Wish We Stayed Longer !

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My previous and only trip to Fiji was 20 years ago so it was with fond but somewhat dim memories that I looked forward to the upcoming visit to Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort (JMC).  My wife had done all the planning for this trip,  so I didn’t have any expectations other than there would be diving, eating, relaxing, and sleeping, not necessarily in that order.

JMC is near Savusavu on the south coast of Vanua Levu Island.  It is on a point of land near the edge of a large bay described as “storybook” on Lonely Planet’s website.  Getting there is fairly straightforward – after exiting customs at Nadi International Airport I was greeted by a JMC representative who escorted me to the domestic terminal and assisted with check-in to the roughly 1 hour flight to Savusavu airport where all the JMC guests on the flight were met for a 20 minute drive to the resort.  There my wife, who had arrived one day earlier, greeted me together with a group of staff playing guitars and singing a traditional Fijian welcoming song.

Photo credit: Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, Fiji
Photo credit: Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, Fiji

JMC is not too far from Savusavu yet is located on a point of land so it feels completely isolated and private.  The grounds are beautifully landscaped and well-tended with lots of flowering trees & plants, lots of nice shade trees, etc. The facilities are great – very nice & spacious bures with lots of relaxing options inside and out, plus a top-notch pool & restaurant area just steps from the shore where one feels immediately at home be it for a meal or an all-day session of poolside bliss in the many comfortable lounge chairs and shaded daybed areas.  There is also a long stretch of sandy beach.  All the buildings & furnishings are in excellent condition, it’s clear the management pays good attention to maintenance & upkeep.  In a nutshell, this is a truly idyllic resort in a fantastic location.

Speaking of staff – they were truly outstanding. We felt welcomed like family and completely cared for at all times.  What more can we say than “vinaka vaka levu.”

The meals were really enjoyable.  Many resorts serve everything buffet style but other than a buffet selection of fresh fruits, breads, & pastries to accompany breakfast entrees, everything at JMC is ordered from menus which change daily.  For breakfasts we had a nice selection of specials along with standards like Eggs Benedict, French Toast, etc. For lunches and dinners there were always several starters, at least 3-4 different main courses (including vegetarian), fresh baked breads, and a number of different deserts.  Portion sizes were just right but one could always ask to try another starter or even entree if the day’s activities had worked up a big appetite.  Really nice presentation added to our enjoyment of the meals, as did the music played/sung by staff members at lunch and dinner.

The resort has a strong focus on caring for the environment and supporting Fijian culture/traditions, which were shared daily in a variety of ways.  We particularly enjoyed the visit by residents of the nearby Nukubalavu village for an evening of traditional song and dance, and also the weekly traditional Fijian dinner with main courses cooked in the resort’s underground lovo oven where it was fun to watch the preparation/lighting of the fire, placing the food inside the pile of hot rocks several hours later, and most of all when the oven was uncovered to remove and serve the variety of savory meats and veggies.

My wife and I are avid divers and have visited many wonderful dive resorts over the years.  JMC is among if not the best in terms of the resort experience, yet I should say the diving does not disappoint either.

The diving we experienced during our visit was what I’d call typical for Fiji – varied conditions & terrain with a healthy mix of both hard and soft coral, a variety of marine life,  and some truly spectacular spots on the reefs bursting with extremely colorful soft coral surrounded by schools of colorful fish.  Coming upon these spots was breathtaking, and I simply wanted to stay put forever taking in these feasts for the eyes.  The intense colors and vibrant life brought back memories of past diving in Fiji, honestly I’d forgotten how beautiful it can be here.  Of the sites we visited,  the best were the two dives at Namena and also our dive at Dreadlocks, which is one of the sites close to the resort and accessible even on windy days.

On all sites we were the only divers present which made for really enjoyable dives.  The dive shop provides excellent service in terms of managing your equipment, getting it set up on the boat, cleaned at the end of the day, etc.

What makes JMC stand out from other dive resorts is the wide variety of activities & focus beyond the diving – one can do a lot of diving yet also have a more varied experience including an assortment of hiking options (such as to a beautiful waterfall in the rain forest), a village cultural visit, ocean and river kayaking, presentations by the resident marine biologist and others, sports activities with the staff, etc.  Each day of the week has a different focus/theme to keep things interesting with a detailed information sheet of the next day’s activities dropped off in your bure during the evening turn-down service.  Many of the activities are included at no extra cost, there are even more ambitious off-site tours & adventures available for a modest charge.

A few more highlights…

First was a private dinner at the end of the jetty – imagine a candle-lit table for two surrounded by kerosene lanterns under a full Fijian moon with the soft lights of the resort as a backdrop on one side and the storybook bay on the other, it was brilliant!

Next was a couple’s massage at the spa, which is fairly secluded near the shoreline and opens toward the bay.  Both masseuses were strong and skilled, it was a very enjoyable experience.

And on the last morning before departure we had breakfast on the resort’s private island (about 10 minute boat ride) where the two of us were dropped off with a picnic breakfast and enjoyed the beautiful little island/beach entirely by ourselves until picked up hours later. This was a truly unique experience.

Finally it was time to depart.  It was a sad but joyful parting – wishing we did not have to leave yet having gained so many good experiences and memories.  As the staff sang a traditional farewell song we thanked and hugged and then headed to the airport for our flight back to Nadi.

We have to say thank you, “vinaka vaka levu” to the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort and staff for a truly wonderful stay, we hope to be back soon!

 

Lance Carlson

September 2018

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October 16, 2018 |

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