It’s an unfortunate start. A choppy dark blue sea and a moonless Fijian sky.
The nose of the water taxi rises and falls, hitting the water like a brick on concrete. Boatman Api peers out into the blackness, keeping a watch out for hazards on the 40-minute trip from Fiji’s main island to Malolo Island.
I feel I’ve made a serious mistake.
I pull my one-year-old closer to my chest, trying to stop her rockmelon-sized head from bobbling about, while my partner wraps his arms tighter around our three-year-old.
The exhaust fumes are making me queasy – then we arrive at the jetty and see the singing staff, who after their welcome song shout “Bula! Bula!”
Malolo Island Resort operations manager Zack Vonotabua hands out peppermint-scented wet towels and joins us for a pineapple drink at the Beach Bar on the water’s edge.
“How was your boat trip over?” says Zack, as he holds the glass and straw in place for my youngest girl.
Before I get a chance to explain that it was choppy, my daughter starts vomiting over Zack’s arm and then the chair, seat cushion and the table.
It’s an odd first encounter with Malolo but the perfect introduction, I soon realise, to this small island resort.
The seasickness “event” demonstrates how the staff here make one feel instantly embraced into a new family – they are as concerned about my little one as I am.
Zack whisks us along the beach to our cottage, which is as close to the sea as you can get without needing bathers.
Before I’ve had a chance to rinse my daughter under the shower, a handwoven basket full of tropical fruit, plus an array of club sandwiches, fries and a bottle of champagne appear on the dining table.
Soon my toddler is back to her usual self and we all – Zack and the porter included – breathe a sigh of relief.
Now, let’s get this holiday started.
I’ve been to Fiji years ago – once as a surly teenager and then as a singleton attending a wedding in the Yasawa Islands – but this is the first time I’ve travelled to the Mamanuca group.
We have three nights at Malolo and I’m so happy we didn’t leave the kids with my parents as the resort is well set up for families: free kids club for four to 12 year olds; babysitting at a low $F8 ($A4.65) an hour; plenty of water sports fun (banana boat rides, coral viewing, dolphin spotting); local village trips; and a kids’ menu featuring vegemite on toast.
But the resort is also perfect for couples: there’s Leilani’s Spa where you can book in for a “His and Her Bliss” treatment; Treetops Restaurant for adults-only fine dining; a grown-ups-only pool; and two Tadra Beach Bures for couples, with four-poster beds, located at the most private end of the beach.
Malolo, built on a former copra plantation, underwent a $F2 million Botox treatment in 2009, transforming its 46 bures from dated, gaudy huts into bright, stylish shacks designed by Gold Coast interior decorator Vanessa Wood.
The all-white bungalows with high-vaulted ceilings and large porches are decked out with beautiful rattan chairs and tables, modern lighting and chic brown-on-beige soft furnishings.
“Where’s the TV?” says my eldest daughter one morning. I explain that mummy and daddy do not have wi-fi here (except for at the Beach Bar) and there are no TVs (except in the kids’ club). Hooray.
A nearby double hammock strung between coconut trees becomes our new “TV couch”, where my partner and I settle in each night to watch the sinking sun (Malolo in Fijian translates as the island where the sun comes to set).
Our evening soundtrack is the monotonous fall of the waves on the beach and each morning, I arise, with uncharacteristic energy, and rush out of bed to walk the five paces to the beach.
Snorkelling is as uncomplicated as grabbing the equipment (that I’ve borrowed from the watersports bure) and stepping into the glass-clear water to view the Mahi Mahi that I might eat later for dinner.
The girls spend their time making the large foot bath on the porch (intended for washing off sand) into an aquarium with resident hermit crab, Bella.
One morning we head out to the uninhabited Monuriki island, where Cast Away was filmed with Tom Hanks. Here the words “Help Me” are still written in coconut shells on the sand. It’s a brilliant trip, made even better by the esky of local seafood, tropical fruits, salads, quality meats and cupcakes that executive chef Yngve Muldal has packed for us.
The breakfast outing turns out to be one of the highlights of our time at Malolo. It competes for top spot with my outdoor massage by spa manager Eta; a superb dinner at Treetops, featuring three courses of the freshest tuna I’ve ever tasted; a visit to Solevu village primary school where the children seem born to sing; and the collection of kisses planted on my kids by staff members Milika, Rosie, Elsa, Esa, Avena, Ceva and Ala.
But the holiday’s most precious gift, for me, is a chance to perfect the fine art of doing nothing.
For all its contemporary comfort and wide range of activities on offer, Malolo’s most memorable offering is its tranquillity.
It’s the silence, apart from the rustling of the leaves and the movement of the waves; it’s the relaxed feeling in my mind; and the warm breeze on my face that I will remember.
I have well and truly switched over to Fiji time.
And I really don’t want to switch back.
IF YOU GO TO FIJI:
GETTING THERE: Fiji Airways offers direct, daily full-service flights from Sydney to Nadi (4 hours) on its new Boeing A330-200 aircraft. Direct flights to Nadi are also available from Brisbane and Melbourne.
Malolo is 25km west of Nadi airport and accessible by seaplane, private speedboat charter or four-times-daily scheduled catamaran services from Denarau Marina (20 minutes by taxi or transfer from Nadi airport).
STAYING THERE: Malolo Island Resort has regular specials that include free meals for kids and activities. It also offers deals with its luxury sister Likuliku Lagoon Resort, featuring Fiji’s first and only over-water bures.
Four types of accommodation are available across 46 bures at Malolo Island Resort.
The writer was a guest of Malolo Island and Fiji Airways