Fiji's Shangri-la: paradise found!

Two days at the Shangri-la Fijian Resort and Spa left lifestyle writer Shonagh Walker in a quandary: just how many different words are there for paradise?

Fiji is only a hop, skip and jump from any major airport on Australia's east coast, and definitely a must-visit spot for a weekend away, or as I would strongly suggest, a week or more.
The three-hour flight went quickly, with shiny, happy Air Pacific attendants ensuring I was not only comfy but well fed at every opportunity. Upon landing in Fiji, the island breeze carried with it the intoxicating smell of burning sugar cane and coco-nutty sun-kissed skin.
I sailed through customs, relaxing quickly, thanks to the friendliness of the officials who welcomed me with broad smiles and twinkling eyes. Then, it was off to the Shangri-la Fijian Resort and Spa on the private island of Yanuka, my home for three idyllic nights and two glorious, sun-drenched days.
Ooh ah, Shangri-la!
I arrived at the resort within an hour of landing in Fiji, and was handed the keys to a golf buggy. A cheerful man called Keli hopped into a cart in front of me, signalling for me to follow him. Despite a comical car chase, reminiscent of the dodgem ride at the Easter Show, we arrived at my private bure in the Chi Spa Village unscathed.
It was dark, but I poked my head into my front yard to check out my new surrounds. All I could see were twinkling stars and all I heard were waves lapping the shore — bliss already. Keli made sure I had all I needed and disappeared. I devoured a mouth-watering meal of reef fish and salad before I sank into the cloud-like bed and a very deep sleep.
Waking up in heaven
Nothing ever surpasses the serenity of waking up to waves caressing a white sand beach and the ocean breeze massaging your shoulders, except perhaps opening the door to your private beachfront bure and having a butler waiting to grant your every wish.
With the locals' greeting of "Bula", my "butler" Keli, who I suspect may not have left his post all night, happily brought me honey and milk for tea and made me feel like an island princess. Fijian hospitality at its best.
I meandered to breakfast to the beat of the gecko's call, which sounded to me like wind chimes floating through the breeze. Fresh tropical fruits, yoghurt and broad Fijian smiles made up my morning feast, enjoyed in the sun, overlooking the ocean.
Afterwards, it was straight to the Chi Spa for a hot stone massage, which was so blissful it defies description. Suffice to say two hours later I floated to the Beach Bar and Grill restaurant for a healthy lunch of grilled lamb chops and Greek salad — simply mouth-watering, and maybe not so healthy with a mai tai.
Under kava
Everyone had been telling me about the local "delicacy" of kava — a drink brewed from the roots of a tree, which relaxes, sedates and washes all your cares away. It's not alcohol and it's not a drug, but you apparently feel like there's nothing else on earth but you and the moment you're relaxing in.
Rumour has it the kava man appears around 4pm each day in the "shopping mall", but he's nowhere to be seen. Accepting that he had gone "under kava", I drifted back to my bure to have a rest before my next spa treatment (you know they can get tiring).
Dusk 'til dawn
Imagine a spa experience where you're bathed, scrubbed, steamed, showered, massaged, and then left alone in a private beachfront bure to eat and sleep, before the experience repeats. Welcome to the Shangri-la Chi Spa Dusk 'til Dawn treatment.
I checked in at 6pm and was led to a private bure, just like the one I was staying in, only cosier. My therapist Marlene left me to soak for 20 minutes in a frangipani-laden outdoor tub, before sloughing my dry skin from top to toe with sea salts drenched in island oils. Then, a 10-minute steam helped melt away the salts, taking with it any stress I'd brought with me from Sydney.
An outdoor shower prepared me for the next step, the 90-minute massage. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open when a three-course spa meal of crab salad, poached chicken and noodles and coconut ice-cream arrived. I ate up, bunked down and drifted off to the sounds of the ocean.
A friendly 7am wake up announced the arrival of fresh fruit and Bircher muesli breakfast. It was the perfect prelude to the facial I was about to experience, which seemed to use the same ingredients — a yoghurt cleanser, a grain scrub, a fruity smelling mask and massage oil.
Coral reef wonders
I easily could have slept on the white sand beach all day, but snorkelling on the stunning coral reef lay ahead of me. As the boat took my group out to the vast reef, I learned about the local coral farming programs. Climate change and overfishing has left the reefs of the Pacific Islands depleted.
Coral farms have been established, whereby "cuttings" from mother corals on the reef are taken and grown in shallow waters. After two or three years, the cuttings are "planted" back on the reef, in an attempt to revive and restore their beauty.
The program has been underway for a few years now, and it's evident in the beauty of the reef. Stunning blue, orange, yellow and purple hues flashed past me as I swam around the azure water. It was the perfect post-spa activity.
Firing up
That night, I had the Fijian fire dancing show to look forward to. Murmurs of kava were still teasing me, but all thoughts of its absence flew out of my mind when I walked into the most sumptuous buffet of island food I've ever seen.
In a complete "eyes are bigger than my stomach" moment, I piled my plate high with kokoda (raw tuna marinated in coconut cream and lime) and other fish, meat and vegetables, all cooked in a lovo (a covered pit or underground oven). Following dinner, the Fijian fire-dancing crew put on a show like I'd never seen.
Aside from impressive dance moves that would have looked right at home on So You Think You Can Dance, there were some very spectacular stunts — think dancing with machetes and a 12-man-high fire pyramid. It was the perfect ending to a relaxing and beautiful weekend, even though there was not a drop of kava to be drunk. Just as well though, as I had a 5am wake up call to catch my flight home.
Leaving Fiji was heartbreaking, but the friendliness of the locals both on the island, and at the airport, will guarantee I'll be quickly back. Nothing beats an island holiday, and with this tropical paradise only a few short hours away, it already feels like a second home!

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