By Kerri McConnel
Fiji: Where the sun is warm and the people even warmer
Is it too early to say that Fiji feels like home? I’m bumping along the road that will take me from the Nadi Airport towards the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort. It’s a one and a half hour drive, so I’ve got plenty of time to sit back and relax after my short flight from Brisbane, Australia.
As the familiar green sugar cane fields pass me by, intermixed with free-roaming cattle and chickens pecking on the side of the road, I can’t help but think back to my childhood. Many houses are built on stilts, both to minimise the damage of flooding and to facilitate the natural cooling process.
There are houses that look like they’ve been under construction for years, with little bits being added when time and funding allows. The bright pink and blue houses are a bright patchwork against the backdrop of bright blue skies and the deep green of the rolling hills behind. I’m getting an insight into the simple life that the Fijians lead, where the hustle and bustle of cities on the mainland feels like a million miles away.
Under a small thatched roof, families make their living by selling fresh produce they grow on their own patch of land, and the fishermen sell their daily catch. Fresh mangoes and papaya, ripened in the tropical sun make me want to rush to buy some.
Children are playing soccer in a freshly cut patch of grass in the middle of an overgrown paddock, whilst men work on their cars on the roadside. There’s so much happening and yet it feels like nothing at all, such is the slow pace of it all. We are on island time here. It’s time to leave your troubles and pressures from your usual life behind. Fiji is all about relaxing and “coming home”.
One of the best places to stay in Fiji
At the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, I receive a welcome that is like no other. Warm and genuine, it’s a feeling that will stay with me for the rest of my time in Fiji, and forever more. I’ve been fortunate to meet some amazing people from countries all over the world but nothing comes close to the Fijians. Everything is always done with a smile on their face, whether you are in the airport, a village or in a hotel or resort.
Being nice just comes naturally, it’s as simple as that. It’s infectious, and I find myself looking forward to meeting people just so I can say “Bula” in an exuberant manner. There’s no head down here as someone approaches, hoping to avoid eye contact as many people often do. Instead, everyone strides towards each other, eye contact made well in advance, waiting to see who will offer the first “Bula”. Can you imagine a place where everyone is so happy? I can, it’s called Fiji.
Accommodation at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
I’m keen to explore my accommodation, before heading down to the beach to watch the sun set. I get my bearings from the eighth floor of the main building first. From up here, I am afforded sweeping views of the resort. The palm trees are being pushed to their limits with a strong onshore wind. The swaying leaves adding to the resort feel. Further out I can see the waves breaking on the offshore reef that creates a much calmer inner reef lagoon. It’s spectacular, to say the least.
In the main building, the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort has 207 rooms and suites spread across 16 hectares of lush gardens. It also has 47 bures, scattered throughout the resort, one of which was to be mine for the next two nights.
Welcome to my Bure
These stand-alone bungalows have been built in such a way that a reasonable amount of privacy is assured. With options of pure oceanfront, ocean breezes and garden bures, there is an option to suit your budget and group size. Constructed in the traditional manner of timber and straw-thatched roofing, the bures offer a spacious interior and private balcony. They also come with your own Talai (butler), whom I met on approach to my front door. She showed me around my bure to acquaint me with various amenities and to explain the great tradition of the incredible tapa lining the ceiling. Made from the bark of the mulberry tree on a nearby island, the tapa is an indigenous art form and one that can be found in each bure.
As I remarked how pleased I was to see an ironing board in my room, my Talai informed me that “anything that required ironing she would press for me”. A delightful offer, and one I am sure that many would take up.I can never bring myself to have others do that for me. On the other hand, I was more than happy to take up her suggestion of an afternoon beverage and canapes. Shortly thereafter, as I was checking out the slippers and bathrobe and hooking up to complimentary wifi, an ice-cold glass of bubbles was delivered with a smile.
Note: Guests staying in the deluxe ocean view rooms and suites are also able to access the Talai service
Glass in hand, I explored the rest of the bure which has three distinct areas; a living area with a small desk, bedroom and bathroom containing a separate shower and toilet area and sizeable vanity area.
