Fiji's resorts are reborn
It's a lazy, Sunday morning in the Mamanuca Islands - Fiji's traditional day of rest.
Fijian nanny Gina collects hermit crabs with her young charge along a golden stretch of sand, tucking a red hibiscus behind the little girl's curly hair.
Three-year-old Mia, staying in the bure next door to us, is hiding in a makeshift cubby with our five-year-old Ella.
Couples laze together on sun lounges; babies are rocked to sleep by their Fijian carers in hammocks slung between coconut trees.
We're staying at the new-look Malolo Island Resort, reopened eight months after Tropical Cyclone Evan, which hit Fiji just prior to Christmas last year.
And while the elegant makeover was much needed, it's pleasing to see Malolo has lost none of its quintessential Pacific charm, which makes it so popular with travellers.
Many resorts, particularly in the Mamanuca group 25 kilometres northwest of Nadi, were forced to close after the biggest cyclone to hit the Pacific in 20 years ripped through Fiji.
The Westin Denarau Island Resort and Spa was closed until February this year, Castaway Island reopened in March while Malolo's sister property, Likuliku Lagoon Resort, was shut until April.
Bounty Island Resort, meanwhile, reopened last month, while Treasure Island is set to open next week.
Something positive to come out of the natural disaster is that many resorts long popular with travellers have had a revamp.
Malolo was forced to fast-track a five-year renewal program and reopened in August after spending $FJ5.5 million ($3.6 million) in rebuilding and improvement works.
The boutique resort has never looked better.
New additions include an airy arrivals bure with a soaring traditional Fijian ceiling lined with bamboo matting, where guests are ushered after arrival at the Malolo jetty.
In keeping with its colonial theme - Malolo is set on a former copra estate - an impressive new restaurant complex with a grand entrance, reminiscent of the old plantation homestead, now forms the resort's central hub.
On one side sits the Terrace Restaurant for families, while on the other Treetops, an adults-only restaurant, oozes tropical island chic with white shutter windows, wooden chandeliers and waiters dressed in crisp white shirts.
Both eateries overlook the resort's tiered pools and lush gardens and are headed up by Malolo's new executive chef team, Yngve Mudal and partner, head pastry chef, Rhea Pacaud.
Downstairs is a new teenagers' lounge and adults-only retreat, while the area surrounding the adults pool with swim-up bar has been extended and now sports smart striped daybeds and new loungers to while away the afternoon.
Australian designers Vanessa and Peter Wood are responsible for Malolo's smart new look.
An additional family bure, sited in a newly constructed two-storey beachside building (sleeping seven in two bedrooms), meanwhile brings the overall accommodation options to 46 free-standing, plantation-style, air-conditioned bures (villas).
Ahura Resorts general manager Steve Anstey says while Malolo was always positioned for the family market, the upgrade now firmly cements its position.
The award-winning Jean Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort on Fiji's second biggest island Vanua Levu has opened a new treehouse adventure playground built around a huge raintree.
The eco resort has also introduced a new teenagers' program that includes an assistant chef's program and billi billi raft-making activity.
For my husband and I, snorkelling the pristine reef fringing the uninhabited Honeymoon Island, a short boat ride from Malolo, was a highlight.
We were secure in the knowledge Ella was learning a meke (Fijian dance) at the resort's terrific kids' club, Tia's Treehouse, located under a sprawling mango tree.
Watching schools of trevally dance through the water and sighting an unusual trumpet fish, I realise sometimes in life that's all you need - a chance to stop, take a deep breath and let life pass you by.
The writer was a guest of Fiji Airways and Malolo Island Resort.
FIVE OTHER REBORN MAMANUCA RESORTS
TREASURE ISLAND One of the original resorts in the Mamanuca Island group and popular with Australians, Treasure Island is scheduled to reopen on December 17, 12 months after exhaustive rebuilding.
The resort bore the brunt of the cyclone and had to revise its reopening date of March due to engineering and insurance issues.
Repairs have been made to all bures, the bar and restaurant roof, chapel and poolside decking. treasureisland-fiji.com.
BOUNTY ISLAND RESORT The low-key, budget resort, sister property to Treasure Island, has also reopened, with a new resort manager, Elisa Fusi, and has adopted new, environmentally sustainable practices. fiji-bounty.com.
BEACHCOMBER ISLAND RESORT Fiji's party island has been given a facelift and reopened three weeks ago. beachcomberfiji.com
CASTAWAY ISLAND Neighbouring Malolo, it reopened on March 31 this year. The main bure and all accommodation bures have been rethatched, while many feature new tapa-lined ceilings and airconditioning units.
More than 2000 plants have replenished the resort's tropical gardens and renowned Fiji chef Lance Seeto has introduced a new dining-under-the-stars concept. castawayfiji.com
LIKULIKU Luxury, couples-only resort Likuliku, sister property to Malolo and boasting Fiji's first and only overwater bungalows, reopened in April after an extensive $1.7 million refurbishment to repair damage sustained during Tropical Cyclone Evan.
Improvements to the luxurious, low-key property included new decking, tiling and repair of general cyclone damage to the 45 lavish bures. likulikulagoon.com
WHAT ELSE IS NEW?
NANUKU A boutique resort with private clubhouse is scheduled to open early 2014 at Pacific Harbour on Vitu Levu, Fiji's main island.
Nanuku will feature four hilltop suites and six expansive beachfront villas, complete with private pools, media room, yoga pavilion and personal butler.
A nanny service, bespoke dining, library, fitness centre with trainer, safari adventures and more will be offered.
WYNDHAM RESORT DENARAU ISLAND Unveiled stage three of its refurbishment and expansion project this month.
A Karma Maravu Bar has also opened at a new adults' pool, while the resort's main oceanfront pool has been upgraded.
TROPICA ISLAND RESORT A four-star, adults-only boutique property has opened on Malolo Island in the Mamanuca group.
It offers 12 contemporary, Fijian beachfront bures and four suites with outdoor showers, private decks and swing sets, as well as 14 resort rooms, a 25-metre horizon pool, beach bar, open-air restaurant and spa.
SHERATON Will open a second Fiji resort, the former Amanuca Island Resort, on Tokoriki Island in the Mamanucas in March next year.
CAPTAIN COOK CRUISES Embarked on its first 11-night cruise through the northern region of the Lau Islands, a part of Fiji rarely seen by tourists, last month.
BLUE LAGOON CRUISES Has also launched new itineraries and introduced a minimum guest age of 14 to cater more for the couple and honeymoon market.
New options include swimming with manta rays, and a night on Monuriki Island where the film Castaway was filmed.
JEAN MICHEL COUSTEAU FIJI ISLAND RESORT On the second biggest island, Vanua Levu, has opened an adventure playground built around a huge raintree.
The resort has also introduced a teenagers' program, in addition to its Bula Club for children aged up to 12.
INTERCONTINENTAL FIJI GOLF RESORT AND SPA It has launched a Five Day Spa Journey, incorporating daily spa treatments, followed by optional breathing and meditation sessions.
STAYING THERE Malolo is offering a pay-five, stay-six-night package from about $2447 for two people, or family of four, until March 31, 2014 (conditions and blackout dates apply). maloloisland.com
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