Dec 08, 2016
Family friendly? You bet. Fiji knows how to cater to the littlest members of your family – without forgetting about the adults. At these six island resorts, you get to have plenty of downtime, too, write Kirsten Galliott and Lauren Quaintance.
You’ve heard it said before: the Fijian people are among the friendliest on Earth, always ready with a wide smile and a jovial “Bula”. “This is who we are,” explains Zack Vonotabua, the genial general manager of Malolo Island Resort. “It’s not pretend or put on. We just don’t know any other way to be.”
They’ve had their good nature sorely tested this year. When Cyclone Winston tore through the South Pacific nation in February, the damage bill was estimated at $650 million. Villages were razed and resorts were closed. But everything is open for business again and Australians – who make up nearly half of all visitors to Fiji – are returning for the summer holidays.
Many choose to stay on the mainland but there’s something extra-special about heading out to one of Fiji’s idyllic islands. Here are our six favourites for families.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort
Set on a former coconut plantation on the northern island of Vanua Levu, Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort holds almost mythical status among parents. Not only is a dawn-to-dusk nanny service included in the tariff (with one-on-one nannies for children under six) but the resort also has what is possibly the best kids’ club in the world. The sprawling Bula Club for Kids compound has two pools with water slides, a treehouse, a flying fox, a sandpit and a tennis court. The lush seven-hectare resort has generous bures that are well set up for families (the newly renovated Presidential Villa has its own spa, private infinity pool and outdoor showers) and some of the best food in the country produced by a talented Chinese-Fijian chef. Not surprisingly, since it is named after the son of legendary aquatic explorer Jacques Cousteau, the resort is also close to some of the archipelago’s best dive sites. Wake early and ask to be ferried to the hotel’s own private idyll, Naviavia Island, a few hundred metres off the coast, for breakfast and beachcombing. Perfect.
Parents will like: What’s not to like about a holiday in a remarkable setting where your kids are happy and you also get time alone? Book a couple’s massage in the ideally situated oceanfront bure that is the resort’s spa. There’s no need for piped flute music when the waves are gently breaking just metres from your massage table.
Kids will like: Bula Club for Kids is far from a babysitting service. There’s an innovative program of activities that includes a glass-bottom boat trip with the on-staff marine biologist to see a kaleidoscope of marine life and a visit to a local school, where young guests are matched with a child of the same age.
What kids say: “I loved the giant water slide, as well as going to the school and meeting my pen pal, Adelaide.” (Bella, aged seven)
Luxe rating: 5 stars
Toberua Island Resort
With just 16 bures on a compact private island about eight kilometres off the coast near Suva, Toberua (toberua.com) feels about as close to a traditional Fijian village as a resort can be. At just 1.5 hectares at high tide, it’s small enough that everyone will know your name – and you’ll feel comfortable letting your kids wander freely in the hunt for hermit crabs – but you’ll never feel crowded. There’s a strong feeling of community at Toberua but aside from a few rituals (such as being summoned for meals by a beating drum) there’s nothing Hi-de-Hi! about the island. Expect traditional décor in waterfront bures large enough to fit the extended clan and their attendant luggage. If you’re not heading out on the resort’s boat with a picnic for a day’s snorkelling, enjoy lo-fi time with your kids, playing table tennis or backgammon. Oh, and there’s an unexpectedly good restaurant serving highly competent European-style food paired with a well-chosen selection of New Zealand and Australian wines.
Parents will like: The easy access to Suva’s international airport (a 30-minute boat ride and short taxi trip away) and the excellent staff, who quickly form a genuine bond with your children. While there’s no formal program for kids, staff go out of their way to suggest activities and they’re on hand to provide help. There’s also a babysitting service for a fee.
Kids will like: There’s a small, kidney-shaped pool but the real drawcard for kids is the calm water – perfect for learning to snorkel, kayak or ride a stand-up paddleboard. Smaller children will be happy digging holes in the sand or searching for plentiful starfish in the shallow water. And everyone will enjoy visiting the talking Fijian red musk parrot that lives in a walk-in aviary at the centre of the island known as Bure 16.
What kids say: “I really liked learning to kayak and also playing the big wooden drum to get everyone to come to dinner.” (Bella, aged seven)
Luxe rating: 3 stars
Malolo Island Resort
Malolo Island Resort is something special. It’s luxurious enough that it feels like a real treat but it’s not the sort of place where you have to worry about what to wear to dinner. The 46 simple but stylish bures all face towards the beach so snorkelling is literally on your doorstep. Lose an afternoon in one of the many hammocks swaying between the palm trees or grab a bucket and go crab-hunting (and if you can’t catch a crab here, you’re not trying hard enough). The kids’ club, Tia’s Treehouse, which is set into the hillside under a mango tree, is no dumping ground; the kids will want to go to experience fish-feeding, visiting the local school and traditional costume-making. They’ll probably return to you for meals, where you have the choice between the Beach Bar, which offers good-quality café food, and Terrace Restaurant, an à la carte and buffet affair that’s set in a plantation homestead-style building overlooking the two pools. There’s also an adults-only restaurant should you lose the kids to the friendly Fijian staff who organise night-time games.
Parents will like: The Island Hopping Tour. Drag yourself out of bed at 7am and into the island’s speedboat to see the islands in the Mamanuca archipelago, including the stunning Monuriki Island, which gained fame as the location for Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks. If you’re lucky, you’ll have the place to yourself.
