As breakfast conversations go, telling your kids they’re going to be “stranded” on a desert island is excellent fun.
“What, like Tom Hanks in Castaway?” says the eight-year-old, eyes widening.
“Are you coming with us?” asks the five-year-old, clearly more trepidatious about being left in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with her sister and an old ball she plans to call Wilson.
Reassured that this is not some Survivor-style test and that, yes, the family is coming, she promptly equips herself with what’s important – a sunhat, a snack and her teddy. “In case we have to stay overnight,” she explains earnestly.
We’re staying at the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort on Fiji’s second-largest island, Vanua Levu, just an hour’s flight from Nadi. It’s lush, private and blissful so really there’s no need to escape but who can resist the lure of your own island for the day?
The kitchen makes us a delicious picnic lunch of chicken, salad, bread and fruit and then we’re off puttering across the ocean for a taste of Robinson Crusoe. Our captain drops us off at Navivia Island and promises to be back at 4pm.
The eight-year-old, all bravado an hour earlier, looks slightly worried: “You won’t forget, will you?”
Traditional bures strung like pearls
It’s amazing how you can occupy yourself on your own palm-fringed island. We raced hermit crabs, played boules with coconuts, snorkelled out to 'hole rock', where we found starfish and angel fish, then had an afternoon siesta.
Not for the first time I appreciated what makes Fiji unique as a holiday destination with kids: ease, happiness and a springboard for your imagination.
A couple of years earlier, our first taste of Fiji had been a holiday to Castaway Island, long-recognised as the gold-medal escape for busy parents.
Traditionally thatched bures are strung like pearls around the island and from the first cocktail on arrival you can feel that this is a place that lives up to its motto: check in as a guest and leave as family.
We chose the slightly cheaper island bure – the beachfront and ocean-view are more expensive – but as it was we were only 30 metres from the idyllic turquoise bay.
The conundrum for many working parents is how to have a break from the twin pressures of career and parenting yet also spend some fun time with your kids. That’s what makes Fiji so special.
I’ve never met a race of people who so genuinely love children; who encircle them with their warmth and gentle humour in such a way that whether your kids are with you or their Fijian nanny you know they’re happy and cared for.
Check out Fiji's kids clubs. Fiji’s Best Kids’ Clubs
Small things matter in Fiji. Paradise In Fiji – It’s The Little Things
Parents are just there to pay the bill
In essence, Fiji is a playground for kids and you, as their parents, are simply there to pay the bill.
At Castaway’s Kid’s Club the focus is on simple, outdoor activities. Kids craft boats out of coconut rusks, play 'duck duck goose' on the beach and enjoy swimming races and playing in the new family pool with its custom-built 'waterfall'.
Next door the Nuku Marau Grill serves great family-friendly food. Kids aged 10 and over can learn to dive and try windsurfing, kayaking and parasailing.
As parents, taking time out to read, snorkel or laze by the new 'quiet' swimming pool with jacuzzi and swim-up bar is so re-energising that you really enjoy playing with your kids.
We had enormous fun turning a paper map of the island into a secret treasure hunt for our daughter, who spent an hour wearing herself out as she ran from clue to clue, finally unearthing a little treasure box we’d buried in the sand.
Whether you’re staying on the mainland at the Fiji Beach Resort and Spa, the Outrigger on the Lagoon, the Radisson BLU, the Sheraton Denarau or one of the island resorts – among them Malolo, Mana, Castaway or the Shangri-La – the focus is the same: happy kids, happy parents.
At Jean-Michel Cousteau, still our favourite Fiji experience, it doesn’t feel like it’s 'something for everyone' but 'everything for everyone'. While we grown-ups snorkelled above stingrays and sharks, our kids were learning about the island’s native environment.
She came home wanting to be a marine biologist
While we went for massages, the kids learned coconut-leaf weaving. And while we sipped afternoon tea – and perhaps the odd harder beverage – by the pool, they were playing basketball.
Together we all went on an excursion to a local village and market, which gives kids a better understanding of where their wonderful carers go home to at night.
As a special treat, our eldest learned to scuba dive in the swimming pool and then came on a night snorkel, where she saw puffer fish and the most extraordinary bio-luminescence.
She came home wanting to be a marine biologist, while I came home with a recipe for lime and lemongrass sorbet, a delicious palate cleanser served with every meal.
So have I tried to make it? Of course not. To do so would risk ruining the memories of the best holiday of our lives.
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