In a society where anxiety is being called the 21st-century epidemic, and where finding the elusive work/life balance is easier said than done, it is no surprise we are encouraged to take part in self-love and me-time for our health and sanity. But unwinding is not as easy as it may seem in a digital world, where we are constantly connected and guilt-ridden if we try to ignore it. Sometimes all you need, and want, to do is escape to an island where the only thing expected from you is all‑consuming relaxation.
I wake up in a daze, the sea-breeze brushing against my reddening skin, water droplets rolling down my empty mojito glass and my view of the South Pacific ocean obstructed only by picture-perfect palm trees… surely this cannot be my real life? For how can the image we see on a postcard appear in front of us, unfiltered and exactly as imagined?
It was day five of our week-long escape to Nadi, Fiji, and unlike my usual (some might say annoying) tendency to come armed with (and follow) a Pinterest board full of what we should do to experience as much of our destination as possible, we had done nothing but luxuriate. After a hectic few months for both my mum and me, for our mental health, we needed a holiday with just one objective – recharging. The answer? A week-long escape to Fiji where the hardest decisions we faced were whether to paddleboard or get a cocktail (we chose the latter).
Full disclosure: as my aforementioned Pinterest planning might suggest, I am one of those highly-strung, see everything, do everything kind of people. So it isn’t unusual for me to burn out – hello migraines, anxiety and neck aches. I am one of those people for whom, despite adoring Netflix and reading, relaxation does not come naturally. Thankfully, Fiji is the perfect location for a stress-head like me.
The first introduction to de-stressing – before even stepping a foot on the palm-lined beaches of Fiji or dipping your toes in the crystal clear lagoons – is ‘Fiji time’. As you wait at the airport for your transport to your new home away from home, it is likely you will get a gentle nudge into Fiji time, when nothing is rushed (read, never on time) and everything is done with a smile. It is, however, this simple beauty of living in the moment that makes Fiji a paradise – and an ideal location for relaxation. After all, the Fijian people have been voted the world’s most content, and Fiji itself has been called the happiest place on earth. One of the main reasons for these accolades comes down to the Fijian people’s penchant for living in the moment as they stress less about the ‘coulds and shoulds’ and rather enjoy the ‘now’ and the people and natural beauty around them.
We aren’t making this whole ‘holiday for the soul’ up; studies have concluded holidays reduce stress because they remove people from the activities and environments they associate with stress and anxiety. So, considering you can be on Fiji time in just over three hours with a direct Fiji Airways flight, why not indulge in the ultimate self-loving, relaxation weekend away… or take a week-long sojourn.
Nadi (pronounced Nandi) is the gateway to Fiji and is a bustling tourist hub complete with handcraft and food markets brimming with local produce, art and, of course, iconic souvenirs. Another popular location is Denarau, also known as ‘resort central’. With eight large resorts, an 18‑hole championship golf course and luxury suites, it’s the perfect location for pool (and bar) hopping. However, as we were seeking to get off the grid as much as possible, we chose not to stay in Denarau or Nadi and instead headed south to the Momi Bay Marriott Resort.
Where to stay
When you arrive at the Momi Bay Marriott Resort, just a 45-minute drive from Denarau and the Nadi Airport, it feels like you are on a secluded island far from civilisation. Only recently opened in April 2017, the resort’s tucked-away ambience makes it a great spot to escape to for a few days. There are plenty of accommodation options, all of which embrace the beauty of privacy – whether you want to indulge in an over-the-water bure, an oceanfront bure or a lagoon front room, the private decks attached to each room give you a personal slice of paradise. Unlike some resorts, the Marriott has the perfect balance of family destination and a retreat for adults only. With separate pools, you can either embrace the sing‑song of playing children at the main pool and lagoon, or head to the adults-only infinity pool where the only sound you hear is “another mojito, vinaka”.
If you have taken a break with the kids in tow, you can drop them off at the kids’ club or get a nanny to mind the kids and they will return with braided hair, arts and crafts and stories about crab racing or how they drank from a coconut.
The Momi Bay Marriott offers an expansive array of activities, so whether you are pool-hopping, heading to one of the many vantage points in the resort that overlooks the ocean or simply looking for a different deck lounger to call home for the afternoon, there are plenty of opportunities to bask in a different view.
Where to eat in Momi Bay
Goji Kitchen & Bar: Set in the heart of the hotel, this spot is the perfect place to start your day with a breakfast buffet, of course. Whether you prefer yoghurt, fruit and muesli, a Fijian feast of Lolo Buns or a slightly more eastern European breakfast with pastry overload, the Goji breakfast buffet has it all. In the evening, the themed buffet nights offer an authentic taste of fresh seafood, Indian-Fijian curries or a local Fijian favourite.
Fish Bar: Situated at the resort’s prime oceanfront spot, right next to the infinity pool, is this seafood restaurant which has the day’s fresh catches on display. As you look out to the South Pacific enjoying today’s fresh catch and sipping on a craft cocktail you get a real taste of Fiji’s fresh produce.
Lagoon House & Bar: After a long, hard, day of relaxing in the sun this is the perfect spot to visit for happy-hour. As you sit out and gaze across the lagoon with a Pina Colada in hand the scents of the Mediterranean fill your senses as fresh Italian stone pizza and homemade pasta is made. Buon appetite! P.S Don’t miss the swim-up bar.
