Photography by Emma Krasov
This fantastically golden full moon setting behind a rocky Fijian isle, I saw at six in the morning from a terrace of my bure overlooking the ocean at Tokoriki Island Resort. Partially jetlagged, partially too excited to sleep, I watched the sky getting rosier and the moon larger and shiner as it descended into the Pacific to give way to a new day. Every day in Fiji is magical, and the recently introduced non-stop flight from San Francisco to Nadi is now busily transporting honeymooners, Fijians working in the Bay Area, and vacationers to their dream destination, a.k.a. home.
“Bula – welcome home” message spelled out across my bed in leaves and flowers was the first thing I saw when I first entered my bure at Likuliku Lagoon Resort on Malolo Island. That was the best home anyone could ever dream about.
At Yasawa Island Resort & Spa I was met like a dear family member with a salusalu necklace, fresh coconut juice, and a lovely song performed by the resort staff. Later I’ve learned that every greeting and farewell were accompanied by an appropriate song on Fijian Islands, but every time it sounded like a wonderful gift just for me. When I was leaving Yasawa, I knew every staffer by name, and I knew that I will miss their warm smiles and their genuine care…
…The inaugural flight SFO-NAN mid-June started with a festive celebration at the gate before departure, thrown by the Fiji Airways and Tourism Fiji. A giant blue-and-white “wave” made of colored balloons framed the gate entrance; an inflatable palm tree marked the “Fiji selfie area,” and the word Bula! (“life” in Fijian – a greeting for “hello” and “good-bye”) was prominently displayed throughout the entire space. This energetic word also sounded in the rhythmical folk songs, performed by the indigenous choir, and was repeated by the masculine real-life “Fijian warrior” in traditional attire, adorned with tribal tattoos and shell necklace.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was accompanied by a champagne toast, cupcakes, and kava – a ceremonial Fijian drink, derived from a native plant – with a mild calming effect. Probably due to this effect, or to the fact that I was luxuriating in the business class, I slept through almost the entire 10-hour flight, waking up only to accept a rum cocktail, a Kokoda coconut-marinated fish, mango-coconut cheesecake, or other delicacies from the airline chef Lance Seeto, offered by a smiling stewardess with a hibiscus flower in her hair.
I arrived at Nadi airport at dawn, rested, and ready for my Fiji adventure. A driver from Rosie Holidays – a reputable award-winning Fijian tour agency – was waiting for me at the exit. After briefly unpacking and refreshing in a swimming pool at the Fiji Gateway Hotel across from the airport, I took a little excursion to the bustling city market, overflowing with tropical fruit, seafood, and flowers. An entire section of the market was reserved for the kava plant sold in bunches with roots wrapped in newspaper.
Lunch at the Bulaccino Café in the city center included fresh island fish with rice and vegetables, good coffee, and European-style pastries, baked on the premises.
Soon I was back at the airport, waiting for my flight to Yasawa at the Island Hoppers office. A smiling clerk asked me to step on the scales, and then weighted my suitcase. When I boarded a small plane, there were no other passengers inside, only a pilot. In a few minutes we were airborne. Feeling like a private jet owner, I leaned toward my window. The ocean was dark-blue, changing to light turquoise around the white sandy beaches on the edges of green islands.
Half an hour later we were taxing along a grassy landing strip of the Yasawa Island Resort & Spa – the all-inclusive property on one of the remotest pristine islands. It has only 18 luxury bungalows hidden among tropical greenery, each opening to a sandy beach. The farthermost bungalow, Lomalagi (“honeymoon”) has an open floor plan with a living room, bedroom, closet/bathroom area and an outdoor shower cabin. A private infinity pool is on the edge of a sundeck overlooking the ocean. My first order of business was to spend a few meditative minutes swaying in a hammock, and thanking my lucky stars for being here, in the fragrant and colorful dream world of Fiji!
Then I headed to Baravi Spa right on the beach, for an aromatherapy massage. When I walked back to my bure along the beach, an early winter sunset just started in the Southern Hemisphere, and unfamiliar constellations soon pierced the night sky. Knowing that I was traveling by myself in this honeymooners’ paradise, the gallant resort owner-director, James McCann, invited me for cocktails at the poolside Manasa’s Bar named after a long-time employee, and to a beachside seafood dinner.
