Fiji: In Love With Private Paradise
My first three trips to Fiji were for work. As a television journalist, each day was spent frantically scouring the main island of Viti Levu for a person at the centre of a story. On the first trip it was a scammer, on the next a murderer, then a castaway.
The camera operator and I would leave the hotel before dawn, me already sweating in a suit ridiculously inappropriate for the climate. We’d then drive hundreds of kilometres on unsealed roads, knock on the doors of dozens of unknown locals’ homes, then return to the hotel for three or four hours of high-stress scripting, editing and trying to send the story back over an unreliable internet connection.
Everyone we met or bumped into thought we were mad. We were mad.
My fourth trip to Fiji, two weeks ago, was not for work. It was part of a present for my wife’s 40th birthday, and about as far from work as any holiday I’ve ever been on. Our five-day vacation started at the Lomani Island Resort.
“Lomani” means love in Fijian, and everyone we met or bumped into was definitely in love: with life, the resort, the island and, of course, each other. Lomani is what they call an R18 resort, which sounds kind of racy but actually just means child-free.
Now, I love kids. I’ve got two of them and I’m godfather to a third. Kids and me are good, but it turns out “kids-free” and me are also good.
There’s nothing quite like strolling arm-in-arm with your partner back to an exquisite bure to watch the sun melt gracefully into the sea between perfectly placed, gently dancing coconut tree fronds and not suddenly hear the shrill cry of an upset child.
And, of course, when you’re dining out under the stars in the warm embrace of a balmy South Pacific island evening, feet resting on the still-warm sands as you’re being served fresh fish by a waiter with a smile that rivals the crescent moon above, it is nice not having the mind-numbing screeches of an iPad babysitter at the table next-door.
Our stay at Lomani was basically perfect for us, and judging by the solid line-up of gold stars it gets with online rating websites it’s basically perfect for everyone who’s ever stayed there.
I would feel slightly ashamed at the number of times the phrase “I could get used to this” passed through my head, if it wasn’t for the fact that before “I got used to it” we were on to the next phase of our island adventure: a cruise through the rest of the Mamanuca group of islands, and on to the lower Yasawa Islands.
Now, I read the travel magazines from around the world on a regular basis. I know the old Love Boat cliche of the 1980s is well and truly passe, and cruises these days are cool and trendy and there are a diverse amount of cruising options for many different demographics. Gone are the over-friendly, Hawaiian-shirted Americans from Ohio; in are the hip and stylish passengers from fashion capitals around the world.
But it turned out I’d been reading the wrong travel magazines. Our 90-passenger cruise ship was indeed an adventure torn straight from the script of an 80s sitcom.
The vast majority of those on board really were retirees from Ohio, United States – or Balclutha, New Zealand or Wagga Wagga, Australia.
Hawaiian shirts were popular, as were pina coladas with little umbrellas on top. The crew sported the most strikingly white uniforms ever sewn together, and the beautifully chaotic meal at the captain’s table was a moment I’ll treasure forever.
Of course, the thing about relaxed retirees from Ohio (and Balclutha and Wagga Wagga) is that they’re damn good fun.
Very quickly any age or culture gap between passengers is rendered meaningless. The only thing that matters on a cruise ship is who has the quickest wit, the tastiest cocktail and the best moves on the dance floor.
The other thing about a cruise is the sheer delight in waking up every morning at a different island. We visited cays (sand islands with no flora or fauna at all), coves and coral reefs. We snorkelled with sharks, dived with dolphins and collected coconuts from the island where Castaway, starring Tom Hanks, was filmed.