They say in Fiji: island time is infectious. It won’t be long before you while away hours in a hammock, wondering how the day got away from you. I don’t think you can truly imagine the warmth and friendliness of the Fijian people until you are greeted by them, singing merrily and playing a guitar, a huge smile on their face. Whether it is at the airport, the hotel, or even as you board the plane, the Fijian cheeriness is positively contagious and island vibes instantly wrestle you into relaxation mode, ready to start your holiday.
The friendly vibes are just the start of an unforgettable experience on some of the South Pacific’s most beautiful islands. The further away you get from Fiji’s main island, the more idyllic and peaceful it gets, and what better way to travel than a small boutique ship with only 70 passengers, staffed by local Fijians. The Blue Lagoons’ ship Fiji Princess has been sailing the Coral Sea since 1997 and the crew have the weekly routine down to an art. The price of your three, four or seven-night boat trip includes everything (apart from alcoholic drinks, which are very reasonably priced compared to the resorts back on land). The crew organise a daily itinerary of snorkeling, beach trips, and village tours — all interspersed with refreshment stops for morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea. Whether you choose to join in with the activities or just soak up the sun onboard in the ship’s saltwater swimming pool or on one of the decks — the Blue Lagoons cruise is a truly relaxing experience. One of the highlights for me was swimming with reef sharks; one morning the local crew took us out to a spot known for small blacktip reef sharks, who were clearly used to human company and came pretty close so you could have a good look at them.
Each evening on the ship starts with canapés on deck before you sit down for dinner, followed by entertainment such as live music performed by the crew, kava ceremonies and even a fashion show that the guests join in with. Unlike larger ships, you will even have a chance to get to know the captain of the Fiji Princess over dinner or a bowl of kava.
If you are heading out to Fiji on the Blue Lagoons cruise, or any boat trip for that matter, it is always a good idea to book a few days on land before or after to make sure you don’t miss boarding the ship due to flight delays or miss your flight if the ship becomes delayed. The Sheraton Fiji on Denarau Island is just a short walk (or shuttle with your bags) to the marina and only a 25-minute drive to the airport, so is ideally located for a few nights stay either side of your cruise. Part of the international Marriott Hotels chain, when staying at the Sheraton you also have access to all the facilities at the Westin next door. Not that you’ll have to venture far — the Sheraton has everything you need for an island vacay including a swim-up bar and an alfresco restaurant where you can dine with your toes in the sand.
Activities and Adventures
If you want to see a bit more of the island while staying on the mainland there are a few activities not to be missed — and surfing is one of them. Home to some of the best surf breaks in the world, which have hosted pro surf events as part of the World Surf League tour. There are local guides who can help you find the ideal spot for your experience level and weather conditions. Whether you are a complete beginner or a seasoned pro, Fiji Surf Co, the original surf school established back in ‘95 have a surf trip for you. Owner of Fiji Surf Co, Ian Ravouvou Miller, is so passionate about conservation of the reefs which create the excellent surf conditions in Fiji that he actually set up a not-for-profit surf event to raise awareness of the environmental issues throughout the islands.
If you want to venture in land, the WZ Tours Discover Nadi trip offers a great overview of the town and surrounds. In half a day you will visit a fresh food market to see some local produce (and if you are lucky, even try some local kava), go to a Hindu temple, visit the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, the Orchid Garden, and finish off the tour “mudding” at the local hot springs. Fans of TV show, Suits, will be familiar with the term, but for everyone else, mudding is quite literally covering yourself in mud from the mud pools, and in this case, washing it off the a natural hot spring. Supposedly full of natural minerals and all sorts of skin nourishing ingredients, it’s good fun and an excuse to get muddy!
Just can’t get enough of the islands? Head out on a day tour to Malamala Island. The snorkelling is excellent and the area has recently been declared a preservation zone to help it recover from Cyclone Winston, so the tropical fish are flourishing. The Fijian clan that owns the island believes that it has healing powers with lots of dilo trees, who’s seed oil is thought to have medicinal qualities. Malamala is home to Chef Lance Seeto, Fiji’s answer to Jamie Oliver. Originally from Melbourne, he moved to Fiji for the simplicity of island life and has been cooking up a storm ever since.
“I moved over here because I became disillusioned with life and my career so decided to escape and explore the world,” said Lance. “Little did I know Fiji had everything I was looking for — a purpose, direction and a different way of life. I love its simplicity — in how they live, how they see the world, in its wild unadulterated foods, and in its cuisine where the most simplest of flavours are new to the international traveller.”
Lance has was made Culinary Ambassador for Fiji in 2018 and makes it his mission to educate locals and international diners alike.
“The Pacific Islanders have succumbed to the diseases of affluence caused by Western processed foods. Non-communicable diseases like diabetes, obesity and heart disease has shortened their life expectancy — but this can be reversed if they return to their ancestral diet and eat less processed foods. It is up to the chefs to help them appreciate and innovate their cuisine to make it more appealing,” said Lance. “Fiji is an agricultural nation of farmers that can still grow their produce cheaply and most of it is organic. With this base of nutritional produce still in abundance and their knowledge of ancient medicines still in existence, they have a good chance of reversing the dietary mistakes of the past. We just have to make their foods more sexy.”
Away from his work in the community, the food at Malamala is more Heston Blumenthal, than Jamie Oliver with impressive dishes such as pearl meat served on dry ice, blackened fish tacos and tuna poke.
“Malamala is about the gastronomy and curated cocktails. It is a culinary experience that every visitor should experience.The menu is inspired by nine years of travelling the islands to capture the local gastronomy. Most of our produce is local especially the seafood. I want customers to be able to enjoy the best of what we produce in Fiji, in delicious local ways but in a modern cuisine typical of beach clubs around the world,” said Lance. “One of my favourites has to be the spicy goat pie (a Fijian delicacy elevated with Mozambique curry spices).”