Banish the thought of Fiji as an archetypical island of grass skirts and coconut shell bikinis. The truth is the remote locale’s actually 333 islands, fanning out across 7,000 square miles in the South Pacific. About 200 of them are inhabited. Only a dozen still have cannibals. (Not really, but this is a popular joke among Fijians, especially at dinnertime.) The beaches and rainforest look much the same as they did thousands of years ago. Fiji’s five-star luxury resorts blend seamlessly into the untouched wild. On a recent trip to several Fijian islands (none of them named Gilligan’s), I passed afternoons napping on a hammock strung between palm trees, sipping coconut cocktails and nibbling papaya, like a Ginger.
Yasawa Resort bure sundeck
Where to Stay
Yasawa Island Resort and Spa: Yasawa’s eighteen bures (thatched roof bungalows with island charm on the outside, pure luxury on the inside) are open plan villas with sun decks, outdoor showers and private beach huts. To the left, green cliffs. To the right, nothing but sea and sky. Every breeze is perfumed by tropical lilies and hibiscus. yasawa.com
A two-bedroom bure at Yasawa
Tadrai Island Resort: Located on Mana Island in the Mamanuca Group where Cast Away and Survivor: Fiji were filmed, Tadrai means “the dream.” This tiny resort—only five bures with a maximum of ten guests—is adults only. Each guest is given a fully-loaded iPad on arrival for entertainment, and is catered to by two servers. Four 100-square-feet bure sit at the water’s edge. Only one—which I stayed in—looms high on the cliff overlooking the beach. As the orange moon rises, dinner starts with cocktails, followed by three courses prepared by a five-star chef. Two lucky cats show guests how it’s done, yawning and sunning themselves by day and lazily exploring at night. If you can’t find your bliss at Tadrai, there’s no helping you. tadrai.com
Tadrai infinity pool. Even when fully booked, the place felt private.
What To Do
Nap on Paradise Beach, Yasawa: One of the islands’ 11 deserted beaches (Expedia ranked them fourth best in the world), Paradise was a short speedboat ride from the resort. Our driver dropped us off with a cooler of salad, grilled shellfish, fruit and pastries. Giddily alone, we could have run naked along the beach. Instead we napped under umbrellas, hunted for conch and crumbled bread in the surf for hungry fish.
Banana Leaf Wrap and Massage, Savusavu: The Rainforest Spa at the Kora Sun Resort is built over a rocky brook with round windows overlooking the vine-covered trees. The sounds of orange-breasted barking doves, crickets and flowing water would have been trance-inducing enough, but the two-hour massage put me over the edge. It started with an hourlong rub combining Fijian bobo technique and shiatsu. Next, I lay down on a banana leaf slicked with coconut oil and was scrubbed with brown sugar, sea salt and coconut oil. Then, I was covered with a concoction of seaweed and clay, blanketed with another banana leaf and swaddled in linen for a half-hour scalp massage.
Snorkel at the Lion’s Den, Vita Levu: We took a short ferry ride from the Natadola Bay’s InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa, located on Blue Lagoon Beach (one of Forbes’ top 25 beaches in the world) to the Lion’s Den, a forest of reefs thousands of feet deep. Fiji is the soft coral capital of the world, with countless varieties of neon rainbow formations shaped like stag horns, Romanesco, cabbage, pancakes and flowers, teeming with striped, spotted, shimmering fish of all colors and sizes. It was like snorkeling through a Disney movie. This particular spot is known for its robust population of poisonous lion fish (hence, the Lion’s Den). I spotted two of them floating near a globe of bright orange coral, split down the middle like the two hemispheres of God’s brain, a moray eel poised in the seam.
What to Eat
Lovo: The classic Fijian feast of reef fish, shellfish, seasoned chicken and pork is cooked in an earth oven or beach pit, on rocks heated by burning palm fronds. You can find refined dining at Tadrai or the Intercon, but for a taste of the day’s catch, I adored the piled-high lovo platter of lobster tails, mussels, and scallops with a delectable vegetable dish of spinach stewed in coconut cream.
What to Drink
Kava: Although champagne and coconut cocktails are readily available, my after dinner drink of choice was kava. We would gather around a communal bowl carved from a single block of wood for a nightly kava ceremony that includes ritual clapping and chanting. One clap to receive the mixture of strained, powdered kava root and Fiji water served in a coconut shell. (A modest portion is called “low tide.” A medium portion, “high tide.” A brimming cup, “tsunami.”) Proper etiquette is to swallow the cupful in one big gulp. No need to savor the flavor—mushroomy with a dirt finish. Clap three times when the cup is drained. Within moments, the anesthetizing properties take effect. Your mouth feels numb. You feel a rising tide (or tsunami) of relaxation, making sleep easy and natural.
What To Buy
Pearls. We visited the world-renowned J. Hunter’s oyster farm in Savusavu, world supplier of Fijian pearls. Since they harvest black lip oysters, all of their pearls are officially “black,” despite their luminous blue, green, gold and chocolate hues. We took a short glass-bottom boat ride over reefs to the oyster farm, a small shack on stilts in the bay, where men and women shucked barrels of oysters. The surprise was seeing what was inside: a round white opalescent beauty, a baroque gunmetal nugget. Back at the J. Hunter showroom, you can buy jewelry (one magnificent necklace of multihued perfectly round 20mm pearls was $130,000) or loose pearls to bring home and set to your liking.
The dry Fijian winter—July through October—is the best time to visit with temperatures peaking in August at around 86 degrees with low humidity and clear waters.
Fiji Airways has three new Airbus 330 planes that offer daily flights from Los Angeles to Nadi. Business class is extremely comfortable. To travel between islands, take a private helicopter or small private plane via Island Hoppers.
Yasawa Island Resort and Spa. Five-star all-inclusive resort. Bures from $800 to $2,000 a night. Spa package of unlimited daily treatments for $300.
Koro Sun Island Resort. Four stars, all-inclusive. New luxury edgewater villas are $900 a night. Oceanview bures are $520 a night.
Tadrai Island Resort. Five stars, all-inclusive. VIP package includes helicopter transfers. Super-luxe bures are $1,600 per night.
Fiji Intercontinental Gold Resort and Spa. Exclusive Club International rooms include meals, amenities and a private plunge pool for $800 a night.
Lomalagi is a private retreat (honeymoon accommodation) with its own horizon pool overlooking the ocean.
Sunset at Yasawa