BULA, IT’S ISLAND TIME
Technology has no place in a beachfront bure, so switch off and enjoy
It’s like a scene out of The Amazing Race – a sprint through the airport to meet a boat transfer to the Fiji Islands with less than an hour to spare. The flight from Sydney had been delayed two hours, making the connecting boat transfer to Malolo Island almost impossible to meet.
Although we arrived at Denarau Marina 10 minutes after the boat left, the staff at South Sea Cruises called to stop the departing catamaran and my group were tendered out in a small dinghy.
I quickly learnt two things about Fijians – nothing much stresses them out, and nothing is a problem.
It was my family’s first time in Fiji and I finally understood what everyone meant by Fijian hospitality.
If that wasn’t enough of a welcome, the Malolo Island staff were gathered at the end of the pier awaiting our arrival, sweetly singing what I was later told was a welcome song.
Hectic airport arrival long forgotten, I was on Fijian time.
As a first-timer to this Pacific paradise, I hadn’t anticipated the importance of timing flights and transfers, particularly if you’re staying on an island.
There are several ways to get to the group of islands off Denarau Marina – a catamaran three times a day, which alone costs about $500 return for a family of four; private speed boat at a considerably higher cost and a seaplane, the most luxurious mode of arrival.
Our home for the next three days is a beachfront bure in the classic white plantation-style of the resort.
Metres from the lapping waves and with a double hammock out the front swinging gently in the wind, our perfect cabin was a welcome refuge from the chaos of airports, immigration queues, taxis and traffic.
It took a while to realise there are certain facilities missing from the bure: a phone, television and Wi-Fi.
“That’s not an oversight,” Malolo Island Resort operations manager, Zac, explains.
“We want guests to get away from their hectic lives and truly relax, so we decided to take away these distractions.”
You can find Wi-Fi in the public areas of the resort, just not in your bure. With two kids permanently attached to screens back home, this was a very welcome imposition.
That night, we ate dinner at the more relaxed of the three eateries at the resort, the Beach Bar, which serves up family-friendly fare including burgers, salads and pizzas.
The venue has that cool vibe where noisy kids are not an issue and where parents can enjoy a drink long after the meal has ended while the kids play on the beach a few feet away.
Over the next few nights we also visit The Terrace, which serves up a mix of a la carte meals and themed buffets, and the adults-only Treetops, thanks to kids’ club.
Life on Malolo becomes a routine of island activities punctuated by meals.
Day two starts with an early morning island-hopping trip on board a speedboat with resident head of activities, Jesse.
We pass the US filming of Survivor (the reality TV show has been filmed in Fiji several times and, last year, the Australian version was also filmed here).
We also pass Castaway Island, which still trades on the fame of the Tom Hanks’ movie, Cast Away, filmed in this group of islands in 2001.
“Castaway Island has a musket from the movie,” says Jesse, “Malolo has the sunset,” he adds with a cheeky glint. Our main stop on the morning is Monuriki Island, where the actual film was shot.
The first thing you see as you approach is the huge HELP sign made from coconuts on the sand.
Jesse climbs a tall tree with relative ease using only the soles of his feet and hands as traction and throws down a few coconuts that will serve as a lesson on how to husk and crack open the rock-hard fruit.
A spot of snorkelling reveals an array of fish through the clear waters off the island and we are back on our speed boat for a casual feast of pastries, fresh fruit and coffee by breakfast.
One of the biggest drawcards attracting families to Fiji is the locals and their obvious love of children.
It’s why kids’ clubs are so popular in this part of the world and much more than a simple babysitting service.
At Malolo, the kids’ club is known as Tia’s Treehouse, named for its setting under a giant mango tree, and it offers the unique Yanu Yanu program, which is designed to help kids take a little bit of Fiji back home with them by immersing them in the local culture.
It allows children aged four to 12 to live like a Malolo islander, learning Fijian words, dressing and eating like a local and even visiting a nearby primary school to meet the children.
While the children are entertained at Tia’s Treehouse, there’s plenty for the parents to do.
I cut a quick path to the Leilani’s Spa where the open-sided rooms make you feel like you are having your treatment in the middle of a rainforest. Located away from the hub of the resort, it’s a peaceful retreat worth indulging in.
Other adults-only parts of the resort include Treetops, where you can enjoy a kid-free breakfast and dinner, and an over-18s pool with a swim-up bar and cabana-style seating.
But a family holiday is always about those moments you share together, and there’s plenty of opportunity for those at Malolo.
Every Saturday night, the Meke, a traditional Fijian dance, is performed by the talented Malolo staff and often the children will also perform a dance they learned during their time at Tia’s Treehouse, complete with cute traditional costumes. The show is followed by a Lovo, or traditional earth-cooked feast served in the buffet-style Terrace Restaurant.
Any visit to the island ends as it starts, with an official pier send-off where staff sing a traditional farewell song, which fades slowly into the background long after your transfer boat has left the island.
The swim-up bar at the Malolo Island Resort’s adults-only pool is always ready for orders; there are three dining areas at the resort (below); and the island jetty reflects the island’s rustic and intimate feel.