Bali, Phuket and Krabi once formed the holy trinity of beach vacays, but over time, its formula of overcrowded shores, touting tuk-tuk drivers and relentless “ni hao”s stopped gelling with a generation that wants to be “travelers, not tourists.”
Enter Fiji – a place Singaporeans associate only with expensive bottled water, an island paradise most have only seen on Cast Away and Survivor. We knew zilch about the language her people speak, the monies they use, or its location on the world map. But thanks to Fiji Airways’ new direct route from SIN, we got educated.
Here’s sharing said education so you know where to park your year-end bonus.
The flight from Singapore lands in Nadi, which I imagine must be the HQ of Fiji where international hotel chains and ferry ports are found. We then took a domestic flight to Taveuni – a tropical island rich with jungles and beaches – before riding a boat to Qamea, where our resort is planted in a civilisation of its own.
In regions furnished with tourist amenities, the Fijians are fluent in English and getting around is simple. On average, a meal can cost anything between S$20-60, and it’s recommended that you have extra cash on you at all times.
Qamea Resort is a lot like Club Med – exclusive and all-inclusive. It has only 17 units, and offers a host of offshore activities like water sports, hikes, and curated tours. The rooms do not come with TV sets, and Wifi/3G network is scarce because of its location. When drums are sounded at every mealtime, guests get their asses off the hammocks and gather for chow.
It’s disorienting at first, but in no time, you’ll be eased into an e-mail and text-proof bubble of detox. The huts are so close to the shoreline, you fall asleep and wake up to the sound of waves. Sunsets are exceedingly dramatic, as are the shooting star sightings when night falls on this side of the globe.
Leaving Fiji before seeing its marine life up close is like visiting Singapore without eating at a hawker centre. Guests of the resort can access Circle Qamea, a 5-hour boat tour of attractions surrounding the roadless island and prime snorkeling spots.
There’s a certain safety in waddling near the shoreline, as I learnt from my virgin experience at Phi Phi Islands, but that goes out of the window when you’re far out at sea where little land is in sight. These were truly some of the clearest waters I’ve had the pleasure of being one with.
The shades of blue that darkened across indistinct skirtings were frightening at first, but fear soon turned into a chance of spotting stingrays, squids and baby sharks among other creatures, and the sweet, uninhibited isolation of feeling miniscule on a single arc of a world.
The Circle Qamea also cruised past noteworthy landmarks like Laucala Island, which has hosted famous ballers like Ludacris and Oprah Winfrey. Us peasants may never get to see its legendary Red Bull submarine, but we can surely live vicariously through celebrity gossip sites.
On the tour, lunch was done field camp-style on a private island in the middle of nowhere. Our guides started the grillout with rocks and coal, and the rest of us were left to our own devices on the beach – be it climbing trees or sprinting across unreal sea partings at low tide.
Fiji pro tip #1: most of the meats in Fiji are imported from Australia and New Zealand. If you ever have to make a choice, you will not regret the steaks and lamb sausages.
Taveuni is touted as the ‘Garden Island’ of Fiji, and its tropical greenery is best relished by trudging through its earth and foliage. Most visitors hike through Bouma National Park to seek the Tavoro Falls, where visitors can cliff-dive or cool off in a volcanic pool.
The park’s beauty, I discover, is not confined within these highlights on the site map. It is the free-roaming horses, fields of taro and pineapple, and villagers who are happiest when it rains. It is the way a commanding landscape of mountains and trees makes the brain break out into the Jurassic Park song unwittingly.
Pack light, lots of water, and wear shoes you don’t mind getting wet as there are rocky rivers to be crossed. Taveuni receives frequent rainfall, and this made the weather comfortable for hiking. It showered on our way down and while we found that therapeutic, it’s best to bring a brolly in case of bad weather.
After 9pm, activities die out, people retire to their huts, and Qamea sinks into a blanket of pitch black. As the island enters DND mode, mozzies, frogs and crabs come out to play. Of the 3, hunger games commence on the most palatable.
Torchlights, buckets, tongs and humans – a fearsome combo for the crustaceans of Qamea. The best season for crab-hunting is full moon, and while our luck was stacked against the lunar phase and a landmine of frogs, we (and by we, I mean our guide singlehandedly) managed to catch 3!
