The wind rushes through my hair and it flies freely behind me as my eyes soak in the view. Aquamarine tones, deep hues of blue and golden-tinged oranges blur together to create a living masterpiece as we zip past.
I grip the side rail as the cool ocean air lightly whips against my face.
My smile is wide, and I feel the urge to throw my head back, breathe deeply, and laugh with pure joy.
It has been 48 hours and already I can feel the weight of a year’s worth of stress and scrambling evaporating.
My speedy chauffeur brings our chariot – a white golf buggy – to a rolling stop and I eagerly stride along a tree-lined boardwalk into CHI, The Spa at Shangri-La.
A smiling woman ushers me through the reception room to an open villa where daybeds, the gentle sounds of trickling water and ocean views await.
I’m here for a traditional Fijian massage, which will be undertaken in one of the spa’s signature ocean-view villas.
As I sink into the waiting daybed, I’m handed a small cup brimming with warm, aromatic tea. It is a delight for the sensesand I’m told it is concocted from lemongrass leaves.
I express my gratitude and the spa’s clinician, Mary, extends an invitation into her village to pick my own leaves for brewing. She tells me the plants have been grown by her ancestors for many years, and the tea-making method has been passed down from generation to generation.
Passing on stories and welcoming people into their enveloping arms is a shared trait of the Fijian people. They speak with pride about their villages, their families, and their traditions.
Take Merelita, an artisan who I meet during our five-night stay at the Shangri-La Fijian Resort and Spa. She is grateful for life’s riches, and like most of the people we meet, she laughs at the idea of stress.
“Fijian people are happy. Fijians just want to talk. We don’t worry. If we don’t have food, we don’t have to worry. We serve God to be happy,’’ she says with a smile.
The mother of five has been selling her wares, alongside other creative men and women, from the Shangri-La for 10 years.
The money she makes enables her to send her children to school. Without the resort’s support of local communities, this would be a difficult task, she says.
It’s a story we hear frequently during our stay – the Fijian families are grateful for the Shangri-La’s community program.
At the neighbouring Yadua village later that day we are shown a brightly coloured kindergarten that was built with the help of the resort. Our family of three has been invited into the village and we are warmly greeted by Yadua’s official tour guide Livai, whose father is an elder, hence his own official role.
There are 120 homes housing 1000 people in the beachside Yadua.
Concrete and tin houses in bright blue, purple, pink and green overlook a grassed community space, and the staple of any Fijian village – a church – stands tall and proud at its centre.
As we walk through the village, small children peer from behind open doors and towering palm trees, giggling and whispering.
There are no toys in sight. Mostly, the children are running free. They laugh and play as their mothers smile their beautiful white smiles and hum gospel tunes as they hang washing, the aqua sea providing a heavenly backdrop.
Livai gapes in shock when we tell him that beachfront land as beautiful as this would come with a hefty price tag in Australia. To his people, the ocean provides more than views.
A group of four pre-teen boys meanders towards us, armed with long poles and nets.
They are going to try their luck fishing the coral reef. If successful, they’ll bring their catch home to cook on coals in an outdoor, open kitchen shed.
We wind our way back to the hub of the village and settle on to a blue tarp under a corrugated iron structure. These open sheds are a common sight in the villages and our host tells us that they are erected for special meetings and ceremonies – with the blessing of the elders – and disassembled immediately after the event.
This afternoon, nine elders of the tribe are conducting a kava ceremony and we are invited to join their gathering – a huge honour. We drink the dirt-coloured water and share the gifts we have brought for the town’s children, drinking in the ‘no worries, no problems’ vibe of our hosts before heading back to our home base.
Despite its luxurious accommodations, the Shangri-La still maintains the beauty and culture the island and its villages are known for. This afternoon the sky is a rich tapestry of pink and gold and the refreshing water of the pool is the perfect place to watch the sun sink behind the ocean. Whoever coined the phrase ‘beautiful one day, perfect the next’, must have been talking about this paradise.
IF YOU GO:
Fiji Airways has daily flights from Brisbane to Nadi, with an expected flight time of three-and-a-half hours. Visit fijiairways.com
Located on the private Yanuca Island on the beautiful, lush-green Coral Coast, Shangri-La’s Fijian Resort and Spa is an award-winning hotel with 442 ocean-view rooms across three wings, including an adult’s only section, which is removed from the family-friendly hub of the resort. We opted for the Yanuca Lagoon Grand Deluxe Room, which offers 36 square metres of space, a luxury bathroom, a private balcony and curtained-off children’s area. The resort itself boasts three pools, a private sandy lagoon, inflatable water park, nine-hole Peter Thompson-designed golf course, five dining options and three bars. While the facilities are second to none, it is the friendly Fijian service that makes this resort all the more special. Visit Shangri-la.com/yanucaisland/fijianresort