Continuing on from the Eastern Coral Coast and the interior of Viti Levu, we drove westward along the southern coast, which is dotted with resorts, villages, and local temples. This time our destination was Outrigger on the Lagoon, and as we pulled into the resort driveway, the man at the gate shouted out what must have been the biggest “BUUULLLAAAA!” in Fiji—arms extended, his voice resonating in our wake. Inside, the lobby was filled with song—musicians strumming their guitars next to a breathtaking view of the ocean spread out below, making me feel like I was perched high up in a treehouse of sorts. Best of all, we were welcomed by our very own butler who brought canapés and champagne to the room.
Outrigger is a friendly place, full of smiles and staff with a knack for remembering your name. The best thing about the resort is the village-style atmosphere. Covered thatched walkways snake through the vegetation before ending at the beach, winding their way to the various restaurants serving up food with a sea view or a Meke dance show. There’s a huge pool framed by lush plants and an accompanying thatched roof pool bar. Tiki torches add to the tropical ambiance, and at twilight the torches are all lit by hand by a man dressed in the bare-chested grass skirt ensemble of the Fijian warrior carrying a flaming torch. As if all that wasn’t enough, Outrigger also boasts a luxurious spa, perched way up on the hill behind the resort.
Bebe Spa Day
To get to the spa you’ll board a golf cart to take you straight up the hill, which is known to locals as Vakalomalagi Hill, or Heavenly Hill. Bebe means butterfly in Fijian, so behind a set of wooden doors carved with a giant butterfly motif, the spa showcases phenomenal views, and there’s a gorgeous relaxation deck where you can settle in and watch the waves come in and out. The treatment rooms are lined with bins of water filled with floating flowers and all have private open-air balconies with more sweeping views of the Coral Coast. I loved the “Warm Seashell Massage,” an hour of bliss where warmed Fijian shells are rubbed along your body to relax sore muscles and increase circulation. The smooth surface of the shells mixed with a traditional hand massage is the perfect blend for relaxation, and the warmth of the shells melted right into my muscles. At the end of the massage you get a coconut foot scrub too.
From one paradise to the next, we resort-hopped to the nearby Shangri-La Fijian Resort and Spa on Yanuca Island to participate in a little conservation work. The Shangri-la is a huge resort on its own island just off the coast and connected by a bridge. It’s filled with acres of lush gardens, a golf course, a wedding chapel, a spa, restaurants, and the works. But the great thing about the resort is the important conservation work they are doing, the first of its kind in Fiji.
The resort has its own Marine Education Center, where they plan activities that encourage conservation and education for children and the local community. You can learn all about Fiji’s oceanography and ecology here and participate in reforestation and restoration projects as well as a number of environmental-boosting activities.
Planting Mangroves—the Miracle Plant
Our first day we planted mangrove tree saplings, an important part of Fiji’s ecosystem. These trees grow in salt-rich coastal habitats in the tropics where abundant amounts of fine sediment collect. The resort’s unique location between an off-shore island and the mainland creates the perfect environment for these endangered slow-growth trees, whose root systems help protect coastlines from erosion and buffer against tsunamis and other storms by absorbing wave energy and reducing the velocity of waves by creating a natural barrier since the water must pass through their dense above-ground roots.
Mangroves also contribute to the overall health of coral reefs and coastal ecosystems by filtering sediments and nutrients in freshwater runoff and buffering delicate marine habitats. Additionally they maintain and improve coastal water quality by trapping sediment and filtering nutrients and pollutants before they reach coral reefs and seagrass habitats, making them an important part of the ecosystem.
Building a Fish House
The resort also has a “Reef Care Project” that aims to propagate and revive coral reef life in the Fijian islands. Through the “Coral Gardens Project” which is open to guests and the local community and students, you can participate in fish house building. Fish houses help preserve and grow the fragile coral reef ecosystem.
We drove out to the resort’s protected water space with nothing more than some cement. There on the sand, we collected washed up bits of dead coral which we then stacked to form fish “houses”. Leaving plenty of open space for fish windows and fish doors, we mixed cement in with the coral and let it harden forming shelter for fish and other marine life. In my case, I got to create a home for an octopus to live in. This meant leaving plenty of holes and open space for the octopus to reach in and out of, and for small fish roommates to pass through. I named my fish house “Tako-Jo”, which translates to “Octopus Castle” in Japanese. Each house that is created is named and geotagged before it’s placed in the ocean. Guests can even look up the houses they built with the exact coordinates later when they return home, forming a special bond with Fiji. Building fish houses truly proved to be a rewarding and unique experience.
I waded out into the shallow water among all the other fish houses built by marine lovers the world over and peeked inside to see medusa slugs and neon fish hovering in the dark spaces between the coral walls. Houses that had only been placed in the ocean recently were already flourishing, covered in brain coral, bright blue starfish, and other beautiful marine growth. In fact, the structure of the houses that had been there for a bit longer were completely overgrown, the cemented dead coral foundations completely hidden, and to the unknowing eye, these houses would appear to be nothing more than true coral reef. And with all the life and growth thriving on and inside them, in the end are these artificially-created starter houses really any less real than the natural reef?
Channeling Chi: The Fijian Bobo Massage
Finally to end our stay at the Shangri-La, it was time for a visit to the hotel’s spa: Chi. The signature massages and treatments at Chi combine healing methods from many Asian cultures, while using natural botanical products from Fiji. Each massage suite is located in its own bure by the sea, complete with outdoor showers, dressing rooms, massage cabins, and private patios. The traditional Fijian Bobo massage, which incorporates firm massage techniques and long, gentle strokes with exotic island oils, is said to improve circulation and draw out toxins. This heavenly healing treatment, which is passed down from generation to generation, is an essential Fiji experience.
As I unwound on a outdoor chaise lounge afterwards, sipping fruit tea with the spa’s sheer curtains blowing in the wind, the rustling leaves of the palm trees overhead, and the crashing of the nearby ocean waves, a pure sense of place rushed over me. This was paradise, plain and simple. Fiji was a place I’d always dreamed of visiting, and in that moment it hit me that I had finally arrived.