Thursday, September 23, 2010
Thanksgiving in Paradise Part 3: Navutu Stars Resort Fiji
For the third leg of our Fiji trip, we chose to stay at Navutu Stars, a boutique resort in the Yasawa island group. The Yasawas are the driest region of Fiji, so we figured they would be a good choice in late November, the beginning of the country's rainy season. And we were right - the weather was perfect there for our entire stay!
There are a few options for getting to Navutu Stars; you can go via chartered helicopter from just about anywhere in Fiji (for the right price!), via seaplane (Turtle Airways)from Nadi airport, or via the Yasawa Flyer, a boat that leaves from the Denarau Marina and makes stops at various resorts in the Yasawa island groups. As tempting as the first 2 options sounded, we chose the third for our wallet's sake.
We booked the Captain's Lounge (the YF equivalent of business class) rather than standard seating, as the price difference was not significant and the Captain's Lounge guaranteed us indoor seating along with free drinks (water, soft drinks, beer, wine) and snacks (chips, nuts, etc.). The 4-hour ride from Denarau to Navutu Stars was very scenic, and we went outside often to take photos of resorts and islands we passed along the way.
The Yasawa Flyer does not drop passengers off right at the beach at Navutu (or at most of the other resorts it serves). Instead, it stops a few minutes away, and Navutu guests board a small resort boat which ferries them the rest of the way to the property.
When the boat pulled up on Navutu's beach, we were greeted with a beautiful welcome song from the staff members before being ushered in to the open air restaurant/lounge pavilion.
2 refreshing coconut drinks later (tip - if you don't drink your whole coconut right away, put it in the minifridge, then spike it with some rum later for a delicious tropical cocktail!) we were taken to Bure #9, a beachfront bure at the far left (right if looking at the resort from the water) end of the resort. We were really happy with the location of #9, as it was the last one on that end (aside from the spa bure) and so affords a great deal of quiet and privacy.
The bures themselves are spacious and cool, with an almost Grecian feel with their white stucco walls, rounded corners, and brightly colored cushions on the built in sofa.
The welcome "note" surrounded by a hibiscus heart was a nice touch.
My only complaint would be the lack of privacy in the bathroom - only a half-size swinging louvered wood door separates it from the bedroom.
Outside, the private decks feature a carved Balinese wood daybed with a silk cushion and star-shaped pillows.
Wooden fences covered in a profusion of native flowers and plants separate the bures and add to the feel of delicious seclusion.
There is a hammock in the trees in front of each bure, as well as two lounge chairs - no getting up early to save a lounger here!
After getting settled in our room, we headed back up to the restaurant for lunch.
We had chosen to purchase a meal plan in advance, which included a 2-course lunch (entree + appetizer or dessert) and 3 course dinner (appetizer+entree+dessert) and also covered the Lovo Feast dinner our first night. You can choose to purchase lunch and dinner a la carte as well, which may be a better value for those who don't plan to eat all 5 courses every day. Lunch is ordered off a fairly extensive unchanging menu, while the dinner menu changes nightly (choice between 2 appetizers, 4 entrees, and 2 desserts each evening).
The food at Navutu Stars was generally quite good, though not at the level of what we'd eaten at Royal Davui in terms of presentation and creativity. I was happy to see that there were more shellfish choices on the Navutu menus, though. Unlike at Royal Davui (where lunch and dinner orders are taken at breakfast), here at Navutu you just choose whatever you'd like for when you sit down for lunch, and a staff member comes to find you mid-late afternoon to take your dinner order.
Continental breakfast is included in the standard room cost, and consists of coffee/tea/fruit juice, cornflakes or granola, fresh tropical fruit, a basket of toast and still-warm muffins (mango and chocolate chip), and the most amazing banana pancakes.
You can also order eggs/omelettes, bacon, and extra juice for an additional charge.
Service at meals varied a bit, sometimes delivering our order promptly and sometimes taking longer than even "island time" generally indicates. However, the wait staff and everyone else working at the resort is absolutely lovely. Always smiling, friendly, and gracious, Navutu's staff truly personifies the famed Fijian warmth and hospitality.
