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The absurdity of jumping in the ocean immediately after having a pedicure was not lost on me. Still, I wiggled my toes frantically, willing the polish to dry so that I could catch a swim before sunset. A full itinerary had left me with just one free afternoon and, rather than having to choose between an in-room, customized spa treatment and sampling Paradise Taveuni’s world-class snorkeling, I was determined to enjoy both.Paradise, as the resort is fondly called, is a boutique resort made up of 10 Fijian bures (bungalows), located on the southwestern tip of Taveuni Island, the third-largest of the approximately 330 Fijian islands.
Taveuni is set on a massive shield volcano, and the island’s history of seismic activity has resulted in rich soil and a lush plant life that has earned it the nickname of “the Garden Island.” The volcano has also created a web of submerged lava flows, which are the home of what is considered some of the best snorkeling and diving sites around a country hailed for its diving opportunities.
Paradise, in fact, offers some of the best snorkeling sites in Fiji. Twenty different locations can be found at two neighboring reefs, as well as an amazing spot directly in front of the resort where casual snorkelers can view moray eels, blue ribbon eels, lion fish, sea anemones and plenty of soft coral.
After an hour of splashing around the reef, I became cognizant of the rapidly setting sun and the fact that I still needed to freshen up before the evening’s festivities. The resort would be presenting its traditional Fijian night including a lovo — a feast of meat and vegetables cooked underground in what is known as an “Earth oven.”
I took a final lap around the reef, before running across the resort’s manicured lawns to my bure. I’d barely finished enjoying the outdoor rain shower and deciding what to wear before Suli, the resort’s activities director, was knocking on my door, offering to help me tie my sulu (sarong) in true Fijian style.
Once he was sure I was properly dressed, Suli escorted me to dinner, which I’d already guessed would be more than just a meal — it would be a gathering of guests who had quickly become friends. As expected, the evening was equal parts amazing cuisine and happy chatter. A friend I made that night was the manager of another Fijian resort, who had selected Paradise as the site of his vacation getaway. He said that he enjoyed a lazy day on the property, while the guests on my other side eagerly recounted the dive sites they had visited that day. Another guest had gone sightseeing with Suli and was enthusing about his abilities as a guide and storyteller.
After dinner, the staff and some local villagers performed a twist on the Fijian meke (dance), combining the traditional movement with modern elements. By evening’s end, guests, villagers, staff members and even the performers’ children had all come together to perform a group dance, with much camaraderie and laughter — just the way I’d always imagined Paradise would be.