Island with everything

What could be better than the sight of your island resort butler bringing breakfast? PHOTOS:...
What could be better than the sight of your island resort butler bringing breakfast? PHOTOS: BRUCE MUNRO
Staying at a luxury resort gives Bruce Munro and his wife an idyllic tropical holiday and an unexpected experience of the real Fiji.

"Give  that to me, Mr Bruce,'' says the deep Fijian voice.

Serious eyes hold my gaze. Strong, dark chocolate arms reach for my bags, sling them over a shoulder and then commandeer my wife's suitcase too.

"I don't want to see you carrying anything while you are here at Tropica Island Resort,'' he says, breaking into a wide-mouthed grin and striding off along the sandy, beachfront path.

This is Apikuki, our butler.

The view from Tropica’s main restaurant.
The view from Tropica’s main restaurant.
Here on an idyllic dot of sand and coconut palms, lost in the vastness of the South Pacific ocean, we have suddenly inherited a manservant.

It is a bit of a shock. And not the first one this week.

The sun sets behind the small island directly in front of a beachside bure at Tropica Island...
The sun sets behind the small island directly in front of a beachside bure at Tropica Island Resort, Malolo Island, Fiji.
Two days prior, we had flown out of New Zealand on a morning promising to hit 15degC - not bad for a spring day in Dunedin. Landing at Fiji's Nadi airport a few hours later, however, we were greeted by the late-20degC embrace of a humid Melanesian evening.

The Fiji we saw beyond the airport confines was characteristically Pasifika. There was lush vegetation, basic housing, plenty of smiling people walking along the road verge. But we entered a different world when we crossed the small bridge to Denarau Island, home to multimillion-dollar houses and a score of international resorts.

Those first two nights were spent getting our bearings in the tender care of the Fiji Hilton. Oohh-ing over lilac, tangerine and liquid gold sunsets; enjoying (or, in my musician wife's case, joining in with) talented local entertainers; waking up to yet another warm, azure-sky day; being greeted with "Bula!'' at every turn; trying to decide between having something or everything on extensive Fijian, Asian and Western menus each morning, noon and night; lounging in and around a variety of family-friendly and adults-only pools that looked like they had been lifted straight out of the travel brochure ... It was a tiring gig, but we did our best.

Guests and staff mingle at a kava ceremony at Tropica Island Resort, Fiji.
Guests and staff mingle at a kava ceremony at Tropica Island Resort, Fiji.
There was also a nearby cooking class with the wonderful Fijian and Indo-Fijian women of Flavours of Fiji. It was an educational, delicious and fun way to connect with the people, food and cultures of this diverse island state.

For a taste of urban Fijian life, we took a 20-minute ride on the local $1 bus and hopped off at Nadi bus station. We then strolled through the bustling kava and produce markets before making our way to the main shopping street to buy some souvenirs.

Those couple of days were an ideal introduction to Fiji. What we did not fully appreciate was that this was merely preparation for taking it up a notch ... or three.

As we walked along the water's edge towards our private beachfront bure, trying to get our heads around the notion of a butler, we also took in our surroundings.

Snorkelling coral reefs in the Mamanuca Island group northwest of Denarau, Viti Levu, Fiji, is...
Snorkelling coral reefs in the Mamanuca Island group northwest of Denarau, Viti Levu, Fiji, is like swimming in someone’s well-stocked tropical fish tank.
Tropica Island Resort on Malolo Island, an hour's catamaran journey from Denarau, is a slice of paradise served on a plate of warm Fijian smiles. It is a boutique, luxury resort, adults only. Most of the bures are just metres from the sea and about half have their own plunge pool.

Our stay began on our porch, iced glass of lemon juice in hand, gazing out at the scene of island bliss while receiving a delicious leg and foot massage.

The physical heart of the resort is the main pool, lined with deck chairs and umbrellas, and the main open-sided restaurant with great ocean views. Close by, at the water's edge, is the sunset bar - a great spot for happy hour cocktails and tapas.

But the real heart of Tropica beats in the staff; the smiling, always happy to help, greet-you-by-name staff who quite possibly outnumber the guests and are never far away.

Tropica butler extraordinaire Apikui Delai demonstrates how to blow a conch shell.
Tropica butler extraordinaire Apikui Delai demonstrates how to blow a conch shell.
Chief among whom, for us, was Kuki. As a Tropica butler, this outgoing young man's sole job was ... our every need. It was a little disconcerting, at first. Egalitarian Kiwis aren't generally comfortable with the idea of this sort of service. I drew on a lesson learnt during limited experience of first-class air travel - allowing those serving to do their job respects their role and preserves their dignity. Sorting out in our own minds what level of service we wanted, also helped.

Then we began to get in to the swing of it.

Organising breakfast in bed was as simple as asking Kuki to make it happen. The same applied to visiting an authentic Fijian village on the far side of the island and rearranging our catamaran departure bookings.

Kuki took us snorkelling. The fish were so plentiful, colourful and diverse that it proved too easy to spend too long face down in the water, mesmerised by the underwater beauty as my back baked in the sun.

Kuki took us to a private beach for a champagne picnic lunch. He discretely slipped away for an hour but then readily joined in my doomed plan to secure enough driftwood beneath a picnic chair to enable Annemarie to float on it in the shallows.

Kuki organised dinner-for-two on the resort’s roofed wharf; a sumptuous three-course meal complete with guitar and vocal serenade — the multi-talented butler doubling, of course, as one of the singers.

It was the ideal couple’s luxury getaway; a perfect prescription for rest, recreation and rejuvenation.

We had been variously told what the ‘‘real’’ Fiji was. It wasn’t the tourist hot spots, it was the kava ceremony. It wasn’t the mainland, it was the islands . . . So, it seemed the ultimate Fiji experience was at the end of our final day at Tropica Island Resort, sitting in a circle with a mix of fellow guests and staff, beneath a starry sky, talking, laughing and taking coconut shell cups of mouth-tingling kava and kindness.

The next evening, however, back in Denarau, staying at the Palms Apartments in readiness for an early morning flight back to New Zealand, I was in a reflective mood during a topnotch meal at the nearby waterfront Rhum-Ba.

Our stay in Fiji, and at Tropica in particular, had been everything a Pacific Island holiday should be. And, I realised, the passionfruit icing on this exquisite, tropical lime and coconut cake had in fact been our butler.

We had stayed at a luxury resort. Kuki had seemed the embodiment of that rarified existence. But by experiencing the delights of Fiji with his help, by negotiating our respective roles, by talking to him about his life, his family, his dreams, this trip had brought us closer to the real Fiji than we had ever thought possible.

Bruce Munro was hosted by Tourism Fiji.

Add a Comment

 

xmas_banner_620_x_95.jpg

See more great gift ideas !   For Her  |  For Him  |  For Families  |  For Kids  | 

xmas_banner2.jpg