We spent the rest of the afternoon exploring the property and marveling at the beauty of our surroundings. The grounds are carefully planted with local foliage, and accented here and there with giant clamshells, Buddhist statues, and other exotic touches.
A wood and palm staircase leads to a small open chapel where weddings and other events can take place overlooking the incredible water and surrounding islands.
As the sun sank low in the sky, we headed to get a drink at the classic tiki-style bar. As the room rate here is far lower than that of Royal Davui where we'd spent the first 3 nights of our trip, I was surprised to see that the drink prices were actually a bit higher, even before the 12.5% tax was added in. But the drinks were delicious, and I loved the slices of toasted coconut offered as bar snacks.
Fortified with cocktails that did not taste like mud, we headed to drink some that do, as the kava ceremony was about to start (for an explanation of kava ceremonies, see my Royal Davui review). Dirty water flavor or not, we once again swallowed quite a few cups of this traditional drink, and thoroughly enjoyed the ceremony!
A dance performance by staff members and some other Fijians from nearby villages came next. We enjoyed this for the first 30 minutes or so as they performed traditional dances, but did think that the additional 30+ minutes of moves that were apparently copied straight off of MTV may have been overkill.
We were happy and very hungry when it was finally time to enjoy the lovo, a traditional Fijian feast. To prepare for a lovo feast, a hole is dug in the ground, and the food wrapped and places inside. The top of the hole is then covered with hot coals, then palm fronds, then sand. The food cooks for hours with the earth acting as an oven, preserving and concentrating the heat.
I can't begin to remember all of the dishes offered at Navutu's lovo, but they included pork, lobster tails, veggies, taro, rice, cassava, and fish. On this evening, communal tables are set up, which I'm not a huge fan of in general, but did enjoy chatting with the guests on either side of me as we attempted to actually see what we were eating (note to Navutu - a few more candles/lanterns at this dinner would not be a bad idea!). Dessert was a couple of scoops of Navutu's delicious, almost gelato-esque (the resort's owners are Italian) homemade ice cream.
The next couple of days were spent eating, drinking, searching for brightly colored seashells and other seaside treasures...
Including this rather unusual specimen (unfortunately, I was unable to find another for a matching set). ;)
But our favorite way to spend early mornings and late afternoons was to take long walks down the beach as far we could go before rock formations halted our journey...
And just relaxing on our deck. We even made a new furry friend, Gilda (or something that sounds quite similar!)
The moonrises and sunsets were beautiful...
The beach at Navutu is stunning at high tide, though does look a bit muddy in some spots at low tide, as is the case with many beaches in Fiji (especially in the Yasawa and Mamanuca island groups).
At lowest tide, you can actually walk through the water to the island across from the resort (well, if you're tall enough!). While we did see a local man do so one morning...
...we decided to make the crossing via kayak. In our defense, it was high tide at that point!
The water off Navutu is gorgeous shades of blue and green, and fairly clear, though not quite as crystalline as we had expected.
We did not do any snorkeling in the waters here (only in the Blue Lagoon - see below), but it is supposed to be pretty good!
For those who prefer the pool, Navutu has a beautiful saltwater version right on the beach.
A 20 minute massage per person is included with every stay, and the prices for additional treatments are very reasonable. We chose to do ours as a couple's massage in the tiny spa, located in a bright pink bure at our end of the beach. We were both very pleased with the quality of our massages, and the masseuses were as delightful as the rest of the staff.
On Sundays, a local children's singing group puts on a recital in the restaurant pavilion. This was lovely and quite entertaining, and we loved getting a chance to talk with the children afterwards. The resort also accepts donations for the group (to help them travel to perform/compete around the islands, if I recall), but is not at all pushy about it; the option is simply mentioned during the check-in process, and a container sits near the check out desk for those who do wish to make a contribution.
An activity board is updated daily with the day's events and scheduled excursions, but if you want to do something not listed, the resort can usually set that up for you as well, or at least schedule it for the following day.
