Are island holidays becoming too cliched?

BEN GROUNDWATER
Last updated 05:00 14/05/2014
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Are island holidays becoming too cliched?

Yes

No

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Fiji
Fiji Visitors Bureau
IS THIS A CLICHE? There is more to island life than five-star villas and swimming pools.

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I have a butler, obviously. He's not visible but he's never more than a phone call away - always at my beck and call, ready to run to my room with, say, extra champagne glasses. Or extra champagne.

He's not actually one person but a revolving cast of smiling wait staff, a seamless parade of polite Fijians who apparently perch by their phone waiting for me to call for fruit, or a ride in a golf cart, or dinner, or to have someone check on my share portfolio. (That last one is a bit ambitious but you're allowed to dream.)

These butlers work in the very fanciest section of the Intercontinental Fiji, which is where I find myself on this stay, dunked into my private plunge pool, eyes on the flawless blue horizon, hand on a glass of champagne.

Island life: it's not too bad.

I can't actually afford to stay in the fanciest section of the Intercon, because I don't really have a share portfolio and I write for a living. But, having been forced to come to Fiji for a friend's wedding, I've attempted to pull the few strings available to me and wound up here, at Club Intercontinental.

It's all infinity pools and cocktail hours in the exclusive club, which is set on a hill high above the run-of-the-mill, peasant-filled normal Intercon. Here on my royal perch I get to survey the land before me, dining on fresh seafood and sipping fine wine while my friends languish in their meagre five-star villas down below.

It's almost hilarious how opulent everything is. I really do have to catch a chauffeur-driven golf cart to get down to the lower resort and see my friends. I really can call my butler to ask for anything my heart desires.

It's an experience that seems even more illusory a few days later. See, there are two ways to do islands, ways that are completely different but attractive in their own way. And on this trip I'm going to both extremes.

For the first few days I've been living the life luxurious, knocking over island cliches like they're complementary pina coladas. Lounging by the pool with a fruity drink? Check. Getting horribly burnt after forgetting to reapply sunscreen? Check. Lazing around with Olympic dedication? Check.

Those cliches are fun but they get old after a while. You need some action. You need some culture. You need to feel like you're experiencing things that you could never experience at home.

So that's why for the second part of my trip I'm bidding bye-bye to my butlers and heading to a place called Nataleira to experience the other side of island life: the village.

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Fijians - normal Fijians - don't live like Intercontinental guests. Many live in small, simple villages, enjoying a way of life that sounds idyllic on paper, but which few of us would ever truly chuck it all in for. They live in beachside huts; they fish for their dinner; they fossick through the jungle for extra food.

My accommodation has gone from an airconditioned villa with a plunge pool at the Intercon to a tin-roofed shack with a single bed at Natalei Eco Lodge. I don't have a butler but I do have mates. And chores.

My mates are young guys from the village who have been charged with helping me experience Fijian life as it is for Fijians. They're not waiting by the phone for me to call, but pounding on my door early in the morning, entreating me to join them.

Our main chore for the day is to rustle up food for dinner. We're going to do that by trekking into the jungle to catch freshwater prawns with the aid of coconut pulp and palm fronds. After that we'll have a quick dip in a waterhole before gathering a few fruits and tubers, wrapping them in a banana leaf and carrying them back to the village. Locals will laugh at the sight of the white guy returning from the jungle with the village's grub, but they'll still enjoy the spoils.

There's no plunge pool at Nataleira, but there is a gigantic swimming hole known as the Pacific Ocean. There's no cocktail hour here either. There is, however, "kava time", which begins at completely haphazard times of day because no one around here bothers wearing a watch.

I dine with my new mates in the village that evening, feasting on the fresh-caught prawns we snagged just a few hours ago. We then retire to a mat on the floor to begin kava time, sipping from the communal cup, slowly retreating into a comfortable, companionable silence.

Island life: it's not too bad.

The writer was a guest of Tourism Fiji.

Do you think island holidays are becoming too cliched? Would you rather venture out to the local village? Or are you happy to lie by the pool? Leave a comment below.

- FFX Aus

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