Far away from the mundane, Fiji lies in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with natural beauty that brings to mind images of paradise. On a recent visit to the tropical nation, Travel+Leisure India & South Asia’s contributor discovers cerulean waters, untouched islands, and sunsets that melt the heart.
What do The Blue Lagoon and Castaway have in common? Both films, though from completely different eras, showed their protagonists being marooned on tropical islands that made one yearn for the simple life—hacking away at coconut trees, angling for fish, and mastering the art of lighting a fire, all while being surrounded by picture postcard views. The forbidden paradise, those green jungles, blue seas, and stunning caves were all backdrops from Fiji.
The island nation is not easy to get to, as I discover after a 10-hour flight from Singapore’s Changi. Nestled somewhere above Australia, but a fair distance from Hawaii and Bora Bora, Fiji is a world unto itself. Trees and lush green fields line the mainland of Viti Levu, which is where the nation’s capital Suva is. An airport that reminds me of the one at Koh Samui or Colombo, welcomed me with open windows and atriums, quite unlike the glass and steel behemoths one gets used to these days. A former British colony, Fiji has an Indian population that’s been resident to the islands for over four generations. They speak Hindi—their version of it—and are keen to converse with visiting Indians.
A drive through the simple highway exhibits flora and fauna that are similar to the ones back home. Trees from India made their way over a century ago to this island, and so have horses along with people who migrated under the British to work on sugar and banana plantations. Fijians have a perpetual smile on their face, one that only grows more intense as they shout out the local greeting ‘Bula!’ which translates to ‘hello’. They’re a welcoming lot, which can sometimes be unnerving to someone who’s more used to the hustle and bustle of city life, where our best friends are electronic devices, pending deadlines, and anxiety. Here, the people are happy. The reason becomes evident as I open the patio doors of my fancy suite at the InterContinental Hotel. Outside, there’s the sea, another island in the distance, sand, sun, and everything culminates into a painting that God himself must’ve laboured over.
The Intercontinental boasts of a great golf course and some truly exemplary culinary outlets, but first, I get sent to the in-house spa to rid me of my jet lag and get back into the groove of things. Like a scene out of Cleopatra, I am bathed in yoghurt and honey, before being scrubbed with cinnamon bark and then wrapped up in a sheet to marinate. The massage that follows lulls me into a deep sleep. When I leave, I smell like a dessert. All this before being ushered to Navo, the hotel’s speciality dining restaurant. Flavoured salts, a touching story of the island on which the restaurant is named, and a generous portion of the catch of the day make for the perfect first meal.
For adventure and thrill seekers, there’s a lot on offer, as I learn the very next day on a trip down the Sigatoka River that flows through Viti Levu. Our jet boat takes us down the river in a hair-rising hurry, which was akin to a ride on a roller coaster. The Sigatoka River Safari tour offers visitors an off-road drive across the mountains to a local village of priests who guard a legendary old cave called the Naihehe. Fiji’s largest cave system, Naihehe was a sort of refuge for the Nabuavatu tribe who hid there during Fiji’s tribal warfare days. With cathedral-like natural vaulted ceilings, stalagmites and stalactites, pools of waist-high water that one has to traverse across, and secret tunnels and openings, this cave is something out of a Jules Verne novel.
Off To Sea
My home for the next three nights is a very British-looking cruise ship that brought back memories of Hercule Poirot on the River Nile. Captain Cook Cruises , a company that is run out of Australia, manages a couple of different tours around the neighbouring islands. I got to experience a cruise around Yasawa, an archipelago that is home to some of the most stunning islands, and where movies like The Blue Lagoon and Castaway were shot! Staterooms on the ship are large enough, with just the right bells and whistles, while the several decks onboard house everything from a gift shop, dining room, plunge pool, and lounge area. Sunscreen is a must and so is a cap to save you from the glaring sun when lazing on the many deck chairs. If you suffer from sea sickness, as I unfortunately do, a visit to the in-house nurse is advisable, who prescribes a bunch of pills that dull nausea synonymous with sailing at sea.
