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Special Family Holiday at the Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji

ANGELA SAURINE takes her son on his first overseas trip to Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji

Angela and Oliver enjoying their first Fijian sunset together at Takali restaurant at Shangri La Yanuca Island Fiji
Angela and Oliver enjoying their first Fijian sunset together at Takali restaurant at Shangri La Yanuca Island Fiji

As we walk hand-in-hand through the arrivals hall at Nadi International Airport, I bend down towards my bleary-eyed son and speak softly in his ear. “We’re here darling. You’re in another country. Wait till you see how different it is”. After clearing immigration, we are welcomed by a woman with a frangipani behind her ear at the Rosie Holidays tour desk. “Bula,” she says, as she places shell necklaces around our necks, resulting in a big smile from my four-year-old. “Can I keep it?” he asks me, wide eyed.

Oliver with a Shangri La Yanuca Island staff member on arrival at the Fiji resort
Oliver with a Shangri La Yanuca Island staff member on arrival at the Fiji resort

Soon we are on a bus rattling over potholed roads, as a soft apricot sky emerges from behind the craggy green hills on the horizon. “Look at that grass, it’s very long,” Oliver says, pointing towards sugarcane growing alongside the highway. “And look at the trees,” he says, as we pass banana tree plantations. “Whoa! Let’s go there,” he cries, spotting a colourful Hindu temple. Then there’s the inevitable. “Digger!”, motioning towards a yellow bulldozer. We continue past roadside stalls surrounded by bougainvillea trees with pink flowers. Despite little sleep, it’s the most alive I’ve felt in ages. “This is what I have missed about travel,” I think.

My fear of a jet lagged baby combined with two years of border closures during the COVID-19 pandemic meant this was Oliver’s first overseas holiday. I was 18 the first time I set foot in a foreign land, and part of me wonders if he will appreciate it. But another part knows it will help give him a greater understanding of the world at a much younger age. I am excited to share my passion for travel with him, and I know this is a moment we will never have again.

We stayed at the well-situated luxury Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji (also known as the Fijian Shangri La)

An aerial view of Shangri La Yanuca Island Fiji
An aerial view of Shangri La Yanuca Island Fiji

On previous trips to Fiji, I’ve stayed at boutique resorts on outer islands and cruised to places only usually visited by sailors. This time I’m content to stay on the “main island”, Viti Levu, to give Oliver a taste of another culture without pushing him too far. It takes around an hour to get to our hotel, Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji. Upon arrival, we are handed a coconut drink, which Oliver enthusiastically devours. “It tastes like milk!” he cries.

After catching up on some sleep after our overnight flight, we head to lunch at the resort’s Beach Bar & Grill and nab a table beside a perfectly positioned palm tree hanging over the shallow turquoise lagoon. “It’s like the Bluey palm tree,” Oliver muses, referring to the garden of our favourite ABC Kids family. We watch dragonflies flitting about, fishing boats pass, other resort guests tubing and stand-up paddle-boarding, and kids playing on the inflatable water park (which Oliver is too young to enjoy on this occasion). Seeing waves crashing in the distance brings back memories of one of my favourite movies from my adolescence, The Blue Lagoon.

Oliver in his happy place the lagoon pool at Shangri La Yanuca Island Fiji
Oliver in his happy place the lagoon pool at Shangri La Yanuca Island Fiji

After a swim in the pool, we wander to the Little Chief’s Club to check out the playground. Oliver doesn’t want to leave, so I sign him in to kids’ club while I go and get ready for dinner. I’m pleasantly surprised you don’t have to book in advance. Even at a resort that is part of a luxury global chain, the laidback Fiji vibe prevails. “The more kids the merrier,” I’m told. I’m also delighted to discover cleaning staff use brooms made of coconut palm leaves, and I love the little touches at the resort, including the volcanic rock, sculptures carved from bala bala (tree ferns) dotted throughout, and the kids’ sized toilet and basin in the amenities block by the pool.

We catch our first Fijian sunset from the terrace of Takali Asian Kitchen at the resort. Oliver’s meal of noodles, vegetables and fruit is served on a bento box-style plate, while my prawn curry is the best meal I’ve had in recent memory.