Do not miss
Flavours of Fiji Cooking School: As per Fiji culture, the women are expected to cook for their men and in the case of one of our instructors this meant getting up around 4 AM to make 50-60 roti and two curries, because the men didn’t want to eat the same curry … after I made three roti (and burned myself once) I was in awe of this women. It was these personal tales and a true insight into Fijian and Indian-Fijian food and culture that made this cooking school located in the heart of Denarau an unforgettable Fijian experience. It began with a guided trip to the local market, where we learnt about fruit and vegetables that we had never seen before and embraced the freshness of everything that came from the ground, trees and sea. Then we donned an apron and tried our best to recreate traditional Fijian and Indian-Fijian meals.
Water Sports, Momi Bay: Surrounded by water, the Marriott has options to draw you out of your sunbathing-slumber. Whether you want to paddleboard around the lagoon, snorkel with the myriad of fish that call the surrounding waters home or feel the wind rush through your sea salt beach waves on a jet-ski there is a fit for you.
Quan Spa, Momi Bay: This trip was all about relaxation, so obviously, a trip to the spa should be a first stop, especially if you need a little help slipping into relaxation and letting go of stress. After getting the stress literally kneaded out of my body, it felt as if I drifted back to the pool light as a feather and sans tight muscles. The spa has a modern, but oh-so-Fijian feel with tropical flowers in each room and the iconic dark-wood interiors with subtle Fijian detailing.
To truly experience the untouched paradise of Fiji, a trip to the Mamanuca Islands (pronounced Mamanoothas) is a must. The chain of islands located just off the western coast of Viti Levu offers something for every traveller, from islands with resorts created with families in mind, to relaxation-focused retreats. And yes, these are the islands where brave souls battled the brutal, albeit beautiful, elements in Survivor: Fiji and where Tom Hanks spent years with his volleyball friend, Wilson, in Castaway. As we drove up alongside Tokoriki Island, having battled a choppy ocean and getting covered in sea-spray in the process, the engines of the ferry started to slowly purr to a standstill. We could see small bures and umbrellas alongside the pool in the distance and a much-smaller boat came alongside our ferry. You could see a look of concern spread over the faces of some of the holiday-goers, this was our taxi, some might call it, from the ferry to the island. As we made it onto dry land (somewhat dry ourselves) and climbed the stairs to the resort we saw nothing but a sea as far as the eye could see, spotted with a few locally-inhabited and uninhabited islands.
Where to stay
The Sheraton Tokoriki Island only reopened in March 2017 after it sustained severe damage by Cyclone Winston. The other resort on the Island, Tokoriki Island Resort, was barely touched by the cyclone due to its placement on the Island. But after a year-long, $16 million reconstruction and makeover the resort was back in business. The Sheraton Tokoriki is built around the oceanic view, with rows of beachfront and ocean-view retreats that all have views. Likewise, the restaurant’s two dining options are situated overlooking the ocean. To get the best vantage point for the sunsets, which are a candy-coloured mix that lights up the sky you can head along to one of the waterfront bars, head to the beach or take the (very, very short) hike up to the helipad where you also get a bird’s-eye view of the resort as the sun sets on holiday-goers days. As Fiji is a hot-spot for family vacations and a must-visit location for honeymooners alike, The Sheraton has cleverly planned their rooms with 30 adult-only Tokoriki retreats, each with their own plunge pool, and 71 family-friendly rooms. While leaving the resort left a lump in our throats (which had something to do with the impending return to reality) the farewell songs from the staff gave one last taste of the Fijian way of life.
Where to eat on Tokoriki
Flying Fish Tokoriki: This oceanfront restaurant is run by award-winning chef and restaurateur, Peter Kuruvita. In the morning, it is home to the breakfast buffet, then through until night, it serves Fijian fare like wild fish fillet curry, local crustaceans and Fijian Kokoda. Get here early evening to make the most of the uninterrupted ocean views.
The Reef Bistro: This laidback, beachfront bistro is the perfect spot for dining on the beach. During the day, pizza and salad can give you much-needed sustenance to maintain your relaxation levels, and at night it’s the perfect location to listen to the ambient music and enjoy tapas and tandoori.
Sala Bar: The saying ‘it is five o’clock somewhere’ couldn’t be truer than poolside in Fiji. As soon as breakfast is digested (and for some, even before then) mojitos and piña coladas start flowing. The best part is you don’t need to move, as staff wander around the pool, offering top-ups and snacks all day.
Do not miss
Malamala Beach Club: As if you needed any more of an excuse to relax in a cabana, sipping cocktails, sunning yourself and taking a dip in (another) infinity pool, the world’s first ‘island beach club’ opened in Fiji late last year. The island is small enough that you can explore the island by foot in just 20 minutes, visiting all the party hubs, pools and bars. But don’t start imagining an island based on a bad 1990s nightclub; it’s got a more relaxed vibe that embodies the iconic Fiji time.
Island Explorer: The Mamanuca islands each have their own unique appeal, with prime diving and snorkelling spots, Hollywood fame or simply being an untouched slice of paradise you can have to yourself. The Sheraton Tokoriki offers island-hopping packages that can be tailored to you and your interests. You can weave around the islands, jet-skiing the waves, stop for lunch at Cloud9 and then explore the underwater world, snorkelling with the fish, and maybe the odd turtle if you’re lucky – all before the sun goes down.