Happy New Year, friends! Apologies about the blog hiatus. I was busy getting some sun in Fiji for my 30th birthday and Christmas. I spent 11 days there, but I think I could have cut it short a few days. Seven days is plenty.
Fiji is a tropical paradise. Less than four hours away from Sydney, it’s famed for its beautiful turquoise water, copious amounts of palm trees, and the friendliest people you’ll EVER meet. And I write that in caps because I truly mean it. Get ready to yell ‘bula’ at every person you cross paths with.
Disclaimer: This is a 1,700-word essay, so if you just want to see the photos, skip ahead!
Coral Coast: Shangri-La
If you’re in Fiji to laze by the pool or beach of 5-star resorts (and I recommend you do), it’s a good idea to do a bit of resort-hopping. We started at the Shangri-La Fijian Resort & Spa at the Coral Coast, which is on its own freaking island, so the facilities are pretty ridiculous. There’s a golf course, a mini golf course, a spa villa, three pools, a handful of restaurants, and two bars. The island is accessible by a short bridge.
You can walk over the bridge to Gecko’s Resort where every Friday and Saturday night at 7.30pm there’s a free show of dances from the Pacific, including fire dancing. Be prepared to get involved in the dancing though. If you’re on a budget, you could even stay at Gecko’s and sneak over to Shangri-La for their amazing facilities.
What stood out to me at the Shangri-La was definitely Chi, the spa village. Yes, I also wondered why it’s called a village when I got there, but it’s because you get your own bungalow, not just a measly room, when you’re getting your treatment. It was my birthday, so we went for the couple’s massage which even included a steam (390 FJD/240 AUD). Each bungalow overlooks the water. There’s even an overnight package, which is excellent value (check it out here).
Also excellent is the infinity pool. Out of the three pools, this was my favorite. Even though it’s small, it’s worth it with that view. The adults-only pool was a welcome recluse, and we didn’t even head to the largest pool because it was mostly teeming with little kids.
I love that the Shangri-La has an adults-only option for both the buffet breakfast and dinner at the Golden Cowrie Restaurant. One evening we have a lovely Italian dinner there, and the pumpkin ravioli I order is freshly made.
Coral Coast: Warwick
My favorite stay was further down the Coral Coast at the Warwick. Even though it was probably the smallest resort we stayed in, it was the most peaceful and enjoyable for me. There were hammocks everywhere. Our room was looking over the adults-only pool. At the other pool there was a swim-up bar. My only question was why the swim-up bar wasn’t at the adults-only pool!
Snorkeling right off the beach wasn’t too bad with a few corals and fish to see. I’ve snorkeled in many amazing places though, so my standards are quite high. We went kayaking off the beach as well, but because it was very, very windy it turned into a 10-minute ordeal of me trying to paddle against the wind with no success.
In terms of food, the Wicked Walu was the best, while the Italian Pappagallo and Japanese Sazanami restaurants weren’t anything to write home about. The Wicked Walu is on its own little island off the shore, which means the sunset views are pretty unreal. As it’s a seafood restaurant, I ordered the fried whole fish with palm sugar and black pepper. I’d order it again.
The only downside of the Coral Coast is how far it is from Port Denarau, so if you wanted to do something other than lying around at the pool, it required a 2-hour transfer to the marina before you even could head out to any islands. You could otherwise get involved in some village tours or something else on the mainland, but I was more interested in staying coastal.
Mamanuca Islands: Malolo Lailai
Over Christmas we headed to Malolo Lailai, a lovely, small island surrounded by clear water and only 50 minutes away from Port Denarau on the Malolo Cat.
There are only three resorts on the island, and we stayed at the cheapest one: Plantation Island Resort. It’s a basic resort, which I’m normally fine with, but having spent a week at 5-star accommodation, it felt a bit run down. We moved to another room the next day, because the first room smelled musky, made me sneeze all the time from the dust, and had aircon that sounded like it was dying. The other room we stayed in was much nicer.
Eric went diving on one of the mornings. Even though it wasn’t as cheap as diving adventures in Asia, the coral reefs were pristine and the sites were quiet (ie. few divers during the trip). We also wanted to check out Cloud 9, a floating bar in the middle of the ocean, but were devastated to find out it was closed on Christmas Day, so sadly we missed out. At this stage of the trip, I started to get a bit bored of lounging by the pool and reading my kindle, so a Cloud 9 trip would have been perfect.
