Thirty strides to the beach

An is­land close to Nadi of­fers luxe res­i­dences as well as re­sort vil­las

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page - SU­SAN KURO­SAWA

THE words Fiji and hol­i­day go to­gether nat­u­rally and eas­ily. For east coast Aus­tralians in par­tic­u­lar, the is­land na­tion is a peren­nial favourite — quick and sim­ple to reach, of­fer­ing ex­cep­tional value, and with all the fa­mil­iar­ity of a back­yard des­ti­na­tion.

But the no­tion of Fiji and hol­i­day rentals is an­other mat­ter. We are so used to stay­ing at re­sorts on Viti Levu and neigh­bour­ing isles that the idea of an ac­tual hol­i­day house seems to be­long to places such as Bali or south­ern Thai­land.

Vomo Is­land Re­sort in the Ma­manuca chain of­fers just such an op­tion. This is a re­sort that has been clev­erly po­si­tioned for both fam­i­lies and cou­ples, a mix that doesn’t al­ways make for a log­i­cal part­ner­ship at smaller prop­er­ties.

At 91ha, and with no vil­lages or other re­sorts on the is­land, Vomo is big enough for en­er­getic walk­ing, there are jog­ging and hik­ing trails, and it takes about 75 min­utes to do a cir­cle of the is­land at crab­s­cut­tling low tide.

You can climb lofty Mt Vomo in the early morn­ing or late af­ter­noon when the sun is less sharp and shiny; there’s a chip-and-putt course set in a co­conut grove and a flood­lit syn­thetic ten­nis court. Accommodation is spread along the ex­cel­lent white- sand main beach and up and into the foothills be­yond.

So un­like in, say, the small coral isles of the Mal­dives, where you can stroll around a spit of sand in about 10 min­utes, this is a sub­stan­tial is­land with much to see and do.

If you don’t want to mix it with ju­nior guests, care­fully check the school hol­i­days pe­ri­ods (which vary from state to state), although from my ex­pe­ri­ence there’s plenty of space for all. Cou­ples who want ul­ti­mate do-not-dis­turb digs and tons of space should book the Royal or the Res­i­dence vil­las.

But the fun thing to do is to con­sider a house party. Get the ex­tended fam­ily to­gether or team up with friends and book these res­i­dences en masse, just as one would or­gan­ise a hol­i­day house back home. The dif­fer­ence, how­ever, is there’s no need to fight over whose turn it is to do the washin­gup or cap­tain the bar­bie — all the fa­cil­i­ties of the 30-room re­sort are on tap, from daily house­keep­ing to valet ser­vice.

The Royal fea­tures three en­suite bed­rooms, so there should be no ar­gu­ing over who gets the best one. The Res­i­dence sleeps eight in four en­suite bed­rooms across three pavil­ions (two bed­rooms in the main build­ing, one each in the smaller pavil­ions) so this is the ideal al­ter­na­tive for big­ger fam­i­lies or the type of VIP who needs space for an en­tourage.

Both these habi­tats are set in ex­clu­sive en­claves, with pri­vate pools, out­door show­ers, daybeds and gar­dens, and slid­ing win­dow walls. There’s a lav­ish amount of out­door laz­ing and en­ter­tain­ing space and a trop­i­cal-luxe decor of mod­ern fur­ni­ture and fit­tings.

Stay at The Res­i­dence and you are just 30 (Kuro­sawa-sized) steps from the beach and half­way to the chic Rocks Bar on the is­land’s western tip, for giddy-coloured sunset cock­tails from 5pm to 7pm. These res­i­dences have been popu- lar with celebs anx­ious to es­cape scru­tiny, although gen­eral man­ager Wayne Mil­gate says Scot­tish ac­tor John Han­nah, on a break from film­ing in New Zealand, was a par­tic­u­larly friendly re­cent guest, wan­der­ing about in a sulu (sarong) and chat­ting to fel­low guests at the bar. Elle Macpher­son and fam­ily have been guests at Vomo, as have Ian Thorpe and fash­ion de­signer Peter Mor­ris­sey.

In 2009, the Myer cam­paign for Jen­nifer Hawkins’s Cozi swimwear la­bel was shot on the is­land. More re­cently, the final episode of the sev­enth se­ries of the hit US show The Bach­e­lorette was filmed at Vomo, which ap­par­ently is a good thing if all the at­ten­dant mar­ket­ing carry- on is to be be­lieved. Clearly, the re­sort is in­tent on at­tract­ing more guests from the North Amer­i­can mar­ket to swell the ranks of mostly Aus­tralian and New Zealand reg­u­lars.

My pre­vi­ous visit was in 2005, when Ac­cor man­aged the is­land un­der the Sof­i­tel brand­ing.

It has been a re­sort since the early 1990s and its present own­ers, a con­sor­tium of New Zealand busi­ness­men, ac­quired the prop­erty in 2003.

Be sure to book a cast­away pic­nic on Vomo Lailai, an is­land just five min­utes to the west by speed­boat, which will be yours alone for sev­eral hours. Lailai means small, and in­deed it is, a car­toon-cute isle that feels like the full Robin­son Cru­soe, save for the gourmet pro­vi­sion­ing and cush­ioned daybed plat­forms. There’s a ta­ble made up with hi­bis­cus and clam shell dec­o­ra­tions, an Esky with your choice of pre-or­dered pic­nic (make mine grilled slip­per lob­ster torn from the shell, with a cool­ing wa­ter­melon, basil, chilli and fetta salad) and drinks, safe swim­ming, rock­pools to ex­plore and good snorkelling ter­ri­tory, with fish dart­ing in flashes of colour, like the quick, vivid brush­strokes on a Ken Done can­vas.

