Arriving in Fiji’s Nadi (pronounced: Nahn-di) airport, I was welcomed like a long-lost friend; “welcome home” would soon become my favourite greeting of the trip, expressed with genuine kindness by the Fijian staff on arrival at every destination. A beautiful shell necklace was delicately placed over my head before hopping in the air-conditioned Rosie Holidays Land Cruiser heading south. A decade had passed since my first and only visit to Denarau—a memorable family holiday where chance led us to cross paths with Mel Gibson, marking my unforgettable twentieth birthday. Returning solo to Fiji as I entered my thirties felt serendipitous and the perfect opportunity to usher in my next chapter. I was here for just eight-days where I was to explore three Fijian Sheraton/Marriott resorts, but even with a hastily overpacked suitcase, nothing could have prepared me for what I was about to receive (beyond the prerequisite R&R, that is)…
Fiji Airways is currently operating daily flights from Auckland to Nadi. The airline also operates up to twice weekly direct flights from Wellington and up to thrice weekly flights from Christchurch to Nadi, Fiji.
Days 1-2: Magical Marriott
Momi Bay was first on the itinerary, a night at the Marriott Resort. Situated on Viti Levu’s western coast, this 5-star resort resembled the luxurious overwater bungalows of the Maldives and is the only adults-only overwater bures on the mainland.
Upon arrival, a cold towel and a flute of mimosa were offered. Say no more—I dabbed my brow while checking in. Sipping champagne and taking in the expansive lobby, I noticed the traditional timbers and woven ceiling panels exuded authenticity yet contemporary charm, which became more evident as the resort unfolded.
Every detail continued to exude opulence as I stepped into my expansive room facing out towards the lagoon. I swapped my silk pants for a bikini, walked 20 meters from my room, and settled into a lounger. Despite the Marriott being at full capacity, the feeling of isolation was a credit to the resort’s considered layout.
By 5pm, having polished off two more glasses of champagne, I felt jolly enough to join the rest of the resort guests in the lobby for the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony. Being completely touched by the local school singing as well as the village choir, it was clear just how important community is in Fiji. We all stood and watched as Santa and his elf approached the lobby by hydrocycle to light the Christmas tree.
As the sun was setting, I hopped on a buggy and weaved through the resort. Frangipani filled the warm air as we passed countless flame trees covered in red flowers – which just like the pōhutukawa, only bloom during the Christmas season. We arrived at The Fish Bar situated on the beachfront, next to the adults-only infinity pool, with cabanas framing the ocean as the sun disappeared below the horizon. Indulging in a set ‘The Salt’ menu curated by Chef Ritesh Kumar, we embarked on a gastronomic journey personalised by locally infused South Seas Salts — a sustainable, female-led artisanal salt-making company based in Momi.
Spotlight on sustainability
The next morning, we set out to build fish houses. Along with guests, the resort had planted 3000 mangrove seedlings and over 300 coral seedlings around the resort since the initiative was ignited a few years ago. The sustainability shift was noticeable as every drink came with straws made from compostable rice pasta. Every Friday, guests can get involved planting coral, mangroves or building fish houses that get lodged into the man-made lagoon so that smaller fish have a place to hide. I built our fish house made from coral and concrete. Turns out, because the house I built lacked windows it was more likely to be a Moray eels lair than a home for fish which didn’t sit well on my conscience. Who knew?
Days 3-5: Deep tissue, dining, and Denarau
The memories came flooding back to me as soon as we neared Denarau Island late afternoon. Long days spent with family that melted into sultry evenings where sunsets painted the sky with hues your iPhone couldn’t capture.
Arriving at the Sheraton, I was welcomed to the sound of a beating drum with many Bula’s and a glass of champagne (I could definitely get used to this).
I lounged by the adults-only pool situated by the seaside, soaking up the sun before jumping on a buggy headed to the Westin Resort. Forming part of the Sheraton group, The Westin – which is currently undergoing renovation due to be completed by November 2024 – is nestled amongst a tropical garden with a village of tiny huts that make up their Heavenly Spa treatment rooms. I was welcomed into reception, offered cucumber infused water and asked what pressure was preferred for the treatment. I had knots lingering from our most recent print deadline that needed ironing out so I opted for the 60 minute deep tissue.
