SOLE to SOUL

Long regarded as a posh honeymoon hideaway, the SouthPacific’s tropical island-nation of Fiji is also a playful family favorite.

BY CLARA WOODBRIDGE

IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG TO REALIZE I WAS OVERDRESSED. I HAD ONLY JUST ARRIVED AT NANUKU AUBERGE RESORT WHEN A GIANT COCONUT PIERCED WITH A BRIGHT PINK PAPER STRAW WAS THRUST INTO MY HAND, AND I WAS USHERED TO THE POOL.

A quartet of Fijian men dressed in swaying grass skirts surrounded me. Suddenly, my linen button-down shirt seemed entirely too formal. I was even wearingshoes—an island faux pas of the highest order, no doubt. Still, my new companions were ebullient (as I would eventually discover all Fijians seem tobe), singing and clapping, with wide grins stretching ear to ear. I couldn’t help but meet their enthusiasm, kicking off my shoes and slapping my free handagainst the behemoth coconut whose water was a sweet relief from the tropicalsun above.

It would be several days before I’d put my shoes back on. They’re hardly necessary when you’re sailing through mangroves on a traditional bilibili bamboo raft in search of fresh crabs. They’re totally optional while preparing fresh kokoda—Fiji’s signature ceviche dish made of raw fish marinated in lime, with coconut cream and peppers—in a warrior cooking class. And they’re downright verboten when snorkeling through the crystalline waters just off the resort’s beach.

To be sure, I had come to Fiji expecting a significantly less adventurous experience. In the past, a trip to this legendary South Pacific island- nation meant little more than sipping cocktails on the beach—a diversion largely left to honeymooners and couples. But, lately, resorts like Nanuku—a 21-villa retreat located on the main island of Viti Levu—have expanded their offerings to lure not just romancing twosomes, but the entire family, to their idyllic shores.

ISLAND LIFE: CULTURE + CUISINE

At Nanuku Auberge, that means more than the typical kid’s club. Engaging with local communities and exploring the tropical terrain are immersive experiences that span all ages. The resort’s Cakava Creative Workshop offers cultural classes where guests learn traditional Lali drumming, Meke dancing, grass-skirt weaving, and tapa printing. Just off the beach’s golden sands, opportunities to explore the Beqa Lagoon include stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, sailing, and kayaking. There’s even a host of adventures for intrepid families, from spearfishing with a local fisherman to overnight safaris on a private island.

The accommodations at Nanuku are also made with families in mind. Designed like private homes, each of the 18 beachfront villas includes a living room, a full kitchen, and a welcoming private pool (literally—stones arranged at the bottom of it spell out an enthusiastic “bula!” or hello). Some villas also come with home theaters. And villa managers—dedicated concierges who can book everything from sailing excursions to private dinners made by a personal chef—cater to each family to ensure that every activity is seamlessly planned.

BLISSFUL BLENDING: YOUR POOL, MY POOL, OUR EXPERIENCE

Perhaps the most vital element to ensuring a successful family resort, however, is the ability to preserve the experiences that aren’t for everyone. At the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa, that means a combination of adult-only and family-friendly experiences, all seamlessly orchestrated throughout the 35-acre property. Adult zones, including the spa and some pools, ensure tranquil moments for those who desire them; kid-friendly zones are ample, too, with dedicated pools, clubs, group sports, and excursions. Then there are the opportunities to blend everyone together: The championship golf course offers family tee times on various days, and even the fine-dining Navo restaurant accommodates children with early dinner reservations for families.

SIX SENSES FIJI

A new resort that opened in April on Malolo island, set within the Mamanuca Islands archipelago—has mastered this art of “blending” in a host of innovative ways. The property’s spectacular private estates are the ultimate accommodations for families to commune in paradise: With up to five bedrooms and a full kitchen, each of the estates comes with its own private pool, deck, and beachfront. Culture nights offer a combination of kid-focused experiences (including performances by Fijian warriors and maidens) and adult after-hours entertainment (kava ceremonies). Six Senses’ emphasis on health and sustainability has also been extended to the family offerings, with a pizzeria featuring cooking classes that use herbs from the on-site garden; workshops that teach guests about the local ecosystems and marine life; and, come evening, movies under the stars.

Six Senses’ Fiji property is indeed a striking departure for the wellness brand. With resorts in places like the Seychelles, Singapore, and the Portuguese wine country, the holistic hotel chain is best known for its extensive spa retreats and healthful cuisine. That the brand’s newest destination would place so much emphasis on the family experience is concrete evidence that Fiji is fully embracing its potential as the next big barefoot escape for multi-generational travelers. 

AFTER A WEEK AT FIJI’S BEST RESORTS, MY BARE FEET HAD EXPERIENCED MORE THAN THEIR FAIR SHARE OF ADVENTURES FOR EVERY AGE.

I had tried my hand (or rather, feet) at surfing with the TropicSurf experts at Six Senses. I had sunk my toes into golden sands, soft green grass, sapphire lagoons, and sparkling pools. And my arches had been blissfully kneaded and rubbed by the therapists at the InterContinental’s nine-treatment-room spa. But it was my final night at Nanuku—when the warriors of nearby Beqa Island arrived—that gave my soles their greatest taste of Fiji.

Just as the sun crept below the horizon, a crowd assembled around a pile of rocks covered with broad leaves. It looked innocuous enough—until I spotted the bright orange embers glowing just underneath: These were the legendary hot white stones of the Beqa Island fire walkers. Four large men in traditional grass skirts surrounded the stones, and one by one, after stoking the fire with their long spears and performing a loud and guttural howling chant, walked—slowly, casually, and completely barefoot—over the scorching pile. I couldn’t help but wonder: Was this a mere performance? Or was the legend of these warriors, blessed by birth with the ability to withstand the heat against their flesh, real? After the crowd disassembled and the stones were left in the dark, I tiptoed back to the site, removed the broad leaves once again, and leapt from rock to rock. The heat was searing— the pain was real. And with that, my feet had seen and done it all in this land of tropical bliss. It was finally time to put my shoes back on. 

It Takes Two

Fiji’s romantic resorts are still among the world’s most captivating. Here, four adult-only escapes for a secluded sojourn—sans the fam.

LIKULIKU LAGOON RESORT

Set on Malolo Island, not far from the Six Senses, Likulikuis legendary for its overwater bungalows (a rarity in these parts). For the ultimate couple’s retreat, book one of the resort’s 10 stilted bures, and tell your butler to keep the Champagne coming. For more privacy, book a day alone on nearby Mociu, an uninhabited island with a heavenly crescent-shaped white-sand beach.

MATANGI PRIVATE ISLAND RESORT

Nothing says romance like a private island, and Matangi—which occupies a 240-acre island in the lush northern Vanua Levu Group—is one of Fiji’s originals. Of the 12 villas scattered across the island, stay at the treehouse bures, which are nestled into a hillside for total privacy and panoramic views.

NAMALE RESORT & SPA

A favorite of celebrities, this five-star resort set on 520 acres of the northern island of Vanua Levu is an A-list escape with luxurious villas, an expansive spa, and farm-fresh Fijian cuisine. Divers take note: Namale is close to world-class sites including Rainbow Reef and the Namena Marine Preserve.

QAMEA RESORT & SPA

This northern island feels completely off the grid with rustic-chic villas surrounded by a lush tropical forest and empty private beaches at every turn. Don’t miss the Jungle Spa, where therapists perform warm seashell massages and Fijian coconut body wraps to the sounds of swaying palms and chirping birds.

Yearning for a family escape to the South Pacific? Visit our website and enter OFFER EW15358 to take a deeper digital dive into island living.


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