Three hundred islands make up the Fijian archipelago. Even so, Fiji is seldom front-of-mind as an adventure for body, mind and spirit. We recently discovered how fascinating our South Pacific neighbour can be after seven idyllic days of snorkelling, scuba and Fijian hospitality.
And to think, this tropical adventure land is only a five-hour flight away from Melbourne. Perhaps that’s the problem. Holidaymakers from further afield see it differently: ‘Sure, we could have gone to Zanzibar,’ said the young South African couple we met on a scuba excursion. ‘Fiji just seemed a more exotic destination to spend our honeymoon.’
Arriving at Nadi International airport on the main island, we were jaded after a red-eye flight, but with the sun coming up over lush green mountains, our mood soon lifted.
A short flight by sea-plane was an option; instead, we took a leisurely two-hour island hop west by ferry to Malolo Island. Legend says it was created by mythical gods for the wandering sun to settle at days end. Now it was our turn.
Our Fijian welcome started with ‘Bulla’ and ratcheted up from there. The wide smiles, firm handshakes and Fijian singing that met us as we stepped onto the pier at 4-star Malolo Island Resort had us feeling slightly awkward, but in no doubt we were far from home.
It wasn’t long before I was distracted, transfixed by the water: an endless, soothing blue that stretched to the horizon. No sooner had we settled into our air-conditioned beach cottage (bure), we grabbed snorkels and masks and dove into the crystal clear sea catching a glimpse of the lively underwater world only metres away.
Nothing like a hint of daring for an added dimension to resort life. Snorkelling became a David Attenborough episode simply by taking a camera into the water. Manoeuvring in a boat between dolphins at play induced a state of Zen. And kayaking to a nearby island tested our fitness.
But our family’s adventure of choice is scuba diving. The lure of the deep proved irresistible one year: we devoted three days of our holiday to obtaining dive licenses, and there was no looking back. So we knew what to expect on next day’s dive excursion:
That feeling of anticipation, even helplessness, sitting on the side of a boat under the weight of a heavy tank before tumbling backwards into the sea. A sense of abandon when it’s time to release air from a life-saving buoyancy vest for the inch-by-inch descent into the deep blue. Floating weightless three-storeys below the surface suspended in a colour-filled tapestry of coral and fish is so relaxing as to be intoxicating. No wonder, 45 minutes later, the conversation back on the boat is so upbeat.
To my eyes, coral bleaching at sites we visited was more severe than popular dive spots on the Great Barrier Reef. Global warming and a recent hurricane has left coral a stony reminder of better years. Even so, the teeming fish population was enough colour to fill us with wonder. And there was the odd sea turtle to get excited by.
And who could resist a morning dive with sharks. Relinquishing the pleasure of sitting out on a tree-high terrace, enjoying a smorgasbord of fresh, local tastes – is no small thing. All the same, we couldn’t miss the experience of floating close to the ocean floor circled by harmless, yet ominous-looking sea-creatures with a serious rep.
The spell was broken momentarily by a cultural trip. Stepping from the grand, colonial architecture of the hotel, we entered the developing world of a local village, reality for many Fijians working at the resort.
Wet togs and thongs were swapped for shirt and pants in preparation for meeting village leaders. Then, sitting on the floor, sweating from the heat in the centre of a concrete community room, a bear-sized Fijian chief opposite squeezed a wet cloth with his commanding hands, draining kava into a large wooden bowl. One by one, we recited ‘Bulla’ three times before sipping the cloudy fluid from a cup.
No disrespect intended, but the rumours are true – kava does taste like dishwater. And although our daughter complained of dizziness afterwards, this ceremonial drink, said to contain mild-altering properties, had no effect on me. And I’d gone for seconds.
With the formal ceremony over, we chatted and joked with women sitting around the room’s perimeter. If they felt disappointed there were only three of us that day to buy handmade craft laid out in front of them, it was well hidden.
Forty-eight hours. That’s all it had taken for tropical alchemy to take hold. A shimmering ocean turned a deeper azure, the frangipani behind our waitress’ ear grew a more vivid red. Even the ocean’s lapping waves seemed to come closer to our bure as each night passed.
Fiji received three mentions in Fairfax magazine Travellers’ Best Hotels and Resorts of 2017. I now understand why.
It’s been a while since I returned from a brief holiday feeling so refreshed. And even as Malola Island disappeared in the wake of the ferry sending us closer to home, Fiji had one last gift – no jet lag to speak of.
Good to Know
Malola Island Resort has three restaurants : Terrace, Treetops and Beach Bar. The menu changes daily. Fijian BBQ night is held once a week after a performance of traditional dances in the natural amphitheatre created by the main buildings. Meal packages are available. All family members are were well-catered for with an extensive children’s club and dedicated activity room for teens.
*Picture credit: Esther Blanco and Mia Dewar.
Peter Dewar and his family travelled to Fiji at their own cost.