The last time I wrote about Paradise, I was being more than a little ironic. PNG was far from my idea of a good time- however pretty the pictures look. The post was hard, I struggled with the culture and the professional isolation, and for all the good diving and some of the good folks I spent time out there with, it was still a relief to move on to a different stage in my personal and professional life.
I went to Fiji in July. It was my fourth trip to the little island nation. I went once for a family holiday in 2001, followed by a couple of work trips in 2008 and earlier this year, and this latest trip was a combination work-play. The first two weeks were to be spent helping manage an interagency disaster simulation for NGO staff in the Pacific across half a dozen agencies, as well as Fijian government representatives. The third week I was to be joined by my [now] fiancee for a bit of relaxation on a small island.
I’ve always figured Fiji for a nice enough place, without being really special. It’s a bit synonymous with package holidays and honeymoons, a sort of upmarket Bali with fancy hotels belying a fragile national economy. We booked into a resort hotel based on input from TripAdvisor, and despite the glowing reviews I was a little dubious. The idea of packaged meals and a resort-style trip (something I’m not at all familiar with) left me a little uneasy.
Besides, I’ve been to a lot of places. Over 50 countries worldwide. A whole bunch of beautiful beaches and coastal holiday areas- Cairns, Noosa and Sydney in Australia, dozens of places in New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Hawaii, Tahiti and Mombasa- to name an incomplete list. I’ve snorkelled or dived in most of those places, swum and relaxed or sunbathed (to some extent) in all.
So when I say that the Blue Lagoon Resort in Nacula is as close to beach paradise as I’ve come across, I know what I’m talking about.
Where to start? I’m a bit overwhelmed really.
Well, first off, an overview. A brand-new resort, Blue Lagoon pitches itself as a mid-range option to independent travelers that suits budgets of better-off backpackers and flashpackers and young families. It’s quite boutiquey- probably around sixty guests at any one time- and it’s a ways out there too- some four and a half hours’ boat ride from Nadi, and at the top end of the Yasawa group of Islands off Vitu Levu’s west coast.
Nacula is a decent-sized island about 10km long and maybe 2-3 wide at its widest. The resort is situated on a beach shared with one other low-key resort on the west side of the island, giving it stunning views at dusk as the sun sets over the Pacific.
And the beach is the one you’d create if you had a drawing board and 10 million years of geological time at your disposal.
It’s an arc of white sand sloping from a green verge into a turquoise lagoon of calm warm sea. The lagoon itself slides away on a shallow gradient where a natural channel has formed through the coral reef, while small waves lick quietly at the shoreline.
More on the reef presently.
I’d heard nice things about the resort, but had a feeling that, based on the slightly backpacker-ish pitch of some of the material I’d read (they have a backpackers dorm as an accomodation option) I was concerned that maybe the rooms would be a little pokey. I’d settled myself with the thought that even if the rooms were a bit small and/or run-down, the main attraction was being out and about on the beach, so I steeled myself for the worst.
The rooms are delightful. We booked a Delux Garden View room, set back a row from the beach among lush and flowery growth, riddled by sandy footpaths. Stepping inside, the bure was large and spacious, with a high open ceiling, fan, wooden slat-blinds that allowed free-flow of air, and an open-air bathroom with magnificent shower. It was clean, new, well-built, and smacked of simple quality. It was light. It was airy. And sitting on the foot of the bed, you could look straight out of the front door and (despite not being an sea-view room) see the irridescent aqua of the lagoon itself.
Really, once you hit location and accomodation, you don’t need too much more than that to go right to have a good time. None the less, there was more.
I’m not a fan of Pacific cuisine (sorry to any of my island readers out there). A year in Melanesia didn’t overwhelm me with vibrant culinary experiences, so I was a little suspect at having to package all our meals in with the accomodation, and face the prospect of not getting to choose off a menu. But again, this was completely unnecessary.
