Sunny side up
Fiji in the South Pacific pulls in tourists with its fantastic seascapes, adventure and water sports, and always smiling people, says Yashodeep Sengupta
The brilliant cerulean waters of the Pacific Ocean glistened right in front of me. I was at Cloud 9, a two-level floating restaurant, but my mood hit rock bottom. I had just returned to the deck after splashing about in the water for a couple of minutes, unable to make it to the nearby snorkelling point (yes, I am a terrible swimmer).
But 12,000km away from India, amidst pristine paradise islands, I decided I was not going to carry any regrets back home. A quick swig of a cocktail and armed with a life jacket and a snorkelling mask — this time assisted by a guide — I jumped into the sun-kissed water and caught a sight underwater that would stay etched in my memory forever. Colourful corals, multi-hued fish (and was that a baby shark that just swam by?) together made for an incredible spectacle for a first-timer.
I was on a trip to the South Pacific islands of Fiji hosted by Tourism Fiji, and taking in the exhilarating mix of adventure, culture and the slow life that the picture postcard country offered. After a tiring 10-hour flight from Singapore (add to that a layover of 10 more hours), the first sight of Nadi — a tropical city on Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu — was soothing indeed.
We were in adventure mode from the moment we stepped out of the airport. On our way to the InterContinental Golf Resort & Spa, we stopped briefly for an exciting ziplining experience, and it was great fun zipping from one hillock to another in Tarzan style. Thrills aside, it sure did leave me tired and dying to hit my bed.
At the resort I grabbed a quick lunch of grilled salmon and followed it with a languid soak in the bathtub and a refreshing siesta. The resort overlooks the pristine, white-sand Natadola Beach, that’s considered Fiji’s best. The day ended with drinks (with local Taro chips) and a splendid continental dinner.
Revitalised the next day, we stopped by the rain forest-like Kula Eco Park and our flamboyant guide, Miti, showed us its exotic inhabitants — lories, parakeets, peacocks and so on. While I said bula! (a ubiquitous Fijian greeting) to an iguana, which clawed softly on to my palm, I let a baby boa coil round my neck too. Wildly exciting, I know!
As we made our way to the next resort, The Pearl Resort at Pacific Harbour, we passed by posters of Bollywood movies and the chauffeur spoke to us in Hindi. People of Indian origin, descendents of those who had come to the island in the late 19th century as indentured labourers, are 37.5 per cent of Fiji’s population. Some fifth generation members now happily tuck in Indian-style chicken curries, watch Amitabh Bachchan’s movies and perform Ganesha pujas at home.
Bitten by the adventure bug, I tried my hand at kayaking in a creek that’s part of the property of The Pearl. And I can’t say I did too badly as I rowed almost to the point the river met the sea. However, I did thank the Almighty that a shark diving session was cancelled owing to the choppy sea that day.
There was more adrenaline rush in store the next day as we whizzed through the Sigatoka River — the longest river in Fiji — at speeds between 60kmph and 70kmph in a 16-seater safari jet boat. We hung on to the handrails for dear life as the driver performed awesome stunts in the water, which included 360° spins. Needless to say, we were soaked to our skin after the ride. After an action-packed day, I relaxed by taking a tropical massage at their in-house spa and sipping on
a cocktail at The Pearl’s poolside witnessing a splendid sunset.
There were more first-time experiences in store for me in Fiji. While we stayed at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort in Sigatoka, I went coral walking and spotted two beautiful blue starfish. I also tried my hand at swinging on the greens at a golf training facility near the resort. I finally made connection on the third attempt but the ball didn’t travel too far. Back at Outrigger, I celebrated the ‘achievement’ by tucking in to ‘Surf-n-Turf’ (tenderloin served with prawns and veggies) and washed it down with the popular and local Fiji Gold beer. I was also taken on a tour to their award-winning hilltop Bebe Spa Fiji.
Far removed from its adventurous side, Fiji is also about living the unhurried, slow life. It was really charming to see the people on the island country greet you with a big smile and a hearty bula! every time they see you. Local guides say, a major part of tourism — which has taken over as the main industry after sugarcane — thrives on the amiable Fijians. They sing songs, dance, drink kava (a local drink) and generally have a good time. What’s more, a joke goes that while
on the island, you are always on ‘Fijian time’, in other words, you are never in a hurry.
Although society in Fiji — especially in the villages — is largely patriarchal, we were told that the times are changing and women are being given freedom to choose their life partners and occupation nowadays. It’s a far cry from the cannibalistic days of the Fijian past. As we glanced through the wares displayed at a village bazaar, we came across a curiously shaped wooden instrument that turned out to be the replica of a ‘brain picker’. No prizes for guessing what it was used for.
On a tour to Koromakawa village, we participated in Fiji’s popular kava drinking ceremony. Kava is a local non-alcoholic drink made from the roots of the piper methysticum that acts as a sedative. After the kava is prepared, people from the village community take turn in downing a bowl (or two or even more!) each.
I, too, gulped down the peppery drink at one go after letting out a loud bula’ — as is the custom. It left my lips and tongue a bit numb. However, I recovered quickly and then sampled the delicious traditional lovo, which consisted of marinated chicken, fish and vegetables wrapped in coconut leaves smoked in a hot pit underground.
Talking about food, during the trip I surprised myself by rustling up a three-course Fijian meal at the Flavours of Fiji Cooking School. My platter included rourou (taro leaves), ika vakalolo (fish in coconut cream) and the dessert tavioka vakasoso (cassava in coconut cream). I was extra attentive as our lunch that day was the food we cooked.
Our last stop was the port area of Denarau with its sprawling marinas parked with luxury yachts and sailboats, sea-front villas and apartments, seafood restaurants and a shopping area where cultural performances take place in the evenings. As I sipped on a drink and watched the splendid sunset, I mused over the eventful days I got to spend on the little island. Perhaps Fiji’s charm will draw me to the beautiful island country again.
• How to get there: Fly SilkAir from Calcutta to Singapore, from where Fiji Airways flies to Nadi.
• Where to stay: InterContinental Golf Resort & Spa at Natadola Bay is a premium option near Nadi. For a family vacation, the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort at Sigatoka is a great place. If looking for water adventure and serenity, check in at The Pearl Resort at Pacific Harbour. At Port Denerau, The Palms has premium serviced apartments on offer.