something extra on their flop-and-drop Denarau break.
Those things that Denarau lacks, Malamala has in spades. There's great snorkelling to be had among coral with reef fish darting around — some snorkellers have seen turtles down there — and there's a real sense of being on a tropical island. This perfect circle of sand sits just off the mainland, dotted with palm trees, private cabanas and white sand beaches.
It's small — walk the length of that long pier again and you'll be standing in the middle of the island. Take a walk around the island and you'll be done inside 10 minutes. (Though it's more fun to kayak or snorkel around Malamala, or complete a stand-up paddleboard circumnavigation.)
So what do you do there? You mooch. There's an excellent cocktail list, and right by the bar is a fabulous infinity pool with views across the Mamanucas.
The snorkeling is fabulous, the entire island being encircled by a nice reef with fish darting among the coral. Staff direct you to best parts of the reef for snorkelling and they'll set you up with stand-up paddleboards or kayaks, all of which are complimentary.
There's also not too many kids — there's no kids' club and no playground and no kids discount on entry.
It's easy to imagine Kiwi parents getting into a pretty sweet routine that involves leaving the children in the kids' club back at the resort in Denarau and heading to Malamala Beach Club for the day.
Once you've visited once, your pass is good for a week (you'll need to pay for the boatride on those extra days).
Dotted around the island are a dozen or so cabanas — basic comfortable, outdoor beds set up with shade. The cabanas are perched on the edge of the white-sand beach. You can rent one for the day for $45. Staff provide a phone so that from your cabana, you can call for drinks and food to be sent over. Tough life, huh?
There are bathrooms and showers around the place, with the main facilities all back at the reception and bar area.
There you'll find the lush infinity pool and a menu produced by Fiji's celebrity chef Lance Seeto.
The prime market is holidaying couples, maybe heading over there in pairs. But Malamala will also appeal to large groups and will surely be on the radar for wedding planners, looking to book out the whole island.
Our band of merry travellers — figures from the travel industry taking a first look at the new product — perched up at our own area with a couple of dozen shaded sun loungers, a private stretch of that glorious beach and a steady flow of cocktails. It was blue-water bliss and I can report that all in our group of seasoned travellers were greatly impressed by the island.
The island's main attraction is the fact it offers something new to your classic Denarau experience, broadening the offering of all the resorts.
What you don't do is stay the night. The beach club is a daytime destination — arrive in the morning, pack up and leave in the early evening. At the end of the day, as you walk back along the long pier, like me you'll wish the day had been longer.
Checklist: Malamala Island
flies return from Auckland to Nadi, with Economy Class fares starting from $705 and Business Class from $1199.
For prices and booking information on Malamala Beach Club, click here.
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