Experience a new level of chill — and want for nothing — on a South Pacific Island Paradise.
You could say that Taveuni is an island of extremes. First, I landed at the smallest airport I have ever visited. Then, I met the largest man I have ever seen.
My day began in Suva, Fiji’s capital, where I climbed aboard a puddle-jumper for the one-hour journey over to Taveuni (pronounced ta-vee-oo-nee); a trip that took me over expanses of blue sea, hundreds of green islands and a string of aquamarine coral reefs so vast and vibrant they filled my entire window. I touched down in paradise — a landing strip carved out of a dense forest of palms, proceeding to a simple open-air, tin-roof arrivals lounge that included a couple of rows of benches, a big scale to weigh passengers and almost nothing else.
Then, I met Eddie. He stood there smiling, his tree trunk legs wrapped in a traditional Fijian Sulu and barefoot. After saying hello and giving me a warm slap on the back, he grabbed my carry-on suitcase in his massive hand, wrapping fingers the size of plantains around the grip and hauling it off to a little transfer van that, given Eddie’s immensity, reminded me of a clown car. He made a call and we were off, winding our way to the end of the blacktop and down a series of small dirt roads.
As we approached a tiny village, he shared that this was his hometown, that his cousin had been married a few days ago and that the wedding festivities were continuing, for a few members of the family, unabated. We passed through the centre of town and I took in, on my left, a few spry old couples dancing jauntily to a tropical beat under a simple metal canopy, while, on my right, gleeful children leaped from a rock, screaming as they plunged into a river.
“Welcome to Taveuni, where life is good,” Eddie beamed. “Here, we don’t lack for anything. If you want to eat, you get a fish from the river or a coconut from the tree. If you want to swim, we have plenty of water. And if you want to dance — we don’t go to a nightclub. We just go ahead and dance.”
I was in Taveuni and its smaller satellite islands to discover the good life — Fijian style. Fiji’s third largest island, this place has taken chill to a new level, in a country that’s already well known for its relaxing pace. Here in this South Pacific paradise, I would discover picture-perfect swimming holes, meet oyster farmers and learn that hammock can be used as a verb.
Eddie dropped me on a beach where I waded out to a speedboat that took me to Qamea Resort and Spa, which sits on a small, mountainous island about 20 minutes by water from Taveuni. I arrived to find a series of thatch-roofed huts spread along a picture-perfect beach. Settling into my own little hut — which was deceptively luxurious, with a four-poster bed, air conditioning and a lovely outdoor shower — I contemplated my options for the day.
I could play tennis, sea-kayak, sail in a catamaran, snorkel, play volleyball — or, I could partake in something called “hammocking.” Gamely, I hiked down to the marina to get some snorkel gear, which I could use to swim right off the beach — mere steps from my front door — and spot an amazing variety of sea life. But in the back of my mind, I knew that hammocking was probably going to be my activity of choice. And so, I relaxed. Climbing into the hammock that swung on my front patio, I grabbed a beer, the thick book I had purchased at the airport (in Suva, not Taveuni), and proceeded to spend the entire afternoon in a state of suspended animation — pun intended. I read, and slept and did little else, for much of my stay at Qamea. I really enjoyed my hammocking.
But soon enough, I was ready to see more of the region, so I transferred — again by boat — to Matangi Private Island Resort. After taking some time to prepare in my tree house — a special suite perched high in the branches and reminding me of Robinson Crusoe — I was soon cruising toward Taveuni’s only oyster farm.
There, set in calm, blue waters, in a little wooden structure on stilts, I met a former Montrealer named Claude Prevost. Dressed in a simple T-shirt and shorts — with a pearl hanging around his neck — Prevost explained that he worked for years in the corporate world, wearing a tie to work every day as an advertising executive. One day, he got fed up with both the rat race and the harsh Quebecois winters. Selling everything, he and his wife bought a boat and sailed around the world for four years.
When they coasted through the waters that are now his oyster farm, they knew they were home. “We just looked at each other and we were like, ‘whoa,’” he remembers, smiling and shaking his head.
Prevost walked me through the process of growing pearls, which I soon forgot. Minutes later, I was in the water, snorkelling around the stilts, over mountains of coral and marvelling at the vast array of colourful, tropical fish that, along with Prevost’s oysters, call these waters home.
A little later, I transferred back toTaveuni and drove inland to Bouma National Heritage Park. There, I hiked across a lush landscape to a gushing waterfall, something straight out of a postcard. Flowing from high in the mountains, the water was clear and cold and I shivered as I waded into the pool at its base. After swimming across, I scrambled up the rocks on the opposite side and strode across a slippery shelf until I was right behind the flow of the fall. I took a deep breath and ran forward, plunging into the flow and then down into the pool. It was exotic and refreshing — just another unforgettable experience while living the good life in Fiji.
Fiji Airways offers regular nonstop flights from Los Angeles International Airport to Nadi, Fiji. Within Fiji, the carrier’s domestic brand, Pacific Sun, provides flights between the country’s many islands. fijiairways.com