By Doug Hansen
Powerful hands lifted a football-size conch shell to a Fijian warrior's lips and he trumpeted the news of our arrival throughout the resort's open-air lobby. Then the colorfully dressed staff serenaded us with a traditional Fijian welcome song. Adorned with a tropical flower lei around my neck and a plump coconut-shell drink in my hand, I felt worlds apart from my previous visit to Fiji.
I visited Fiji in 1981 during a yearlong journey through Asia and stayed at a low-budget backpackers' hangout called Beachcomber Island. Fast-forward to the present and I decided it was time to see Fiji in a completely different way: I went with some friends to three remarkably attractive, romantic and remote resorts. What a difference a few decades and few bucks can make — this trip was a week to remember forever.
I chose Fiji because everyone speaks English, its beaches and tropical waters are world-famous, and the Fijians are some of the friendliest people in the world — which also means that Fiji is a very safe place. For these same reasons, it is also a top honeymoon destination.
We wanted comfort, beauty and unique beach locations, so we chose three resorts. Nanuku Auberge Resort Fiji epitomized five-star luxury. My attractive beachfront cottage shared a private swimming pool and spa with my friend's two-story, elegant residence, attended to by our dedicated "Villa Mama."
After kayaking on the nearby river, our group enjoyed a sumptuous meal, followed by a traditional "kava ceremony" in which Fijian men, dressed as warriors, prepared a much-beloved, slightly sedating drink made from local kava plant roots. They took this ritual very seriously, and as the designated ceremonial chief, I was obliged to gulp down the milky brown, straw-flavored drink without scowling. One of our group joined a scuba dive trip that specialized in getting close to dozens of large sharks as they were being fed, an experience she reckoned to be among her all-time favorites.
After two days we embarked on our journey to Qamea Island and the Qamea Resort and Spa Fiji. Getting to that remote island — 150 miles northeast of Suva, Fiji's capital — was an adventure in itself. We first drove to Suva's small airport, flew 90 minutes in a small plane over the most amazing coral reefs to Taveuni Island, then rode in our resort's motorboat for the 15-minute crossing to Qamea Island.
The resort's 17 thatch-roofed bungalows (bures) lay spread along a sandy beach lapped by translucent azure waters, framed by a conical, jungle-clad volcanic peak and waving coconut palms. The staff greeted us by the beach with surprisingly melodic singing, and I felt elated as I walked among the palm trees to my bungalow. It was both upscale and rustic, and I especially enjoyed my secluded outdoor shower and 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. Next time I want to try the resort's scuba-diving excursions for which Qamea is known.
Reluctantly we bid adieu to Qamea and headed for our final destination, Yasawa Island Resort and Spa Fiji, 200 miles to the west. Backtracking from Qamea to Nadi, we boarded a tiny Pacific Island Air plane for the 40-minute flight to the remote island of Yasawa. Flying over the myriad islands and coral atolls of Fiji was a spectacle to behold, but just as memorable was the plane's landing on a grass airstrip near the resort.
We were greeted with a gorgeous woven grass and flower lei and a fresh coconut drink, then transported a short distance to the resort itself. Located along a vast, sandy beach, Yasawa's 18 luxurious bungalows blended the upscale style of Nanuku with the laid-back island feel of Qamea. My bungalow consisted of a large sitting room downstairs from my ocean-facing king-size bed and a bathroom with a choice of indoor and outdoor showers.
While I thoroughly enjoyed the snorkeling and kayaking at our beach and our excursion to the grotto where "The Blue Lagoon" was filmed, the highlight of the trip was our resort's unforgettable picnic. With our group in one motorboat and supplies in another, we cruised up the coast to the otherwise inaccessible tip of the island, where our hosts set up a palm-frond hut filled with all the lobster we could eat, salad and fruit, accompanied by cold champagne.
While I sat in my beach chair, surrounded by pristine water and an unspoiled beach, I savored the amazing contrast between my last visit and this one. I felt a deep sense of gratitude for having experienced the true magic of Fiji, as captured in the words of their welcome song: "O'er the ocean your island home is calling,/ happy country where roses bloom in splendor;/ O, if I could but journey there beside you,/
then forever my heart would sing in rapture."
WHEN YOU GO
Nanuku Auberge Resort Fiji: www.nanuku.aubergeresorts.com or 855-857-3882
Qamea Resort and Spa Fiji: www.qamea.com or 866-867-2632
Yasawa Island Resort and Spa, Fiji: www.yasawa.com or 679-672-2266
My friends and I decided to splurge and fly business class on one of Fiji Air's overnight direct flights from Los Angeles to Nadi, Fiji: www.fijiairways.com.
Tourism Fiji: www.fiji.travel or 310-568-1616
Doug Hansen is a travel writer and photographer. See more photos and articles at www.hansentravel.org or Instagram @doug6636. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.