By Nina Gunasingham
We decided to squeeze in a short break to Club Med in Bintan. Lulled by the memory of the flat-as-a-mirror waters of our October visit, we made the mistake of returning in monsoon season, which unfortunately meant that our crossing was choppy, and the beach was black-flagged for our first couple of days there. Other than preventing water sports in the sea (though others did try, once the flag turned red), it didn’t affect our stay too much.
We were delighted to be recognised by many of the Gentile Officeurs (GOs) as we got off the bus and were welcomed back as old friends. In fact, the first thing our boys did, once we had settled into our rooms, was to run off to look for the GOs they had made friends with on our previous visit, as you’re bound to do when you holiday close to home we bumped into friends from the Hollandse Club. On Rohain’s birthday we decided to surprise him with a cake at lunchtime; the GOs bore the cake into the dining room clapping and cheering and then sang a birthday song for him so everyone there knew it was his birthday.
This year my mother celebrates a landmark birthday and wanted to take a trip with the whole family to mark the occasion. Fiji is a favourite destination of hers, so we flew out to meet my parents and sister there in January.
There are direct flights between Fiji and Singapore twice a week, otherwise you fly via Sydney. As it was, our ten-hour direct flight crossed the Top End of Australia. Although Suva is the capital of Fiji we flew to Nadi (pronounced ‘Nandi’). We landed well before sunrise and were serenaded through immigration by ukulele-playing singers; Fijians will sing in harmony at the drop of a hat.
Fiji is four hours ahead of Singapore, or five during daylight saving (the clocks went back while we were there). The weather is similar to Singapore but, though November to April is their monsoon and is cooler, it feels hotter in the sun because it is less humid.
Driving through Nadi was reminiscent of older parts of Malaysia and quieter suburbs of Sydney (the influence of nearby Australia). Many Fijians are of Indian origin and we passed several Hindu temples.
The landscape was flat on the ocean side of our route and on the other were hills like carelessly dropped crushed green velvet, occasionally shaved in places to allow for cultivation. Our resort, the Marriott at Momi Bay, lies about forty-five minutes out of Nadi at the beginning of the Coral Coast between the more remote Coral Coast resorts and those in popular Port Denarau. As we turned into Momi Bay we could see breakers way out on the horizon marking where the reef lay.
The Marriott sits around a man-made lagoon with Fijian style bures facing the water. The ocean-side beach is rocky and there are stingrays and jellyfish but the water on both sides is fairly calm and flat, in spite of the monsoon. All of us, all three generations, enjoyed swimming in the lagoon.
For my parents’ celebratory dinner (they share their birthday), we made a trip in to Denarau at the Sheraton’s Port ‘O Call restaurant. Dinner was delicious and the multi-talented staff were amazing. Their piano player obliged us by playing ‘Happy Birthday’ and they even surprised us with a small cake each for my mum and dad, parading them in with a birthday song sung in harmony by all the staff.
We took a day trip out to the Garden of Sleeping Giants, a fifty-acre property originally owned by Canadian actor Raymond Burns (of ‘Perry Mason’ and ‘Ironside’ fame) where we enjoyed seeing familiar orchids, gingers, palms and other tropical plants as well as more unusual varieties such as ornamental self-peeling pink bananas. Elsewhere on the same property my sister and I dared a five zip-line circuit.
My mum and sister, especially, love snorkelling which is why we chose Fiji. One morning we organised a boat trip to nearby Momi Bay Sand Bar, traveling over deep water between the coast and the reef. We passed Cloudbreak, off the heart shaped coral island of Tavarua, which hosts a world-famous surfing competition every April. It is so named because, seen from the mainland, the breaking surf on the horizon looks like clouds. I was grateful that the waves were nowhere near the twenty feet height that they reach in surfing season! The judging platform sits on the reef and, I realised later, we could see it on the horizon from our bure.
Our boat anchored off the sand bar and we dived into clear turquoise waters. As soon as we were in waist-deep water we could see multitudes of coral and fish species. At this depth they were nurseries with miniature fish but as the sea floor fell gently away we saw bigger fish and large coral growths. It was breath-taking! As we crossed a deep section with fewer corals we saw a stingray sail in and settle, blending into the sand. We continued exploring then, as we circled back towards the stingray, we saw a white tipped reef shark glide past! Though we chased it, it effortlessly outdistanced us. Eventually we were called back to the boat but could quite happily have snorkelled a lot longer.
The boys had asked to do some fishing, so the crew helped them put out lines. Rohain caught a rock cod, two colourful parrot fish and a very large … rock! Finally we had to leave, racing over the swells with the wind, rain drops and salt spray in our faces. We had been traveling for a while with grey rain on every horizon when we stopped and I realised we were at Cloudbreak. Suddenly – “Dolphin!” I yelled as a fin arced out of the water just a few feet away from the boat.
“I was hoping to find them,” said the captain and set off again in huge circles, creating a wake for the pod of spinner dolphins to jump over and to swim alongside the boat, leaping singly or in twos or threes and, true to their name, spinning in mid-air.
And all this adventure took place before lunchtime.
We also relaxed by the infinity pool with a manicure and cocktail, went shopping, took in sunset dinners and a spa and watched traditional Polynesian dances including fire dancing and, really, had a thoroughly good time! I can see why this is the third visit my parents and sister have made. Fiji is now on my list of places to go back to, too.