In the spring of 2016, Henderson Productions took a big self-directed trip to New Zealand.   Our research told us to check out the Fiji Air flight offering an overnight in Fiji to break up the travel time from the west coast.    This is a description of our stopover in this lovely island country.    We recommend it.

As we started our early morning descent into Fiji, the sun came up sending a combination of yellow glow and foggy wisps into the volcanic valleys below.     What an entrance!     Before the sun was even full we could make out the edges of bays and the multiple colors of green below.    It reminded me a great deal of flying into Hawaii but not anywhere near the population – just a few scattered morning lights of farmhouses and small villages apparent.

It took under an hour to get through customs and passports and about 45 minutes of driving from the airport to make our way to the Intercontinental Golf Resort in Natadola.   Take our word for it -come here.   Lovely, lovely greetings – huge breakfast buffet while we waited for our cabana – waterside with swaying palm trees – and gorgeous weather and color.     Looks like a family-oriented resort with tons of Kiwi’s and Aussies in tow with kids and grandkids. 

I’m writing this from our covered patio where I just saw a woman walk past with 2 fishing poles, ran into James from Sydney who filled us in on how to avoid paying more than we should for hotel prices and introduced us to Charles who is going to give us a Sanasana Village tour and traditional dinner tomorrow evening for $30.    “I’ll pick you up right here (at our patio) tomorrow at 6”.    We are assured by James that it will be “mahvelous” and well worth it.    (He IS, after all, a regular here as a wedding photographer arriving often for 4-5 days and knows all the locals!)

Several naps on our arrival day failed to give us enough gumption to last into the party hours.    Not that we, or likely this resort, were going to become partiers but you get the idea.    We spent most of our sleep time, including all night, with the sliding door open allowing a gentle breeze to filterin.  

We wandered around the resort taking a little break at the adult-only infinity pool near the pool bar and grill and the just-right background duo playing all the hits of the 70’s on guitars.    Discovered we were just in time to take a complimentary scuba dive in the teaching pool.    Results indicate we shall have reports from his first ever scuba dive later this morning on the coral reef.   He’s excited.

While sitting in our lagoon-side bure (thatched roof reclining bed), we had been introduced to the previously mentioned “James from Sydney”.   Decided to take him, and Trip Advisor’s, advice for dinner a little way up the beach from the resort.   But first an interesting series of resort tourist entertainments – a “traditional” drumming trio – tattooed and/or face painted but using a variety of drums including some banded together black pvc pipes; a  “traditional fire lighting ceremony” whereupon a young torch bearing father and his father (or tribal chief or elder) escort a tiny girl and boy all wearing grass skirts around four corners of the square (conveniently allowing guests on three levels to see and photograph them) while blowing through a conch at sunset to then light the four elevated patio plinths; followed by what was meant to pass as a meke or celebratory choir of mixed genders and ages fiercely yelling “BULA” to begin each of their presentations.    By then we were hungry and loosing traction so wandered up the beach about 150 yards to the Yakula resort.

If we had paid for a private, beachside dinner and drinks at the Intercontinental, it would have started at $150.    For $30 we had the place literally to ourselves.    And SCRUMPTIOUS.    Rick opted for fresh fish and chips and as there was no “curry of the day” I opted for a Fijian burger.      Wowser.   Australian ground beef patty with caramelized onion, a grilled pineapple and sweet and sour sauce as a condiment.   Local slaw – mayo based and predominantly carrot and a pile of fresh french fries rounded out the filling meal.   And his fish was clearly only hours from the boat.    A couple of local beers – mine was called a stubbie – and a leisurely stroll back to the resort with a random “Bula” from the darkness of the non-resort massage tents led us to a jazz duo who were VERY good.   We sat and listened to Alicia Keys and Elton John and Ella Fitzgerald and tons of others til we couldn’t stay awake anymore and slowly wandered back to our little retreat on the lagoon.

Rugby vs football vs Coke games.    We are reliably informed by our over attentive pair of waiters over dinner that Fijians are “MAD about rugby”.    As a matter of fact, they tell us, if you go somewhere during a major international match “you could wait 15 or 20 minutes for your beer or service while the game is on”.    I asked about the pacific soccer/football games being hosted this weekend by Fiji – THE regional matches of the year – and was politely told “yes, yes.   The football is happening.   It’s not rugby season right now.”    “But, the biggest games are the Coke games which we host for all the secondary schools in the Pacific every fall.”   Athletic competitions between islander high school kids where “everyone directly knows someone who’s playing.    The whole world follows those games.”

Note to fellow travelers and self:    A coral atoll and sandy beaches aren’t necessarily compatible.   Think about all those east coast US beaches.    You know that low tide line of algae and tiny shells we can root around and examine but also jump over rather than walk through it?     Imagine the entire beach is that sort of pulverized calcium and whatever else makes up coral and shells.   All those lovely tourism shots of coconut palms geometrically leaning over white “sandy” beaches may, if our lovely Natadola Bay along Fiji’s west coast is any example, be crusty coral.     Our enthusiasm for the New Zealand leg of the trip made me wholly insufficient in the practical needs for the trip – especially water shoes!

Off to the massive breakfast buffet which included:  fresh fruits, compotes, yogurts, granolas and cereals, 6 kinds of juices, 3 kinds of milk (soy and chocolate), coffees on order, a tea bar to die for, around 20 different types of bread, rolls and Danish including a gluten free selection, an Oriental section with prawn dumplings, pork pupas and chicken stir fry, four different staffed bars – omelet, French toast, pancakes and eggs to order, 3 different toasting machines,  a salad bar with selections of fish, cheese, diced veggies, cream cheese and meats, a grill with bacon and grilled “today’s catch”.     Whoa.   Overload.  We understand the same facility is where both lunch and dinner are served buffet style.   Honestly, “breakfast” is open for 4 hours which for many jet lagged travelers COULD mean attendance for both breakfast and coffee at the top end and lunch for stir fry and salads at the back end.   

So, we’re ready for today’s leisurely adventures.    I intend to investigate “the restorative properties of the complimentary three-temperature adult-only spa pools” while Rick heads out to dive the coral reef.

Clearly very pleased to have set aside both the recovery time from the long journey and the nothing-to-do mentality of a beach resort before setting off on our self-drive tour of NZ tomorrow.

What’s your experience in Fiji or the South Pacific?   We’d love to hear your

thoughts and suggestions on Facebook at “suehendersonphotography”