BULA GROOVE

Susan Kuro­sawa checks into a friendly new prop­erty on De­na­rau Is­land near the hol­i­day gate­way of Nadi

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel -

JUST as the sun is set­ting, a man in a war­rior’s stiff straw skirt, his chest glis­ten­ing, jogs past our villa and, wav­ing a fiery torch, lights a tall flare on the beach. He will con­tinue this evening rit­ual un­til the whole strand is aglow with a row of what look like lamp-posts on fire.

The back­drop to this lit­tle piece of theatre is one of the most dra­matic sun­sets imag­in­able. The sky is shot with tan­ger­ine and ma­genta streaks, colours so vivid they seem im­prob­a­ble. Surely it is a dig­i­tally en­hanced im­age, a brochure-maker’s fan­tasy, a sky­sized sou­venir cush­ion sewn in lurid thread on a black vel­vet base.

The set­ting for this fire-and-light show is the Fiji Beach Re­sort & Spa, which is man­aged by the Hil­ton chain, and there­fore known to lo­cals and guests sim­ply as the Hil­ton re­sort. It’s the next-to-latest prop­erty to open on De­na­rau Is­land (the Radis­son holds the new­est crown), the lux­ury com­pound of ho­tels and gated res­i­den­tial com­mu­ni­ties con­nected to the main­land by a short cause­way bridge, near Nadi on the west­ern side of the main Fi­jian is­land of Viti Levu.

The Hil­ton has the ad­van­tage of sit­ting on a curve at the north­ern point of the De­na­rau re­sort strip — around the point are the Sher­a­ton, Westin, newish Sof­i­tel and Radis­son — and so has near-180-de­gree views from its beach­front, pools and in­doorout­door Nuku restau­rant. The beach is at least 1.5km long and the sand, while not lus­trous and white, is gold with streaks of grey (this is vol­canic ter­ri­tory) and soft to the touch.

The Hil­ton faces west, hence the spec­tac­u­lar sun­sets. And it is very demo­cratic in terms of views: all 219 rooms and vil­las have beach vis­tas and not just mean lit­tle glimpses, ei­ther, but big wa­tery gulps.

This is phase one of the prop­erty, with a re­sort ex­ten­sion and con­fer­ence fa­cil­i­ties slated to open next year. There is build­ing work in progress be­hind tall fences and hoard­ings but not much con­struc­tion noise dur­ing my May visit. It’s the Fi­jian win­ter and a lovely time to visit; win­ter is a rel­a­tive term, of course, as the av­er­age tem­per­a­ture is a mild 25C. Still, the staff we talk to all men­tion how cold it is and the se­cu­rity guards are in puffed-up jack­ets and scarfs. So per­haps, af­ter all, you could run a knitwear shop in Nadi and still do some sea­sonal busi­ness.

We are in su­lus (sarongs), how­ever, and en­joy­ing the sun and five big ad­join­ing swim­ming pools near the edge of the sea. There are lounges ga­lore, daybed pav­il­ions and cush­ioned al­coves: the clear in­vi­ta­tion is to loll about, de­spite the ac­tiv­i­ties on of­fer.

There are 22 blocks of sin­gle and two­s­torey white vil­las with char­coal trim: some are flat-roofed, oth­ers have pitched roofs in the style of a Fi­jian chief’s cer­e­mo­nial hut. But there is no thatch and few ex­ter­nal re­minders that this is Fiji, which is rather a shame, de­spite the ap­peal of clean, sym­met­ri­cal lines.

The in­te­rior decor is sim­ple, too, with walls and ceil­ings in stark white, floors laid with large taupe-coloured tiles, black wal­nut bed­heads and fin­ishes, wicker furniture and Fi­jian cer­e­mo­nial clubs, spears and shel­l­laden head-dresses in wall-mounted dis­play cases. Each room and villa has at least one flat-screen television, Illy es­presso ma­chine and Molton Brown toi­letries in fresh fra­grances such as In­dian cress and coco de mer.

