Susan Kuro­sawa checks into Fiji’s new­est is­land re­sort and finds a mag­i­cal mix of homely and hip

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

THERE is a cer­tain alchemy at work at Liku­liku La­goon Re­sort. Fac­tors that con­trib­ute to this un­usual feel­ing of magic in the air in­clude its neigh­bourly size and peer­less lo­ca­tion on a cres­cent of coral-strewn sand.

Then there’s the un­de­ni­able clev­er­ness of de­sign — here we have Fiji’s first over­wa­ter bures, for starters — and a swish­ness to the in­te­rior decor that clearly in­di­cates this is a place en­sured en­tree to lists of hot ho­tels and bibles of hip ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Fiji and hip are not ex­pected bed­mates. What Aus­tralians have al­ways loved about Fiji — and de­spite the sur­pris­ing reg­u­lar­ity of coups and states of emer­gency, we still flock there — is its spe­cial variety of dag­gi­ness. Along with the con­cept of bula time (as ten­sile as a rub­ber band, but with­out the snap­pi­ness), we have got used to the is­land group’s care­free home­li­ness. If Fiji has ul­tra-glam re­sorts set to at­tract lo­tus-eat­ing A-lis­ters, where will it all end?

For now, it stops very nicely at the Fi­jianowned Liku­liku La­goon Re­sort, which opened in April. Ahura Re­sorts, in as­so­ci­a­tion with Rosie Hol­i­days, Fiji’s largest and best-known tour op­er­a­tor, is be­hind the de­vel­op­ment, which is the first of this scale in the Ma­manuca is­lands, west of Nadi, since 1986.

Fi­jian-born man­ag­ing di­rec­tor Tony Whit­ton talks about de­liv­er­ing ‘‘ the quin­tes­sen­tial Fi­jian hol­i­day ex­pe­ri­ence’’ and there has been a com­mit­ment to en­sur­ing the re­sort doesn’t have that stripped-down, global vil­lage feel of be­ing, at once, ev­ery­where and nowhere.

Rosie Hol­i­days also owns the mid-mar­ket Malolo Re­sort, around Naroba Point from Liku­liku on Malolo Is­land. On the west­ern tip of the is­land is the vil­lage of Yarro, where the in­dige­nous landown­ers and many of the re­sort staff live; guests can at­tend a Methodist church ser­vice there, all starched shirts and soar­ing voices, on Sun­day morn­ings.

Liku­liku means shel­tered wa­ters in lo­cal di­alect; here was an an­cient safe har­bour for war ca­noes and it’s a name that res­onates with Fi­jian his­tory and mythol­ogy.

Iron­i­cally, open­ing the re­sort has been a saga of bat­tle-like pro­por­tions. Gen­eral man­ager Steve An­stey — for­merly of Queens­land re­sorts Lizard Is­land and Sea Tem­ple Palm Cove, and Silky Oaks Lodge in the Dain­tree — has some­how kept a grip on his san­ity amid bu­reau­cratic im­ped­i­ments, en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns (the ce­ment poles sunk close to coral reefs to hold up the 10 over­wa­ter bures, a first for Fiji, were a sen­si­tive en­gi­neer­ing feat) and myr­iad de­lays. And don’t get him started on the most re­cent coup.

Liku­liku should have opened months ear­lier but some­times crises can have sil­ver lin­ings. In this case, the re­sort is run­ning with more ef­fi­ciency than many newly launched ven­tures and the staff have all bonded in a fam­ily-like fash­ion. The bula wel­comes are par­tic­u­larly heart­felt, says An­stey, as his staff are ‘‘ so pleased to at last see real guests’’.

The re­sort has a choice of those spa­cious over­wa­ter bures — with ad­join­ing bathing pav­il­ions; each is set well apart in the la­goon, with bam­boo screens for ad­di­tional pri­vacy — or 18 beach­front and 18 deluxe pool bures.

All the ac­com­mo­da­tion has sea views, is suite-sized, with roomy sit­ting ar­eas, and brightly ap­pointed.

Beach­front and deluxe pool bures, en­closed by glossy gar­dens and reached via crushed coral paths, al­though cheaper than the over­wa­ter bun­ga­lows, have real charm. They fea­ture in­door and out­door show­ers and, on a deck by the beach, each has a cush­ioned and bol­stered loung­ing pavil­ion (Bali meets the Ma­manu­cas in a suc­cess­ful col­li­sion).

