We could hear the singing before our ferry stopped. We were disembarking from the larger craft that had taken us from Fiji’s capital of Nadi to the Mamanuca Island group in the north. Removing our shoes, we climbed into a small wooden boat that would take us the short distance to shore — toward the music. A small party of singers and a guitarist were standing on the beach, welcoming us with a song and shouts of “Bula!,” the traditional Fijian greeting.
We had arrived at Castaway Island, Fiji Resort, part of Outrigger Hotels & Resorts. My 17-year-old son asked if he needed to put his shoes back on once we had passed through the shallow water to shore. He smiled widely when I said that I didn’t think so. Sure enough, the next five days were the most barefoot and free my family has ever been.
For years, the tropical islands of Fiji — and there are 333 to choose from — have lived large in my dreams as an exotic, faraway place, to be reached on an eventual “someday” trip. Fiji’s remoteness is part of the appeal for adventurous family travelers seeking a unique and vibrant culture in a beautiful South Pacific landscape.
We discovered that Fiji is an ideal family vacation spot for a number of reasons.
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First, the islands’ welcoming culture is centered on the bula spirit. Similar to the Hawaiian “aloha,” bula has more than one meaning. It’s a wish of welcome, joy, good health and life. You can’t help but smile and be happy when you say the word.
Also, Fijians love children and often have large families themselves. Many resorts in this region have extensive kids’ clubs that cater to children of all ages, from babies to teenagers.
Nannies take care of the wee ones, while Club Leaders (often local young people) organize age-appropriate activities for kids and teens like my son. These can involve games and sports, pool and beach play and traditional cultural experiences such as spear throwing, coconut husking, visits to neighboring villages and kava tasting (a slightly peppery traditional drink).
Our family’s stay at Castaway Island offered all these activities in a small, boutique-like resort setting. We found the property to be an idyllic private-island getaway. The island comprises just 174 acres, and it’s covered in tropical rainforest and surrounded by pure white-sand beaches. The ocean here is clear and warm, and beneath the waves, healthy coral reefs teem with marine life.
There are only 60 bures (cabins) on the island, so the resort feels intimate and easy to navigate. Each freestanding bure has been modeled in traditional Fijian style, with thatched roofs and vaulted ceilings. There are no telephones or televisions, but the cabins do have air-conditioning.
Our son reveled in the total freedom we enjoyed on Castaway Island — roaming free on the property and meeting new friends at the pool and beach. While my husband and I relaxed in hammocks, my son learned how to sail with a resort instructor. As a family, we kayaked and snorkeled through reefs, spending all day in and around the ocean.
Most of the water activities are complimentary, and kids as young as 10 can take a scuba diving certification course (for an extra fee) before heading out for dives in deeper waters. My son and husband took an introductory scuba course and began a new love affair with the ocean.
After the day’s activities, we reconnected over dinner in the open-air Waters Edge Restaurant and watched an orange sunset bloom on the endless horizon.
(Pro tip: Let your clients know that if they sign up for Castaway Island’s daily meal plan, all buffet meals and a la carte selections are included. Plus, kids under 3 eat free.)
When it was time to leave, we overheard a guest inquiring about a stay the following year. He had barely finished his holiday and was already booking a return visit. I understood the feeling. Having found this footloose paradise, the draw to return was strong. The bula spirit of these tropical islands will remain with you long after your trip has faded into a dreamy memory.
As my son said as we waved goodbye to the island: Shoes are overrated.
Castaway Island, Fiji Resort