Getting married changed many things in my life, including the way I travel. Convention breaks down Main Buretravelers into two groups, and as Rolf Potts puts it in Storming the Beach, “tourists leave home to escape the world, while travelers leave home to experience the world”. I was always in the traveler category – backpacking for months around Europe, paddling down the Amazon, diving in the Carribbean – seeking out that exotic experience.
So when my fiancé suggested we get married in Fiji at an all inclusive resort, I shrank back in terror at the mere thought of eating teriyaki chicken dinners with a bunch of tourists and paying for drinks with little beads. The actual experience was quite the opposite however, and the Namale Plantation Resort surpassed both my craving for the exotic and the remote, and her desire for rest and relaxation.
Namale is on the second largest island in the Fiji archipelago, Vitu Levu. The island consists of tiny villages, two small towns (I hesitate to call them towns and only do so in contrast to the even tinier villages), and a couple of other resorts including the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort, a symbol of the fantastic diving in the area. Namale sits on 125 lush acres between the forest and the ocean, dotted with coconut trees, brilliant flowers, crystal turquoise water and unspoiled white sand beaches.
At the time, the entire resort hosted a maximum of eight couples, and for most of our stay, there were only two other couples, which provided for a really wonderfully secluded experience. They have recently expanded the resort, adding 200 more acres (to protect the outlying rain forest according to the website), Beachdoubled the number of huts to 16, and added a 10,000 square foot spa, a convention center and a couple of private villas, so that extreme seclusion may be harder to come by.
The wood frame huts (bures) with thatched roofs had no televisions, telephones or air conditioning, providing a true sense of elegance and simplicity. They are beautifully appointed, spacious and airy, with screened windows, and a full bathroom with running water. Our honeymoon suite was right along the water, and had a Jacuzzi tub overlooking the empty beach, as well as a wonderful private deck perched over the water. The king size canopy bed was covered romantically in white down and draped with mosquito netting, turned down and awaiting us every night after dinner.
To say Namale offers world class cuisine in an exotic setting is an understatement. The day begins with breakfast on the deck of the Main Bure, a buffet of wonderful pastries, fruits, yogurts, and cereals as well as made to order eggs, meat, fish and potatoes. The banana syrup is not to be missed. Lunch can be had anywhere on the resort including by the pool, in your suite or any spot of your choosing on the grounds. You can also request a picnic lunch should you plan on being somewhere else at lunch time. All meals came with the freshest of salads and breads. Dinners were in the Main Bure, either in the central dining area, or more often, just the two of us at a private table on a series of tiered decks overlooking the bay. There was always a seafood dish and a meat dish, and vegetarian was easily accommodated as well. The preparation and presentation was fantastic, the service was attentive, but not intrusive, and the pace was relaxed. The dishes were created from locally available ingredients, and included many local flavors like the dark green Ron-Ron soup made from Taro leaves and coconut milk, or the native Walu fish in a paprika sauce with asparagus and Kokoro.
Alcohol is included and can be had at any time, including bottles of French Champagne. Each dinner boasted Red and White wine from some of the world’s best vineyards. There is a top shelf bar in the Maine Bure, where we had a drink called the Banana Fijian, a frozen drink made from Galliano, PanoramaCoconut Passion Liqueur, Crème de Banana, Fruit Juice and an actual Banana, blended and topped with whip cream. We reproduce this drink at home for special occasions to this day.
There were other activities during the day other than eating, both organized and not. You could ride a horse up through the villages in the forest or hike up lonely hillsides to panoramic vistas of the island. There were kayaks and canoes to take out on the peaceful bay or rolling ocean. There are hammocks throughout the resort to lie on, and some smaller hikes, one especially nice is to a peak overlooking three water spouts that erupt explosively. When the significant tide goes out, you can reef walk, but make sure to use the reef walking shoes found at the dive shop.
The diving is world class and they run dives any day of the week from the dive shop on the resort. There are many coral walls and pinnacles in the area, offering shallow and deep dives, amid colorful schools of fish swirling in every direction. We had a couple of nice encounters with huge schools of Reef Sharks and Barracuda, an extremely poisonous Sea Snake, and some Giant Clams. Two tanks will cost you USD50, and is one of the few extra charges at the resort. Snorkeling is also wonderful and can be done right off the beach or in deeper waters.
Despite the isolation of the resort, we had lots of wonderful contact with the local people, who welcomed us and let us participate in their rituals including the Kava drink ceremony, a traditional wedding and village markets. Even though it was an all-inclusive resort, we weren’t isolated from the society we were visiting, in many ways, providing the best of both worlds. There is so much more I want to write about this experience, so look for the second part of my Fiji experience coming soon.