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No Hurries, No Worries in Remote, Exotic FijiNovember 7, 2011
Richard Weir, Boston Herald, November 5, 2011
There are 333 islands in the archipelago of Fiji, and this one would hardly count as one of them. Poking out of the turquoise ocean, the strand of glistening white sand beckoned us.
So we asked our skipper to drop anchor so we could wade ashore with a breakfast picnic of freshly baked coconut bread and sliced fruit that our hotel, Likuliku, prepared for us.
Except for a flock of terns, we were alone, sipping coffee and taking in the panoramic view of the azure sea. Looming on one horizon were the hazy mountains of Viti Levu -- Fiji's largest, most populous island.
Sticking up like a camel's hump on another was Monuriki, the lush, uninhabited volcanic island that was the setting of Tom Hanks' film "Cast Away."
What a way to kick off a honeymoon.
When planning our trip, my bride Suzanne and I agreed on an unspoiled paradise that lacked high-rise hotels and traffic lights, a far-off land with warm waters and even warmer people.
And from the minute we landed at Nadi Airport and were serenaded by a group of smiling singers -- at 5 a.m. -- we knew that Fiji, with its "no hurries, no worries" mantra, was the perfect choice.
That friendly Fijian hospitality continued at Likuliku Lagoon Resort, where the hotel's guitar-strumming staff, wearing flowers in their ears, greeted us on the dock with a welcoming song, a hearty "bula" (Fijian for hello), a lei and a cold glass of passion fruit iced tea.
As we entered our thatched-roof bure, or bungalow, we found our bed decorated with hibiscus flowers and the words "Bula + Welcome Home" written in palm fronds. Likuliku, which means "calm waters," sits in a sheltered cove with a pristine coral reef on Malolo Island in the Mamanuca island group.
The couples-only luxury resort has 45 traditionally designed, air-conditioned bures, including Fiji's only over-the-water bungalows, with glass floor panels to showcase the bounty of reef fish below, and deluxe beach-front suites with private plunge pools, day-bed retreats and ornate, outdoor showers.
Likuliku's gourmet meals, which are included, fuse traditional French fare with Pacific Rim flavors and are served in an open-air restaurant modeled after a large Fijian canoe house or at tables under the stars.
My favorite dish was a steamed mud crab at the Friday night "lovo and meke," a traditional Fijian feast and dance. We started each day making fresh-squeezed juices and sipping coconut water straight from freshly cut coconuts.
"You have to get to the islands to experience Fiji and see what she's really about," Steve Anstey, Likuliku's general manager, says about leaving the "mainland."
The last night of our stay at Likuliku, its restaurant staff circled our table and sang us "Isa Lei," the Fijian farewell song.
Fortunately, we were not leaving Fiji, but instead heading to another resort: Laucala. The private island, once a coconut plantation, was owned by Malcolm Forbes before Red Bull tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz bought the 3,000-acre sanctuary and turned it into a veritable Shangri-la.
Laucala is the ultimate honeymooners hideaway, a real-life Fantasy Island with its own 18-hole golf course, horse stables, organic farm, garden spa, fleet of dive, sailing and fishing boats, a pampering staff and mesmerizing architecture.
Its lagoon pool is an eye-popping oasis. Perfectly aligned rows of coconut trees grace the entrance to the elegant Plantation House, a colonial-era-styled mansion where fine meals are paired with endless glasses of wine.
The Asian-inspired Sea Grass restaurant and the tiki torch-lit Rock Lounge are perched atop cliffs overlooking the ocean, providing romantic retreats to watch dazzling sunsets.
Laucala's 25 luxurious villas blend a South Seas exoticness with rustic-chic decor. Whimsical chandeliers resembling jellyfish dangle from thatched ceilings; bathtubs, hewn from polished rocks, accompany palatial bathrooms.
Our beach-front villa -- each comes with a golf buggy -- had its own pool and pavilions for private outdoor dining. But there's plenty to do at Laucala, from riding horses to diving world-renowned reefs. One of the simplest pleasures is just watching shells of all shapes mosey down the beach, hitched to nomadic hermit crabs.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort isn't an obvious pick for a honeymoon itinerary, despite it having secluded beachfront bures and romantic dining spots, such as dockside, lantern-lit tables.
The eco-friendly resort excels at allowing parents traveling with kids to relearn what it's like to vacation without them.
What drew us was its emphasis on the deep blue sea, which is only natural for a resort founded by the oldest son of late underwater explorer Jacques Cousteau.
A highlight of our stay was a night snorkeling trip with the resort's marine biologist, Johnny Singh, who illuminated nocturnal reef critters with his flashlight.
"Poke it," he told me as we came face to face with a squid. I did, prompting a black plume to squirt into the water and Singh to exclaim: "You just got inked!"
The next day I had a chance to scuba the Namena Marine Reserve with him, which was like diving with "AskJeeves." Before I could gesture at something, he'd write its name on a white board. "Magic Coral," he scrawled, then touched a blue coral branch, making its hard skeleton turn white. My wife, snorkeling 80 feet above, got the thrill of spotting whitetip reef sharks resting in a grotto.
That evening we went deep-sea fishing and landed a skipjack and yellowfin tuna. Later, in a beachside cabana, we dined on our very own catch of the day: tuna sashimi and grilled skipjack steaks.
If you go ...
Getting there: Air Pacific is the only airline with direct flights from the United States (LAX) to Fiji. With the 10-hour flight and 19-hour time difference, you lose a day going there. We broke up the trip from Boston by spending a night at the Loews on Santa Monica Beach, a prime spot to recoup before the long flight.
Getting around: Fijime.com provides an overview of Fiji's many islands and resorts, as well as a list of domestic airlines, seaplanes, helicopters and ferries to help island hop.