It’s an island nation with a rich history that provides hundreds of escape opportunities; a diversity of leisure activities and accommodations and food to suit every budget. The Republic of Fiji also has some magnificent golf courses.
As my driver turns right off the Queens Highway, a short forty-five minute drive from Nadi International Airport on the island of Viti Levu, we ascend to the summit of our last savanna-covered gradient and I witness the regal turquoise waters of the Coral Coast’s Natadola Bay.
Crescents of secluded white sand beaches protected by a coral reef that embraces the shore, this sheltered piece of paradise was the final resting site of recently discovered 3000-year-old skeletal remains -- perhaps Fiji’s first tourists to the historic site of Bourewa.
My destination, situated in close proximity to this historic landmark, is the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort and Spa which will be my home for the next few days. My personal and friendly golf cart driver greets me at reception and I am provided with an informative tour of the property.
The InterContinental is considered one of the South Pacific's premiere resorts. Thirty-five acres of lush vegetation located on the ‘world’s best beach’, it boasts four swimming pools, walking paths, a putting green and five restaurants to suit every palette and mood -- from casual to romantic.
THE SPA. My driver, Jason, ascends the mount that overlooks the property on our way to the exclusive Club InterContinental, ‘a resort within a resort’. As we arrive at the foyer, the concierge offers me a refreshing beverage and an introduction to the guest benefits. The reception’s central area features private open air dining, including a relaxation zone with comfortable sectionals overlooking the infinity pool and the ever present expanse of the ocean waters.
That afternoon, following my long flight, I had the pleasure of enjoying the resort's beautiful spa and tension-relieving Domo massage before luxuriating with some Wai water therapy -- a cascade of warm tropical rain enveloping my jet lagged body, accompanied by the melodic sounds of song birds.
EXOTIC GOLF. My first day of golf and I am excited to experience and play Natadola Bay Championship Golf Club, a short shuttle drive away. The course was the recent host of Fiji’s first sanctioned PGA Tour event: The Fiji International Golf Tournament.
Opened in 2009, this 7,200-yard layout was imagined by a few visionaries, including Golf Hall of Famer and Fijian, Vijay Singh, who shared a belief that this location, with its topographical variants, lush savanna vegetation, multi-coloured florae and ocean vistas, would provide the perfect canvas to create a golfing masterpiece and showcase the islands as an exotic golf destination.
As I teed up on the 454-yard par four first hole on this beautifully warm day, a panoramic view of Natadola Bay was my vista. Sixteen of the eighteen holes have a backdrop of translucent waters and five tee positions create an enjoyable golfing experience for all abilities.
The fairways, which appeared very narrow, were actually accepting of many wayward shots and the pervading ocean breeze and strategically positioned bunkers proved to be a challenge as a few errant balls found their way into the lush four-foot grasses, creating the occasional extra stroke for my playing partners and I.
THE FLAGSHIP. Following the round with my compatriots, 6’5” Costa, a native of Fiji, and 5’3” Rene from Australia (I am sure you are smiling at the image of our group photo as I stand 5’9”), we enjoyed a Fiji Beer at the local clubhouse and reminisced on our wonderful round of innovative shot making and new friendships.
Natadola Bay is truly a memorable experience for all those fortunate enough to play this championship design and it is the flagship and foundation in the redevelopment of golf in Fiji.
Returning to my suite, I was welcomed to a warm, relaxing soaker tub on the patio that had been prepared for me. Seeded with brilliant crimson hibiscus petals atop the snowy white bubbles of the bath salts, it was a symphony of colours with the surrounding azure ocean and lush green vegetation. My chilled glass of a New Zealand Oyster Bay chardonnay accompanied this moment perfectly.
RESTAURANT NAVO. My day ended with dinner at the elegant Navo. The restaurant is named after the sacred island of Navo, opposite the resort, where women and children were sheltered in secret caves to protect them from warring neigbours.
The multitude of stars over the lagoon and the warm evening air created the perfect atmosphere for this dining experience. The fresh, local sea fare is a specialty and my server's recommendation, the Fijian hotpot, was superb.
The global awareness that the Fiji International has received has resulted in many of the existing nine and eighteen golf courses on the islands expediting course and facility improvements. The positive exposure that has been generated from this initial event has lead to an increase in golf tourism inquiries from around the world.
GOLF & DIVING. Natadola Bay is not alone in its presentation of memorable golf experiences and I had the fortune to play the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Pearl Championship Golf Course and Country Club, at the Pearl South Pacific Fiji Resort, situated half way between the nation's capital of Suva and Nadi International Airport.