One of the excursions offered by Navutu is a trip to the famed Blue Lagoon (the filming location of the movie by the same name). Only 20 or so minutes away from Navutu by boat, the Blue Lagoon is definitely a must-see when in the Yasawas! The gorgeous crystal clear water barely covers incredible multi-colored coral reefs teeming with sealife, and a long stretch of white sand backed with swaying palms completes the tropical dream scene. Unfortunately, a large part of the beach is private property of Blue Lagoon cruises, and several signs more or less indicate that trespassers will be eaten (sorry, couldn't resist a cannibal joke!), so we were not able to explore as much as we'd have liked. But that really had no impact on our enjoyment of this piece of paradise!
The snorkeling here is of course incredible, if a bit tricky. Because of the limited clearance between the top of the reef and the surface of the water in many spots, you do have to be quite careful not to slice open the front of your body on coral. You also have to be careful not to almost drown when you panic because you spot a large, venomous-looking jellyfish at the exact same moment as a freakishly enormous Picasso triggerfish charges you. And by "you", I mean, "I". Seriously, I must have done something really awful to the Picasso triggerfish species in a former life*, because if there is one anywhere in the vicinity, it will come after me the second I dip a toe in the water. One actually managed to bite me in Tahaa (French Polynesia) last year, but even that did not seem to stem his brethen's bloodlust.
*It could also be karmic retribution for teasing my husband mercilessly when, on our honeymoon, he was freaked out because a Picasso was stalking him every time he tried to swim off the deck of our overwater bungalow in Bora Bora.
Turtle Island, arguably Fiji's most famous resort. One of the few true all-inclusive properties in Fiji, with all food, drinks, and activities/excursions from horseback riding to scuba to deep-sea fishing included in the room rate, it also has a truly steep price tag. For those to whom money is no object, it may make for a great experience. But to be honest, we actually thought that Navutu had a more beautiful setting, at a fraction of the cost!
Another great option for those who have not yet made their first million but still want to experience one of the most beautiful places in the world is Nanuya Island Resort. Located on the far opposite end of the beach from Blue Lagoon Cruises' area, Nanuya has the lagoon on its doorstep (sandstep?) and offers a unique and romantic experience to travelers looking for a deluxe-Robinson Crusoe-style getaway!
The other organized excursion we took from Navutu was a visit to Vuaki Village. I highly recommend this trip as well, as seeing a traditional Fijian village is a must when in the islands, and a Vuaki tour offers a very rewarding experience and understanding of modern Fijian village culture. Our knowledgeable and well-spoken guide took us all around the village, where we had a chance to see local homes, the church, graveyard, playing fields, and school that educates children from all over the Yasawas.
We also had a chance to shop for locally made souvenirs at a tiny market inside one of the community buildings, and purchased several items, including this mask.
Yeah, it's a monkey modeling a wooden mask on a beach in Fiji. You don't see that every day.
The last 2 evenings of our stay, we chose to have dinner served on the deck of our bure. Guests are welcome to take their dinner this way as often as they'd like at no extra charge - you just need to let the staff know a couple of hours in advance. They come and set up a table and chairs, then decorate the table with lanterns and beautiful just-picked tropical flowers before serving your dinner course by course. As it is not a terribly far walk between the restaurant and bures, the food always arrived at the proper temperature, and the servers were experts at gauging just the right amount of time to wait before coming back with the next course.
The last morning of our stay, we decided to hike up to one of the hills overlooking Navutu in order to get some photos from the highest point on the island. It was a bit steep and hot, and a bit tricky dodging wasps as we waded through the undergrowth, but the view from the top was worth it!
As we waited for the boat to take us out to the Yasawa Flyer early that afternoon, the staff gathered around and sang a farewell song before draping fragrant leis around our necks.
Then we slowly headed for the sea and a long journey home. The 4-hour ride back to Denarau was smooth and the time passed quickly as we chatted with some of our new Navutu friends who were also on their way home. When we arrived back at Denarau, we boarded the airport shuttle (complimentary for those traveling on the Yasawa Flyer), very glum that our Fijian adventure had come to an end...
and wished we could turn back time and start the trip all over again.
Overall, we absolutely loved Navutu Stars and thought it was an excellent value. It was one of our favorite resorts ever, and one of the most beautiful! I'd highly recommend it to anyone looking for a stunning, authentic, and laid-back but still reasonably luxurious resort in the South Pacific.