The sparkling shores of Fiji draw people from all over the globe, seeking a tropical jaunt (luckily for us the flight takes less than three hours from Auckland) and the region’s famously good hospitality and natural beauty have made it enduringly popular.
Tourism is an art form there, not to mention a cornerstone of the economy, and Fiji’s finely tuned industry has tailored and finessed its offering to cater to all kinds of guests.
There’s the convenience of Denarau for short trips, business and families (find our latest recommendation on the facing page) and the beauty of islands like Malolo.
For those seeking a more remote experience like this writer the Yasawa island chain is a striking and singular destination.
The archipelago lies northwest of Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. As if flung out into the Pacific, Yasawa’s elegant line of 20 islands spans 80km, and its volcanic origins endow it with the rugged beauty that is definitive of this kind of geology in the tropics dark jutting rocks and dramatic mountains, fertile soil and lush jungle.
It’s here that you’ll find Yasawa Island Resort and Spa, and the five-star resort is the only hotel on its 22km-long tropical island, the northernmost in the Yasawa chain.
A quick 20-minute flight from Nadi airport in a tiny plane a scenic journey across 60 nautical miles that’s an adventure in itself we land on the grass airstrip (it doesn’t get more down to earth than that) and resort owner James drives us along the enjoyably bumpy island road to the resort.
Greeted with song by a handful of staff in the reception, this welcome sets the tone for the hospitality of our stay, creating a warm, familial atmosphere and relaxed environment. Everything feels open and laidback from the open-air restaurant and beach-side bar to the lush vegetation that dominates the property, lining the pathways to each thatch-roofed guest bure.
I feel instantly at home in mine. Soothing and calm, the high ceiling is rendered in natural wood, with wooden beams and traditional trussing, while the tiled floor underfoot is cool, and louvred windows allow that tropical air to breeze through (there’s also air conditioning if that’s your thing).
The spacious bure includes an invitingly open-plan design, with a bedroom and lounge, flowing through to a generous bathroom, showers (indoors and out) and ample closet space there’s also a minibar and Bluetooth sound system, though no distracting television or Wi-Fi in the guest rooms, so you can really unplug. Although it’s tempting to flop on the large soft bed, what’s outside my bure proves more enticing.
Flanked by palm trees, lush vegetation and tropical flowers, each of the resort’s 18 bures has its own beach-front access with deck chairs and a hammock, with the sand underfoot sloping down to the softly crashing waves of the ocean beach an expansive vista that stretches out into the blue horizon of the Pacific Ocean, as the weather rolls past and the sun sets and rises.
If this arrestingly beautiful scenery looks vaguely familiar, that’s because the Yasawas were one of the main filming locations for The Blue Lagoon in 1980, with the islands playing a role as pivotal as that of stars Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins.
In fact, you can even visit the famous cave from the film, with Yasawa Island Resort and Spa’s activities team offering guided visits to this cinematic location an absolute must.
Fitted out with snorkels and flippers, we travel there via boat on a crystal-clear day, mooring at the beach where there’s a local village market that caters to tourists and provides income to the villagers (a great place to buy souvenirs).
Descending the steps into the first of the breathtaking ocean caves with our guides, we were ushered safely via an underwater passageway to explore the caverns, and it feels like another world entirely an unforgettable and humbling experience.
The cave is just one of the many activities on offer part of the resort’s all-inclusive packages run out of the activities bure. Snorkel along the reef and marvel at the life on the ocean floor, go deeper with a scuba dive, or stay above the waves on a kayak or paddle board.
If land-based activities are your thing, hit the tennis court, enjoy a hike, or indulge in a romantic picnic at one of the private, picturesque beaches on the island. The latter is a must if you’re visiting with your paramour.
Understandably, the resort is popular with honeymooners, and there were several swooning couples celebrating their nuptials while Viva was there, adding an air of romance to the idyll something the resort prides itself on, often helping guests plan proposals, weddings and even elopements.
Another cinematic experience that can be secured is a seafood dinner on the beach, with a bounty of the ocean’s finest fare served up under the flickering flame of torches.
The restaurant and bar, both blissfully open air and overlooking the beach and pool, are peaceful hubs for the resort’s guests who gather before dinner to mix and mingle over a cocktail as the sun sets, swap stories from their holiday and home, plan their activities for the next day, and unwind.
Relaxation is, of course, top of the agenda for anyone visiting the resort, and its award-winning beachfront spa, Baravi, expertly caters to its guests’ needs. You can be scrubbed, wrapped and waxed, pampered with a pedicure or mani, or task yourself, as I did, with trying their full-body massage.
This took place on an outdoor deck with an ocean view, sheltered from the sun, but with the lapping of waves and gentle tropical breeze soothing you into a state of bliss as the masseuse releases stress and tension from your muscles using fragrant body oils.
Another high point (of many) is the lovo meal, cooked traditionally in an earth oven, that takes place on the Fijian cultural night the resort hosts for its guests preceded by a memorable meke ceremony of dance and song with a distinctly local feel.
Around 80 per cent of the resort’s staff hail from local villages, particularly nearby Bukama including the respected Manasa, who still works at the resort, and was one of the figures who helped it all get started. Land-based tourism in the Yasawas was only greenlit by the Fijian government in 1987.
Since opening in 1991, after gaining approval of all the village chiefs, Yasawa Island Resort and Spa has gone on to be a key employer for locals, with extended family groups all working there.
This community warmth is felt in the atmosphere of the resort itself staff are relaxed, caring and candid, and revel in humour. It creates a genuine sense of joy and welcome. And you feel truly lucky to be there, among such kindness, and the beauty of the island’s nature. It really is something special.