The resort is located on one of Fiji’s longest white sand beaches and is set on the shores of the turquoise waters of Beqa Lagoon. This idyllic spot is regarded as one of the world’s finest reef diving locations and the region is known as Pacific Harbour, the adventure capital of Fiji.
From surfing and shark feeding to off-road jungle tours, world-class sports fishing and championship golf, there is no lack of adventure and leisure activities at this recreational mecca.
The championship Pearl Course had experienced a period of neglect under previous ownership. However, a recent investment in the resort has renewed excitement from golfers, as the planned updating of the property will transport this eighteen hole gem back to its previous world class reputation.
TROPICAL STORM. As I teed up my ball on the par four, 399-yard first hole, the air was heavy. A tropical storm had struck the region the day prior so that my ball did not seem to go as far. The course was enjoyable and picturesque, and exemplified the standards set by Jones Jr. The lush tropical forest, serpentine water canals and sixty-six bunkers all created a unique challenge on every hole.
Fresh ceviche and a Vonu Pure Lager (the islands' most popular beer) on the clubhouse patio were a perfect way to end the day.
A short ride back towards Nadi International Airport took me to theDenarau Golf and Racquet Club, perhaps the best known of the country's courses. Located at the centre of the resort island of Denarau, it is the home course for the Oceanside five-star Sheraton Fiji Resort and the Westin Denarau Resort. The championship eighteen-hole course is managed by the respected Troon Golf and situated across from the main entrances to the hotels.
WATCH THE SHARKS. As a Par 72, the course can play as long as 7,150 yards, but with the wind blowing I teed up from the third set of tees as water comes into play on fifteen of the holes, including all of the par threes. The banana palm-lined fairways are wide and forgiving and the white sand bunkers provide some uniqueness as a few are shaped as local marine creatures. It took me three shots to get out of the shark!
The course is undergoing a transformation to bring it back to its international reputation following a few years of tropical storm damage and is another must-play.
Britain established the Colony of Fiji in 1874 and governed the territories until 1970 when the islands became an independent country. Today, this South Pacific paradise, 3000km from Australia, incorporates 322 islands (105 of which are uninhabited) and a vibrant intermingling of cultures, where East Indians, Polynesians, Chinese, Europeans and North Americans have created a vibrant and successful economy. This cultural diversity provided me with a plethora of dining choices, art and culture that I found distinct from other south sea nations.
As my week of escape came to an end, the staff of the InterContinental, in perfect harmony, sang Isa Lei -- a beautiful song of farewell to departing visitors.
On my return flight through Los Angeles on Fiji Airways' well-appointed Airbus 330, I reflected on my experiences: the land and seascapes, friendly peoples, fragrant tropical aromas and the taste of freshly boiled corn purchased from a road stand vendor. It was difficult for me to imagine that less than one hundred years ago, warring tribes used cannibalism as a way of greeting new visitors.
Enjoy the country. Enjoy the history. I know you will enjoy the golf!
Good to know
Flying to Fiji from London
The flight from England, though long, is worth the adventure and feeling of escape.
Flights to Fiji can be found at Fiji Airways: www.fijiairways.com
Partner airline connections through Los Angeles, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Sydney and Auckland
InterContinental Fiji: www.fiji.intercontinental.com
Westin Denarau Resort, Fiji: www.westindenerauisland.com
Sheraton Fiji Resort: www.sheratonfiji.com
Pearl South Pacific, Fiji: www.thepearlsouthpacific.com
Natadola Bay Championship Golf Club: www.natadolabay.com
Denarau Golf and Racquet Club: www.deneraugolf.fiji-golf.net
Other Course of Note
Shangri-La Fijian Resort is a nine hole, executive-style golf course, designed by Britain’s Peter Thompson. An enjoyable way to spend a few hours to practice your short game in a beautiful setting.
Consider a few days of at one of Fiji’s remote islands prior to your golf vacation.
Castaway Resort: A small island that features a white sand beach and the crystal blue ocean at the doorstep of your private verandah. www.castawayfiji.com
The Remote Resort Rainbow Reef:http://www.fijiresort.com.fj/
Monuriki Island: Where the movie Cast Away, with Tom Hanks, was filmed and where the HMS Bounty sailed; Captain Bligh was the first European to visit many of the islands. The sea is called “Bligh Water”. No accommodation or dining.
Casual Places to Eat in Pacific Harbour
Baka Blues Café: Good entertainment and food in a casual setting https://www.facebook.com/bakabluescafefiji
Perkins Pizza: They have more than good pizzas! https://www.facebook.com/PerkinsPizza
Island Ferry Service
South Sea Cruises: Ferry service to many Fijian islands. Good idea to reserve in advance. www.ssc.com.fj