Once in my robe and slippers, I moved to a lounger on the deck outside for a moment of solitude and stillness. My beautiful masseuse walked me to one of the huts. Their treatment rooms, which have an open face to frame the outdoors, are extremely private. With only the sound of palm trees swaying and birds chirping to be heard, I was in tropical rendition of seventh heaven.
That evening back at the Sheraton, dinner was served under a cabana with an ocean view (available to book through the restaurant Tatavu Grill & Bar, formerly known as The Flying Fish). The ‘family-style’ menu was designed to be shared, bringing together bold Mediterranean flavours with coastal ingredients combined with a South-American twist. The dishes were copious and paired perfectly with a Chilean rosé that matched the fiery sunset.
Days 5-8: Less talk, more Tokoriki
And just like that, we were on to the final leg of the tour. I clambered on board a small boat with my swelling suitcase in tow that had somehow expanded into two extra tote bags. As we passed through a stretch of idyllic islands, I repeatedly asked if Tokoriki was visible yet. Nestled amongst palm trees, the picturesque island lined with a single row of white thatched rooves appeared. The water was 50 shades of turquoise and as we drew closer the staff had gathered on the shore to welcome us with ‘Bula Maleya,’ Fiji’s traditional welcome song.
My crocs truly came into their own as I confidently stepped off the boat into the water, before a hand-made frangipani necklace was placed around my neck and a familiar “welcome home” was showered around me with the warmest smiles. How was I meant to go back to my regular life in Grey Lynn after being treated like a Princess of Aotearoa?
Inside my ocean-front Bure, lovingly decorated in fresh hibiscus, there was a private plunge pool with beach access and a tropical fruit platter with fresh coconut waiting for me.
After grabbing a smoothie to-go from the breafast buffet, I set sail on Islander Boats at 9am the next day with Captain Den and energetic snorkelling guide Asa. By 9.35am, a turtle had been spotted – a symbol of good luck in Fijian culture. We then ventured out to the edge of the coral reef by Yanuya Island and was guided to the best snorkelling strip in the area. Here sat bright blue coral, the clearest waters, and half the cast of Finding Nemo. While I could have spent hours here, I was excited for our next stop: Monuriki Island, otherwise known as Castaway Island. There was no sign of Wilson, however the iconic ‘help me’ that Tom Hanks assembled in the film was still present.
Before returning back to Tokoriki we had 20 minutes left to visit a spot donned ‘the swimming pool’, a glorious patch of bright turquoise water shaped like an actual swimming pool (hence the name) which can be seen from Google Earth. Situated on the North side of Monu Island, there’s a spot where you can organise private trips through the resort for couples or families to spend the day.
That evening we went to Coco Palms – one of the four restaurants at the resort – for a traditional lovo-style dinner which was cooked in the ground like a hāngī. We were serenaded by three local singers who performed a mix of Fijian melodies and covers by Johnny Cash, John Denver, Oasis, Coldplay and more. Guests eagerly gathered on a traditional kava mat made of dried and weaved pandanus leaves and waited for the chief to give instruction on protocol. The kava ceremony is a traditional welcoming to come together to celebrate. One clap, “Bula,” drink, smile — “it’s important to smile,” he said jovially —and then “Vinaka” and three more claps.
Derived from a local root, crushed and mixed with water, the drink gives a pleasant, numb feeling around the mouth, lips and tongue, as well as a sense of calm and relaxation. Like blue cheese, it gets more potent with age and is recommended to be enjoyed at around 5-7 years. I clapped, drank, smiled, clapped and couldn’t wipe the smile off my face for the rest of the evening. As everyone came together to dance, I looked around the floor and thought if everyone in the world could visit Fiji, the world would be a happier place.
A Fijian farewell
In a world that is moving so fast, Fiji made me feel grounded with a reminder of what truly matters. The hospitality is unmatched, the staff learn your name, and will go above and beyond to make you feel like you’re their favourite guest on the island during your stay. A detail that was not lost on me was how Israel from Sala Lounge & Pool Bar graciously fetched me a fresh coconut when I had a migraine, even though they don’t ordinarily serve them at dinner service. As the staff gathered around to sing Isa Lei, the Fijian farewell song at our final dinner, I welled up and couldn’t believe it was all drawing to an end. I knew one thing was certain though, I wouldn’t be waiting until I’m forty to return and be welcomed home.