Our first stop is Tivua Private Island, a tiny piece of land in the middle of the ocean around which there are even more impressive coral reefs and beaches that put to shame any others that I’ve visited before. I find my own little spot on the beach, away from the other passengers, and dive into the waves. One can truly get lost here, staring out into the infinite blue skies that merge with the water seamlessly. As the days go by, we are taken island hopping and introduced to local village folk who share with us their food cooked in Lovolovo style—buried beneath the ground with simmering hot coals. On board, there’s a well-behaved school group from Australia, an affable German couple, a family of Italians who make more noise than the ship’s engine, and a lady from Canberra, Toni Martin, for who this is the 20th trip aboard the same cruise.
Toni’s reasons behind her annual trip to the Captain Cook Cruise in Fiji become clear to all of us soon enough—the Yasawa Islands are a treat to behold. What’s even more impressive is the level of service on board the ship, with team members going out of their way to make sure your every need is met, no matter how bizarre. On our third day, we are taken to the famous Sawa-i-Lau Island, where a limestone cave with a natural sea water lagoon exists. Legend has it that a giant eagle once lived on top of the island and fed solely on virgin maidens from nearby villages but died in a violent battle with an enraged lover of one of its victims. The cave and its lagoon are a once-in-a-lifetime experience—an entrance naturally carved into the rock, a tiny natural passage leads down to a bluish-green pool that opens to the skies.
A quick boat ride away from the island is where The Blue Lagoon was shot—a tiny patch of beach, with shallow waters surrounding it, a giant rock cliff looming above. I could almost envision Brooke Shields emerging from the waters. After a magical visit to Sawa-i-Lau, I am given the high honour of being seated at the captain’s table for dinner, from where I partake in the night’s main activity—crab racing. Having picked my favourite sand-crab and inflated the auction prices of the others, so as to make the winning pot more lucrative, I dive into the charged race with all my might. To my surprise I win (80 Fiji dollars), which much to the chagrin of the other punters is perhaps the happiest I’ve felt in a long time.
Back On Land
Our transfer from the ship on the last day is a scene out of a James Bond movie. The helicopter that is supposed to fly us out makes an impressive landing on a minuscule strip of beach near our ship, flying away the towels of the sunbathing Italians while at it. A memorable flight with views of the island where Castaway was shot comes to an end all too quickly as we land on Malolo Island, home to the uber luxe Likuliku Resort. Likuliku is a sight to behold, with ocean rooms built on stilts above the water and beach front villas that are exquisitely designed to replicate the thatched homes of erstwhile Fijians.
Likuliku has its own spa which uses Pure Fiji, a line of tropical bath and body care products that are made from locally sourced ingredients like coconut, mango and noni. Tiny touches of luxury make this resort stand out among others. That night I uncork a bottle of Veuve Clicqout and step out into my private plunge pool, staring into the abyss of the night with the moon reflecting silver off the waters of the sea. A poignant line I’d heard in the promotional video of Fiji Airlines on the way here comes to mind—“In Fiji, we may be born into happiness, but there is more than enough to share.” And in that magical moment, laced with a bit of booze, in the lap of paradise, I ‘find’ myself in Fiji.
Getting To Fiji
FIJI AIRWAYS operates flights from Hong Kong and Singapore, which are accessible via Singapore Air and Cathay Pacific from Mumbai and Delhi as well as other major Indian cities.
Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa is well located on Natadola Bay, approximately a 30 minute drive from the airport. Doubles from INR 40,000
Likuliku Resort on Malolo Island is a must visit for luxury travellers wanting that extra bit of pampering. Doubles from INR 80,000
Sheraton Fiji Golf and Beach Resort on Denarau Island is ideal for family breaks and staycations close to the island’s marina. Doubles from INR 56,000
Related: Fiji Reopens To Vaccinated Visitors From India, Offers A Quarantine-Free Beach Vacation