Guests can opt to spend the night in a treehouse at Matangi Private Island Resort. // © 2016 Matangi Private Island Resort
Feature image (above): Qamea Resort and Spa Fiji is located on a beach. // © 2016 Qamea Resort and Spa Fiji
If you look at a map of Fiji, the journey to the South Pacific nation’s small, northeastern islands of Qamea and Matangi may appear like quite an undertaking. In fact, just locating the two tropical destinations on that map might require a little guidance from a Fiji expert.
During my first visit to Fiji earlier this year, however, I was pleasantly surprised by the half-day trip from the country’s international airport in Nadi to the soft, sandy shoreline fronting Qamea Resort and Spa Fiji. Yes, there was an 80-minute flight involved, followed by time driving out to a small waterfront landing and then a scenic speedboat trip between islands, but all the travel went smoothly, and the payoff was terrific.
Visiting as part of a Tourism Fiji media trip, I had the chance to stay one night each at Qamea Resort and Spa as well as Matangi Private Island Resort, two beautiful properties separated only by about a 15- to 20-minute boat ride. Each offers an array of amenities well-suited to U.S. travelers considering an escape to a remote South Pacific paradise, including some fabulous opportunities for scuba diving and snorkeling, but there are certainly differences.
Home to 17 individual “bures,” or bungalows, ranging in size from 650 square feet to more than 1,600 square feet, Qamea Resort is larger and featured a bit livelier atmosphere during my stay, particularly around mealtimes. The lovely, thatched-roof Beachfront Bure room category I slept in is the resort’s introductory option; it features an outdoor shower space, and each unit sits just a matter of yards from a sandy white beach and the warm Pacific.
“The resort itself has really been set up with a view to luxury and to privacy,” said Leah Sindel, who manages the property along with Chris Hamilton. “All the rooms have a private deck facing the sea, and our bures are, for the most part, staggered and at angles so that you can sit on the balcony of your room and feel like you are the only person on the island.”
Another of Qamea Resort’s highlights is its Jungle Spa, a collection of open-air treatment rooms perched on a hill in the rainforest. The venue offers guests a collection of treatments, but you can’t go wrong with a massage while listening to forest birds and the sounds of the ocean.
Surfers will be pleased that Qamea Resort has partnered with Tropicsurf, a luxury surfing company offering experiences at a range of global locations. That means there’s a dedicated surf shack loaded with quality surfboards and a chance for Qamea guests of all skill levels to ride waves from November to April. During my stay, in fact, another journalist and I enjoyed an incredible session at a right-breaking wave called Maqai, which was just a 15-minute boat ride away; it was absolutely deserted when we arrived and turned out some beautiful waist- and shoulder-high waves.
The following night at the family-owned-and-operated Matangi resort felt much more low-key. Not only is it on a far smaller island than Qamea, but the property has a maximum capacity of just 12 couples, and I don’t think we were anywhere near that total during my visit.
From a room standpoint, the accommodations are first-rate: The property offers guests either thatched-roof beachfront or oceanview bures as well as an elevated treehouse option, which has been featured on the Travel Channel.
“The treehouses are surrounded by tropical foliage and have a large deck area with a daybed and Jacuzzi,” said Christene Douglas, director of sales and marketing for Matangi Private Island Resort. “Our treehouses offer the most privacy of all our accommodations and are popular with our honeymooning clients.”
Also home to a terrific spa, the Matangi resort is just a short boat trip from the island’s famed Horseshoe Bay, which Douglas describes as “a volcanic tuff cone with the most beautiful turquoise waters.”
Steep cliffs between the bay and the rest of the island make it impossible to hike into, according to Douglas, creating a natural wonder free of any walking-trail access.
“The bay has a very healthy marine life with superb snorkeling, especially on the coral reef areas at the entrance of the bay,” she said. “As the bay is protected from our prevailing southeast trade winds, the water in the bay is almost always flat calm.”
During my snorkeling excursion there, I was blown away by the coral reef’s gorgeous gathering of colors. I spotted all sorts of bright yellow tangs, a surprisingly large clown fish and many parrot fish. Our group even got a glimpse of a shy, whitetip reef shark.
For a fee, Matangi guests can arrange a picnic and spend the day at Horseshoe Bay in the property’s picnic bure, which features a bathroom with a toilet, shower facilities and a large deck with a hanging bed and sun lounges. Along with snorkeling, folks can also enjoy kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding here.
Both Qamea Resort and Matangi offer guests fantastic food, incredibly kind and friendly staff members and a range of terrific cultural experiences — including the chance to sample “kava,” a traditional Fijian drink.
Children younger than 13 aren’t allowed at Qamea Resort; at the Matangi property, guests must be 16 or older. Both hotels offer varied meal packages, but rates start at $540 per night for Qamea Resort’s introductory-class bures, while pricing for Matangi starts at $430 per night.
One furry difference between the two resorts is a pig named Winston, who was rescued by the folks at Matangi after last winter’s devastating Cyclone Winston. During my visit, the little knee-high fellow was quite friendly and fond of belly rubs from visitors.
“He is now a very big boy and lives in our yard of our private residence,” Douglas said. “He is very tame, loves people and especially loves being scratched on the back of his ears.”