We went on a Fijian village trip with Sigatoka River Safari to visit authentic Fijian villages and enjoy a traditional 'kaiviti' day

Oliver having his life jacket fitted for the Sigatoka River Safari in Fiji
Oliver having his life jacket fitted for the Sigatoka River Safari in Fiji

The next morning, we’re up early for the Sigatoka River Safari, which includes a jet boat ride down the Sigatoka River to visit a Fijian village. Along the way we wave at kids swimming and bathing and riding horses along the banks, women washing clothes, and men fishing. At one point, we stop to say hello to a man holding up his catch of eels tied to a stick. It’s a bit of a walk from the jetty to Koroua village, but one of the company’s staffers happily hoists Oliver onto her shoulders and carries him. He pulls her curly black playfully as we meander up the dirt path.

A happy Oliver being carried by a staff member from Sigatoka River Safari on the Fiji tour
A happy Oliver being carried by a staff member from Sigatoka River Safari on the Fiji tour

To spread the love around, the company visits 17 different villages along the river. They are all farming comminities, cultivating produce such as tapioca, taro and sweet potato, which they sell at Saturday morning markets. Our ticket into the village is the root of the kava plant, which is given to the chief as a gift and used to make the sedative drink used in rituals. The oldest man on our tour, who is 72, is elected our chief and given the honour. We are asked to remove our hats before entering, and women must wear a sarong we are provided. 

After a tour of the village, in which chickens roam freely, we take part in a kava ceremony. Several people turn around and laugh when Oliver chimes in with a loud and enthusiastic “bula!” We enjoy a delicious traditional feast laid out on tablecloths on the floor, including fried taro leaf fritters, chicken, pork, rice, roti, bananas and pineapple.

Enjoying some of the countless family-friendly activities at Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji

Poolside entertainment at Shangri La Yanuca Island Fiji

Back at the resort, we spend most of our days frolicking in the shallow end of the pool. I invest in some dive sticks from one of the resort boutiques, and Oliver quickly makes friends with other kids in the pool, while I get chatting to their parents. Songs such as The Gambler and Islands in the Stream ring out from the speakers and there are intermittent activities, including “sun dances” where everyone boogies to baby shark and the chicken dance, crab races on the nearby lawn, and rambunctious poolside drum and dance performances by Fijian warriors. It’s a good advertisement for their twice-weekly sacred flame show and lovo feast at Marau Village, within the resort grounds. My arm is easily twisted, and we head along to a performance that night. The first part involves a love story, and Oliver isn’t overly interested. He escapes and spends the time running around a pole playing hide and seek with a young waiter instead, until he laughs loudly and I have to put an end to the fun. Luckily by then it’s time for the fire dancing spectacular, and he sits in my lap watching mesmerised.

Building a fish house with the Marine Education Centre

Oliver and Moses building a fish house at Shangri La Yanuca Island Fiji
Oliver and Moses building a fish house at Shangri La Yanuca Island Fiji

While Oliver would happily spend all day in the pool, I try to entice him out to do at least one activity a day. One day we join Moses from the resort’s Marine Education Centre to build a fish house, which are placed in the lagoon to help create ecological corridors for marine life. First, we collect shells on the beach while Moses mixes cement. Next, we put the coral together to build the fish house, leaving gaps for windows. “It’s like building with LEGO – if it works it’s meant to go there,” Moses instructs. Oliver isn’t keen to don gloves for the cement, but he eagerly joins in when it comes time to decorate it with shells  and sprinkle sand on it to create a rough surface for coral to attach. It takes three days to dry, so on our last day we join Moses on a kayak tour around the island on which the resort lies to launch it. Moses, who has a degree in marine science from the University of the South Pacific in Suva, appears in the Fiji Airways inflight safety video planting mangroves at the resort, which he points out to us. Oliver trails his hand in the water and makes happy babbling sounds, so I figure he’s enjoying the experience. He loves spotting stripey black and white fish and blue starfish in the crystal-clear water before we place our fish house in the shallows near a few others. With coral reefs in the area in distress from climate change, it’s nice to know we are doing our small bit to help. It’s definitely the highlight of the week for me. Oliver’s highlight? Besides the pool, it’s a toss-up between playing with the puzzle and stickers from the Fiji Airways kids’ activity pack he is given on the flight over, and receiving a badge for completing the fish house. You win some, you lose some.

Fish houses being launched at Shangri La Yanuca Island Fiji
Fish houses being launched at Shangri La Yanuca Island Fiji

More information

Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji has a range of accommodation options, from studio rooms to luxury bures. Visit shangri-la.com/fiji

MyFiji offers great package deals, including flights, accommodation and meals. Visit myfiji.com

The writer travelled with assistance from Shangri-La Yanuca Island, Fiji; Fiji Tourism and MyFiji.

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