The lighting (always a bugbear for me), was excellent in the bathroom, less so in the main areas. The Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort will be undergoing a full refurbishment taking several years, during which time the rooms will be updated and improved wherever necessary. Apart from the lighting and a limited number of power points, which I will always mention, I suspect that most wouldn’t care too much about the inner workings of the rooms. In Fiji after all, the excitement and adventure lay outside these walls.
The bures are extremely comfortable, spacious and peaceful. They are fully airconditioned, have ceiling fans and heavy block out curtains to allow for a sleep-in. When you are totally spent from all of the outdoor activities, falling into the king-size bed is pure heaven. A basic range of toiletries is provided, a generous supply of bath and beach towels, and tea and coffee facilities too. In a nice touch, a coffee plunger and coffee is also provided, outside of the additional mini bar.
Dining and drinking at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Res0rt
Sundowner Bar and Grill
There’s no better place to enjoy the sunset than at the appropriately named Sundowner Bar, located right on the Pacific Ocean. Having enjoyed my aperitif, it was now time to head to the beachfront to grab a tropical cocktail.
Slip seamlessly from cocktail hour to dinner by taking a table here as well. If a tasty lamb shank, melt-in-your-mouth beef cheeks or wood-fired pork belly don’t tempt you, there is plenty on offer that will. The menu showcases exceptional quality food including beef from Tasmania’s Cape Grimm and fresh, locally caught seafood.
Once you’ve eaten your way through the extensive cuisine on offer, head to the Vakavanua Lounge. Here you can indulge in a Fijian rum or coconut vodka whilst kicking back and listening to live music. After 9 pm, the bar becomes adults-only.
Dining at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort is not left to chance. Travellers are becoming more food savvy, and there is a growing expectation that the food offered at resorts is of high quality and that there is a variety of both cuisine and locations to dine. Eating in the same location every night would not be high on my list of things to do. Fortunately, the Outrigger Fiji has some amazing dining spots and even better chefs.
Baravi Restaurant and Pool Bar
Spend time relaxing in and beside the pool, then eat poolside at Baravi. From basic sandwiches and salads to some more substantial meals, the vibe and the food is casual but tasty.
Vale Ni Kana
Enjoy a sumptuous buffet breakfast at Vale Ni Kana, the largest bure on the site, and all open-air. Here you can find all the usual suspects of bacon, eggs and other western-style breakfast food. My favourite, the egg station, where I can order freshly cooked eggs any way I like is also in operation, as is a waffle station. It wouldn’t be Fiji without loads of fresh fruit, fruit juices and smoothies. There is also a member of the team on hand to slice up large fruit like pineapple and papaya for you.
Celebrating a special occasion or just enjoy fine dining? Don’t miss the dining experience under the thatched roof of IVI restaurant. Pronounce “Eevi”, this is the resort’s signature restaurant, winning many awards including the Visitor Dining Experience award at the 2017 ANZ Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards. Along with fresh produce and an innovative menu. IVI also has a special secret. Adding a touch of theatre to the dining experience, several signature dishes including the seafood kokodo and the crepes are cooked amid great fanfare at the table.
Starting with a tender salmon amuse bouche, I launched into an entree of duck, softly wrapped in tortillas and combined with a Mexican-inspired salsa and tequila cream. A fresh citrus sorbet arrived to cleanse our palate. This was followed by a tasty piece of chicken, covered with spices and served with red cabbage sauerkraut and candied cashew butter. All of the flavours worked well together but the standout was the prosciutto and camembert croquette.
There’s always a moment when you are eating such great food in lavish proportions when your stomach says no but your head sees something exciting on a menu. Once I had set eyes on the chocolate hazelnut fondant I knew I was going to order it. Did I need it? No. did I love it? Yes. The little pops of liquid inside the tempered chocolate balls didn’t hurt either.
