Fiji is famous for its idyllic tropical islands, but the most swoon-worthy tend to be quite a hike from Viti Levu. Now you can experience luxurious island life on an easy day trip from the resort town of Denaru. Alexia Santamaria discovers Malamala.
I have to laugh at myself for taking sea sickness tablets – the boat to Malamala Island could not be sturdier, nor the water more glassily calm as we embark on our brief 25-minute ride from Port Denarau. I’m trying to regulate my excitement as I’m aware of the power of Photoshop and am pretty sure this place can’t look as good in real life as in the marketing material. But as we pull in towards the long pier (no tenders – yippee!) I realise that in this case the hype is justified. You can see the smiles ripple through the crowd as people catch their first glimpse of what looks like a movie set, the classic cluster of palm trees gently waving atop white sands and water as clear as the tropical islands of their wildest dreams.
Malamala Island Beach Club has only roared into life as a destination in the past year. Until then, there wasn’t a lot happening on this sleepy island. Now it’s a magnificent day trip destination – the world’s first island beach club. You can’t stay the night unless you hide from the staff in the bushes, which I’m contemplating as soon as I arrive.
Mataqali Naobeka are the traditional landowners of Malamala Island. It was part of their fishing ground and this clan has always viewed the island as a place of healing, especially for drimi (a type of skin ailment). People with drimi would be taken there, and after four nights of using traditional medicine – mainly derived from plants grown there – they would very often be cured. The Mataqali Naobeka believe these powers live on, and that those who visit will return blessed or healed. I certainly feel blessed to be there, and instantly healed of any vague New Zealand winter malaise the moment I step off the boat. It’s all slightly surreal; the pier is full of people frozen in their tracks, jaws on the ground at the sight of the postcard-perfect sand and sea.
I’m shown to my cabana. These simple but clever structures have been built to give people a degree of privacy, and you have a ‘mobile phone’ to call for drinks and food if you don’t want to go up to the restaurant. As I sit on my day bed and look out to the deserted piece of beach in front of me I’m really struggling to believe I’m only three hours from home, and not somewhere way more exotic like the Maldives.
That exotic faraway feeling continues when I finally drag myself away from my book to check out the restaurant. On my way I pass the stunning infinity pool, umbrellas, beach loungers and bean bags cleverly dotted around various areas, giving endless options for parking your backside and soaking up the sun.
The food is great. Chef Lance Seeto is a bit of a celebrity in the Pacific and is a food writer, author and television presenter when he’s not overseeing the kitchen at Malamala. I find myself devouring beautifully presented kokoda (the Fijian version of ceviche) and yellowfin tuna poke with avocado, bonito flakes, seasoned seaweed, steamed rice and nori granola. It’s even served with dry ice for dramatic effect – fancy! I also have a taste of the coconut crumbed prawns and Mochiko fried chicken and deeply regret not having room for the locals’ favourite, goat curry pie – a nod to Fiji’s unique Indian-influenced cuisine.
It would be rude not to wash it down with one of their famous cocktails, and I’m very pleased with my choice of the Drunken Coconut made with Fiji Coconut vodka, fresh coconut water, lime, watermelon, basil and syrup. The Naked Lady with gin, ginger beer, lychee, lemon and butterfly pea flower tincture looks pretty damn amazing too. Maybe later.
Returning to the cabana, my book is an alluring prospect. But I’m keen to get on (or in) that gorgeous turquoise water. The use of stand up paddle boards, kayaks and snorkel gear are all included in the day cost (the cabana hire is extra) and I choose to snorkel around the end of the pier, eventually swimming back to the beach near my spot. I see plenty of fish and starfish, and feel like emails, deadlines and daily drudgery are a foreign concept, no longer applicable to my life.
Eventually, it’s time to take that big boat back and I’m not the only one who looks less than impressed at the prospect. Malamala Island is a beautiful place with friendly staff, and the mix of locals and tourists all equally mesmerised by its magic makes the experience even better. Whether the waters are healing or not, I don’t know. But I definitely feel like the world is a better, happier place after spending some time in this little piece of paradise.