virtuoso global November 2019 Insiders’ Guide to Fiji

Insiders’ Guide to Fiji

Fiji’s team of welcoming Bulanaires offer travel experiences full of happiness and laughter.
Fiji’s team of welcoming Bulanaires offer travel experiences full of happiness and laughter.
Get on-the-ground insight for a trip rich in bula spirit, from supporting marine life conservation to sampling local kava.
Fiji’s 333 islands are home to some of the happiest people on earth (visitors know this firsthand; Gallup International’s polls corroborate it). Winter visitors have to be among the world’s cheeriest too, given that daytime temperatures average a balmy 86 degrees. Located between Hawaii and New Zealand, the South Pacific archipelago – a 12-hour overnight flight from major West Coast hubs – is a favorite honeymoon spot and scuba-diving destination, with vibrant coral reefs. Terra firma adventures range from hiking to waterfalls and kayaking through inland mangrove forests to experiencing the islands’ blend of indigenous heritage with, Indian, Chinese, and European cultures. In order to showcase the island nation’s wealth of happiness, Fiji has anointed 17 “Bulanaires” – a spin on the word “billionaire” – to extend a welcoming hand to visitors. (“Bula,” pronounced boo-lah, is a Fijian greeting that carries a spiritual quality to welcome others with warmth and wishes for good health.) From surf legend Kelly Slater to Bollywood star Ileana D’Cruz, these ambassadors from diverse backgrounds and embody the idea that anyone who’s rich in happiness can be a Bulanaire – travelers included. Here, three Bulanaires weigh in on how to enjoy the best of Fiji, whether you’re a first-time visitor or a returning devotee.

Ocean Warrior: Jean-Michel Cousteau

As the eldest son of the late French explorer Jacques Cousteau, Jean-Michel spent much of his youth aboard the famous research vessel Calypso. He has since devoted his life to saving the planet’s oceans, most notably as the president and chairman of the non-profit Ocean Futures Society. While Cousteau’s work and passion have taken him to new depths around the globe, he remains captivated by Fiji’s aquatic ecosystem – so much so that he founded the islands’ first luxury eco-resort in 1995, the 25-bungalow Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort Fiji on Vanua Levu Island.
Bulanaire and marine life advocate Jean-Michel Cousteau has been scuba diving for more than 70 years.
Bulanaire and marine life advocate Jean-Michel Cousteau has been scuba diving for more than 70 years.
Photo by Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort Fiji
Opportunities for marine life research and conservation are bountiful. Fiji’s 4,000 square miles of reef provide refuge for a wide array of marine creatures, including more than 1,000 species of fish, five of the world’s sea-turtle species, large pods of spinner dolphins, and migrating humpback whales. “Fiji has one of the world’s largest diversities of hard coral and is known as the ‘soft coral capital of the world,’ ” Cousteau says. The Namena Barrier Reef is just one of many biodiverse hot spots, and Cousteau’s resort recently introduced three new dive sites there. Manta Mount, where guests can scuba with barrel-rolling manta rays, is Cousteau’s top pick among the new sites.
 
While the ocean explorer and environmentalist calls Santa Barbara home, he feels most at ease in the South Pacific. “I’m a lot more attached there than I am anyplace else,” he says. He’s currently putting the finishing touches on a new dive boat for his Fiji resort, where he often heads out with guests when he’s in town. His favorite dive, he says, is “always the next one.”
At the resort, guests stay in <em>bures</em>, traditional Fijian bungalows with wide windows and thatched roofs.
At the resort, guests stay in bures, traditional Fijian bungalows with wide windows and thatched roofs.
Photo by Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort Fiji

Family Flyer: Karolina Cakacaka

Karolina (call her Lina) Cakacaka was born and raised in Fiji’s capital, Suva, on Viti Levu Island, although she spent much of her childhood in Tokyo. During frequent Air Pacific flights between the island nations, Cakacaka dreamed of a job in travel, even as she developed a deep appreciation for her culture and fellow Fijians. “I vividly remember those big, beautiful bula smiles that welcomed me aboard,” she says of return flights to Fiji.
Bulanaire Lina Cakacaka describes Fiji in four words: “Where happiness finds you.”
Bulanaire Lina Cakacaka describes Fiji in four words: “Where happiness finds you.”
Today, Cakacaka channels her own bula spirit as a senior flight attendant with Fiji Airways, where she’s worked for the past 13 years. While she feels blessed to be able to travel, Cakacaka’s most-loved view from the air is the approach into Nadi, the main city of Viti Levu and Fiji’s primary transportation hub: “You can catch a glimpse of the Yasawa islands and their beautiful beaches,” she says, referring to the chain of volcanic islands along the country’s western border. “My first glimpse of home always brings a smile to my face,” she adds. “There’s nowhere like it.”