For my second morning in Fiji, I headed to Vahavu, an adults-only area containing a pool and swim up bar. Vahavu means “chill out” and that’s exactly what you can do here, without the noise and congestion of the main pool where the kids and their families are enjoying the sun. Breakfast here is also a la carte.
The Outrigger Fiji has some excellent adults only areas, showing a thoughtfulness that is necessary for a large resort like this that also attracts large numbers of families. At the highest point of the resort, Kalokalo Bar perched on Heavenly Hill is also adults only.
Tip: Head up to Kalokalo Bar before sunset for an incredible view. Access to the top is available only by escorted golf buggy.
Facilities at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
The Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort is well known as one of the best Fiji family resorts. From watching a firewalking display, hat weaving or cooking classes, there is plenty to keep kids and adults occupied. Snorkelling and kayaking are just some of the water activities available. There are also land activities like tennis and golf. The Kids Club is also popular, running three sessions every day to enable the kids to get some social interaction and parents some quiet time. The resort also offers a nanny service.
Bebe Spa Sanctuary
After a tough day in the sun and undertaking quite a few activities it was time for relaxation of a special kind. Bebe Spa Sanctuary was calling. As I step out of the golf buggy that has transported me up the hill to Bebe, a view like no other is right in front of me. From here, I have an uninterrupted view of the Coral Coast.
After a refreshing tea and cold towel that has been soaked in peppermint essence, I’m lead away to commence my preparation for my two-hour treatment. Slippers and bathrobe on, I arrive at my treatment room, one of eight here at Bebe. All have the same amazing views and private balconies complete with sunken bath and outdoor shower. For two hours, I am scrubbed with coconut and sugar, wrapped in cool cucumber and had my body massaged, Fijian style. It renders me to a state that can only be described as jelly-like, and with the softest and shiniest of skin.
Activities at the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
As relaxing as everything at the Outrigger Fiji can be, I’m not someone that can sit still for too long, so I’m keen to try out something a little more adventurous. How about an adventure on a velocipede? Never heard of it? Neither had I until I hung out with the team at Ecotrax for a few hours. A short drive from the Outrigger, Ecotrax offers a unique, world-first bike riding experience. Here, ordinary bicycles have been expertly modified to run on the existing railway infrastructure of a former cane plantation area. Fitted with electric batteries, they are environmentally friendly, suitable for all ages and fitness types, and are heaps of fun.
Our guide Britney, a recent winner of the Pride of Fiji award, takes us through a safety briefing laced with jokes. In an old train garage, we learn that the tracks we are about to ride on were laid by CSR in the 1800s. Britney assures us that “no fast trains are coming”, these tracks now only used by Ecotrax. In 2009, flooding caused significant damage to the rail lines and many were washed away. Political instability in the early 2000’s also contributed to the departure of many from their sugar cane plantations.
The mood has been set and I just know this will be a fun day. I set off on the first part of a 23-kilometre journey, keen to see just how fast these bikes will really go, even though for safety reasons, I can’t go above 20 kph. It’s a wise restriction, with the tracks being a little tricky in some spots, especially over the narrow timber bridges. As a bridge approaches, arms wave madly in front advising me to slow down to the required 12 kph. This will happen on at least a dozen occasions. It’s a simple yet effective way of communicating that ensures everyone on the trip stays safe.
Along the way, I’ll share the pedalling with a fellow traveller and taking in everything I can of this simple yet stunning landscape. It’s a mish-mash of thick jungle, with trees projecting high into the sky, chasing the sun.
There’s flat, grassy land on the edge of the coastline that will follow us all the way. The white caps of the large waves outside the reef meet the soft, rolling curves of the inner reef.
The highlight is the villages, filled with small children on holidays from school. For them, it’s a race to see who can get to us first. Fist pumping and high fives are the order of the day and I’m only too happy to participate. With a large smile and the ubiquitous “Bula”, we become friends in an instant.
