As a Fiji virgin, I was pretty sceptical the Pacific island nation could replace my love of a quick winter getaway to Bali.
Bali has almost everything you could need for a cold-weather respite: good food, great bars, luxury villas and pretty beaches. Plus, I’d been told by more than one person that Fiji has terrible food and that the all-inclusive islands can get pretty boring after a few days.
With some hesitation and a jar of peanut butter in tow (just in case), I jumped a business class flight on Fiji Airways, destined for LikuLiku Island Resort.
Likuliku is an all-inclusive, adults-only private island retreat, complete with overwater bungalows. Yep, that’s right – you don’t have to go all the way to Mauritius, or pay $7,000 a night in Tahiti, to get your luxury overwater fix.
Set in the Mamanuca Island cluster, it’s just a quick hop from Denarau via boat (try South Sea Cruises for all your connections), helicopter or seaplane. We chose a helicopter transfer with Pacific Island Air, because we’re bougie like that (and also, Instagram.) At around $700 a couple, it’s not the cheapest option but it’s certainly the most photographable.
As we buzzed over just a handful of the 300+ islands off the Fiji mainland, impossibly turquoise water below, I had my first aha moment: the beaches here really are something else.
The pilot points out a creamy sandbar, bordered by a spotted reef and surrounded by crystal water that steps down into the deep blue. He explains enthusiastically that many people get engaged here and I remember my own impromptu engagement in sweats at home on a Tuesday, with a curry bubbling on the stove.
Well then, moving on.
We descend onto Likuliku, met with a golf cart and a smiling Fijian man named Sam. He putters us around the resort explaining their conservation efforts – including reef generation that's seen their private beach deemed a marine park, and a successful Fijian Green Crested Iguana breeding program (previously thought extinct).
Most importantly for this foodie, however, we zoom over the mangroves via wooden bridges – the below teeming with mud crabs set for the table later that night.
One couple's massage overlooking the private beach later and we’re relaxed enough to take the moral gut-punch of touring the overwater bungalows that we’re not staying in… and they’re pretty breathtaking.
A bathtub overlooks the marine park via a large picture window, and a private deck steps down into crystal clear water filled with colourful fish, royal blue starfish, and giant green clams. The water isn’t as blue as the Maldives, sure - but it IS filled with some great snorkelling fodder without the cost of a day trip.
We head out later that afternoon, swimming straight off the beach from our beachfront bure, and spot an electric-blue school of tiny fish, a couple of shy leopard-spotted swimmers, and even a couple of reef sharks. A boat pulls up, full of glistening blue crayfish. How’s that for market fresh?
It’s my second aha moment about Fiji: the food actually is amazing. If you go to the right places, that is. LikuLiku delivers breakfast and two three-course meals a day from their kitchen. And it’s about as fresh as it gets. If you’re there on a Saturday, order the seared flame snapper fillet with pea puree, herb salad, bush lemon, and warm tartare butter.
The next night we walk barefoot across a wooden walkway over the gently lapping water to a sandy island bar and watch Fijian dance via firelight. I sip on a cocktail as champagne-fuelled happy couples conga-line their way back to the restaurant. I’m already planning my return.
It’s my final aha moment: the one that will see me replacing my annual Bali trip next year. When you’re talking luxury, you really do get what you pay for.
Follow Bianca’s travel journey over at @_thetravellist. Bianca was hosted at Likuliku Lagoon Resort, Pacific Island Cruises, and Pacific Air.