Over the Moon in Fiji

Josh Cooper and Ashley Novak in Qamea, Fiji

Fiji = Dream honeymoon in the South Pacific

Everyone knows that.

But what does a Fijian honeymoon really look like?  How does it feel?

And how on Earth, once you’re there, could you ever bear to come home again?

By the time they were planning their wedding in July 2007, our friends Josh and Ashley had already been eating together for 6½ happy years. In the midst of pouring their entire selves into planning their romantic, woodsy Los Angeles reception, they realized they’d also need to find the energy to plan their own honeymoon.

When it came to this trip of a lifetime, they knew one thing for sure:

They didn’t want to do any more work.

Yes to relaxation and sun, but no to maps, driving, and obligatory anything. But they didn’t want to grow bored, either; sipping poolside piña coladas at a Hawaii high-rise resort wouldn’t offer nearly enough adventure.

When they heard that the Fijian people were the warmest and kindest people on the planet, that there was exciting hiking, snorkeling and fishing to be done, and the resorts were half the price of most in Tahiti…they were sold on a week in Fiji.

Josh found Qamea Resort and Spa, a tiny, inclusive resort on an even tinier, car-free island. (Qamea is pronounced Guh-MAY-ah.) With 16 private villas, a beach spa with anytime-massages, lots of possible excursions, a peaceful, personalized vibe, fabulous staff, and reportedly, fantastic food, it seemed a very good match.

It was a pretty hefty trek to get there, however. After a 10-hour plane ride to the main Fijian hub of Nadi (pronounced Nandi) (home of the largest Hindu temple in the Southern hemisphere, the pretty Waqadra Botanical Gardens and lots of mass-produced souvenirs), a 1-hour inter-island flight, a 45-minute car trip on winding dirt roads, and a 10-minute sail, they arrived at Qamea dirty and exhausted.

But they perked right up when the first words out of the concierge’s mouth were:

“Do you take alcohol?”

Why yes, they thought, don’t mind if we do. They accepted rum cocktails, flower leis, and the option of indulging in Recovery Massages within 30 minutes, or a bit later, after a shower and a look around.  (They chose the latter.) These were the kinds of weighty decisions Qamea would offer all week.

Spa expenses weren’t included in the bill, and at about $60 a pop, massages weren’t exactly cheap…but after their first glorious rubdown in a simple bure (pronounced BOO-rayt) beside the ocean, completely ignoring the post-wedding bills awaiting them at home, Josh and Ashley would rack up five massages apiece before literally running out of time.

The staff of Fijian locals proved to be every bit as friendly as their reputation. Each day, the booming greetings would come with a big smile: “BUUULA, Ashley!  BUUULA, Josh!” (Bula is Fijian for hello.) At first, it seemed this must be an act put on for guests, but Ashley and Josh would soon learn that in Fijian culture, everyone really is socialized to be warm to everyone else.

They were particularly amazed by the staff’s feet. Most Fijian children don’t wear shoes until they’re at least 8 years old, and grow up with feet that are wide, fat and callused. Locals remain generally barefoot, even while playing sports like rugby and volleyball or hiking to jungle waterfalls.

Hiking was just one activity at Qamea; each day, a communal chalkboard would display the day’s offerings. Every afternoon, there would be a snorkeling excursion to a different spot for the calmest waters, sea turtles and a rainbow of tropical fish; one sweet, private spot was called Honeymoon Beach. Hand-line fishing (lacking a reel) was also popular, and required a boat ride about an hour from the resort. One of these trips was so successful that Josh and Ashley were able to bring home extra fish for staff and guests to eat for dinner.

View from a jungle hike on a neighboring island; a day's hand-line catch

Before 5pm each day, guests’ beds were turned down, a menu displayed upon them; the afternoon’s big goal was to choose the the next day’s lunch and dinner, leaving the filled-out menu on the pillows. Each meal would offer one authentic Fijian entree and dessert, as well as Pacific Rim cuisine featuring foods flown in from neighboring New Zealand and Australia. Meals were relatively small and filling, snacks were always available and a teatime with homemade treats was offered each afternoon.

Drifting into evening, all the guests would gather for cocktail hour.  Everyone was always eager to meet each other, and throughout the week, Josh and Ashley formed friendships with couples from England, Australia, New Zealand and more. At dinner, guests had the option of eating off by themselves at romantic, candlelit tables, or together, in small groups.

Walking back from dinner would involve a low-lit game called “Avoid the Stupid Frog.” After dark in Qamea, cute frogs about the size of tangerines blanket the crushed coral sand and sit, as unmoved as land mines by the approach of humans; everyone has to be very careful not to step on or kick one of these stalwart amphibians, who, after all, are the sign of a completely healthy local ecosystem.

A swanky bure at Qamea; A & J's outdoor lounging bed and their room's hot tub

A swanky bure at Qamea; A and J's lounging bed and hot tub

On their last evening, after a week of near-perfect breezy weather, a nearly horizontal rain began to blow, threatening to spoil Josh and Ashley’s big honeymoon dinner; every couple gets a turn at the private table beneath two palm trees bent like the shape of a heart. But as the heavy storm really got going, the staff battened down the dining room’s windows and doors, and in solidarity, all the guests gathered at one big table. The private table was barely missed.

The biggest surprise came when it was time to leave the next day:

Josh and Ashley walked out on the sand and were greeted by almost the entire staff, who were holding hands, swaying and singing, offering flowers and smiles to say goodbye.

In a way, Josh and Ashley never really said goodbye in turn – even though they’re now preparing a whole new life for their impending twins, a part of them stayed behind in Qamea, still enjoying their endless honeymoon.

<All photos courtesy of Josh Cooper>

Comments

  1. So, so, SO sweet! I love it!

  2. Josh Cooper says:

    I wish I could read more about these hot tamales… 😀

  3. It was the best trip ever. I want to redo it allllll over again.

  4. Great story, i love the rooms, do you have more pictures.

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