The end of the trail comes sooner than expected but I’m delighted to take a break from the heat of the sun and swim in the clear waters of Vunabua Beach. With access to this beach kept quite private – there are no roads here – it’s a peaceful oasis and for now, our secret. As I washed the white sand from my feet, fresh coconut and tropical fruit were presented to me. It’s a tough life but who am I to argue?
Tip: Be sure to bring the following with you: Swimwear, towel, sunscreen, insect repellent, hat. Bring snorkelling gear if you want to explore at Vunabua Beach. Ask the friendly team at the Outrigger Fiji to assist with your booking if necessary.
Conservation at Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
The Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort is an active member of the global Outrigger program of OZONE (Outrigger Zone). With so much of their business invested in ocean, beach and reef areas, they have a deliberate strategy to protect the health of the coral reefs and oceans. Here, they make their conservation program a part of the guest experience, so that everyone can not only learn from it but participate as well. Kini Sarai, the Activities Manager here and an advisor in his Fijian community spent some time explaining their coral planting program to me.
The reef off the coast here takes a beating from huge waves especially when cyclones are present. Run-off from the nearby rivers into the lagoon also means the water is getting more shallow. In an effort to reduce the impacts of such things, the team here at the Outrigger Fiji have a plan to plant an entire football field full of coral. “The reef is all that protects us here”, says Kini. “Nature is working against us so we need to try and replace”. They do this by making concrete cones and planting broken pieces of coral into them.
Their efforts are being rewarded with huge areas now covered with the coral farms. Kini also advises that they are seeing fish return that they haven’t seen for some time. Fish numbers are up, so too are reef sharks. It’s a positive sign for an inspiring program. Coral planting is carried out every Wednesday as an activity for guests.
Being a contributing member of the community is also important to the resort with many key programs in operation including regular clean-up campaigns, painting and maintenance of community buildings and teaching kids how to cook. The resort also provides space within the grounds for local craftspeople to make and sell their products to their guests. All profits stay with the locals.
Why you should try the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
People come to the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort for so many reasons. The warm weather, sun, sand and surf are a key attraction. Here you can be as active as you like, with so many activities and experiences on offer. Alternatively, you can opt to take it easy and relax from an otherwise busy life. People don’t come here for high-end luxury and top of the line technology. They come here for the one thing that has connected me the most to this place. They come for a casual attitude and the family vibe, created by the 600 locals who work here. It’s the immediate sense of belonging that brings people here and keeps them returning. 20% of all guests that have stayed at the Outrigger Fiji prove this by returning year after year.
Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort is one of the best places to stay in Fiji if you are travelling as a couple, or with family. It’s also perfect for honeymoons, weddings and special occasions. With 600 locals employed here, there’s almost one for every guest. Whatever the mathematics of it all, it means that there is no shortage of people to help or just have a chat. Saying “Bula” each time you see someone will be as hard as it gets. that’s if you don’t count leaving your new Fijian family behind.
I flew with Virgin Airlines from Brisbane to Nadi International Airport, a total flight time of three hours. Flights from Sydney (4 hours), Melbourne (4.5 hours) and other Australian capital cities are also available. Airlines also operate from LA, San Francisco, Honolulu and many other international cities. Fiji Airways is the national airline.
The shuttle bus takes about one hour and thirty minutes from the airport to the resort.
Check flight availability and prices with Skyscanner.
Check here for Fiji visa requirements.
When is the best time to stay at Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort
It’s a tropical island in the South Pacific so the obvious answer is anytime. December and January are obviously peak periods with Christmas and school holidays. This is also the rainy season, but even with the rain, there’s plenty of sunshine about. Anytime school is out is usually busy. From May to October, the weather is much drier.
Please refer to the website for current seasonal packages. Rates and packages are inclusive of – Welcome drink on arrival Talai Butler Service for Bures, Suites and Deluxe Ocean View Rooms and complimentary use of kayaks, paddleboards, snorkelling equipment
Beer and Croissants was a guest of Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort. As always all opinions, editorial and images are our own.
Kerri now travels regularly with her husband, Stirling, where eating great food, drinking quality beer and wine, and cooking international foods are integral to their adventures.