Fiji Holidays: Sailing the Best Resorts in Saber and Denarau

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Aboard South Sea Sailing’s new catamaran, Saber. Video / NZ Herald

Fiji was the last place I expected to eat authentic Lebanese food, but I guess a lot has changed since we were gone. The sun had set on a hot March day, turning the horizon as pink as sunburned Australian holidaymakers cooled off in the lagoon-style pool. And as tiny frogs hopped our way, we headed to Byblos, one of Radisson Blu Denarau Island’s six restaurants for a surprisingly incredible meal.

I remember many pre-pandemic vacations in Fiji, but food was usually not the first thing I would write about at home. But after traveling there last month, I can now add “fantastic foodie destination” to the list of reasons to recommend you go too.

Byblos was born during the pandemic, when borders were closed and Fiji’s population – more than 150,000 of whom work in tourism – patiently awaited the return of international visitors. Rather than mothballing the hotel and furloughing staff, the Radisson Blu was one of the few hotels in Fiji to continue operating. The station supported a “Love Your People” campaign, encouraging residents of Fiji to dine out, stay in hotels and support their local economy.

Byblos is a Lebanese restaurant at Radisson Blu Denarau Island in Fiji.  Photo / Provided
Byblos is a Lebanese restaurant at Radisson Blu Denarau Island in Fiji. Photo / Provided

Byblos, which opened in February 2021, has given locals even more reason to get out. In an interview with the Fiji Sun, Charles Homsy, Franco-Lebanese Managing Director of Radisson Blu, said the decision to open Byblos reflected the “continuous search for diversification, innovation and creativity, especially in these uncertain times and difficult”. Homsy has managed resorts around the world and has worked in exceptional circumstances before – he was general manager of Warwick Babylon in Baghdad, Iraq, and was there when it was bombed by Islamic State militants in 2015.

Two years later, he moved to Fiji, working first at the Warwick there, before moving to the Radisson, bringing with him Lebanese chef Abbass Fawaz. Together, they launched Byblos, now one of the country’s must-visit establishments.

Under the fairy lights, at the outdoor tables by the ocean, our table groaned under the weight of multiple plates of shared food. Hummus, baba ganoush, fattoush, falafel, tabbouleh, grilled meats, puffed flatbreads, fragrant rice and more, all washed down with a delicious Lebanese blanc de blanc. . . it was a fantastic way to start five days of rediscovering this fabulous destination.

The Radisson Blu Denarau Island offers six restaurants.  Photo / Provided
The Radisson Blu Denarau Island offers six restaurants. Photo / Provided

But what do you need to know to travel to Fiji again, now international travel is a bit more complicated than before? Well, you’ll be glad to know that everything was much easier than I thought. I needed a pre-departure test before the trip (PCR 48 hours before or supervised RAT 24 hours before). I went to Rako Science in Newmarket, Auckland for my PCR; others in my travel party got a supervised RAT at their pharmacy (not all pharmacies offer this service, so check well in advance to find one in your area that does).

Some other requirements have relaxed since my trip. Last week, Fiji removed the requirement for travelers to have a minimum three-night reservation at a Care Fiji Commitment-certified resort. So now you can stay where you want for as long – or as little – as you want. However, it should be noted that many resorts and hotels in Fiji are still part of the CFC – meaning they meet a World Health Organization endorsed standard for best health and safety practice. , all staff are double vaccinated and the company has a dedicated Wellness Ambassador responsible for everyone’s safety. This means you can rest assured that your safety is a top priority.

Now, instead of the three-night minimum booking, you will need to pre-book a RAT at a registered establishment to be taken within 48-72 hours of arriving in Fiji. You will need to show confirmation of this reservation when checking in at the airport. You will also need to show proof of travel insurance with Covid cover.

These new processes aside, as soon as I arrived at the Radisson, I was struck by how normal things were. I quickly fell into the natural rhythm of a Pacific Island vacation – feeling relaxed and carefree. It has helped that all the tourism operators and hospitality workers I have met are beaming with happiness, excited to be back to business after two years of closures and economic uncertainty. The “Bula spirit” is still flourishing.

Portions are hearty at Nadi's Kanu Gastropub by Lance Seeto, and you might end up packing a doggy bag with you.  Photo / Kanou
Portions are hearty at Nadi’s Kanu Gastropub by Lance Seeto, and you might end up packing a doggy bag with you. Photo / Kanou

In addition to Byblos, Radisson Blu offers five other dining options around the resort, so even if you stay there for a few days, you won’t be bored. But for a special night out, how about heading to Nadi for a meal at Kanu Gastropub, the restaurant of famed Fijian Australian chef Lance Seeto. The menu is a mix of Asian flavors with Fijian influences and the portions are generous. If you can leave after you have finished everything on your plate, I salute you. More likely, you’ll return to your resort with a doggy bag of leftovers to enjoy for lunch the next day.

Back in Denarau, I can also recommend the Sofitel Resort for a luxurious and comfortable stay. It’s ideal for families, with a huge pool, beach access, activities and great dining options, but it also has an adults-only area called Waitui Beach Club, with its own lounge, swimming pool and its bar available only for adults.

The feeling of peace begins the moment you step out of your bus or transfer car. You’ll be taken by golf cart to a private check-in area by the Waitui Beach Club pool, where a glass of Champagne will magically arrive. Spend time by the pool during the day and you’ll enjoy complimentary refreshments, plus cocktails and canapes every evening as the sun sets.

Waitui Beach Club is an adults-only paradise at Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa in Denarau.  Photo / Provided
Waitui Beach Club is an adults-only paradise at Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa in Denarau. Photo / Provided

Fans of Cordis Auckland’s Eight Restaurant will love Sofitel’s Bazaar – it also has several kitchens dedicated to different international cuisines, so your dinner buffet can start with sushi, move on to Italian, Chinese and Indian , then end with pastries, ice cream or cheese platters. Arrive hungry and know that no one is judging you, no matter how many times you come back for more.

Then, if you’ve got the energy to spare, just head up a flight of stairs to the resort’s Republik nightclub, where you can dance the calories…or sip a digestive before bed.

It can be hard to get away from your resort, but a day trip with South Sea Sailing is definitely worth the (minimal) effort. Saber is a 23m Ocean Voyager catamaran, custom built for day trips and launched in December. It’s an absolute beauty, with huge shaded deck space, daybeds and daybeds, plus beanbags in the bow for basking in the sun and enjoying the cooling ocean breeze.

The day at sea includes sailing, singing, cocktails, morning and afternoon tea, BBQ lunch, snorkeling, stand-up paddleboarding and, the most fun option, to slide down the yacht’s built-in slide directly into the warm, tropical waters.

Fiji's South Sea Sailing launched its new Ocean Voyager Saber catamaran in December, custom-built for day trips.  Photo / Provided
Fiji’s South Sea Sailing launched its new Ocean Voyager Saber catamaran in December, custom-built for day trips. Photo / Provided

We anchor just off the island of Malololailai in the Mamanucas, where at low tide a sandbank is revealed in the middle of the ocean, like an inverted oasis. The crew set up colorful deckchairs so we could relax a bit on dry land before swimming back to the boat. But we were more content enjoying the shallow waters, drinking ice cold cans of Fiji Gold, enthused by the joy we have of returning from international travels.

The weather turned crazy as we made our way back to Denarau, with warm tropical rain showers and thundering skies. There was no weakening of our spirits however. The world is open again and we were delighted to be back there.

FIJI DETAILS

Fiji Airways currently operates four flights a week from Auckland, with daily flights scheduled to launch from April 14. fijiairways.com

For more things to see and do when you get there, see fiji.travel

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