The de­tails here have been well con­sid­ered and the ex­tras are gen­er­ous. Each ac­com­mo­da­tion cat­e­gory fea­tures a com­pli­men­tary Free­dom Fridge of eight bev­er­ages (soft drinks and Fiji Wa­ter), which are re­plen­ished daily. All rates in­clude full buf­fet break­fasts and ev­ery room or villa (aside from stu­dios, the low­est-tar­iff cat­e­gory) have cook­ing fa­cil­i­ties and a bar­be­cue on the bal­cony or ter­race.

DIY bar­bie packs are avail­able from room ser­vice and the on-site deli, Epicier, also sells meat, mari­nades and gro­ceries (in­clud­ing ex­cel­lent bak­ery items). Or take a taxi to the Aus­tralian-run butch­ery near the round­about out of De­na­rau (the concierge has de­tails) and choose pre­mium Fi­jian-sized steaks and snags.

If you can’t bear the idea of cook­ing, a ho­tel chef will call in for $F50 ($37) an hour and do the bar­bie for you. The smell on the evening air is of frangi­pani and co­conut oil mixed with the ir­re­sistible aroma of smok­ing sausages and scorched onions. It all re­sults in an easy out­doors in­for­mal­ity that is rare at a re­sort with this level of lux­ury.

With kids in tow, there’s a PlayS­ta­tion and DVD player in ev­ery room (games and disks from the front desk for $F5 a night), a chil­dren’s menu at Nuku (four years and un­der eat at no cost) and a free ac­tiv­i­ties club for ages three to 12. Babysit­ting charges are a low $F6 an hour.

At the top of the ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions are the three-bed­room vil­las with big private plunge pools off the front ter­race. Th­ese are screened from neigh­bours by flour­ish­ing bushes — cy­cads, small frangi­pani trees, cordy­lines the colour of beet­root, ginger lilies — but of­fer lit­tle pri­vacy from guests walk­ing along the grass by the beach. The re­sort has been open less than a year and land­scap­ing is still sparse in some ar­eas.

This is a rather sani­tised ver­sion of Fiji, with­out the ukulele wel­comes and Isa Lei songs of farewell that are a given at small is­land re­sorts. But it is hol­i­day heaven for stressed cou­ples or fam­i­lies as there is much (or noth­ing) to do.

Port De­na­rau Ma­rina is just min­utes away and cruises around the nearby Ma­manuca Is­lands or fish­ing char­ters depart daily. The re­sort’s wa­ter­sports bure has a glass­bot­tomed boat for the lazi­est of coral view­ing, a wa­ter-ski­ing boat, dive in­struc­tion and tours, jet­skis, even the op­tion of some­thing called wake­board­ing, which sounds like the per­ilous op­po­site of ly­ing down in the re­sort’s spa for a wa­terlily wrap or a Moroc­can co­coon.

Also nearby is the De­na­rau Golf & Rac­quet Club, equipped with six grass and four flood­lit syn­thetic ten­nis courts and an 18-hole par 72 cham­pi­onship golf course. So it’s all there, if you must.

Which I de­cide I mustn’t. Over a pe­riod of 48 hours, I study the shift­ing shad­ows of palms on the pool, try for a spa ap­point­ment (all booked out), gorge on black pep­pered crab at the de­light­ful Nuku restau­rant (de­signed as an in­ter­con­nec­tion of pav­il­ions which ap­pear to float be­tween the pools and the sea), and re­sist the urge to spon­sor an en­trant in the Tues­day evening frog races.

I do, how­ever, walk sev­eral (far from brisk) kilo­me­tres a day up and down the beach and around this at­trac­tive re­sort, greeted with the cus­tom­ary Bula by ev­ery­one I pass. I ask one of the house­keep­ers how of­ten she says the word each day. She finds my cu­rios­ity amus­ing. ‘‘ Too many times to count,’’ she gig­gles. ‘‘ We Fi­jians say Bula all day long, prob­a­bly even in our sleep.’’

It would be a churl­ish guest in­deed who does not rel­ish those gen­uine Fi­jian smiles and the day-long cho­ruses of Bula . Susan Kuro­sawa was a guest of Fiji Beach Re­sort & Spa.

Take the plunge:

A villa with its own pool at Fiji Beach Re­sort & Spa, main pic­ture; stu­dio room, above left; Nuku restau­rant, above right

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