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