Cast away your troubles in Fiji

Castaway Island. (Supplied)

Men as loud as their shirts, children unshackling themselves from screens, flight attendants sneakily doling out an extra bottle of wine – there’s a certain exuberance to the mood aboard flights to holiday destinations.

Such is the case on the way to Fiji’s Nadi airport, where even an unwanted delay provided an opportunity for a second glance at glorious, glittering coastlines.

Invited to sample the delights of Outrigger Resorts’ Fiji operations, which are manifold. We were greeted at the resort’s entrance by a burly fellow yelling “BULA” at the top of his capacious lungs, a performance repeated about once every three minutes for the rest of our stay.

The effect was quite reassuring after a while, a thrum of life among the idyll that is Outrigger on the Lagoon.

On the main island’s Coral Coast, it’s a first-class, five-star resort sculpted to look like a traditional Fijian village.

Every room has a view, and just about every view involves birds flying past sun-kissed palm fronds and the lapis lazuli water in the reef-fringed lagoon beyond.

Our first day in Fiji, however, involved working up a bit of a sweat.

SUMMER 27 Jan Fiji HR Castaway Island exterior 2

We trundled off to the Conua School in Sigatoka Valley, where guests join the resort’s engineering team for a spot of community work – building a new bure, or community hall, for use by the school and the surrounding villages.

The outreach program is proving popular with resort guests.

Maybe it’s the appeal of a workout between cocktails, but a few hours spent painting the community hall’s windows and doors were appreciated by children and teachers alike, as were gifts of books and stationery.

That appreciation was made official in a kava ceremony. Fiji’s official drink, kava is made from the powdered root of the kava plant.

It gives a first impression of water that has had a muddy sock washed in it, but there’s a pleasant spicy flavour that accompanies the earthy overtones.

The mild narcotic effect is rather fun, too.

Day two began with an 8am yoga session. Deciding this would be a rather rude start to life in the tropics, I cheerfully arose more than two hours later, barely in time for a planned visit to a local church.

Some astonishing voices and astonishingly cute children later, we were back at the hotel for a cooking class.

Under the tutelage of multi-award-winning chefs Priya Darshani and Shailesh Naidu, we put together a meal of chilli, lime and coconut prawns; mud crab poached in coconut milk; a marvellous chicken curry; and a dessert made of banana and sago.

I gleefully texted my girlfriend pictures. She sent back a picture of her lunch, a rather forlorn-looking fried egg. I felt absolutely no regret, which worked quite well considering the next item on the agenda.

This involved being whisked up a hill to the views and pampering of the Bebe Spa Sanctuary. After more cocktails, of course.

My selection was the Cabe Massage; traditionally Fijian, it starts with a sugar scrub and mandarin oil massage administered in a room high above the ocean, and it is very, very, very relaxing.

Come the morning, after waking up to a reassuringly fearsome “BULA!”, we packed up and headed to Castaway Island. Also operated by Outrigger, Castaway is an oasis in paradise, a slice of white sand and lush vegetation rising from the Pacific.

Hotel staff greet new arrivals barefoot on the beach with song and guitar. After salivating at the surroundings, it was time to head off to Modriki Island, where Tom Hanks and Robert Zemeckis filmed Cast Away.

A spot of snorkelling and champagne was followed by a picnic on the uninhabited island; it’s enough to give even the most level-headed dreams of giving it all up and working on a tan.

Dinner was exquisite. 1808, Castaway’s finest restaurant, put on a melange of Indian, Chinese and Fijian cuisines: lemongrass tea chicken, seawater confit of pork belly, and kokoda – a Fijian staple reminiscent of gazpacho – done with a Peking duck twist.

The final day began with an optional 7am session of barefoot boxing on the beach. I cheerfully arose more than three hours later, barely in time for the breakfast buffet. More swimming, snorkelling and sandcastle-building ensued before departure, but let’s not end there. Better to go back to the night before.

Picture this. It’s evening, and we’re cruising out to sea accompanied by a selection of cheeses and a stocky gentleman crooning songs so smooth he barely winked when I spilled champagne over myself.

The sunset is a riot of pastels, and one by one we fall silent to admire it. Then we turn, sun and moon sharing the same sky, and race the dark all the way home.

Hari Raj was a guest of Outrigger Resorts Fiji