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The tinkling bell signalling the end of a spa treatment is meant to gently ease you back into the real world. I find it more an irritating interruption if I've slipped into the intended reverie. Who really wants a cosseting experience to end with the reminder that we're all on the clock?
There is a much better way. So I discovered during a midwinter break at Fiji's old favourite and recently revamped Shangri-La Resort & Spa. There you can enjoy not just an hour or two of spa pampering, but the Dusk to Dawn experience, which includes a whole night of spa seclusion or happy coupledom in a reef-side spa villa. After your evening treatments you can loll on the deck or roll into bed.
A deep, long sleep later and it will be the sound of the waves and the rose-gold light of dawn that wake you - as nature intended. The spa team are in no rush to move you on, the polite knock you hear after the sun has edged above the distant reef line is the arrival of your tropical breakfast. Be sure to try the banana jam with your croissant. Then it's facial time, with a head massage to follow.
It's a drawcard for honeymooners, but also the ideal wind-down on arrival to immediately take you from stressed to chilled. Some people may crave a week in a wellness retreat, but I reckon resetting overnight then getting on with other holiday activities is much better value.
Easy hours travel from home, yet a world away, your Fiji spa immersion begins with a warm bath scented with fresh frangipani and strewn with bright bougainvillea petals. Graze on fresh fruits and sip watermelon juice, before heading indoors to steam, have a body scrub and then shower off around dusk, ready for an hour-long massage.
Wrapped cosily in a robe and sitting under the stars, it's time to enjoy your pre-ordered dinner. (Who, after, all has the energy for instant decisions?) The concise menu of light spa-style cuisine takes in the likes of tuna tartare, fresh Vietnamese spring rolls and marinated prawns, followed by a petite sweet treat.
By the time I exited the spa villa a few hours after waking, I was ready to explore. There's plenty to do. Or do nothing if you'd rather.
The Shangri-La, on a private island accessed by a causeway from the mainland, is Fiji's largest resort. It offers a wide choice of rooms and dining options. The luxury of space on this 44ha property and several years of reconfiguration and renovation have added to its appeal for couples.
An adults-only Reef wing has been established, complete with pool and bar, where complimentary late-afternoon cocktails and canapes are served. The wing is close to a good-sized gym, which overlooks the ocean on one side and a 9-hole golf course on the other. Further along, the large Chi day spa sits gracefully back in lush planting, while the night spa villas are shorefront, as are five larger reef villas with generous living space and decks. The all-white wedding chapel occupies a prime but more distant point.
This quiet side of the island is well apart from the bustle of the accommodation blocks of the Lagoon wing. These are ideal for young families, being near casual eateries, the Little Chiefs' Club and an inflatable water park off the white sand beach.
When cocktail hour calls, there's a specialty gin joint and later head to Black Marlin bar with more than 100 rums to try, including local coconut and spice infusions. The relaxed beachside Bilo bar, is the best spot to watch the sun set.
All this I discovered after my spa overnighter. That came after an easy transfer of less than an hour from Nadi Airport. The drive down the Kings Rd through the countryside offers a truer glimpse of real Fiji life than the quick hop to the cheek-by-jowl hotels of Denarau. I spent only three nights on the Coral Coast, but left feeling there was much more to discover in Fiji's fruit bowl and at the graciously grown-up Shangri-La.
As spa manager Nirmala put it: "When guests come in they don't want to go back to the real world.'' - viva.co.nz
If you go
The Dusk-to-Dawn spa package, including meals, costs $F500 per person (about $NZ345, plus taxes). A night can be booked even if you’re not staying at the resort. The adult-only Reef Wing costs from Fijian $450 per room (about $310, plus taxes) with airport transfers, breakfasts, a 40-minute massage, green fees, and more. Standard Ocean and Lagoon wing rooms are cheaper.
For more information, visit, Shangrila.com/yanucaisland/fijianresort