Idylls in Fiji
For a blissfully romantic vacation, these South Pacific islands are hard to beat.
Fiji: The very name of this gorgeous South Pacific country conjures steamy romance (The Blue Lagoon was filmed here), pristine beaches (so was Castaway), and jet-setting rock stars (like Keith Richards, who famously tumbled out of a coconut tree on one of Fiji’s private islands).
Yet for all its glamour and exoticism, Fiji is surprisingly accessible. Air Pacific offers nonstop flights from Los Angeles to Nadi International Airport on the island of Viti Levu, and inter-island flights are frequent and reliable. Scattered throughout Fiji’s more than 300 islands are accommodations to suit every taste and budget, from five-star resorts to modest joints favored by backpackers from nearby Australia and New Zealand. But no matter which island you choose to visit, you will always be wished a hearty bula! (the all-purpose word for hello, life, and god bless you), and the warmth of the Fijian people makes this magical destination all the more appealing.
The North: Namale
I began my recent visit at the exquisite Namale Resort on the northern island of Vanua Levu. It’s all-inclusive, with 19 superbly appointed villas and bures (as the thatched-roof dwellings are called), many with their own private pools. Each one is nestled amid fragrant tropical gardens, and most have views of Namale’s white-sand beach.
There’s so much to experience at Namale—a world-class spa and restaurant, an indoor basketball court, and the Kava Bowl (where guests can watch films, play virtual golf, go bowling, or just chill)—that it’s tempting never to leave the resort’s grounds. Something about Namale immediately transports you to a state of utter relaxation, and I, for one, never wanted it to end.
But as a longtime scuba diver, I couldn’t resist the opportunity to experience Fiji’s underwater riches, so I promptly signed up for an excursion to Diamond Wall. I boarded Namale’s dive boat with a few others, and we cruised out to the drop-off. Our divemaster took us down to the stunning, coral-cloaked wall, where we could see first-hand why the dive industry has designated Fiji “the soft coral capital of the world.”
On my second day I returned to Namale’s dock to catch a boat to an outlying island, where the extraordinary chefs at Namale had prepared a gourmet beach picnic for us. We dined on just-caught fish, locally grown vegetables and tropical fruits, and snorkeled in the crystalline shallows.
In the evenings, Namale frequently hosts cultural events, such as mekes (traditional Fijian dances) and children’s choirs. The resort also invites guests to participate in the fabled kava ceremony, a ritual imbibing of the peppery and mildly numbing drink made from the root of the yaqona plant. Kava plays a big role in Fijian life—it is drunk regularly by families at home and is a must at every important political and social event. If you have the good fortune to attend a kava ceremony, you will need to know the protocol: participants sit in a circle with their legs crossed and pass around a coconut shell filled with the muddy-looking drink. Clap your hands once, say bula! and drink it down. It’s surprisingly good.
The West: Vomo Island
My next stop was Vomo Island, a tiny, picture-perfect private island in western Fiji. There’s one resort here, the five-star Vomo Island Resort, with luxurious villas, an excellent spa, and some of the finest dining I have ever experienced in my travels.
My traveling companions and I shared a chic four-bedroom villa called the Residence, which features a private pool, kitchen, indoor and outdoor dining, complimentary wireless and a sophisticated entertainment system. Perched just above the palm-fringed beach, Vomo’s Residence is an ideal romantic getaway, with sublime attention to detail and all the privacy in the world.
Active travelers will enjoy the resort’s selection of water sports, which include glass-bottom kayaking, stand-up paddle boarding, windsurfing, sailing, and snorkeling. Vomo also has a well-equipped gym, tennis court, and an inviting pool. Visitors can easily walk around the entire island in about 45 minutes, longer if they give into the temptation to stop for a swim in the aqua waters.
For a glorious sunset, the place to be is the Rocks Bar at the western edge of Vomo. After dark, the action shifts to the Vuda Bar and the adjacent Reef Restaurant, where chef Geoffrey Crabbe offers an outstanding menu and artistic presentation.
When the time came to depart Vomo, the staff serenaded us with Fiji’s traditional farewell song, Isa Lei. After an hour-long boat ride back to Viti Levu, we caught our return flight to California. During the journey home, all we contented travelers could talk about was how soon we could find a way to return to these enchanted islands.