The next morning, after a substantial breakfast, served at an elegant alfresco restaurant with views of the pool and the ocean, I joined other guests on a visit to Bukama Village where we attended a Sunday church service. The church choir, as good as any professional highly trained ensemble, was singing a capella, one hymn after another, with abandon – I could’ve listened to this heavenly sounds for hours.
When the service was over, and we were about to board our bus back to the resort, we were surrounded by a lively group of the village children whose mothers were singing in the choir. Well-spoken and well-mannered, they asked each of us about our names and ages, and if we were all coming from China.
The rest of the glorious day I spent swimming and snorkeling at the resort, while other guests were sea kayaking, trying stand up paddle boarding, or playing tennis and beach volleyball.
At night, a sunset cocktail party, provided by the management for all the guests, was accompanied by the staff choir performance – another uplifting a capella concert that’s a big part of Fijian experience.
In the morning it was time to say good-bye to the hospitable resort, and after a heartfelt farewell song, I headed for the same grassy airport to fly back to Nadi, and from there board a Pacific Island Air helicopter to the island of Tokoriki.
After a short ride over the sparkling lapis lazuli ocean studded with malachite islands, we landed at the end of a wooden pier leading to the adults-only Tokoriki Island Resort.
Once again, I was greeted like a dear friend, with a necklace, a cocktail, and a choir song, performed by the smiling uniformed employees under the giant pointed roof of the new reception/bar/restaurant area with artful décor, overlooking a large infinity pool.
A winding path lined with blossoming hibiscus bushes led to my spacious bure with a day bed and a plunge pool on a sundeck. After a sunset swim and quick unpacking in the luxurious romantic hideaway with a glass-door living room, a canopy bed, and an outdoor shower walled with lava rocks, I met with Patrice Belle, Director of Sales and Marketing, and a dedicated “heart-and-soul” of the resort, for a nightly torch-lighting ceremony and white-tablecloth al fresco dinner under the Southern Cross.
From her, I’ve learned about the 36 freestanding bures and villas – all beachfront – that constitute the resort; a host of water and land activities, available to the guests; a tropical garden spa, which I was about to visit the next morning, and South Pacific/Asian fusion cuisine presented to the guests in daily changing menus. Our oceanfront dinner included traditional Fijian Kokoda reef fish ceviche, New Zealand beef tenderloin with spiced pumpkin puree and red wine demi-glace, and a crowd-pleaser dessert of Tokoriki sundae ice-cream with nut praline, brandy snap, and Bailey’s cream.
The spa, situated among the lava rocks, lush greenery, and tiny streams, greeted me with immediate calming sensation. Jane, my highly-skilled masseuse, showed me around, and after a wonderfully-invigorating massage invited me to lounge in a relaxation room with a cup of guava tea.
Soon it was time for me to continue my journey among the enchanting Mamanuca Islands. Treated once again to a farewell song, performed by the resort’s amazing musical band and the staff choir, I was taken to the beach where I boarded my next transportation device – Mamanuca Express Speedboat.
This boat in less than an hour delivered me to my next stop – Likuliku Lagoon Resort. Even before we landed at the tip of a long wooden pier I rapidly fell in love with this unique establishment when I glanced a row of over-water bures on stilts, and then under the crystal clear wave caught a sight of a dark-blue starfish spread on a coral reef.
I didn’t have a chance to stay in one of the over-water bures (available only at Likuliku in Fiji) but I never tired of admiring them from my own luxurious beachfront bure on the opposite curve of a crescent-shaped beach, especially at sunset…
Likuliku (“calm waters”) – the couples’ resort – combines the natural beauty of the legendary Blue Lagoon with upscale accommodations, impeccable service, and sophisticated culinary program. The resort manager, Tulia Seru, knows every guest by his/her name, and watches many of them come back to their favorite vacation spot year after year. Couples with young children spend their time on the same island, in a sister resort Malolo Island Fiji – also a part of Ahura Resorts Group.
This kind and considerate woman took special care of me, making sure I wouldn’t feel lonesome among the honeymooners and return couples. I suspected that she extended the same level of care to everyone around! Each time she and I sat down to a meal in the multi-level indoor-outdoor restaurant Fijiana with lacquered wood and folk art décor, Tulia was greeted by other diners, answered their questions, enquired about someone’s well-being, or took on various requests regarding menu options and activities for the next day.