The food is great. A wide variety of styles- curries, fish, western, asian and Pacific- is on offer, with meals varying each night of the week, and a limited a-la-blackboard menu option at lunch time as well. The dishes themselves were nearly universally tasty, and the variety and volume left nothing to be desired. You do need to plan ahead a little, as meal-times are set and there aren’t stacks of between-meal options, but we had a little heap of biscuits with us that we never made it through, testament to being well fed. Communal eating didn’t really appeal at first (dinner takes place at shared tables- gasp!), but the barefoot vibe of the place (and the travellers frequenting it) facilitates a really chilled-out opportunity to get to know people.
Never a package-holiday traveller, I wasn’t particularly interested in the daily activities that the hotel lays on, but in fact they had some fantastic little trips available, of which we partook several. Snorkelling trips to explore other nearby reefs, sunset and drinks on the sandbar (we missed this one, sigh), a hike up to the island’s highest peak (beautiful views), and a handful of cultural visits as well were all on the menu. A must-do trip is to the Nacula Caves, which involves a series of swim-throughs of saltwater limestone caves at the top end of the island- not for the claustrophobic, but otherwise a unique and fantastic morning which everybody enjoyed.
An aspect of the resort which we really appreciated was the attitude of the management. Run by Australasian expats, the management are accessible, friendly and helpful, and mingle easily with the guests. The local Fijian staff are warm, welcoming and hospitable, as well as being very professional. It’s the sort of place where you get to know the staff by name- and they you.
More to the point, the resort prides itself on its links to the local communities on the island- something that we found especially important in terms of our own values in this area. As well as trips which incorporate, employ and interact with villagers, the resort runs a scholarship fund for students on the island to which cover costs of fees, uniforms and school supplies, as well as contribute to the maintainence of the school facilities. Guests are invited to contribute to the fund, and the resort will match dollar-for-dollar whatever is donated. There is a sense of respect and interaction between the resort and the village, which I hope the management will be able to maintain as the resort ages.
I would be wrong not to return to the lovely reef. Quite aside from the access to a number of dive-sites in the area via the on-site dive-shop (do the shark dive), the snorkelling is, well, unlike any other beach snorkelling I’ve done. While I’ve seen a handful of reefs that are more vibrantly coloured close in to shore (but only a handful), the diversity and volume of fish-life was a delight, and never this accessible, anywhere. If I reel off a bunch from memory, there were Triggerfish, Moorish Idols, Parrotfish, Chromis, Anthias, Unicornfish, Sweetlips, Jackfish, Dascyllus, and a host of other reef favourites. The more special visitors included a shoal of Reef Squid, Stingrays, a huge Octopus and a metre-long Barracuda- all within 10 metres of the beach itself! The reef is accessible at high- and low-tide (and in fact the reef life differs at the two extremes, worth checking out), and more to the point it’s a joy to swim along; the channel provides a shallow sandy-floored passage that drops to a couple of metres in depth for a long way out into the lagoon and which is very comfortable to swim along, and the reef raises a wall along the southern edge of that passage where most of the action is. It’s a safe, enjoyable way to investigate the sea life, and we did it every day, and loved it. For sheer accessibility to a really exciting reef, this can’t be emphasised strongly enough.
As I referenced in an earlier post, I proposed out at Blue Lagoon (and would have been hard-pressed to chose a better location for it). Before heading out, I dropped Kylie (one of the managers) a note letting her know my intentions and asking if there was anything a little special I could arrange with the hotel’s help. She was most supportive and immediately gave me a list of options, including a lobster dinner for two on the beach (away from the horde), and the option of having a picnic on a secluded private island nearby- both of which I seized upon and both of which were thoroughly enjoyed.
Some Balance, Please?
Words of moderation? Well, a couple probably. First up, once you’re on the island, you can get away without paying much more, but the temptation will always be to do things and have drinks, and these will add up. You don’t use cash out there, everything gets recorded in a book and you pay up at the end, so if you’re not keeping track you could be in for a bit of a surprise- nothing (except some of the activities) is particularly cheap- although it’s not extortionate by resort standards either. That said, having food taken out of the equation is a pretty good thing, and we managed just fine with our bill.
