Thirty strides to the beach
An island close to Nadi offers luxe residences as well as resort villas
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 smartraveller.gov.au. 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