After I settled down, we had tropical cocktails at a bar on the pier, and then dinner at the restaurant that consisted of an amuse bouche of summertime tofu and chicken in sesame seeds; a starter of steamed prawn dumplings in aromatic broth of garden herbs, and a main course of salt and pepper reef snapper with cucumber salad and three-flavor sauce with a side of honey-roasted pumpkin.
The next morning, after a breakfast that included a mud crab omelet with chili and papaya relish in addition to fresh-squeezed fruit juices and house-baked pastries, thoroughly impressed, I asked to be introduced to the chef.
Executive Chef Shane Watson, originally from Sidney, Australia, is a multiple award-winning chef, whose successful career in big city restaurants became less satisfactory when his family started growing, and so one day he and his wife decided to take their two children back “home” to Malolo Island, where Watson worked during the opening of the resort and designed a food concept for it.
“We set a benchmark of where we want to be,” said Watson. “I’m from a restaurant background. Resorts aren’t necessarily my thing. I didn’t know hotel, so I brought my restaurant concept with me.”
And it worked! The Chef carefully composes daily menus so there would be something for everyone on them from the simple grilled fish and vegetables fare to lobster cocktails, and from Asian smoked pork noodles to duck confit with hazelnuts. The Chef took me on an excursion to his kitchen garden, from where fresh herbs and seasonal vegetables make it straight to his chopping board. Behind the spinach beds I saw several beehives that produce enough honey for all the kitchen needs.
While in Likuliku, I also had a vigorous massage treatment at the Tatadra (“House of Dreams”) Spa, and an unforgettable Modriki Island Tour originated at the resort.
At the crack of dawn, before the wind picked up, Tulia and I boarded a speedboat that took us to the beautiful Mamanucas – Castaway Island, Mana Island, Matamanoa, and Monuriki, where the film “Cast Away” with Tom Hanks has been shot. We had a short walk on the white sand of Monuriki, and then snorkeled in the blue depth of the South Pacific before going around Monu and Yanuya islands, past Tokoriki and Tavuad, and stopping at Mana Sand Bank – a wondrous shiny stretch of land in the middle of the ocean, before heading back to Likuliku.
Another surprise was awaiting me. As Steve Anstey, General Manager of Ahura Resorts, explained to me, the resort group adopted Iguana Rescue Program to protect the critically endangered Fijian Crested Iguana.
“Operating in a pristine, sensitive environment such as ours, with ocean and coral reefs on one side, and land flora and fauna on the other, we recognize the importance of sustainable tourism,” said Anstey. “Our aim is not only to minimize our impact on the extraordinary nature that surrounds us, but through a range of activities, programs, and initiatives, to improve and enhance the environment for challenged species and future generations.”
The iguana preservation initiative is being implemented in partnership with US Geological Survey, Taronga Zoo, San Diego Zoo, and Mamanuca Environmental Society.
Adam Clause from the University of Georgia, who works on the research project within the program, took me to the iguana enclosure not far from the front desk of the resort, where I could have a good look at the a jewel-like creature with striped jade-green and white skin, smart beady eyes, and bright yellow nostrils.
The next day, followed by the fascinating sounds of Isa Lei – the national farewell song, “Isa, Isa, vulagi lasa dina/Nomu lako au na rarawa kina/Cava beka ko a mai cakava/Nomu lako au na sega ni lasa,” performed by the Likuliku staff choir, I was boarding a South Sea Cruises boat to Port Denarau in Nadi. At the Denarau Marina I had my last Fijian supper of sweet slipper lobster at the Rhum-Ba restaurant inside the Denarau Yacht Club.
Then I headed for the Nadi airport to take another easy flight with Fiji Airways home, to San Francisco, but just like the Isa Lei song says, whenever I think of Fiji, “Every moment my heart for you is yearning.”
Look for additional information at: www.fijiairways.com, www.tourismfiji.com.fj, www.fiji.travel, www.rosie.com.fj, www.raffehotels.com, www.yasawa.com, www.tokoriki.com, www.ahuraresorts.com, www.mamanucaexpress.com, www.pacificislandair.com, www.ssc.com.fj, www.rhum-ba.com.