Secret Fijian paradise
“MA'AM, can you please turn over and lie on your back.''
The words whispered by massage therapist Frances mingled with the gentle whooshing of the waves and the swaying palm fronds as the breeze picked up outside the day spa bure.
Despite the rubbing, pulling, tweaking and ironing out of skin, muscle and tired bones in this touching ritual, I had drifted off to sleep.
Now I was rejoining my body after seemingly floating face down above the massage table but I still needed a moment or two to comprehend who the bare feet and ankle bracelet I could see belonged to.
Thankfully, I was less than mid-way through my Island Journey – a 75-minute ($FJ155 or about $A83) indulgence that combines a relaxing massage with a mini-facial using Pure Fiji massage oils and hot stones.
Less than half-an-hour after checking in for two nights at Toberua Island Resort – only a 20-minute bus and 20-minute boat ride from Fiji's capital, Suva – I was breathing in the sweet day-spa aromas and being loosened up by Frances's strong hands moving across my body over a fresh white towel.
I certainly needed this downtime to recover from seven days of snorkelling, dancing and walking on an adventure-packed cruising holiday, not to mention the desire to replenish my dehydrated skin and quickly get over a hangover.
My back, neck and shoulders were delicately brushed with oils and kneaded before being awakened with hot stones, soothed with a wet, warm towel and dried. The routine was repeated for each leg and arm before rolling over.
The mini-facial added the final zing to the decadent process.
When Frances uttered the words, “Ma'am, you're done”, I took a final few minutes to regroup and redress.
I left with the vision of her shy smile and a grateful “Vinaka” (thank you) trailing behind me.
This was indeed the icing on my Fijian cake.
Although privately owned Toberua Island Resort opened 42 years ago, it may well be Fiji's best-kept secret.
The 1.6ha tropical beauty is in the Lomaiviti Group off the eastern side of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu.
The World Resorts of Distinction property has managed to keep pace with modern luxuries and creature comforts while maintaining an authentic Fijian style.
It is exclusive in the sense that it caters for a maximum of 45 guests in 15 recently refurbished traditional bures, but that does not mean a couple of nights' stay or even a week with your own private party is out of the question in affordability for most Fiji holidaymakers.
Toberua is now what I see when I close my eyes and think of a colourful tropical island paradise where relaxation is paramount, fresh food is celebrated, friendliness is on tap, and life is good.
Island resorts rarely deliver the picture-postcard images and holiday-package promises of the travel brochures. This one does.
We had barely been here an hour before our thoughts turned to how a South American volcanic ash cloud and subsequent cancelled plane flights might conspire favourably to keep us in this
nirvana a little longer than planned.
We would be more than content to spend the first few days doing absolutely nothing before contemplating the myriad activities and trips available.
But alas, that wasn't to be. So we packed in as many activities as we could while still maintaining a relaxed pace.
One sailed a hobie cat into the sunset, and two others kayaked around the island. Three hapless anglers managed to catch a rainbow trout (and a piece of coral) on a handline in a long boat under the watchful eye of a boobie bird and with a magnificent island vista.
We played volleyball and table tennis, and tried our hand not only at path-putting nine holes around the resort, but also nine holes of reef golf on artist Ken Done's inspired outline at low tide.
We lazed by the pool, bought souvenirs in the resort shop, chatted with other couples during pre-dinner cocktails in the bar and watched a coconut show and basket-weaving demonstration.
We even contemplated night snorkelling on surrounding reefs with dive torches but called drinks instead when the conditions turned windy and overcast. The well-equipped gym received only a passing glance.
Those staying more than a few days can take advantage of many more trips and cultural activities:
See grey-crested terns, reef herons and fruit bats and learn about local legends on Bird Island
Catch mahi mahi, yellow fin tuna, giant trevally, dog-tooth tuna, wahoo, walu, coral trout and barracuda on a fishing charter
Pass Moturiki Island and land at Levuka – the former Fijian capital – on Ovalau Island, Fiji's fifth-largest island
Stop at Mission House and wind your way through the largest mangroves in Fiji, learning about culture and history
Visit Suva on a day trip or learn more about village life and where many of the staff come from in Dromuna or Vatani village
Take advantage of the various PADI dive courses available through Toberua Divers
Spend a day in the sun on the sands of Nasautabu (Picnic Island)
If romance is in the air, close your eyes and picture swinging in the love seat or double hammock with your loved one, gazing out through the coconut palms to the incoming tide on your own private beach (just don't get so carried away in the moment that you miss the canoe drum calling you to a delectable lunch).
Or perhaps your idea of love in the tropics is sipping a Blue Lagoon cocktail while being serenaded by a Fijian guitar trio, followed by dinner for two under a full moon.
I don't need an Eat Pray Love ashram to reinvigorate me.
I simply need to meditate about more Toberua time.
TOBERUA ISLAND RESORT
Toberua Island Resort offers luxury accommodation at affordable prices ranging from $A300 to $462 per bure per night. Toberua is currently offering groups of 30 people the opportunity to hire the whole island for only $6000 per night, based on a five-night stay with kids under-12 free. Visit Toberua.
Pacific Sun operates services from Nadi to Suva up to six times daily by ATR42 (42 seater). Fares start from FJ$65 (approx $A35) one way. For more information, visit Air Pacific.