On the islands, she’s happiest with her family and three sons – Elijah, Paulo, and Philip – watching a sunset or eating kokoda, a ceviche-like dish of raw fish and fresh coconut cream. "My favorite place to eat in Nadi is Tu’s Place, a locally owned restaurant in the Martintar neighborhood,” she says. In addition to kokoda, she tells visitors to try rourou balls, made with cassava root and taro leaves and served with grilled local fish.
Seen from the air, the Yasawara islands invite incoming travelers to linger in Fiji.
Seen from the air, the Yasawara islands invite incoming travelers to linger in Fiji.

Serene Leader: Dawn Allen Simpson

Originally from Vanua Levu, Dawn Allen Simpson has been on staff at the four-villa, 14-acre Dolphin Island, Fiji resort for 19 years. Now the resort’s manager, she still gets a kick out of how amazed visitors are by locals’ laid-back attitude. “We’re on Fiji time,” she says. “When it happens, it happens.”
Resort manager Dawn Allen Simpson shares her welcoming <em>bula</em> spirit with guests.  
Resort manager Dawn Allen Simpson shares her welcoming bula spirit with guests.  
When those visitors eventually disconnect and get some vitamin D, Simpson says they feel a sense of peace that’s almost impossible to find in the always-wired world. This leads to a deeper connection with fellow travelers, the natural surroundings, and simple pleasures such as sampling fresh fruits at the local market. Even after nearly two decades, Simpson continues to make those connections: “A fun recent discovery here is the abundance of octopus not far from my veranda,” she says. She likes to relax there, “sharing a good yarn around a lovely cup of tea and a slice of cassava cake.”
 
Simpson recommends that visitors take part in a traditional kava ceremony, where locals share a bowl of the drink, which is made from the crushed roots of its namesake pepper plant. For souvenirs, she points to Pure Fiji body-care products. Beyond tangible keepsakes, Simpson says, “if there’s one thing I recommend travelers take home with them, it’s the local phrase ‘Sega na lega.’ ” Translation: “No worries.”
Fijian kava tastings typically include a traditional wooden <em>yaqona</em> or <em>tanoa</em> bowl; after sipping, first-timers should expect a tingling or numbing sensation on the tongue.
Fijian kava tastings typically include a traditional wooden yaqona or tanoa bowl; after sipping, first-timers should expect a tingling or numbing sensation on the tongue.

Where to Stay

  • Dolphin Island, Fiji — Simpson and her team pamper guests silly at the sprawling four-villa slice of paradise.
  • InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa — In this 266-room pleasure ground, visitors can choose amusements such as a round of championship golf, a fire-dancing performance, or an aromatherapy bath in a balcony-set Cleopatra tub.
  • Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort Fiji  — The archipelago’s pioneering 25-room eco-luxe resort introduces guests to a local village chief and hosts Vanua Levu’s only resident marine biologist.
  • Kokomo Private Island Fiji — The only luxury resort in the Kadavu region comprises 26 rooms and offers a range of wellness journeys, direct access to the Great Astrolabe Reef, and a serious commitment to sustainability.
Travelers can arrive to the Dolphin Island resort via boat, float plane, or helicopter.
Travelers can arrive to the Dolphin Island resort via boat, float plane, or helicopter.
Photo by Dolphin Island, Fiji 
  • Laucala Island — The rock-star-worthy 25-room hideaway offers a glass-enclosed pool, a 14-vessel fleet, and cool water toys such as a two-person submarine.
  • Royal Davui Island Resort, Fiji — From picnic breakfasts on a private cay to dinner à deux in a candlelit beach hut, this sexy 16-room sanctuary oozes romance.
  • Vomo Island Resort — A former retreat for Fijian chiefs now provides a stylish 32-room refuge for seclusion seekers and families in search of baby butlers.
  • Wakaya Club & Spa — A private Cessna delivers guests to this 12-room fantasy-island resort, where there’s a pitch-and-putt golf course and Pure Fiji spa treatments.

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