This past weekend I was in the mood for a fun-filled, seaside adventure. So, I headed towards Suva to check out the highly-recommended Natadola Beach, located adjacent to the town of Sigatoka on Viti Levu’s stunning Coral Coast. To get down there from Lautoka, I was given a slew of very specific directions:
Hop on a van to the Nadi bus station, then get on a bus to Suva; be sure to tell the driver you’re going to Natadola Beach only, which is the first stop, NOT all the way to Suva; you ought to sit near the front of the bus to make certain you don’t miss it. Then, once you’re there, hail a taxi to drive you the 8 kilometers over to the beach; ENSURE YOU DON’T PAY MORE THAN $8; the cabbies will do their absolute best to rip you off…
Groggy and still recovering from an asperous sinus infection, I made a number of key mistakes.
Luckily, these mistakes, some albeit arguably expensive, turned my otherwise lame morning into a wonderfully delightful afternoon.
First, rather than smartly opting for an express van to Nadi, I took what I’m fairly confident is the slowest bus on the entire island – prior to this, I was under the false presumption that the Fijian open-air ‘party buses’ blasting reggae music drive notably faster, simply because of the thumping bass and lights flashing in rhythm. This ‘party bus’ deceived me, creeping along the road so slow I realized 50 minutes into what should have been a 35-minute drive I probably could have jogged to Nadi faster.
I didn’t arrive at the Nadi bus station until almost noon, which irked me tremendously, considering I’d left the house in Lautoka just before 10:00 am. Well aware the crystal clear azure blue water along the Coral Coast would disappear with the tides in due order, I made a mental note to leave much earlier next time.
As I pondered whether it’d be best to just stay in Nadi and lounge in a hammock by the murky waters at Wailoaloa Beach all afternoon while staring blankly at the bus schedules to Suva, a perky Australian woman wearing a fluorescent hot pink button-down and khakis interrupted my thoughts.
“Yeh alright, love? Where yeh headed?”
“Er, Natadola Beach, I’m looking for the bus to Suva…”
“Ah! Natadola’s so lovely, has the best water, that’s for sure. Anyone with you?”
I explained to her it was just me.
“Well no worries, I’ll look after yeh, that’s where I’m headed as well.”
“Oh terrific, are you also out for a beach day?”
The woman laughed, adjusting her blonde hair, piled on top of her head in a large messy bun. “Oh no, love. Today I’m off to a goat farm.”
Before I could ask her why, exactly, she was headed to a goat farm near a bunch of world-class beach resorts for the afternoon, we found ourselves shuffled aboard an overcrowded charter bus marked ‘SUVA,’ which was jammed with three people per row nearly all the way to the back.
I hurriedly found an open space on half a seat next to two elderly Indian ladies, who both raised an eyebrow at the nautical-print romper I’d picked as my swimsuit coverup and prayed aloud as we drove past Nadi’s colossal Sri Siva Subramaniya Hindu temple.
Finally we arrived at the stop, where a huge ad for the InterContinental and an even bigger sign with an arrow reading something to the effect of “This way to beautiful Natadola Beach! Only 8 km!” pointed towards a winding dirt road.
“Okay love, now this is where you need to find a taxi to drive you the rest of the way,” instructed the Australian woman, who though seated several rows ahead, had kindly turned around to check on me approximately every 5 minutes for the duration of the bus trip. “Oh look, there’s one now, grab it quick!”
I had already flagged it down and darted across the road. If there’s anything I learned from living in New York City for a summer back in college, it was how to hail a cab.
“Be sure you agree on the price first!” I heard the woman yell in the distance as the rusty cab floored it, speeding away down the gravel in a poof of dust.
“So uh… I’m only paying $8,” I told the driver, who promptly demanded $10 in return.
Little did he know, New York also taught me how to be a hard-ass, when necessary.
After a few minutes of squabbling, he ultimately gave in, murmuring “fine, but only because today is a holy day, I’ll agree just because it’s Sunday…”
In an instant, the driver’s embittered discontent transformed into deviously warm regards as he inquired when I aimed to return from Natadola that day, followed by an overtly-friendly questioning in blatant attempts to earn my future commerce.
“Where are you from?” he asked with an enormous smile.
“The United States.”
