Our first stop in Fiji was at the Westin Hotel on Denarau Island just outside Fiji’s second biggest town Nadi on the west coast. The capital is Suva, about 3 hours away. Denarau Island was created by draining swamp land to create a focus for the growing tourist industry, there is a golf course in the middle and around the outside they have built two Sheratons, a Hilton, a Sofitel and the Westin (there maybe others but those are the ones we saw). There is also a Marina, Port Denarau, where all the fishing and diving trips and day cruises go from. It is all very upmarket and glossy but apart from the lovely Fijian people who work there it is all a bit generic and sterile. The most bizarre thing about the Denarau Island holiday paradise is, there is no beach!! Our room was very comfortable, the pool was nice and there were two restaurants and a café. The one outstanding feature of the hotel was the breakfast buffet!! It had everything you could think of including a juice bar where you could blend your own juices from bowls of fruit, veg herbs and spices. It even had complimentary sparkling wine (Blanc de Blanc) every morning just in case you needed to pep up the orange juice.
We had three full days at the Westin so we decided to book a tour to see some of the local area, it was meant to be a half day but it left at 08.30 and got back at 15.00, we were glad we hadn’t booked the full day. First stop was a Hindu temple in Nadi, there is a large Indian community here and the temple is a major land mark in town. After an inevitable stop at a souvenir shop we visited a local fruit market which was really interesting, we bought a green coconut (very refreshing) and talked to a man who was selling Kava root, the basis of a slightly hallucinogenic drink most Fijians drink like tea. We haven’t tried it yet, it looks like muddy water, but there is still time. Next stop was a local primary school which was great, they made us very welcome and we were shown around by the deputy head. The kids were very friendly and confident and didn’t seem too distracted by a dozen tourist trailing through their classroom. We also visited the nearby village which was the oldest village in Fiji, the site where the original settlers came ashore, apparently from South Africa. We were shown around and our guide told us a bit about traditional Fijian village life which is still led by most people outside of the big towns. Like Samoa Fiji is a strongly Christian country and the church plays a central part in village life with most people attending services or meetings during the week as well as on Sunday. We were shown a Fijian drum in the centre of the village, it is sounded at 19.00 everyday and wherever you are you stop what you are doing and go home to spend time with the family. The village had a population of over 900 people living in 115 houses, several generations of each family live together.
Next stop was a beautiful botanical garden which has been created in a cleft between two hills, it was established by the actor Raymond Burr(!) and has a display of over 2000 orchids as well as a walkway that winds through lovely gardens planted beneath the natural trees. It was really lovely. The last stop was a place with a mud pool and natural thermal pool, we had great fun covering ourselves with mineral rich mud (at least that’s what they told us it was) then after it had dried rinsing it off in one pool then moving into the thermal pool which was almost 40⁰C, only just bearable.
We spent our last day in Nadi by the pool and in our room catching up with the analysis of the US presidential debate,
Next stop is Matamanoa Island, a small island about an hour off the west coast of Fiji, it is one of the places I have been particularly looking forward to, we will let you know how it goes…
… we had planned to publish ‘Fiji part 1’ before now but the internet went down on Matamanoa Island so it had to wait until now. So straight into ‘Fiji part2’…
We left the Westin and headed to Port Denarau where the boat trips and ferry services depart. We caught the 09.15 High Speed Catamaran to the Mamanuca Islands, on the way to Matamanoa we passed several islands of varying sizes all with white sand beaches and palm trees, some of them looked exactly like a childs drawing of a desert island! First stop was the island of Tokiriki where for the Tokiriki Resort and the Sheraton shared the western cost of the island, then it was 5 minutes further on to Matamanoa. The reef around Matamanoa is a protected nature reserve so the catamaran anchored off shore and the hotel sent a launch out to collect the half-dozen guest arriving on the ferry. The launch took us nearly to the beach and we had to wade the rest of the way! As we paddled ashore the staff were on the beach singing to welcome us and greeting us with shell necklaces, there were also several young men in grass skirts to offer assistance. Once ashore we walked up to reception where seats were set out for us along with cold towels and glasses of guava juice to refresh us while we checked in. It will be tough going back to the Premier Inn after this.
Our room was a beachfront bure, the Fijian equivalent of a Fale. It was a big room with a lovely bathroom and a sitting room area with a sink and a fridge so we could make tea and coffee and keep drinks cold. The end of the bure faced the sea, outside we had a private terrace with a plunge pool, a table and chairs, a day bed under a thatched awning and an outdoor shower . We also had a lawn with two sun loungers and steps down to the beach – what more could we ask for! Snorkelling equipment was available for loan so we kitted ourselves out and headed for the reef which was about 20ft off shore, it was even better than the reef we explored in Savai’I, lots of bright coloured fish of all shapes and sizes – see the pictures.
The restaurant at Matamanoa was very good and very reasonable, the breakfast buffet provided lots of fresh fruit and unlimited fresh toast as well as pastries and cereal, plenty to set us up for the day. There is nothing on Matamanoa except the hotel which had about 40 rooms (a mixture of rooms, villas and bures), and a central area with a pool and a really nice sun terrace with a small shop and a bar next to the restaurant. We used that area occasionally but mainly we enjoyed our bure. We did take advantage of a complimentary foot massage at the spa which was half way up the hill beside the hotel with open air treatment rooms clinging to the cliff. There is not much more we can tell you about Matamanoa, it was beautiful, the staff couldn’t have been friendlier, there were no children there (no-one under 18 allowed on the island) the sea was wonderful shades of blue, green and turquoise the sand was white and the gardens were green and sweetly scented. It was bliss.
When it came time to leave we discovered that the ferry left too late to get us to the airport in time for our flight to Auckland so the travel agents had booked a private water taxi for us. We waded out to a small boat which then pottered carefully through the reef, once it reached open water the captain opened up two big outboard motors and we flew across the water towards the mainland. The taxi created a wide wake of bright white foam tracing our path away from Matamanoa, it took us an hour to reach Port Denarau and the trip was just brilliant.
A taxi was waiting at the Port to take us to Nadi airport where we said goodbye to Fiji and the South Sea Islands and turned our thoughts to New Zealand.