HIDE AND SLEEK

A hol­i­day house on the Fi­jian Coral Coast is the ideal place for a thor­ough rest, says Susan Kuro­sawa

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

THE first day is spent con­sid­er­ing in­creas­ingly fas­ci­nat­ing places to lie down. By the sec­ond day, favourite spots have been bagged: on the Ba­li­nese-style day bed by the plunge pool and, in the gar­den, re­cliner chairs by the main in­fin­ity-edge pool with its fil­tered views through feath­ery ta­marind trees to the ocean.

Waves con­stantly break on the reef and this susurra­tion pro­vides the sound­track for a stay at My­ola Plan­ta­tion’s self-con­tained villa on the Fi­jian Coral Coast. This lo­ca­tion — off the Queens Road, about 45 min­utes from Nadi air­port and to­wards the cap­i­tal, Suva — is nicely hid­den yet close to the size­able town of Si­ga­toka, with its mar­kets, jet­boat river tours and some good In­dian restau­rants.

Not that eat­ing out proves to be a dis­trac­tion, as we soon dis­cover. Stay at My­ola and for­get about lift­ing as much as a fin­ger, let alone work­ing out how to use the gas range or toaster. The tar­iff is in­clu­sive of all meals but what the glossy pro­mo­tional ma­te­rial can’t cap­ture is the level of care and ser­vice that comes with Sheila’s de­li­cious cur­ries and Sala’s lamb roasts and trop­i­cal fruit plat­ters the size of rac­ing car­ni­val hats.

Karen and Ian Hoski­son opened My­ola in 2005. Karen says she found the va­cant site af­ter a tip-off from her son in 2002 and it was a case of hack­ing through over­grown trees and vines to get to the clifftop and fab­u­lous views be­yond. Karen, a third-gen­er­a­tion Fi­jian, lived on site through the long clear­ing and con­struc­tion process while Ian, a Bri­tish­born marine sal­vage ex­pert, worked in Aus­tralia and the Pa­cific.

Two res­i­dences were built: the main house and the nearby two-suite guest villa, a main pool for each and a pair of plunge pools for the villa, plus an or­chard of limes and lemons planted in or­derly rows. Th­ese cit­rus trees are now so abun­dant and thriv­ing that fruit is sold to the nearby Shangri-La Fi­jian Re­sort. My­ola’s guests are served such treats as ice-cream made from the es­tate’s limes and spinach tossed in tangy lemon but­ter.

The plan­ta­tion is lush, threaded with vines and set well back from the road. A round­about near the main gate is a botan­i­cal as­ton­ish­ment: rows of plants wind­ing in a cir­cu­lar for­ma­tion that could be passed off as an in­stal­la­tion in a posh gallery. In front of the villa, ter­raced plant­ings spill down the cliff­side and tiny yel­low but­ter­flies flit about ginger bushes and pa­paya trees heavy with fruit.

Karen has fur­nished the villa in a vein sim­i­lar to the main house: it’s a mix of Asian and lo­cal style, what could be dubbed a Fi­ji­ne­sian hy­brid of Ja­vanese teak doors and gi­ant four-poster beds, Ba­li­nese arte­facts, lo­cal art­work, Chi­nese cab­i­nets, and silk cur­tains and cush­ions. With cool mar­ble floors, high vaulted ceil­ings and pale colour scheme, the feel is very con­tem­po­rary, with ev­ery­thing an­gled to­wards lofty views of the sea.

Just stay­ing here and ex­ist­ing on hol­i­day bar­be­cues would be splen­did but that would make Sala and Sheila sulky in­deed. The for­mer, My­ola’s res­i­dent chef and wife of Save, the driver and star ukelele player, is in charge of break­fasts and Fi­jian and West­ern dishes for other meals. Her kokoda — chunks of Span­ish mack­erel mar­i­nated in lime juice, with co­conut milk, onion and co­rian­der — is the best we have tasted dur­ing many trips to Fiji. It ar­rives in a half-co­conut shell set atop a base of melon, a frangi­pani at a rak­ish an­gle, al­most be­hind its ear.

Sheila, who lives nearby, is the In­dian cook­ery spe­cial­ist; ac­cord­ing to guests’ re­quests, she cre­ates the most de­li­cious cur­ries and teaches us how to make beef pi­lau and spiced prawns. She scours the gar­den for ta­marind pods and cre­ates sour-salty rel­ishes that are per­fect ac­com­pa­ni­ments for fresh roti rolls stuffed with okra and chilli-salted snake beans.

We do noth­ing much ex­cept eat and when we are not eat­ing we are look­ing at the daily menu and await­ing the next meal. Rosi, Sala’s sis­ter, also lives on the My­ola es­tate with her three sons, and she serves our food, all ar­tis­ti­cally gar­nished with frangi­pani, sprigs of springy mint, or­chids and spi­der lilies. In the bed­rooms and bath­rooms, fur­ther flo­ral ac­tion is in reg­u­lar progress as house­keeper Sashi strews yet more blooms, pop­ping petals on the soap dishes, the toi­let-roll hold­ers, pil­lows and rolled tow­els. If we stand still long enough, we ex­pect we will be sim­i­larly or­na­mented.

It takes a day to work out all the in­ter­con­nec­tions of the My­ola fam­ily and then we feel as if we, too, are part of this cheery clan. Re­al­ity re­cedes and it seems per­fectly nor­mal to waft to break­fast in sarongs and eat finely sliced rosy-red par­rot man­goes driz­zled with honey and dot­ted with star anise, to de­vour eggs bene­dict perched atop pep­pery lo­cal spinach, the plate fringed with flow­ers.

A sugar train runs along a sin­gle track at the bot­tom of My­ola’s gar­den, me­tres from the beach, and pas­sen­gers can hop on and off, bound for Si­ga­toka or lovely Nata­dola beach.

Save drives us to Si­ga­toka’s cov­ered mar­ket where stall­hold­ers ar­range their farm-fresh pro­duce with seem­ingly ca­sual artistry: wob­bly pyra­mids of pale toma­toes, fat stalks of pink­ish-white taro tied with blue bows, plates stacked with egg­plants and bunches of beans and wild ota fern, chillis scat­tered on tres­tle-tops in a riot of red and green. The Si­ga­toka Val­ley is known for its rich al­lu­vial soil and Sala and Sheila tell us that all their cook­ing in­gre­di­ents can be found at the mar­kets, off lo­cal fish­ing boats or in My­ola’s or­ganic gar­dens.

There seems lit­tle rea­son to leave the neigh­bour­hood; even one of Fiji’s best spas, the Outrig­ger on the La­goon’s Bebe Spa, is less than a half-hour’s drive away. My fa­cial ap­point­ment runs late and Save waits in the car for me, lis­ten­ing to a tape of his gospel group. He has toured widely with his mu­si­cal col­leagues. ‘‘ Even to Woy Woy, NSW,’’ he tells me.

I have emerged from Bebe Spa smelling of Pure Fiji’s co­conut and star fruits­cented unguents and Save and I hum along to­gether as we head back along the coast road to My­ola in time for canapes, cock­tails and the prospect of an­other of Sala’s ban­quet-wor­thy spreads. No won­der I have to be pulled away kick­ing and protest­ing on de­par­ture day.

A taste of heaven: The villa at My­ola, main pic­ture and bot­tom right; Sheila (left) and Rosi, top right; Fi­jian kokoda, mid­dle right

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