Fiji: it's just what the weather girl ordered
By Sian Lloyd, The Mail on Sunday
My arrival in Fiji was like no other. After stepping off my faultless Air New Zealand flight and clearing customs, there came a veritable assault on the senses – warm Fijian smiles, bright pink orchid garlands and a melodic welcome sung in perfect harmony.
Best of all, a chauffeur transferred me from Nadi airport to the nearby Fiji Beach Resort and Spa managed by Hilton. In half an hour I was in my designer villa with ocean views, tucked away on the Denarau Peninsula.
The day before, I'd been stuck in London traffic panicking at the thought of missing a live broadcast. Now the only thing I had to think about was which cocktail to order and whether to have a massage by the beach, the pool or in my room.
Later came the dining decisions.
A mango-scented chicken and padi-style chilli rock lobster at the waterfront restaurant?
Or perhaps I could order a BBQ pack through room service. Not only would they cook the organic steaks for me but they also took care of the washing-up. Decisions, decisions...
I had no difficulty in deciding where to go after two days of sunbathing and effortless luxury. An hour's plane ride from Nadi to the town of Labasa and a thrilling 60 minutes along Vanua Levu's north coast brought me to Nukubati Island, the ultimate South Sea escape.
With just seven bures – straw-roofed and quietly luxurious cabins – Nukubati has a sense of total seclusion. Surrounded by a dazzling white sandy beach and coral reef, it's chill-out time. I spent three happy-go-lucky days swimming, snorkelling, reading in my hammock and scoffing freshly-caught seafood. It's like being on your own private island.
A 30-minute boat ride takes you to the Great Sea Reef. Nukubati Island is the only resort in Fiji with access to this vast underwater treasure and it's the dive holiday of a lifetime. Nukubati is especially sensitive to ecology. The owners, Peter and Jenny Bourke, have built one of the largest solar power plants in the Pacific, so there's an uninterrupted supply of electricity. Fresh water is either filtered rain water or comes from their desalination plant. Fruit and vegetables are organically grown on the island and meats come from free-range farms.
But it was time to cast myself adrift and move on to Qamea Resort and Spa in sultry Northern Fiji. Here the ambience is very different from Nukumbati. Not quite as homely but more tasteful and sophisticated – even the cuisine is a bit Californian. It's the only resort on Qamea island and set in 100 acres of tropical landscaped gardens, bushland and soaring jagged volcanic mountains.
The local villagers regularly visit for a special treat – meke. This traditional Fijian ceremony is a mix of dance and beautiful singing, interspersed with copious amounts of kava drinking. This potent alcoholic drink numbs your mouth, and brain, and is the closest I'll ever come to doing drugs!
Typical meke songs and dance depict the journey the Fijian ancestors took across the big ocean in search of a homeland, as well as significant battles, joys and tears. Another must at this resort is a trip to the Bouma Falls. Here I swam under three spectacular waterfalls cascading through lush rainforest and managed to convince myself I was a nymphette straight out of the film The Blue Lagoon. But that's what Fiji does to you.
The highlight of the resort for me – I've had some massages in my time, but none to compare with Fijian ones. Maybe it was the backdrop of a long white sandy beach, the lapping of the ocean, or the sea breezes caressing my face.
Or perhaps the Pure Fiji products lulled me into a sense of total well-being. Whatever the reason, I think it's the only time in my life I have ever switched off one hundred per cent. Time, even Fiji time, caught up with me.
Matangi Island was just a short boat trip away and this was where I would spend the last three nights of my time in Paradise.
If Nukubati was cosy and Qamea elegant, Matangi Resort, set on a 240-acre private estate, was the essence of everything wonderful and authentic about Fiji. The island boasts cliffs which are part of a collapsed volcanic crater and are spectacular when viewed close up from the sea.
The Douglas family, who own the resort, took me on a boat tour to view them, stopping for a picnic in Matangi's Horseshoe Bay, recently listed in 1000 Places To See Before You Die by travel author Patricia Schultz. The next day, I visited a nearby village where the chiefs were hosting a party to celebrate the building of a new school library. It was another heady mix of haunting melodies, perfumed orchids and lashings of kava.
Dazzling white sandy beaches and coral reefs dominate Fiji
Our party was invited to the Lovo traditional feast where food is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked on the hot rocks under the ground. We ate baked pork and fish, meat stuffed taro leaves and onions cooked in coconut cream, roast sweet potatoes and breadfruit. Pudding was coconut cake and bananas baked in coconut milk. Delicious.
And at least I managed to walk off the calories by bush hiking among the fragrant ginger plants back at the resort. Unlike Oz, there are no harmful spiders or land snakes here! On the day I left for the airport, I even managed a quick visit to the International Dateline on the island of Taveun –one of the world's few places on dry land where you can actually have a foot in each day.
I bumped into the Austrian billionaire who not only owns Red Bull but also a nearby island and he tried to persuade me to stay there when I came back to Fiji! Because one thing is certain, I will go back. In fact, I had withdrawal symptoms when I returned to London. I found myself paying crazy prices for bottled Fiji water in organic supermarkets and hunting down Pure Fiji products on the net.
Like my homeland Wales, Fiji really is the Land of Song. The harmonies are perfect and heady and so easy on the ear. Even the rugby players sing! It's a beautiful country with beautiful people with warm hearts. My Welsh is better than my Fijian, but I know how to say Thank you, I'll be back...Vinaka Vakalevu Na Gade Mai Fiji!