Fiji: Escape from reality

Stephanie Holmes finds there’s only one feature missing.

It was possibly one of the most romantic moments of my life. Or at least, it could have been, were I not travelling by myself. I was being driven along an impossibly beautiful coastal path in a golf buggy and my chauffeur, Saki, was playing Unchained Melody from his mobile phone. To the right was a sweep of white crushed coral sand, leading to perfect turquoise water, clear enough to see huge schools of sardines darting in unison in the shallows. As the Righteous Brothers crooned, Saki pulled the cart to a stop, reached to his left and picked a vibrant red hibiscus flower from its leaves and placed it behind my ear.

“Everyone needs a flower here,” he said, solemnly, before continuing our journey to drop me off for lunch. In the breezy, ocean-facing dining room, every other woman — all glowing, relaxed, sexy salt-dried hair — had hibiscus behind their ears too and I was grateful to be adhering to the informal dress code.

Being alone was certainly not the norm at Matamanoa Island, an adults-only slice of perfection in Fiji’s Mamanucas. Every other bure was occupied by couples, many of whom were honeymooning or recently engaged. And if they weren’t engaged when they arrived, they probably would be by the time they left. The private island oozes romance, with intimate, secluded accommodation and the kind of views that immediately spring to mind when you hear the word “paradise”.

The high-end resort is almost always at capacity, manager Mela tells me, so those planning their own romantic getaway need to book well in advance. It’s not hard to see why it’s so popular — this is barefoot luxury at its very best.

You can arrive by high-speed ferry service in less than 90 minutes from Port Denarau or, if you really want to impress, charter your own helicopter.

You’ll unwind as soon as you arrive . . . the carpet of sand surrounding the island leads to a picture-perfect infinity pool surrounded by day beds and sun loungers, and a breezy main building with bar and restaurant. The villas and bures are dotted around the island — the best being the 10 beachfront villas on the private North Beach, looking out to the Pacific Ocean. Not only are they just a few steps away from the sand, they also feature their own plunge pools if you tire of the salt water, or want a worry-free moonlight dip.

I made the most of the tranquility with a sunset massage, the masseuse bringing her fold-out table to me and setting it up on the grass outside my bure. As the sun went down and the inky sky filled with stars, I had every last bit of tension rolled and kneaded out of me. Although after a day spent lounging by the pool and snorkelling among tropical fish in bath-warm water, there wasn’t much tension left to worry about.

At dinner, my skin still glistening with massage oil I was too relaxed to wash off, the ever-smiling staff performed harmonious songs of welcome to the new guests, and farewells to those leaving the next day. While we ate, each set of departing guests received their own table-side serenade from two guitar-playing staff members.

“Do you want a happy song or a love song,” they asked me, effortlessly bursting in to a fine rendition of Sweet Caroline when I opted for the former.

With the boat back to Denarau not arriving until late afternoon, I had hours left to luxuriate on my final day. Had I been so inclined I could have taken part in the daily activities — a Fijian dancing lesson, egg-throwing competition, a mountain hike — but by this point I was so relaxed I could barely put one foot in front of the other.

After hours spent reading and dozing on the daybed by the pool, I dragged myself along the boardwalk and up the wooden steps to the hilltop spa for my complimentary 10-minute foot massage. All guests are entitled to one, and you can book a time that suits you during your stay.

I decided it was a fitting way to end — wiping the sand from my feet felt like a symbolic gesture, getting me ready to return to reality once more.



Fiji Airways has daily direct flights from Auckland to Nadi.

Located approximately 30km west of Nadi International Airport, Matamanoa can be reached by high-speed catamaran, private speedboat or helicopter.

Matamanoa Island is an intimate and secluded, adults-only Fijian Resort. Stay from $468, per room, per night with

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