But those over­wa­ter bures are the star turns; the ar­chi­tects have taken as their ref­er­ence point the equiv­a­lent style of stilted ac­com­mo­da­tion in French Poly­ne­sia and the Mal­dives. De­spite the generic trop­i­cal ar­chi­tec­ture, Liku­liku’s bures are iden­ti­fi­ably Fi­jian in feel, with lo­cal tex­tures and decor.

Dark tim­ber floors are pol­ished to a mir­ror gleam. The high thatched ceil­ings, lac­quered for fin­ish and stur­di­ness, are pitched in the style of a paramount chief’s bure.

Walls are cov­ered in a pale wo­ven ma­te­rial, light fit­tings are of turned wood, wicker and tapa cloth, and the feel is or­ganic, all in neu­tral tones with the oc­ca­sional high­light of wa­tery-pale celadon.

There’s no stint­ing on the lux­ury touches, from duck­down pil­lows and qual­ity bed­ding to Pure Fiji toi­letries in sweet fra­grances such as co­conut and star­fruit.

The over­wa­ter bures have flat-screen television sets but there’s no re­cep­tion; they are for DVD use only. There’s a good se­lec­tion on of­fer and one could do worse than watch Tom Hanks grow a beard and eat crabs and co­conuts in Cast­away, filmed a flip­per’s throw away at Monuriki Is­land.

Two plate-glass win­dows are in­set in each over­wa­ter bure’s bed­room floor so guests can look through to the coral gar­dens; it’s like

snorkelling in an arm­chair. The sun glint­ing on the wa­ter be­low shoots re­flec­tions into the room so it seems as if the air is liq­ue­fied. The coral is not brightly coloured, but vivid blue fish whoosh in for­ma­tion and starfish are dot­ted about as pret­tily as if posed.

A metal lad­der leads from each bure’s lower deck and com­pli­men­tary snorkelling equip­ment is pro­vided; when the tide is out, we bob about for hours in clear aqua­ma­rine wa­ter of a hol­i­day-per­fect tem­per­a­ture. There are snorkelling trips much farther afield on of­fer, too, in­clud­ing Sun­flower Reef and nearby Hon­ey­moon Is­land; divers have a choice of 44 sites around the Ma­manuca group, from caves and pin­na­cles to a sunken B26 bomber from World War II.

The sea around Malolo Is­land has been de­clared a marine re­serve, so this is aquatic heaven for lovers of wa­ter sports. Poles topped with palm fronds are dot­ted about the reef to sig­nify an of­fi­cial cer­e­mony has taken place to con­firm the marine sanc­tu­ary sta­tus. The reef starts about 5m from shore, so this re­ally is doorstep snorkelling.

What to do? Liku­liku La­goon’s beach­side ac­com­mo­da­tion is strung along the sand and the over­wa­ter bures lie at the end of a run­way-like pier, so just walk­ing to and from the main build­ing (front desk, Fi­jiana restau­rant, the Dua Tale bar, well-stocked bou­tique and TV lounge and li­brary) pro­vides in­ci­den­tal ex­er­cise, which is a good thing given the ex­cel­lent stan­dard of Aus­tralian chef Shane Wat­son’s cui­sine.

Be­tween the beach­front bures we cross the sand, dodg­ing scut­tling crabs, and wan­der past abun­dant green­ery — man­goes and pa­payas, beach al­monds and wild figs, and red-leafed coral and Chi­nese lantern trees — cir­cled by pesky my­nah birds with those hard lit­tle eyes like bar­ley sug­ars.

My bird-spot­ting check­list in­cludes whitecol­lared king­fish­ers, reef herons and Fi­jian par­rot finches, but my part­ner’s in­ter­est lies in the cock­tail menu and Zack the bar­man is an en­thu­si­as­tic pur­veyor of natty mar­ti­nis and in­fused vod­kas. He makes sure ev­ery guest knows the name of the Dua Tale bar means ‘‘ one more’’.

My part­ner is also taken with the mu­si­cians who play ukelele and sing at meal­times in the restau­rant, and do a lot of hoist­ing of their sulu skirts and run­ning up and down the pier to the re­cep­tion islet to wel­come and farewell guests. ‘‘ They are the high­est paid mem­bers of staff as they have to be on duty al­most around the clock. There’s al­ways a rea­son to sing,’’ An­stey laughs.

