“I’m sorry, what did you say?”
“Would you like a piña colada or a pineapple daiquiri?” The sun was so bright in my eyes I’d drifted off to sleep and so I thought I was dreaming lying by the pool in the gorgeous Fijian sun during happy hour in an exclusive, adults-only resort where they serve the most moreish canapés. I cleared my throat, sat up and asked a third time, “I’m sorry, what did you say?”
Honestly, this was no dream but just another day in paradise poolside at the Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji on the Coral Coast skirting Viti Levu.
In the distance you can see and sometimes hear depending on the direction of the wind the tumbling of white waves over the island’s surrounding coral reef. There are a string of hammocks hanging among giant coconut palm trees looking out across the private beach to the reef, a perfect location to just lie there wondering about life’s complex issues like how to get rid of the sand between your toes, or which restaurant to choose for dinner.
Relax & Unwind Poolside
I had arrived for a long weekend and decided I wanted to book a return visit on day two, which is a very good sign. Fiji’s Shangri-La is one of those places that seems to stop time and you instantly just relax and unwind. The sun is up early and so gets hot quickly as you hop along shaded parts of the path if like me, you have left your shoes poolside.
Spread across more than 100 hectares of private island, there are over 440 bures, rooms and suites – with views out to the Pacific Ocean or Lagoon. More than a quarter of the island has been dedicated to the new Reef Wing, a private, adults-only precinct, with access only available to guests. With its own check-in, infinity pool (and did I mention the complimentary cocktails and canapés daily?) it serves up what surely must be the most secluded and spectacular happy hour location in the Pacific.
Beverage Manager Jason Tuazon says each bar and restaurant has its own signature cocktail, with the menu of cocktails changing every six to eight months. It is, however, a cocktail using local ingredients that is the most popular. “When I first arrived we started experimenting with creating our very own Kava Margarita,”’ says Tuazon. It’s a mix of Curaçao Blanco, tequila, lime juice and Fiji’s traditional drink, kava.
The cocktail takes no prisoners, and you can taste each ingredient as I found out myself ordering a second, sucking the accompanying slice of lime through my teeth. “These are very popular with guests,” says Tuazon with understatement. The Kava Margarita certainly is putting the Shangri-La on
the map in the cocktail world.
The gin bar in the Takali Asian Kitchen has over 60 types of gin and the Black Marlin Tropical Bar boasts over 100 rum brands. “We have created our own Yanuca Island Rum, a muscat-finished black rum,” Tuazon says proudly. Much of the local fruit is also used in the cocktails – nothing, it seems, goes to waste.
Locally Sourced Produce
After recent renovations, there has been a significant focus on the range and quality of dining experiences. There are half-a-dozen dedicated and casual restaurants and bars across the island, with their own flavours and themes – with a high percentage using locally sourced seafood, meat and fresh produce. The local Sigatoka Valley is known as the Salad Bowl of Fiji and the resort works with local farmers in sourcing fresh fruit and vegetables. You can also work with the Executive Chef to create your own menu at a unique location as part of the Dine by Design dining experiences.
The Takali Asia Kitchen sits above the reef and offers shared plates as you travel across Asia sampling every imaginable cuisine from dumplings to stir fries, pad thai and mud crab. Sitting watching the sun set while enjoying dinner was a pure highlight. The Lagoon Terrace is the main dining restaurant, where the never-ending international buffet uses seasonal produce from daily deliveries by local fishermen, buying direct from the boat to the Shangri-La coconut plantation. Speciality restaurant the Golden Cowie Coastal Italian takes me back to holidays along the Italian coastline as I order gnocchi and fresh fish. In the morning it is also a quiet retreat for adults-only breakfast. It was the Beach Bar & Grill at lunch that served my local favourite Kokoda; lime- marinated local walu fish, coconut cream, onion and chilli.
I walked the nine-hole Peter Thomson-designed Executive Golf Course twice with my son, who I have to say was an impressive golfer, as I imagined I would be if I would ever have the patience to get that very small ball into the tiniest of holes. One tip I learnt was get to the course early as the sun and heat is exhausting later in the day. There are tennis courts, and a Health Club for those of you who are inclined to working out. Chi, The Spa borders the Golf Course.
The Marine Education Centre encourages children and families to build fish houses and explore the local environment. Kids can become Junior Rangers learning about the care and rehabilitation of the coral reef and coastal areas. The awareness of marine conservation and restoration for in-house guests and surrounding local schools and community is highly valued, as it safeguards its most prized natural resource. Colourful and interactive displays are at the heart of the centre, that focuses on the island’s ecosystems, mangroves, forests and the coral reef as well as conservation projects where guests can get involved.
Encouraging corporate social responsibility practices means both the resort and its guests can give back to local communities. A group of loyal guests known as The Bilo Bar Club have been supporting local schools for the past two decades, getting kindergartens built and school supplies donated. Working with the National Centre for Kidney Research and Treatment, the resort has fundraised for dialysis treatment for local children. In the future a centre for the local community is to be built to support locals rather than travel all the way to the capital for treatment. I now dream of pineapple daiquiris, floating in the infinity pool looking out to the reef, swinging in the hammock in the sun between two palm trees and ordering Kokoda for lunch. Shangri-La indeed.
Visit shangri-la.com/yanucaisland/fijianresort/ for more information
Getting Creative in Fiji
Glass Blowing Fiji-Style
I wasn’t expecting to be as hands-on at my very first experience of blowing glass, arriving at Hot Glass Fiji’s first glass blowing and studio in Korotogo. Local Fijian glass blower Pita guided me step-by-step, and generously said I was a “natural”. My wonky offering, a small, blue-splattered drinking glass, now sits proudly on my desk at work.
To make the pieces, glass nuggets from Germany are placed inside the furnace and heated up to 1,100 degrees centigrade. When the nuggets become molten glass they are removed from the furnace and taken to the workbench and moulded into shape by blowing through a special metal blowpipe. Back and forth to the furnace for more heating after much blowing, scraping, shaping and sweat. I thoroughly recommend this experience as it was fun and something completely different while staying in Fiji. I also bought the most beautiful handblown Christmas baubles and glass-shaped coconut-inspired orbs in shades of blue and green. Hotglassfiji.com
Making Prints in Fiji
Talented Master Printer Peter Lancaster encourages participants to be creative as he guides you through hand printing using lithography, mono and lino cut printing, at Lancaster Press in Sigatoka Fiji. Lithography allows each artist to draw directly onto the stone or aluminium plates. The surface is then treated chemically and rolled up with ink in which a limited edition is printed and then the original drawing is erased. Also on offer alongside the studio is a three-bedroom house with in-ground swimming pool that is offered for longer workshops and artist’s residencies. A gallery showcases a range of artists’ work. A must visit. lancasterpressfiji.com