Luxury Spotlight: Savusavu, Fiji
Thanks to my family, I had the amazing opportunity to experience a beautiful Fiji vacation in Savusavu. I went for a small family wedding at the Jean-Michel Cousteau resort in Savusavu on the Vanua Levu island (one of over 300 islands that comprise Fiji). It was an experience I will never forget. It was a long way to get there, nearly 20 hours after all the layovers and transfers, but it really was the trip of a lifetime! For the longest leg of the trip, (departing from LA for the journey across the Pacific) we had an aircraft that was large and spacious, making the flight not all that bad and certainly worth what awaited us on the other side. We flew into Nadi where we then transferred to a small puddle-jumper that would take us to Savusavu, a really lush area on the edge of the southern end of the island, giving us both the rainforest/jungle-like feel from the green and floral vegetation but also the tropical beach feel being on an island in the South Pacific.
The People + Traditions
You’d think I’d start with the beauty of the locale and resort, but I’m starting with the people for a reason. Every single person we encountered from the staff at the resort to the people in the small local village inland was so friendly and beamed with smiles and a peaceful, positive energy. The way to say hello in Fiji is “bula” and every person when passing would sing-song a quiet yet friendly “bula” as you walked by. It was lovely and welcoming. Most everyone we encountered spoke English with the exception of some of the villagers we met outside of the resort, so we were able to communicate freely and really get to know the staff.
Spending the day in a local village was an amazing experience. We took a bumpy ride in a vehicle similar to a school bus to the inner portion of the island to a village that was willing to host us and welcome us as their guests. With small, ramshackle homes on stilts over large puddles of still water attracting swarms of mosquitos in the heat of the inner part of the island, we felt very far removed from the modern world. Looking at the surroundings, I wondered if I would encounter a village full of people who felt oppressed by their living conditions. Not so. Not by a long shot. What I found was an amazing community of people proud of their village and ready to celebrate their visitors. When we got to the communal building in the village, the local residents welcomed us with a traditional Fijian party.
We were greeted with huge smiles and offered lemonade to start. From there we began the traditional kava ceremony, one of many we encountered during our week in Savusavu. The kava ceremony is an important institution in Fiji and the effects of drinking kava is believed to induce feelings of well-being and harmony from the mildly narcotic properties of the kava plant. With visitors, it starts with the presentation of the kava root, a local pepper plant, which our group presented to the distinguished Chief of the village, dressed in traditional garb. They then use the plant to prepare a milky-brown drink through a process of pounding and stripping and straining the plant and then mixing it with water until it becomes the liquid drink that is served in a large communal bowl with another small bowl you dip and sip out of. During this ceremony, everyone sits in a circle with the bowl and man who prepares the kava in the center until the drinking part of the ceremony has finished.
We followed this with dancing and celebration where the villagers sang and clapped and taught us how the Fijians dance. It was so, so hot in this room and dancing you had a lot of contact with your fellow dance mates, so it was quite a sweaty party, but fun! And I wouldn’t trade the experience for the world.
After the dancing was finished, the ladies of the village took us to show us their handicrafts which consisted of wooden bead jewelry, scarves, little dolls and woven purses. I imagine this is a decent way for them to bring money into their village in exchange for the culture they expose the visitors to. I purchased a beautiful bag woven from grasses to aid the village and remember the experience by.
The other things I took note of with the people of Fiji included their penchant to sing as we were often welcomed or bid farewell with a song. Attire was also a thing. The women nearly always wore the traditional long dress, as they are a modest society. They were fine with the visitors doing their thing, but you wouldn’t see the Fijian women in a bikini. The men often wore traditional sarongs with t-shirts that seemingly came from US donations as they were a bit random (like a Miami Dolphins or AT&T shirt).
The Resort: A 5 Star Fiji Vacation
The Jean-Michel Cousteau resort in Savusavu was truly worth every bit of the 5-star rating it has earned. The rooms themselves we stayed in were “bures” or in other words, small villas with thatched roofs and open-air walls with screens and blinds. That is, with the exception of the honeymoon villa which had air conditioning and private patios and pools. It was both luxurious and rustic at the same time. The rooms were very beautiful and elegant, but you would hear geckos running along the inside of the tall thatched-roof ceilings and because of the space between the bottom of the door and the floor, you would sometimes come home to bullfrogs and slugs on the floor. That may sound creepy to some, but it was pretty funny. Sometimes I would come home to my bure alone at night and with the dim lighting, I could see shadows on the floor and I knew I wasn’t alone! I ended up shooing out the frogs and putting coffee cups over the slugs. It was good for some laughs the next day.
The food was also quite literally something to write home about. There was one main restaurant with a bar area under a giant thatched roof with views of the water where they would change the menu daily. It was 5-star quality gourmet dining at every meal and they used local, fresh ingredients and fresh catches they sometimes had brought in only an hour earlier. They always presented our meals with pride and exuberance and we found ourselves looking forward to every meal and then spending the meal gushing about how good and healthy it was.
The large communal thatched roof and pool area was the main area everyone would hang out at for the evening until we were ready to retreat to our bures. The walk back home was always interesting as it was pitch dark and the bullfrogs in the marsh nearby serenaded us with deafening songs that seemed pretty surreal. The mosquitos were also pretty intense. Even during the day you had to wear repellent. Luckily if you forgot, the resort offered free repellent wipes in the common areas. The mosquitos, however, were a minor nuisance compared to the positives of this beautiful place.
I could go on and on about this resort. The pool area, the spa, the activities they offered such as diving lessons and excursions, guided trips to a local rainforest and waterfall, the trip we took as a family to a deserted tropical island, it was all so unique and such a perfect resort to experience luxury in Fiji.
A Wedding to Remember
One of the cooler parts of the trip was the wedding. The ceremony began with the bride coming in from the waterfront on a natural raft made of wooden logs, flowers and grasses that we watched them build a few days prior. She was steered by Fijian men dressed as traditional warriors playing announcement notes from a conch shell to start the ceremony. Following the ceremony we settled in for amazing recreations of traditional warrior and tribal dances, songs from the local villagers singing in a very austere choir (perhaps the most serious I’d seen the locals the whole week I was there) and an extra-special and formal kava ceremony.
After the ceremony, the other patrons of the resort joined us for dinner and wine, one memorable German couple even bearing gifts of their artwork. Because of the small size of the resort, there was an intimate feeling among the vacationers and staff alike.
And just like that, after a week of breezy island living, it was time to head back to the chilly Midwestern US and back to real life. The last lovely memory I took of leaving the resort was a line of happy Fijian people of Savusavu sending us off in song…