An archipelago nation in the middle of the Pacific, Fiji puts environment conservation at the forefront of its tourism industry. On a recent visit, Travel+Leisure India & South Asia’s contributor discovers how hotels in Fiji are spearheading this noble cause.
When a country counts tourism as one of its main industries, giving in to temptation and letting nature take a back seat is an easy road to choose. This is not the case with Fiji, as I recently learned on a trip to the island nation. While commerce and industry grows, the nation’s government has somehow, surprisingly, managed to keep things environmentally friendly. You won’t find sprawling skyscrapers here. There are barely any structures that are over a few stories tall, the roads are neat and there’s nary a garbage dump in sight. This is truly island living!
Having experienced several of Fiji’s finest resorts, I realise there’s one common thread that stands out among them all — each property play a unique role in conserving the country’s environment, nature and culture, almost as vehemently as they endeavour to keep their guests satisfied. In maintaining Fiji’s pristine waters and beaches and its untouched green visage, they are in fact protecting the proverbial goose. Fiji’s main attraction is, after all, its paradise-like natural environment and its distinct culture.
Here’s a look at how some of the country’s most popular hotels are reinventing conservation and promoting their intrinsic customs, making the destination stand apart from most island getaways.
Conservation in Fiji
Likuliku is one of Fiji’s premier resorts, with thatched rooms and stilted villas on the ocean that offer views of some of the most scenic sunsets in the Pacific. The luxury hotel sits on one side of Malolo Island, where the Fijian crested iguana once lived. The animal, which had fallen prey to feral cats and other predators that were inadvertently introduced to the eco-system, was considered extinct here until 2010 when a stray iguana was accidentally spotted by one of the hotel’s staff. Since then, Likuliku has morphed into a wildlife conservation role-model, employing several caretakers and biologists to bring back the population of the crested iguana and allow it to thrive on the island.
With help from the San Diego Zoo, the hotel went on to identify the rare species and cultivate an environmental officer who spearheaded the removal of unnatural threats to the iguanas. Adjacent to the resort’s lobby is a nouvelle sanctuary for the reptiles, which are housed in protective cages — their own ultra-luxe suites, if you will — and treated as carefully as any one of the visiting guests. Here I meet Malolo, Likuliku’s own pet iguana that likes to perch on people’s arms and make its way to the top of their heads. A young male, Malolo is one of several dozen lizards that are cared for by the resort. An introductory video and well-placed educational placards chronicle the resort’s journey in bringing this beautiful creature back, only adding to the mystique of this exclusive property.
Fire Walking At The Pearl
Nestled between a natural cove on the way from Nadi to Suva on Viti Levu, The Pearl Resort is known for its stunning views and breathtaking marina. An 18-hole golf course adds to the already expansive list of activities the hotel offers, but what makes The Pearl stand out for us it its cultural conservation drive that immediately creates an impact on guests – allowing them to get a closer glimpse at Fijian culture, their myths and legends like never before. While local welcome songs and farewell serenades are common for guests visiting hotels in Fiji, here at The Pearl the team takes it a notch higher. I witness a palm leaf masterclass where the hotel’s staff knots strips of leaves which yield fascinating satchels and hats. Then there’s an evening torch lighting ritual which makes for great photo-ops with the family. All this before being given a beachside seat at one of Fiji’s acclaimed traditional fire walking ceremonies.
With hot coals burning on the beach for almost the entire day prior, we are presented a troupe of Fijian warriors who perform a traditional song and dance around the flaming pit. The men tell the story of a Sawau warrior who was fishing for eels several centuries ago and chanced to save the life of a Spirit God. As a reward, the warrior and his progeny were given the supernatural powers of walking on fire. The men walk barefoot on scorching coals, performing the ceremony with a gusto that makes you instantly connect with the myth. Their songs reverberate across the hotel grounds, attracting other guests who walk by and join us in the enchantment this piece of theater provides. Given Fiji’s long history of tribal warfare and its warrior-centric society, its rituals like these that keep tradition and folklore alive, while allowing tourists to get a truly unforgettable experience.
The Fish Houses Of The Yanuca
A stone’s throw from mainland Viti Levu, connected by a small bridge is Yanuca Island, a 109-acre piece of land on which sits the 443 room Shangri La Hotel. Spread out like a local Fijian village, the Shangri La boasts of an 18 hole golf course as well, which is a popular attraction for pros looking to travel all over the world for golf tourism. With pristine private beaches that are owned and operated by the hotel, one of the property’s main conservation activities is reinvigorating its surrounding coral reef and the accompanying fish population.
A marine officer at the hotel takes us to the beach to partake in one of the most popular guest experiences – building a fish house. With latex gloves on, I sit on the sand playing with freshly made concrete, which — under the guidance of the watchful biologist — is soon converted into a foot tall hollow structure. On it are gaps and gateways for fish to swim around, all resulting in a protective temporary habitat that can be used for small marine-life to seek refuge in from larger predators. The entire thing is then decorated with seashells and other corals picked from the beach, before being submerged into the water with its very own GPS location sent to the guests who helped in the process of creating it. The Yanuca island beach waters have these ‘fish homes’ scattered all around, giving rise to a growing fish population and natural, new coral formations. Called Sanctuary, the hotel’s conservation programme also includes a marine-biology center where children and their families can spend time learning about the natural marine-life that exists in and around the islands – a great way to weave in conservation efforts into a guest experience.
Birds At Momi-Bay
The Marriott at Momi Bay is an impressive sprawling resort, with the only stilted villas on the mainland of Viti Levu. They boast of great F&B venues and an impressive spa called Quan. A meal at their Fish Bar, under the excellent culinary supervision of Chef Ritesh Kumar is probably the best gastronomic experience I had in Fiji. Surrounded by a picturesque bay, the hotel is home to several avian species of different flock apart from the sea life that exists in the waters surrounding the property. The resort takes great pride in conducting specialised bird watching expeditions with their very own avian expert. To introduce us to their conservation efforts, we were made to sit down on the floor along with palm bark and leaves, with which we made bird nests that would be placed on treetops, hopefully one day being adopted by one of the many species that call this bay home.
Mynas from India, Polynesian Trillers, Silvereyes, Reef Herons, Pacific Swallows, Spotted Doves, Vanikoro Flycathers, Golden Plovers, Red Avadavats and Fiji Parrotfinches are just some of several dozen species of birds that flock around the Marriott all year round, adding colour and sound to the gardens and grounds of the estate, bringing nature right at your proverbial doorstep when staying at the resort.