Our second trip to Fiji in less than a year confirmed my belief that Fijian hospitality and amenities are second to none. Fijians often say, “Senga na lenga,” which means “no worries” and during our week-long stay, we were as stress-free as we could be.
Getting to Fiji required a ten-hour overnight flight, but fortunately Fiji Airways provided us with roomy seats conducive for sleeping, surprisingly good food and ample entertainment to help the time pass. We experienced a strange time-warp by crossing the international dateline: we left LAX late Thursday night and landed in Fiji’s Nadi International Airport at dawn on Saturday. After a short layover, another 90-minute flight took us to the garden island of Taveuni, where the Fijian magic began.
We were met at the tiny Taveuni airport by one of the staff of nearby Tides Reach Resort, where we spent our first two nights. It’s the little touches that make a difference, such as the colorful, hand-written sign on our villa’s steps that said “Bula Doug & Sharen, Welcome to Tides Reach Resort”, along with the deep red hibiscus flower on our king bed. We felt at home in our spacious room decorated with carved wood furnishings, dramatic artwork and a wall of windows facing the ocean just yards from our porch. In the evening we purred like spoiled cats as we ate delicious food in the open-air restaurant and watched the sunset paint the sky in reddish-orange hues.
For two days we tried out various amenities, alternating between paddle boarding, kayaking, swimming in the shallow waters or biking on the island’s only road. On our first day, while the weather was sunny and calm, we cruised over to the distant Rainbow Reef where we snorkeled above a world-famous forest of soft and hard corals, especially giant plate corals. I found it spectacular but strangely devoid of fish.
The adventures continued the next day when we drove a half hour to hike at Tavoro Falls. We first checked in with a young woman wearing a white hibiscus flower over one ear and radiating a huge smile that put the Mona Lisa to shame, and then set out on our hike to the two waterfalls. We reached the first one after a pleasant ten-minute stroll and decided to continue uphill on a more taxing, hour-long hike to the second falls. The cool, thrashing waters of the pool beckoned us and we braved standing under the pounding waters cascading from 50 feet above. On the return hike, we were rewarded with impressive views of the sparkling ocean and green-clad mountains.
On our third day we headed for Sau Bay Fiji Resort on the coast of Vanua Levu, only reached via a 20-minute boat ride from Taveuni. The resort’s restaurant and four oceanfront cottages sat nestled among the trees and shrubs alongside their secluded bay. After our official greeting by the owners and their staff, we had our unofficial greeting from the canine reception committee–four of the friendliest dogs, who escorted us to our unique lodging in a tent. But this was no ordinary tent—instead it was a deluxe African safari tent with hardwood floors, seashell chandeliers, a private bath, and a large bed next to a comfortable sitting room. Our hilltop location overlooked a swath of jungle and the blue waters of our bay,
As luck would have it, this normally calm spot was bedeviled by strong winds, so instead of snorkeling and swimming as much as we would have liked, we hiked to the top of the mountain behind our resort for a panoramic view of distant islands and a vast ocean expanse. During our one brief snorkel outing, we did see a good amount of coral and sea life. The resort is located near the area’s top scuba diving spots and provides snorkelers with a unique opportunity to swim near five-foot manta rays. In good weather, their bay would be perfect for kayaking, paddle boarding, sailing or snorkeling, all of which the resort provides for free. With rates starting at only $225 per night for an oceanfront studio, this resort was certainly the most affordable of the three we visited.
While Tides Reach and Sau Bay each provided its own special bliss, we felt that we had saved the best for last at Qamea Resort & Spa Fiji. Getting there required another fifteen-minute journey in one of Qamea’s motorboats and as we approached Qamea Island, most of the resort’s staff stood on the beach and greeted us with traditional Fijian songs, a flower necklace and a tropical drink.
Our first view of Qamea Resort revealed seventeen thatch-roofed bungalows (bures) spread along a sandy beach surrounded by translucent azure waters and swaying palm trees, with a towering, jungle-clad mountain in the background. Our bungalow had a pleasing way of blending a traditional, Fijian motif (such as woven fiber walls) and contemporary, brightly colored floral prints offsetting the crisp, white comforter on our king bed. I enjoyed the private outdoor shower while my wife took over the hammock by the front door. The open-air restaurant served fresh fruit and delicious meals, while the spa, hidden up among the trees, served up soothing massages.
Calm weather induced us to snorkel in the warm waters by our bure, and we found a nice variety of corals and sea life. But we discovered our snorkeling nirvana during our resort’s full-day snorkel tour that took us around three islands, Qamea, Matagi and so-called Red Bull Island (real name is Laucala). Our tour stopped once for a delightful picnic and swim, and at three different spots with the best snorkeling places I’ve seen in a long time—underwater havens filled with purple, green and beige corals of all shapes and sizes, lots of soft corals for which Fiji is world famous, and harmless but exciting-to-see reef sharks. As we rounded the tip of Red Bull Island, we paused to stare shamelessly at the island’s six-star resort (yes, that’s no typo), with a private airport and rooms starting at $6,000 per night.
As we said goodbye to Qamea, and our stay in Fiji, the group of barefoot Fijians from our resort started singing a traditional Fijian farewell song with voices that, as always, blended in perfect harmony:
“Over the ocean your island home is calling,
Happy country where roses bloom in splendor,
Oh if I could but journey there beside you
Then forever my heart would sing in rapture.”
Doug Hansen is a travel writer and photographer in Carlsbad, CA. See more photos and articles at www.HansenTravel.org or Instagram @doug_hansentravel.
IF YOU GO:
Sau Bay Fiji Retreat, off Taveuni, on the coast of Vanua Levu, (679)-9920051 (Fiji), email@example.com, www.saubay.com.
Qamea Resort & Spa Fiji, 866-867-2632, reservations@qamea,com, www.qamea.com.
Tourism Fiji, www.fiji.travel
Fiji Airways, 800 227 4446 www.fijiairways.com.