A walkie-talkie is pro­vided to call base if you have any prob­lems. Or, in my case, sim­ply want to tell the boat­men not to bother com­ing back un­til, say, next week, thanks all the same. It’s a lovely es­cape from an is­land that is in it­self an es­cape, with no daytrip­pers al­lowed. And there are cor­ners that feel they were made just for cou­ples, such as the two bars and can­dle­light din­ing on the pool­side ter­race. The Ya­sawa side of the is­land houses the re­sort, which leaves the beach on the Ma­manuca side largely de­serted for the day, although it’s a bit of a hike to get there.

Like many Fi­jian re­sorts, Vomo is a pop­u­lar venue for wed­dings, which come with ex­tras such as Fi­jian war­rior es­corts and flo­ral leis, and the lit­tle gar­den- set Senikau Spa of­fers cou­ples treat­ments as well as a menu of pam­per­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties, from pa­paya body wraps to cleans­ing rit­u­als with frangi­pani oil.

South African-born ex­ec­u­tive chef Ge­of­frey Crabbe serves agree­able fare that is light, in­ven­tive and per­fectly suited to a hot cli­mate.

The menu does a carousel from Ja­pan and Viet­nam to Italy and France, with veg­eta­bles and herbs plucked from his pes­ti­cide-free is­land gar­den, and stand­out lo­cal dishes that in­clude a tamarind, gin­ger and co­conut cream fish curry with jas­mine rice and condi­ments.

The wine list is com­posed pri­mar­ily of Aus­tralian and NZ la­bels and there’s a se­lec­tion by the glass; the Fiji gov­ern­ment im­poses a 30 per cent levy on im­ported wines, but prices here are nonethe­less rea­son­able, and the myr­iad cock­tails and lo­cal beers (the well­known Fiji Bit­ter and new­comer Vonu Pure Lager, with its tur­tle- mo­tif la­bel) are good al­ter­na­tives.

Dur­ing my stay, it’s the run-up to the Rugby World Cup: the Chiefly Hut, the base for watch­ing tele­vi­sion and play­ing wetweather games, has been re­named the Rugby Lounge and the na­tional team, the Fly­ing Fi­jians, are, if not ex­actly air­borne, then at least mak­ing a charge dur­ing their early matches.

We gather around the big screen and laugh and shout like loons, and all the shy gar­den­ers and wait­ers I have met ear­lier are sud­denly bounc­ing about and cheer­ing on the Wal­la­bies and All Blacks with the same en­thu­si­asm as their own team, at least when they are play­ing other sides.

Later I dis­cover that Prince Al­bert II of Monaco an­chored his yacht-cruiser just off Vomo and Tor­ren­tial rains flooded parts of Viti Levu this week and a se­vere weather warn­ing was is­sued. Some tourists have needed help from the mil­i­tary to reach Nadi air­port from re­sorts on the Coral Coast and De­na­rau. If you plan to travel to Fiji you should con­tact your tour op­er­a­tor for an up­date on the sit­u­a­tion and check DFAT ad­vi­sories at smar­trav­ had din­ner with his new wife, Princess Char­lene, at The Res­i­dence while watch­ing the bronze final match in the house’s sprawl­ing lounge room. Af­ter a quick snorkel next day in the fa­mously clear water of the Ma­manu­cas, they pro­gressed to Auck­land in time for the final — which is what you do when script­ing your own episode of Life­styles of the Rich and Fa­mous.

On a more down-to-earth level, for­mer Wal­la­bies cap­tain John Eales vis­ited Vomo in 2010 and says one of the daily high­lights was ‘‘join­ing the 5.30pm game of touch rugby with the staff’’. He says that af­ter learn­ing bula (the all-pur­pose greet­ing) and vi­naka (thank you), he quickly mem­o­rised the word

for for­give­ness, vosota. ‘‘ Vosota, that was a bad pass! Vosota, I think I’ve torn my ham­string!’’

If the devil is in the de­tail, then Vomo is hellishly good. There’s a free daily laun­dry ser­vice, for ex­am­ple, one of the best and most abun­dant lovo ban­quets you’ll find in Fiji, and com­pli­men­tary wire­less broad­band through­out the re­sort.

Bot­tled water is pro­vided free in all guest vil­las, as are soft drinks with meals. There’s no sense of be­ing ‘‘got’’ for hid­den ex­tras; it’s a happy place, per­haps be­cause it’s free of big-chain philoso­phies and with own­ers who clearly see the need for on­go­ing re­fur­bish­ments and ini­tia­tives.

Just one tip: as well as the top­cat­e­gory res­i­dences, gue­stroom styles are listed on the web­site, but be aware that some of the vil­las are du­plexes; be sure to book a free­stand­ing op­tion if trav­el­ling, as a cou­ple of com­ments by some Tri­pad­vi­sor users sug­gest sound­proof­ing could be an is­sue.

All accommodation is wellde­signed and equipped with all the right ameni­ties, and the build­ings are sur­rounded by buoy­ant and colour­ful plant­ings.

Its rat­ing is five-star but, the res­i­dences aside, Vomo feels more like four-star with an edge. Oth­er­wise, it’s a re­sort that’s hard to fault — although those boat­men do pick you up from Vomo Lailai, even when you tell them not to bother.

Clock­wise from above, the Rocks Bar on Vomo Is­land’s western tip, the pri­vate Res­i­dence villa, snorkelling around Vomo’s coral reefs, and the re­sort’s main swim­ming pool

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