By Rosemary Johnson
After 37 years of marriage and four grown children, my husband and I decided it was time for a second honeymoon - an indulgence just for us. We were uncertain about our destination, there are so many exotic and tempting options to choose from, until my husband read somewhere that the Fijians have been judged as some of the happiest people in the world. That clinched it, so we booked ourselves in for a week at the Outrigger on the Lagoon Fiji on the main island's famous Coral Coast.
Arriving at the resort we are welcomed by a bellow of joy, followed by a huge smile and "Bula!" from the very fit-looking young Fijian doorman.
From that moment, life at the Outrigger is smiles and Bulas all round from the extraordinarily friendly staff. We wonder briefly whether this is a performance required by management, but it soon becomes evident that it is the perfectly natural Fijian way, and that the staff here have good cause to be happy.
Our deluxe ocean view room is a delight. On the seventh level of the hotel’s main wing, it enjoys a spectacular view across the palms and tropical gardens of the resort to the reef and ocean beyond. The only sounds we can hear are the gentle roar of the breakers against the reef and bird calls amongst the palms below.
With deck chairs on the balcony, a couch and a divinely comfortable king size bed, the room provides all we could want when we choose to retreat from the attractions of the resort. We are immediately put in the mood for relaxation with a glass of champagne offered by our very attentive butler.
The Outrigger is a resort for all generations. The bures dotted around amongst the palms are perfect for families, and the central pool surrounded by the three main restaurants provides a lovely environment for parents to relax with their children.
For times when we want a more adult environment, there are plenty of child-free areas: a second pool with a spa and in-pool bar where you can sit on underwater stools and share the company of fellow guests and the ever-charming Fijian barmen; the spectacular Bebe Spa for the most relaxing of massages and the Kalokalo Bar high on the hill above the resort; and the award winning Ivi restaurant.
As we wander around the resort we encounter groups of Fijian women with their handcrafted jewelry and traditional design fabric goods on display. They are very attractive and very reasonably priced, and make lovely gifts to take home. We learn that the resort allows these women from local villages to sell their wares free of charge, providing another source of income to the local community.
And wherever we go, it seems there are groups of Fijian musicians, strumming away on their guitars and singing traditional Fijian love songs in their effortlessly harmonious voices.
All this contributes to the luxurious and relaxed atmosphere of the Outrigger. But there is a great deal more to this resort, as we were to discover on our second evening when we attended the General managers weekly drinks evening in the Kalokalo Bar.
Here, Peter Hopgood, who has been the Outrigger's General Manager for five years, introduces us to his key staff and explains a little about the resort and the contributions it has made to the local community and the lives of its almost entirely Fijian and Indo-Fijian staff, most of whom live in villages in the region of the resort.
The Outrigger has funded some major initiatives for the community, including a maternity ward for the local hospital where, until recently, babies were born in the surgical wards. The resort has also sponsored visits from international teams of eye specialists to attend to eye disease that would otherwise go untreated. A current project is the building of a bure or large shelter in a local school, and guests at the resort have the opportunity to spend a day helping on this project, and meeting members of the local community and the school children.
What comes across most clearly is the mutual affection and respect between Peter and his staff, and there is no doubt in our minds that the Outrigger brings a great deal more to the local community than just the tourist dollar.
This knowledge greatly adds to our enjoyment of our very special holiday, and we hope that we can bring home something of the ‘Bula’ effect of the Outrigger and the wonderful Fijian people who work there.