Fred Van Eijk

Where in the world is Travel Counsellors’ Fred van Eijk? Not sure what he’s up to today, but he was recently spotted relaxing in Fiji where he shared with us some of the things he loves about the island nation.

Suddenly I found myself travelling back in time, to where and when my dream to visit the paradise islands in the heart of the South Pacific Ocean began to unfold. Watching an impressive TV-series about the artist Gauguin, I realised where my fascination with colours, fertility, the people and the atmosphere of distant, tucked away places in this faraway part of the world came from.

In my days as a student in Paris, I’d find myself gazing at Gauguin’s grand paintings often, sharing his longing to discover these places. Dozens of years later I visited a few islands in Fiji, and the dream slipped into a daze of reality. The warm colours, gorgeous people with fresh flowers tucked behind their ears – right if you’re taken, left if you’re single –the sandy white beaches with a breath-taking décor of rainforests and beautiful underwater scenery.

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Fiji holds more than 332 islands, of which 106 are inhabited. There are regular flight connections between the different islands and you can hop on one of the ferry’s or water taxi’s. The most important port is Port Denarau and it’s about a 20-minute ride by car away from Nadi. If I could give you one tip from the start; make sure you have planned and puzzled together your trip before you land.

 

TROPICANA ISLAND RESORT

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My Fiji adventures began with Tropicana Island Resort, 40 minutes away by boat from the main island where you’ll find the airport. I immediately walked right into what was promised to be an endless tropical treat.

This hotel is a true gem.

It’s intimate, with only 25 beach villa’s and suites and overflowing in genuinely friendly staff. 70 beaming employees, of which a minimal of 40 are working each day.

The type of resort where you won’t be identified by room number, but where everyone knows your name. Even the plumber came to introduce himself to me personally. I was taken aback and thought that perhaps there was something wrong with my room, but the friendly man just came to share his warm welcome to the resort.

It’s adults-only which creates a quiet and peaceful atmosphere. Many young families from Australia and New Zealand come to visit the islands, so it’s a nice break not to be in the midst of them constantly. There are plenty of other delightful places with great facilities for young children. Tropicana Island is intimate, casual chic, the food is scrumptious and if I could, I would have bottled its amazing ambience to take home with me.

 

FIRST LANDING

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This caters perfectly to families and larger groups. You will find it on the main island and it offers a short transfer from the airport. It comes with a kid’s club, endless entertainment, accommodation for diverse budgets, lots of activities and places to unwind. I stayed in a new beach villa: two bedrooms, a great kitchen and a small pool on my terrace with a view over the beach. The only thing missing was my family.

 

MANTARAY RESORT

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This unique resort lies on the small Nanuya Balavau island, part of the bewitching Yasawa islands and is paradise for divers, snorkelers, nature lovers and dreamers of that tropical way of life. From Port Denarau, a fast ferry leaves each morning and will take you past lots of different bounty islands to Mantaray Resort. A more expensive but much quicker transfer would be a seaplane, which will take you there in just half an hour. Both are simply unforgettable experiences, so I chose to take both; the ferry on the way there and on the way back the seaplane.

For a smaller scale resort, the range of accommodations on offer is incredibly diverse. Your own bed in the Paradise Dorm, the youth hostel or your very own beach villa? Whether you choose low budget or comfort, everyone enjoys each other’s company as much as their time by themselves. You’ll bump into each other in the bar as the sun goes down and in the restaurant for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The food is included, and so is the beautiful ocean.

This particular resort is named after the Manta Ray, the giant manta, the most widely known type of ray. From May to October, the incredibly large fish swim along the coast of the resort, on their way to warmer water. In this period, you can dive or snorkel amongst the gracious underwater wonders. I was told to look out for the sound of beating drums as a call, and sure enough, I was awakened and headed straight to the ocean. A few of the rays were four meters wide. My stay was already unforgettable, but this made it even more unique.

 

SOFITEL

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Don’t be fooled by the small size of Denarau, it’s the most developed and cultivated island of Fiji. It’s connected to the main island by a bridge, which means you’re just a taxi ride away from the airport Nadi, and you can easily get to the port where the ferries depart. I’d suggest falling for the allure of more authentic and small-scale resorts.

Fiji is the perfect place to enjoy the pure bliss of island life, but there is also enough superb luxury to go around with large international hotel chains. Whether you’re looking for vibrant nightlife, some time on a tropical golf course or more choice in restaurants and bars, Denarau has it all. Hilton, Sheraton, The Westin… the choice is up to you.

I chose for a night at the Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa. Pure 5-star luxury with a large swimming pool, and don’t forget my personal tip: some rooms and suites will offer access to the exclusive and adults-only Waitu Beach Club. As your relaxing day comes to an end, the hotel is overflowing with delicious bites and drinks. I would, however, skip dinner on the beach. I’ve never spent this much on a meal and would advise picking one of the many restaurants on the island instead.

There will always be a special place in my well-travelled heart for Fiji; the people, soul and sublime nature as much above water as under. It must be the ultimate tropical experience. For many, it’s too far from home and too pricey, which makes me realise even more how lucky I have been with this trip. I can only wish for more people to experience the same, it truly is worth the effort.

As soon as you step foot in this paradise, your worries simply drip away. The swaying palm trees and never-ending smiles are a warm embrace. The only worry you may come across is a coconut falling from the trees, but that truly is your only worry.

 

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When was the last time you relaxed in Fiji?