“Ohhh, ahhh! United States! I love the United States! I have been to San Francisco and Sacramento in the United States. I like San Francisco better than Sacramento. Are you from near Sacramento?”
“No, not really.”
“That is good,” he said, grinning. “Sacramento has much crime. San Francisco is very nice. Are you from near San Francisco?”
“No, where I’m from is pretty far from California,” I replied, glancing at my phone. It was almost 1:00 pm. I desperately hoped the tide hadn’t retreated too far, so I could have a glorious swim in that amazing, clear water…
“You want to go to the InterContinental, correct?”
“Uh sure, whatever’s easiest, I suppose…”
Then I noticed we were parked at the front gate of the resort. At once, a uniformed guard swept down from a tidy brown hut marked ‘InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa’ and asked if I had arrived for check in.
Trying to seem as legitimate as possible, I informed the guard I was just visiting for the afternoon. Surely that’s fine, I thought to myself.
“So you’re here for lunch?”
“Yes, absolutely,” I responded, doing my best to appear relatively affluent.
“You will need to buy a voucher.”
“You need to buy a voucher, then you can redeem at any of the restaurants,” the guard continued. “The minimum spend is $40. No cash.”
I sheepishly handed over my credit card after confirming the cost was in Fijian dollars, and decided that wasn’t so bad; I needed lunch anyways. Plus, $40 FJD was a price I was gladly willing to pay if it meant I could feel blissfully at ease for a couple hours.
“Escape to one of the world’s most luxurious beachfront resorts!” touts the InterContinental Fiji’s website.
Here’s a fun personal detail – a long time ago, I used to live at a 5-star luxury resort. At heart, I am a resort girl through-and-through.
Even despite the mild interrogations from numerous hotel staff members as I found myself dumbfoundedly stumbling my way towards the resort’s adults-only beachfront infinity pool, I immediately felt at home.
According to my voucher, non-overnight guests were strongly encouraged not to utilize the majority of the resort’s facilities, especially during high season.
Use of the resort amenities including (but not limited to) the swimming pools, complimentary poolside service, beach towels, sun loungers and/or beachside cabanas are exclusively reserved for paying overnight guests of the hotel… We sincerely thank you for your cooperation and understanding.
By the time I reached Toba Bar & Grill, where I planned to redeem my meal voucher, it dawned on me the resort grounds were quite empty. Exceptionally empty. Empty enough that no one would notice nor care if I chose one of the thirty or so vacant poolside chaise lounges to relax for a bit.
I safely determined it was not in fact high season and parked myself on a lounger chair, boasting a fabulous view overlooking the infinity pool with the sparkling Natadola Bay beyond.
Not wanting to get in heaps of trouble for taking advantage of the discreet “CALL FOR SERVICE” flag cleverly attached to the side of my lounger, I sauntered over to the bar area with every intention to enjoy my lunch there, but was straightaway advised to go take a seat by the pool and order via poolside service.
Okay, if you insist…
I treated myself to a frozen strawberry daiquiri and possibly the best hamburger I’ve ever had in my life, followed by a few invigorating swims in the infinity pool to cool off from the blazing South Pacific sun. At one point a server even came by offering delectable, bite-sized skewers of watermelon – a refreshing touch to say the least!
Once I concluded I’d roasted enough for the day, I meandered back towards the resort entrance, pausing for a just moment longer to indulge in a cup of outstanding macadamia-flavored New Zealand ice cream.
Without question, the front desk of the hotel gladly called me a taxi for transport to the main road bus stop, thanking me for my stay as I departed.
“Vinaka,” I replied, using the Fijian term for ‘thank you,’ still glowing from the generous dose of vitamin D.
Fully expecting another tedious journey home involving multiple bus transfers and a moderately unpleasant layover in Nadi, it was by some serendipitous chance an express bus to Lautoka happened to pass by, uncrowded and air conditioned to my liking.
Thankfully, the return trip from Natadola took significantly less time than the laborious trek there, complete with entertainment the whole way consisting of an Eddie Murphy movie marathon playing on a gigantic mounted flat screen TV up front.
There’s no doubt in my my mind I’ll be returning to Natadola Beach – I look forward to giving the InterContinental Fiji a thorough inside-and-out evaluation in the future!