The main restaurant at Plantation is a buffet, which we avoided completely. Instead go for Ananda’s which serves an a la carte menu and has excellent curries. Otherwise you can walk over to Musket Cove Resort and eat at Dick’s Place. Or for something fancier, head over to Lomani Island Resort for the best food on the island. Lomani is like an oasis. The adults-only resort is the most expensive out of the three resorts on Malolo Lailai – next time I would definitely splash out and stay here instead.
Denarau was my least favorite place to stay in Fiji. Having said that, the resort itself (Sofitel) was probably the nicest. Spacious rooms, great décor, a big pool, good food and cocktails, proximity to many restaurants, and proximity to the marina at Port Denarau. But what it lacked (and all other resorts on Denarau too) was a proper beach. The sand is dark and the water itself not very clear. Denarau is like a weird self-sufficient town with an array of resorts, a shopping precinct, and a golf course.
V Restaurant at the Sofitel serves decent French-inspired food. The crab lasagna I had was a highlight. Keep in mind though that in general the quality of the food just doesn’t compare to Australia. So if you’re a food lover like me it can sometimes not live up to your expectations. For example, we had dinner at Flying Fish at the Sheraton. Located on the sand with a great view of the sunset, it’s a great experience but the food doesn’t match Australian standards.
While staying at the Sofitel we took a Whales Tale snorkeling tour to Schooner Island in the Mamanucas. I highly recommend it – unlimited beer and wine all day long, great snorkeling off Schooner Island and super friendly staff on the boat.
Everyone always says that food in Fiji is crazy expensive. But if you’re coming from Australia, this is seriously not true. Meals at 5-star resorts average around 30-40 FJD (18-25 AUD) for a main unless you’re eating imported meat, which is usually from Australia or New Zealand.
Western food is pretty average in Fiji, so your best bet is to order the Fijian curries – even at the 5-star resorts. At the Shangri-La, the best meal I had was the chicken curry at the Beach Bar & Grill.
At Port Denarau we checked out Nadina Authentic Fijian Restaurant where we had a delicious duck curry and lovo, a Fijian specialty where meat is wrapped in banana leaves and cooked over hot rocks under the ground. My favorite thing about Fijian cuisine was how there were so many elements: rice, roti, sides of dhal, salad or chutney. The Indian influence was always noticeable in the food.
Find out what time Happy Hour is at every resort! We drank cocktails pretty much every day at Happy Hour, which saves you a chunk of change on drinks. Even without Happy Hour the cocktail prices were on par with Australian prices, with cocktails averaging at around 15 AUD. The only downside was that fresh fruits were rarely used – you’d end up with a lot of fake-tasting juices and cordials. Sometimes local spirits were also used instead of imported, which I found more potent.
You could even go so far as to buy duty-free booze in Australia (or wherever you’re coming from), but I found it wasn’t really necessary. And if you’re a beer-drinker, the local beers were very cheap (usually between 5-10 FJD).
Fiji is insanely family-friendly, so if you’ve got kids – great! If you don’t, then the screaming children taking up your peaceful pool time can be a bit of a nuisance. Your best bet is to avoid Australian school holidays when traveling to Fiji. And if you can, go in low season. Before Christmas it was perfectly serene (with resorts at only around 40% capacity), but after Christmas most resorts were booming at 100% capacity.
If you book far in advance with sales or voucher codes, you can actually travel to Fiji at a pretty reasonable price. Note that we booked our December holiday nine months in advance to get our low rates.
Normally I love exploring the local culture when I visit new places, but in Fiji it’s a bit more difficult. If you’ve rented a car you’ll be able to access towns and villages easily, but you can’t just walk out of the resort and start exploring because there’s literally nothing in close vicinity of the resorts.
A quick note on the weather: we were in Fiji from the 17th until the 28th of December. While on most days it rained at some stage, the bouts of rain passed within 15 or 30 minutes. The clouds move so quickly. It’s still worth going, especially if you compare it to places like Bali where it rains non-stop in December because it’s the wet season. More on Bali will be revealed in an upcoming post. Stay tuned!