We had to check out at noon the following day, but if we didn’t have to, the trio will find themselves above a stove and bathed in chili in a ritual we humans like to call lunch.
On our trip, we often saw Fijians strumming guitars and chilling around a wooden tub, vibing the same way Singaporeans once did at Arab Street before shisha got banned. The tub is filled with a brown-colored liquid called Kava, ground from a plant native to the Pacific Islands.
Kava is served in half a coconut shell to bond strangers in social and business settings, and known to relax the body, sometimes to an extent where people get high. There are plenty of opportunities to try it on most islands, and a sampling amount is recommended if you don’t wish to KO. You’ll need at least 6 cups for the effect to kick in. Let us know how that goes!
The bitter and peppery flavor can be best described as a liquid version of Po Chai Pills, and left a tingly sensation on the tongue as promised. It’s an acquired taste without a doubt, but the true essence of this custom lies in its communal atmosphere.
Waibulu Village is 10 minutes away from Qamea, and completely detached from tourist amenities of any sort. As our boat turned into a mangrove swamp, what looks like a kampung you’ll find on pre-tourism Pulau Ubin slowly came into view.
The rustic huts and long clothing lines were a stark contrast from the resorts and hotels we came from. Of the incomplete structures scattered around, a haphazardly assembled chapel sat in the village’s backyard. We were told by the villagers that they are still raising funds to build it.
Having hailed from a city with some of the world’s fastest walkers, it was hard to fathom how slow-paced village life is. In a town hall filled with hymns and industrious handicrafts for sale, we got a glimpse of how the indigenous people spend their days while carefree children chase after farm animals barefooted.
The earth oven (Hangi) in New Zealand has long been archived in the culture of a cosmopolitan city, but the Fijian equivalent (Lovo) is still very much ingrained in the locals’ lifestyles. On Sundays, people would dig a hole in their backyards, fill it with hot rocks, coal, meats and root crops, before covering them with wet rick sacks to cook in the earth’s heat for hours.
(Seconds after, we were told very casually that they used to put people in them. 0 to 100 real quick.)
Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa holds these fancy Lovo buffet dinners on the beach at sunset. You’re welcome to watch the staff lower your tributes at noontime before retrieving them in the evening – and you should. It is a work of art. Meats are wrapped in next-level banana leaf origami, and how the men handle the scalding stash without flinching once is beyond me.
Once there existed an expanse of waters so vast, turquoise was all the eye could see. One day, a human came along and said, “Let there be a floating platform that does nothing else but infinite pizzas and booze”. That was the day Cloud 9 was birthed.
It shall forever be inscribed in my book of life regrets that we didn’t go here. The boat could not depart because there weren’t enough people. What exactly are these priorities that trump frolicking around a double-storey pizzeria with a belly full of wood-fired pizza and ice-cold beer? That will forever remain an enigma to me.
Real talk though: if you ever go to Fiji, this is compulsory. It’s not the cheapest day trip around but think about it – pizza and beer will never be the same again.
Of all the things we’ve experienced in Fiji Islands, her people’s hospitality is perhaps the most memorable. Before, checking out of a hotel/resort was nothing more than a routine. But on the day we left Qamea, the island’s staff – some of whom we had grown to befriend – sang by the shore and played ukuleles as our boat took sail, and that made us a little wistful.
Out of the 4-star establishment, the same warmth can be found in the most ordinary encounters – be it the locals waving as our van sped by or the villagers who came a little closer to inspect a drone for the first time. They may not always speak English, but time and again that barrier is transcended with knowing glances and sheepish smiles.
When you fly with Fiji Airways, your holiday begins once you board the flight in Singapore. We were fortunate enough to fly Business Class on the way up, and the aircraft’s “hardware” was top-notch. My travel companion snoozed for almost the whole flight.
Still, service will be the stellar bit whether you’re traveling on Business or Economy class. After the flight attendant knew I had a sore throat, she made sure my cup never ran out of hot lemon tea. True to the experience we were in for after touchdown, it was a type of friendliness that can’t be rehearsed.
But don’t take our word for it – go ahead and find out for yourself. Fiji Airways flies directly to Nadi Airport twice a week and if you snag the deal before 15 January 2017, tickets on Economy Class cost as low as $699 for adults and $425 for children. You know where to go the next time you crave a beach holiday.
This post was brought to you by Fiji Airways.
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