My biggest fear for Blue Lagoon is that as word gets out, the place will get a little overrun. The reviews on Trip Advisor are pretty rave, and with good reason- this is a very special place right now, and somewhere that we will never ever forget (not just because we got engaged out here). It’s been open less than a year. I’d love to think that the management will be able to maintain the relaxed vibe several years into operating with high demand and through-flow, but it’s not impossible to imagine it getting a bit worn-out, so I’d recommend getting in sooner rather than later.
And, well, the cocktail list could probably be improved on. But really, when you’re four and a half hours from the mainland and everything has to come by boat, you can understand why these things might be a little lacking, if that’s your thing.
All up, this was probably my best single hotel/resort experience, mixing a lovely blend of quality, relaxation, activities and experience, all at a very reasonable price. My hat goes off to the team running the place as they’ve created a really special location with a perfect unpretencious vibe. Great for travellers, flashpackers and families with a reasonable budget, this goes right to the top of my list of ‘places you should visit in the Pacific’.
Accomodation- 5/5 Light, fresh, new and spacious. The open-air shower has to be experienced to be understood. A range of really pleasant options from budget through laid-back comfort, this isn’t the Denerau Hilton, but why would you want it to be? Ask for Garden Villa 11 and get sea views thrown in for free.
Food- 4/5 Great taste, decent lunch options and a good range of evening meals, despite not having any control over the dinner menu. This would be a total win if there were more between-meal snack options and a wider range of drinks at the bar, but really, I’m just looking for things to quibble about because there’s really not much else to add balance.
Location- 6/5 Amazing reef, gorgeous beach, sunsets and tropical vibe- this has to be one of the best-located resorts in the Pacific. What can I say to the Blue Lagoon’s detractors? Would you like the hotel moved a little to the left?
Activities- 5/5 Relaxation is key here, and relaxation and swimming are free, but the creative options for daily activities mean that for those unable to entertain themselves still have an option to keep busy. Do the cave trip. Not for adrenaline junkies- but hey, this is Fiji. If buzz is what you’re after, Queenstown is to the south. And there’s always the shark dive.
Vibe- 5/5 Just brilliant. Beanbags in front of the open-front bar, barefoot dresscode, bonfires on the beach, and a general emphasis on chill-out throughout. And small enough to keep it personal. Really, really lovely.
Management- 5/5 Friendly, accessible, helpful, flexible and professional. What more would you ask for?
Ethics- 4/5 It’s refreshing to see a resort pay more than just lip-service to supporting local communities. It’s hard to know what impact a throughflow of western travellers will have on the island’s economy and environment, but the fact that they invest in local education is a great thing, and the friendly disposition of both local staff and local villagers we interacted with suggested that the attitude is more than just a marketing ploy for the time being.
Value- 5/5 Value is an entirely subjective term. I appreciate every dollar we spent at Blue Lagoon and don’t have any regrets, as we came away with a set of beautiful memories and a great time. It’s not the cheapest option out there, but my word do you get what you pay for in terms of location and vibe.
Blue Lagoon also gets an extra 5 points from me for that little extra something for laying on a really special time for us as we got engaged. Just fantastic.
Thanks guys for an amazing stay.
You can check the Blue Lagoon website here for tarrifs.
Room rates start from FJD 40 per night for a dorm bed, through lodge rooms at FJD 140, and villas ranging from FJD 209 through to the delux ocean-front villa at FJD 449. Food packages are included at FJD 70 per person per day, and return transfers to the mainland, FJD 276. (FJD 1 = AUD 0.57; FJD 1 = USD 0.51)
All up, it means a mid-range stay option for two adults for a week comes in at around FJD 2,000, so if you couple that with a good flight deal from Australia, it can be quite accessible- though is by no means at the bottom end of the price scale. Worth every penny, in my opinion, but everyone values different things.
Of course for a different extreme in the travel stakes, check out a couple of my tales from West Africa. Now there’s a cheap way to have a travel adventure…