Think of Fiji, and images of white-sand beaches, calm azure seas and swaying palm trees come to mind. It’s a haven of beauty and serenity, where time slows down and worries are washed away with tropical cocktails and gentle sea breezes.
It all sounds spectacular, but my idea of a gorgeous escape tends to involve getting at least partially lost in native countryside, cooking with local ingredients I’ve never heard of, and giving myself a good dose of adrenaline by taking part in some extreme sport. Followed with a massage and cocktail to wipe away the aches and knots acquired during the day’s hair-raising activities.
Arriving at Nadi airport was a sensory experience in itself – you couldn’t say that about Heathrow or LAX. A lei of fragrant cream jasmine was placed around my neck and before long we were in air-conditioned comfort for the two-and a-half-hour drive to Volivoli Beach Resort, tucked away on the northernmost tip of Viti Levu island.
While most people are keen to drink from a hydrating coconut, I was fascinated by the acres of sugar cane growing on the side of the road. Our driver seemed surprised I knew what it was. While locals will often whip off a cane with
a machete and chew the sweet sugar from the root, it seems visitors are less keen to try. Like many natural products, you do have to deal with the fact you’re chewing a plant with a texture not unlike a wet tree branch, but the taste is fantastic.
At Volivoli, we were lucky enough to have our meals cooked for us and served overlooking the stunning beach, with the lights of the exclusive Dolphin Island – where this year’s MasterChef New Zeland final eight battled it out – twinkling in the distance.
But I’m a sucker for what the locals have to offer, so first thing Saturday, I headed to the markets. A colourful chaos of fruit and veges covered every inch of space. Okra, eggplants, snake beans, round beans, cucumbers, tomatoes and green lemons abounded. But while I loved the noise and chatter, it was the chillies I couldn’t resist.
“Have a try,” invited the gaggle of ladies clustered around the bowls of miniature fruits on sale for $1. “How hot can they be?” I wondered. Let’s just say my pink face and burning lips were a source of huge amusement to my companions for several hours after.
A cool down was needed, and pronto, so it was time to try scuba diving. Being averagely claustrophobic, the idea of putting my life in the hands of two metal tanks has never appealed. However, after a quick lesson in the pool, Nick Darling – Volivoli’s owner – took me in his boat to Nananu-i-Ra Island, where I quickly forgot about being terrified.
Tiny fish of every colour and breed darted in and out of the coral reef in the Bligh Waters, and I was introduced to a magical world I’d only ever seen while watching Finding Nemo with the kids.
Yes, getting underwater like that took a leap of faith, but it’s one I’ll never forget. And given that I never got that massage I promised myself, with any luck, I’ll get another go soon.
Getting there Air Pacific flies from Auckland to Nadi, Fiji daily. Return airfares are available from $646.84. Visit airpacific.com to organise your trip. where to stay & what to do For more information on Volivoli Beach Resort accommodation, as well as fishing, diving and sport activities in the area, visit volivoli.com. The Rakiraki market also offers a great local experience – just watch out for those green chillies!
● Fiji covers about 18,274km2, but only 10% of that is actually land. Its largest island, Viti Levu, is home to about 70% of the population. The country has more than 300 islands, only 106 of which are permanently populated – which, for someone like me with an overactive imagination, leads to thoughts of castaways, desert islands and Robinson Crusoe. I was in heaven.