Kids will like: The easy access to the shore for crab-finding (and crab-racing) and the amazing amount of shells and coral to be picked up. (Customs loved us.) Older kids will enjoy the teen lounge.
What kids say: “Malolo had food that kids like to eat. There were heaps of choices, even if I did eat a lot of pizza, and I loved the mocktails.” (Remi, aged eight)
Luxe rating: 4 stars
There’s a reason why Australian families have been returning to Castaway since it opened in 1966. Laid-back and incredibly friendly, it’s low on pretension and high on Fijian spirit. “We have more than 40 people who have been coming for over 10 years,” says general manager Steven Andrews. This is the island you come to if you want plenty of choice. There are four eateries, ranging from a by-the-water pizza joint to an upmarket Chinese-Fijian fusion restaurant; a separate, very shallow pool for kids, which has its own waterfall; and an accompanying bar and grill that appears to go through litres of ice-cream every few hours. Plus, there are several different snorkelling and diving tours and bushwalking trails. The 67 traditionally thatched bures scattered throughout the resort don’t pretend to be five-star but are very spacious (there’s a sliding door between the parents’ room and the kids’ area) and, with their tapa-lined ceilings, have a real charm about them. All the families seem to know one another and returning kids run straight to the kids’ club for two-legged races and, yes, ice-cream-eating competitions. Heaps of fun.
Parents will like: The adults-only pool (with the obligatory swim-up bar) and the special kids-only supervised dinner. The kids’ club is open every night, leaving adults free to enjoy dinner on their own if they wish.
Kids will like: The variety of activities. The blackboard menu might list snorkelling lessons in the pool, beach volleyball or a sandcastle-making competition, while there are paddleboards and windsurfers lined up along the beach, as well as tennis and table tennis facilities.
What kids say: “My favourite bit was making new friends. I made 10 new friends but I don’t remember their names.” (Mila, aged five)
Luxe rating: 3.5 stars
Koro Sun Resort
Built on the fringes of a lush rainforest, this rustic resort on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu, spills down a mountainside to a shallow, aquamarine-tinted lagoon. Koro Sun has 51 villas on 64 hectares, including older-style garden bures with white picket fences set amid spindly palm trees and newer two-storey waterside villas. (The resort’s signature “floating bungalows” broke free from their moorings and drifted away during Cyclone Winston but are expected to be reinstated this month.) While there’s a slick new adults-only pool on the lagoon, families are confined to a small, slightly tired pool tucked behind the main restaurant. No matter, though, as young travellers will love the water slide and the basic-but-friendly Jungle Kids Club. Of course, the ocean here is brimming with marine life and the resort offers a full range of watersports including diving. The hotel’s kitchen serves European classics alongside Fijian-Indian cuisine and, though the selection is somewhat limited, the food is exceptionally fresh, with fruit picked from trees on the property and vegetables harvested from the organic garden.
Parents will like: While other resorts might claim to have a “rainforest spa”, few are actually set beside a rushing stream deep in the bush. The spa’s signature treatments involve being scrubbed with sugar and wrapped in giant banana leaves (which is more relaxing than it sounds).
Kids will like: Aside from the water slide, older kids will get a thrill from making the short trek to picture-perfect Vuadomo Waterfall. Your Fijian guide will keep everyone entertained by scrambling up the rock face to leap over the gushing waterfall into a deep pool below.
What kids say: ”We went on a walk to a waterfall and it was really beautiful – it was the best. And I went down the water slide really fast with my mum about 20 times.” (Bella, aged seven)
Luxe rating: 2.5 stars
Yes, it’s family friendly but kids don’t rule the roost at Vomo. The island, which has nailed the “understated luxury” brief, also attracts well-heeled couples and older families. Everyone has to share the one (very glamorous) pool but come 5pm, The Rocks Bar – at the western tip of Vomo – is an adults-only affair offering a superb view of the sunset and any cocktail you can name. Don’t worry, the kids don’t miss out on much. If they’re competent swimmers, they can join the daily 11am snorkelling boat that goes out to aquatic wonderlands around the island (we had the best snorkelling of our trip on Vomo). There’s also an extensive menu for little ones, ranging from sandwiches and toasties to stir-fries, kids’ pastas and fruit cups. (Snacks include raw vegetable sticks and dried apricots; the chef will also do purées for infants and toddlers.) This is not a cheap holiday – witness the seaplanes and helicopters that most guests use to get on and off the island – but the 28 villas are beautifully appointed and spacious. If you don’t want to be disturbed – or you don’t want your noisy clan to disturb others – ask for a villa with no interconnecting door. ￼
Parents will like: Escaping for a romantic lunch. The Vomo team can arrange to ferry you over to Vomo Lailai (Little Vomo) and leave you on the island with a bespoke picnic and a two-way radio.
Kids will like: The array of activities on offer at the Kids Village. During the day, the “little islanders” can get a taste of Fijian culture with grass-skirt-making, sulu-decorating and coconut-tasting, while at night there are beach bonfires and talent quests.
What kids say: “The snorkelling was amazing. We went out in a boat and got to see heaps of cool coral and fish.” (Remi, aged eight)
Luxe rating: 5 stars
SEE ALSO: 5 Family-Friendly Retreats To Book Now