The true lagoon

Craig Platt finds the real attractions on this south Pacific island resort holiday are beyond the hotel pool.

The resort pool is buzzing with activity - kids on inflatable toys, parents and honeymooners taking a dip or enjoying a drink at the swim-up bar as the sun beats down. But my question is: why?

The pool area at the Outrigger Resort is a nice one - large and with several options for bathers depending on your preferences and age. But there's a much more spectacular pool just 25 metres away, created by Mother Nature.

Outrigger on the Lagoon isn't just a name - the resort sits on a beautiful lagoon protected by a reef.

The lagoon, on the Coral Coast of Viti Levu island, is filled with warm, clear water, corals and abundant aquatic life.

So why swim in an artificial pool when nature can provide? There are a few good reasons why most of the guests stay within the resort.

Safety, for one. For parents, it's obviously safer to have the kids in a space where they can keep an eye on them. Beyond the reef, the depth of the water drops off dramatically to more than 100 metres. Today the wind is up, making the lagoon a choppy experience for those who venture out.

Still, the azure waters are crystal clear, with the corals beneath tantalisingly visible. But for now I'll have to wait. The tide is on its way out and, here at the lagoon, when it goes out, it goes way out, temporarily turning most of the lagoon into a rocky beach.

The Outrigger is a large resort, capable of hosting up to 750 guests in its 252 rooms and it is hugely popular for weddings (especially for Australians). There's a wedding on almost every day.

The size of the resort is best demonstrated by the extraordinary number of staff. There are more than 600 people working to ensure each guest's needs are met. A walk from the pool to my room inevitably results in half a dozen "bula" greetings as I make my way up the paths.

The presence of the staff is attentive but never overbearing at the resort's various restaurants - I'm never left in want of a drink. And despite the reputation of the Pacific locals for "island time", a request for the toiletries to be replenished in my room is met within 10 minutes - an extraordinary response time for a resort this size.

The resort is popular with families. It offers a "mei mei" (nanny) service, available from 9am through to 10pm, for parents seeking some "me time" during their holiday.

Like most resorts, there's no real reason to leave if what you're after is days of lying in the sun and gorging yourself at one of the four restaurants on site.

But guests staying at the Outrigger would be missing out if they didn't take half a day to visit the nearby Sigatoka sand dunes.

Fiji's first national park, the spectacular dunes on the coast are formed not by beach sand but by fine sand brought down to the ocean by the Sigatoka River.

The waves and trade winds push and pack the sand into the giant dunes, which are moving inland at a rate of several metres every year.

After a couple of relaxing days at Outrigger on the Lagoon resort, we opt to take a hike through the national park, following an easy path through the lush forest before climbing the largest dune. Getting up the steep face of the dune is difficult - my feet sink deep into the soft sand. On the way down, this softness has the opposite effect - my sinking feet stop me from coming down the dune too fast and ending up covered in sand.

There's a strong wind blowing but the walk along the beach, with the ocean on one side and the giant dunes on the other, is still a pleasant experience. We're also the only visitors here, giving us the feeling that we're discovering some kind of untouched paradise.

But Sigatoka National Park is not untouched. It has become a busy archaeological site in recent years.

The area was home to Fiji's first people, who originally spread from Papua New Guinea across the Pacific, arriving in this region about 2000 years ago.

From the beach, the path leads back through lush forest to the park's entry point.

From there, we head back to the resort for our final evening.

On my final morning, I rise early to catch the high tide. There's no way I'm going to leave Outrigger on the Lagoon without hitting the lagoon. The reef keeps the waters calm and easy to snorkel through, so I take about an hour to slowly circle the area in front of the resort, surrounded by colourful, curious fish and corals.

I even have a brief staring match with a (thankfully small) moray eel.

The service levels extend to the farewells - the night before departure, some staff visit the tables of those guests leaving and sing Fiji's famous farewell song, Isa Lei, in beautiful harmonies.

Then when leaving, we are "bula"-ed all the way to the van.

The writer travelled as a guest of Outrigger Hotels and Resorts.

Trip notes

Getting there

Virgin Australia flies return from Sydney to Nadi 10 times a week and daily from Brisbane. 13 67 89, virginaustralia.com.au.

Staying there

Outrigger on the Lagoon is 80 kilometres from Nadi Airport. The resort can arrange a transfer by private vehicle for about $90 one way.

Rates at the resort start from

$250 a night (room only).

Outrigger on the Lagoon, Queens Road, Coral Coast, Sigatoka, Viti Levu, Fiji. +303 369 7777, outrigger.com/hotels-resorts/fiji/viti-levu/outrigger-on-the-lagoon-fiji.

Touring there

Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park is open 8.30am to 4pm. Get there by bus or taxi. Entry costs $5.50 (adults); $13.65 (family pass); $1.65 (students).

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