FIJI Reef encounter
ternalism extends further: in Fiji, the land is owned by the native Fijians so if someone wants to set up a hotel or a resort, they have to lease the land. In return, the local village get things — like a school media centre — for their community.
They’re still pretty poor: the average Fijian salary is £30 per week and because they don’t grow very much, the cost of living isn’t cheap, but they seem to have found a contentment that eludes many Westerners.
Whether this holds true on Fiji’s two largest islands where 87 per cent of the population lives, we didn’t find out. Like almost every other visitor, we were there to see tourist Fiji, which meant that we went straight from Nadi to Denarau Island — half-an-hour by taxi on a pot-holed road and linked to the mainland by a small bridge.
All the big chains have resorts on Denarau and we stayed at the Sofitel for our first night. It was fine but, if the morning we spent round the pool was at all typical, there were too many resting aircrew and travel agents doing “inspection trips” to make it feel like a holiday destination I’d recommend.
After lunch, we took an hour-long catamaran ride to the island of Malolo which is one of Fiji’s 100 inhabited islands (there are twice as many uninhabited ones). We were staying at the Likuliku resort which sent a speedboat out to the catamaran to meet us.
This was the South Pacific island of our dreams, with tropical palm trees, brilliant blue sky, transparent turquoise sea and white waves lapping on the coral reefs, forming the perfect setting for the choral welcome sung in (as far as I could tell) six-part harmony.
The welcome was further enhanced by a seashell garland, a chilled fruit cocktail and an iced, scented face flannel.
Likuliku is a new resort but already renowned for being the first in Fiji to offer overwater bures (bungalows to you and me) of the kind typically found in the Maldives. Very romantic, especially for the many honeymooners that this couples-only resort attracts , but a bit scary during storms and, while we were there, three of them were being repaired following a recent cyclone.
We stayed in a thatched beachfront bure which was built in traditional Fijian style, with natural wood and ceiling fans, rattan furnishings and cool, tiled floors. The authenticity didn’t compromise the comfort in any way; the bure was fabulously equipped with air-conditioning, flatscreen TV, etc, as well as its own section of beach and a plunge pool.
Before the rains arrived, we snorkelled and saw a terrific variety of fish. The rest of the time, we lazed around reading, chatting with fellow guests and eating in the stunning restaurant. The food was fine, and with plenty of fish, without being memorable.
In fact, it was better in terms of range and scope (including a wonderful Mongolian barbecue) at Tokoriki, the next hotel on our itinerary.
We travelled over from Likuliku in a speedboat during a terrible storm. A journey that should have taken 20 min-
utes took nearly an hour and we were badly shaken by the time we arrived.
Like Malolo, Tokoriki is one of the Mamanuca Islands. There are some 20 islands in this volcanic archipelago, of which seven disappear underwater at high tide. One of them, Monuriki, was the location for the Tom Hanks film Cast Away.
The beachfront bure at Tokoriki was no less beautiful than the one we’d had at Likuliku — extraordinary, given how much cheaper it was. However, it didn’t have a TV or room phone because the owner, an amiable Aussie named Andrew Turnbull who, in true Victor Kiam fashion, liked-the-hotelso-much-he-bought-it, doesn’t believe in them. I shared his view that it’s good to get away from these things but, as I pointed out, his policy meant that you couldn’t call reception from the bedroom — an obvious problem that he promised to rectify.
After two days of uninterrupted rain, we took the catamaran back to Denarau for our last day and night at the Hilton Fiji Resort & Spa. We weren’t expecting very much from what was, after all, a hotel chain so we were hugely impressed by the magnificent suite with all mod cons plus a swimming pool just for us and five other rooms
Not that there was a shortage of pools at the resort. I counted seven as well as several hundred yards of beach — though the sea wasn’t nearly as blue as it had been on the islands.
Despite having a plainer reception area thanits Denarau rivals, it was a real find: all the amenities you’d expect from a resort with the sort of charm and friendly service usually reserved for boutique hotels.
Consequently, we came to the conclusion that, in the wet season at least, we would prefer to stay at the Hilton and then make trips out to the islands when the weather permits — if only to have them bid us a tuneful welcome and to hear, once again, that magical word “Bula!”
Slipping the chains: a room at the Hilton Fiji Resort & Spa
The Fijian island of Monuriki, used for the Tom Hanks film Cast Away