Their reper­toire is wide, in­clud­ing coun­tryand-west­ern croon­ing and Fi­jian melodies to which Florence and the din­ing staff hum along. But when we ask Terita, Kuli, Veta and Me­sake what their group is called, there is some con­ster­na­tion and we are dis­missed while they hold a sum­mit. A while later, Terita comes over to our din­ing ta­ble. ‘‘ We are, as a mat­ter of fact, the Bula Ser­e­naders,’’ he an­nounces. An­stey says he likes the sud­den new name and is amused by this spurt of en­tre­pre­neur­ial en­deav­our.

I have a feel­ing one could loll about Liku­liku lis­ten­ing more or less for­ever to the Bula Ser­e­naders and do noth­ing more stren­u­ous than lurch from bar to din­ing ta­ble to bed. But I am for­get­ting the pos­si­bil­ity of climb­ing — the is­land’s tallest peak is 218m Uluisolo — and the like­lier prospect of mas­sages, fa­cials and par­adise sugar body glows in the Tatadra Spa. The name means ‘‘ house of dreams’’, which is ap­pro­pri­ate given that ther­a­pist Lucy and her col­leagues seem adept at send­ing guests straight off to the land of nod. It’s a small­ish spa, in a dou­ble-fronted bure with a sea view, and the menu in­cludes mod­ish treat­ments such as stone mas­sages and re­flex­ol­ogy; a 60-minute mas­sage is $F90 ($67), which is rea­son­able by five-star re­sort stan­dards. An­stey re­cruited the spa man­ager from Port Douglas and it’s a pro­fes­sion­ally run fa­cil­ity, with Pure Fiji prod­ucts fea­tured in the treat­ments and not so much slickness that the ther­a­pists don’t gig­gle when guests do drift off and snuf­fle like con­tented pigs.

There are af­ter­noon show­ers dur­ing our late May visit and soft rain glazes the land­scape. It is no hard­ship to stay in­doors and stare across the sea to neigh­bour­ing is­lands shape-shift­ing in the mists. We de­cide, in this ut­terly lazy state, that only two small things jar about Liku­liku La­goon: there is no room ser­vice, and the beach­front and deluxe pool bures are all rather close to­gether. Hor­rors, we have forgotten to drop the blinds and can see the next-door neigh­bours; much more star­tling for them, we are lolling in our un­der­wear. Things will be more private when the plant­ings grow and flow­er­ing hedges will pro­vide nat­u­ral bar­ri­ers.

While lis­ten­ing to the plip-plop of wa­ter on to pad­dle-like leaves, we can hear gig­gling as house­maids walk past — we have left out our do not dis­turb sign, which is not a bor­ing door-han­dle card but a co­conut half-shell — and the dis­tant sound of the Bula Ser­e­naders send­ing off guests with IsaLei , the Fi­jian song of farewell.

The words of Isa Lei are in the guest com­pen­dium on our bure’s desk but we have no in­ten­tion of learn­ing them. We cer­tainly don’t want to an­tic­i­pate say­ing good­bye. Susan Kuro­sawa was a guest of Liku­liku La­goon Re­sort.


Liku­liku La­goon Re­sort is 10 min­utes from Nadi by Is­land Hop­pers he­li­copter or sea­plane; 30 min­utes by speed­boat or one hour by di­rect cata­ma­ran ser­vice; no guests un­der age 17. If land­ing in Nadi from Aus­tralia at night, a pack­age is avail­able com­bin­ing an overnight stay at the lux­ury Sof­i­tel Fiji at De­na­rau. Rooms from $836 a per­son a night, but specials are avail­able. A House of Dreams Spa Pack­age, valid to March 31, starts at $F2164 ($1600) a per­son for three nights or $F3465 for five nights, in­clud­ing spa treat­ments, wel­come bot­tle of French cham­pagne and stan­dard Liku­liku La­goon ex­tras such as all meals.

www.liku­liku­la­goon.com More on Shane Wat­son’s food at Liku­liku La­goon Re­sort in Travel&In­dul­gence’s South Pa­cific spe­cial on July 7-8. Also to be fea­tured: Loy­alty Is­lands, Tonga, Hawaii, Samoa, Fiji for fam­i­lies and best South Pa­cific cruise itin­er­ar­ies.

Bure gold: There’s great swim­ming and snorkelling at the foot of the steel lad­der that leads from each of Liku­liku’s over­wa­ter bures

Shake up: Cock­tails in the Dua Tale bar

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