It may take a while to reach but the experiences in store at Savusavu make the journey worthwhile.
The moment I was asked to stand on the baggage scales at the domestic airport in Nadi, I knew this wasn’t going to be a holiday measured in the usual common denominators.
My wife Leonie and I were catching a De Haviland Twin Otter from Nadi (spelt Nadi but everyone calls it Nandi, and nobody can explain why) to Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second biggest island, and more particularly to the province Cakaudrove that accommodates Savusavu, billed as a hidden paradise where the rainforest meets the sea.
An hour in the cramped cabin was sufficient, though the trip had its distractions with small islands and atolls dotting the Pacific like psychedelic blobs.
It set the scene for the start of a week-long holiday that blended luxury and surprises with doses of adventure – certainly exploits that tested the comfort zone of a couple of mid-sixty year-olds.
Back to the beginning.
Leonie and I usually go the other way from Perth, but figured when friends asked us to join them on a catamaran trip for a week bumping around the islands of Vava’u in Tonga, we had reached the stage of life where we say why not rather than why.
If the earth were a human body, you’d imagine that the South Pacific would have dibs on the heart, so being old romantics, why not?
It’s a fair trek from Perth to Tonga for a week on a 39-foot four-cabin catamaran, so we were mulling over options on what to do for 10 days or so before jumping aboard the boat.
After several false starts, the one thought bubble that didn’t pop was a Fijian escapade. Never been there before, so why not?
Now comes a serendipitous moment. Like many people of our age, travel has become more essential and pressing as the body begins to surrender to the demands that holidaying can bring.
As a result, I get a ridiculous amount of emails to do with travel but all of them invariably end in trash. That is aside from one day when Luxury Escapes detailed a special $1500 for two offer for a six-night stay in Koro Sun Resort on the Hibiscus Highway in Savusavu. It included a candlelit dinner, private beach picnic and two massages thrown in.
A few days later, after establishing the whereabouts and credentials of Savusavu, the trip was nailed down. We booked to fly Qantas through Sydney to Nadi for $926 for both of us, three nights at Club Fiji Resort, then the twin otter return ride to Savusavu for $330. Perth to Nadi was roughly 10 hours in the air that included a two-hour stopover in Sydney. Certainly doable.
At the resort, less than an hour’s flight from Nadi, we were greeted with a welcome song from some of the staff, a foot massage and some of the most beautiful smiles imaginable before being escorted to our villa nestled at the foot of the rainforest.
Before we won holiday Lotto, Leonie and I were happy as two clownfish playing in an anemone in the two-bedroom chalet. For $250 a night, it was spacious, the outlook was superb, the mongooses by the lily pond were intriguing and took care of any rats after being introduced to remove snakes, and every corner we turned up bobbed another smiling face, with the inevitable greeting “bula” which means welcome or hello.
Then came the moment. The last time I was upgraded for anything was to the front of the Yarloop school bus because I was being picked on at the back, so when Ally asked whether we’d be prepared to give up the rainforest for a bungalow (bure they call it and cost $550 a night) perched above the lagoon with own private ladder into the water from our personal courtyard, we couldn’t get the words out fast enough.
When the tide was in, Leonie and I would descend on the ladder to the lagoon, studying all sorts of sea life from nemo fish to octopus to eels, and an abundance of various colourful fish that would have looked at home in a giant aquarium. The habits of one particular octopus became known to us as it slunk towards our bure wall like a sinister thought at 7.45am most mornings, allowing us to take pictures at will.
It was a blissful way to while away the time on the high tides, but the upgrade to five-star comfort was only part of the attraction around these parts where the verdant rainforest competed for attention with the various blues of the ocean, the myriad of small islands along the coast and the wide smiles of the locals who never hassled you to make a sale.
Scuba diving, snorkelling, fishing, bike riding on the Hibiscus Highway and rainforest walks are the main attractions of the resort life, with American and Australian couples declaring to us that the scuba diving was superb.
Aside from snorkelling around our bure, we paid for a boat trip to nearby Turtle Island on one memorable day when a few turtles, some trigger fish and a garden of soft and hard coral kept us entertained for an hour.
The resort, built on 70ha about 18 years ago, offered fine food, including tempura prawns, spare ribs and magnificent locally caught fish like wahoo, different types of snapper and mahi mahi, but Leonie and I soon discovered that a $2 bus fare to town on the local transport – where air conditioning was provided by the gaps where the windows once were – added a delightful dimension to our stay.
Savusavu with a population of around 7000 is a one-horse town, with a hotchpotch of restaurants supermarkets, markets, clothing stores and other shops selling everything and anything in some exotic arrangements, like the red-fronted building that boasted fresh seafood and furniture inside.
On a low tide, the hot springs were evident along the shores that framed the eastern side of the town that in decades earlier supported a huge sandalwood and copra trade.
Centrepiece to the outpost – the capital Labasi is about three hours away through the cane fields and coconut groves and more rainforests – is a superb natural anchorage that harboured yachts and boats that the locals couldn’t even dream about owning.
Tourism and expats from Australia, New Zealand and America help keep the local economy afloat, in the picturesque little place where, to its everlasting credit, the people are as accommodating and friendly as the ones at the resort. Savusavu also offers a wide range of lodgings to cater for all budgets.
One reason alone we found it mandatory to get to town was the Captain’s Table, an outstanding restaurant housed on the Old Copra Shed jetty at the marina where the $12 fish curry would hold its own in any restaurant we have visited in the world.
Wine, not so much. Around $25 buys a wine that in the broadest of terms could qualify as quaffable. Thankfully the local Vonu beer was fine.
But in general there was nothing much about Savusavu that didn’t get a glowing review from Leonie and me, with the added bonus of 26-28C days during our visit in August, with 24C water temperatures.
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