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Moved to tears by the sounds of Fiji

AAP logoAAP 9/09/2016 By Jenny Tabakoff

A holiday in Fiji is a musical experience. The Fijians love singing - in church, at school, in restaurants and, most definitely, to entertain international visitors.

You'll hear the first notes after leaving the plane, as you queue to get your passport stamped at Nadi Airport's Immigration desk.

Outrigger has two gorgeous Fiji resorts: the Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort, which is on the main island of Viti Levu; and Castaway Island, which is west of Nadi, in the Mamanuca Islands group. Both resorts are on the beach.

You'll hear lots of music at both - when you arrive, in their bars and restaurants, during excursions to local schools and churches. And when you're about to leave, staff drop their usual tasks and gather to sing one last time.

Everyone in Fiji, it seems, can hold a tune and harmonise. Many can play guitar or ukulele. Age is no barrier.

At Conua District School, the children sing Old Macdonald Had A Farm with enthusiasm. Outrigger is helping villagers erect a new kindergarten building there, and resort guests often come along to lend a couple of hours' hands-on help - and mix with the kids.

Outrigger wants its guests to have the opportunity to interact with the Fijian community outside the resort, and you should seize the chance to attend a church service in a local village. It's an eye-opening window on another world - only there are no windows in the Methodist Church in the village of Malevu.

Its chapel was destroyed by a cyclone in 2009, but not its faith. Until the congregation gathers enough money to rebuild, services are held in a shack made of corrugated iron and shadecloth.

Hotel guests are warmly welcomed. The reverence and singing of the Fijians is incredibly moving. Aside from a few words in English (for the guests' benefit), the service is entirely in Fijian, but there's no mistaking the hymns' tunes or the familiar cadences of The Lord's Prayer. Though the Fijians rush to hand you a hymn book, you might feel self-conscious about joining in when there's no much genuine talent in the room.

One night a week, Outrigger's Vale Ni Kana buffet restaurant puts on a cultural show that includes a dance show of four men and four women. It's largely Polynesian, but that's appropriate, given there's a lot of Polynesian influence in predominantly Melanesian Fiji. The highlight comes when it dawns on the audience that the male dancers have begun gyrating to an island version of The Locomotion.

The outdoor fire-dancing display that follows is acrobatic and daredevil: batons of flame swirl and twirl in the night air but never set fire to the men's straw "leggings".

Then it's back inside for dessert from the buffet. If you're about to leave, expect the staff (who previously have been quietly collecting plates) to gather at your table and burst into the Isa Lei, Fiji's happy-sad song of farewell. They seem so genuinely sad to see you go that your eyes prick with tears of emotion.

The next morning, as you take the South Sea Cruises boat out to the Mananuca Islands, you'll see resort staff gathering with guitars and ukuleles to welcome disembarking guests. The musical greeting at Mana Island seems especially vivacious - perhaps because the resort there only recently reopened after Cyclone Winston.

A similar welcome awaits as you approach Castaway Island, after crossing yet another stretch of azure water, so clear you can see coral and fish. On the crunchy white sand a happy band of Fijians are singing and waving. Bula!

Castaway is a boutique resort in a setting so breathtakingly lovely that you'll feel like crying when the time comes to leave.

And there it is again - Isa Lei, ringing out from the shore as you climb into the tender that will take you out to the big South Sea Cruises boat and home.

"Isa lei, na noqu rarawa

Ni ko sa na vodo e na mataka

Bau nanuma, na nodatou lasa

Mai Castaway nanauma tiko ga."

Translated, this means something like:

"Oh, such sadness!

I will feel so forlorn when you sail away tomorrow.

Please remember the joy we shared

In Castaway, you will always be remembered."

Maybe not. But you certainly won't forget the music of Fiji.

IF YOU GO

GETTING THERE

Fiji Airways, Virgin Australia, Qantas and Jetstar all fly to Fiji from Australia. South Sea Cruises sail daily return services to Castaway from Denarau Marina, about a 20-minute drive from Nadi Airport. Visit www.ssc.com.fj

STAYING THERE

For details of Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort and Castaway Island, go to www.outrigger.com.

* The writer travelled to Fiji as a guest of Outrigger Resorts Fiji.

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