It’s Sunday evening and I’m sitting on my bed, having just eaten a packet of Maggi 2 Minute Noodles from a mini French Press coffee maker. I slept most of the day and haven’t left the room once. Seriously, we didn’t even leave for our complimentary buffet breakfast.
Oh, and I’m writing to you from a 5-Star* Luxury Resort in Fiji.
*Or, so the internet says.
Wondering what the hell must be wrong with someone that they voluntarily hide out in their hotel room when a stunning, coral coast beach is right outside their door?
I’ll start at the beginning.
My partner and I found this resort on lastminute.com.au after spending an entire day (no joke… like 8 or 9 hours) trawling the internet for the best holiday locations and accommodation. We were in a hurry as we didn’t have long to plan this unexpected and non-negotiable (long story) trip, so it was a matter of assessing Star Ratings/Reviews, Photos, Included Extras and of course, price.
We chose The Warwick, Fiji because it seemed to tick the most boxes. Nice rooms, beautiful beach, free Wi-Fi (this was going to be a working holiday), gym, free watersports and included daily buffet breakfast. And, for 8 nights including flights and travel insurance, it came to a total of $1330 per person. Bargain!
In the lead-up to our trip, I got a bit concerned. The weather forecast was looking pretty bad, and then, of course, came the cyclone the week before we left. You don’t generally see photos of Fiji in the rain… they always show perfectly blue skies and clear water. Hmm, we didn’t think of checking the forecast prior to booking. Oops. Oh well, surely not all the activities require perfect weather, right?
The adventure begins.
We jetted out of Brisbane last Monday and touched down in Fiji that afternoon, having no idea what to expect. Our first impression of the airport exterior was, erm… Well, there wasn’t much to see as most of it was surrounded by scaffolding. Renovations maybe? No sign of workers, though.
The inside of the airport was pretty similar. Basically, a construction site which didn’t quite hide the fact that the airport was in a state of disrepair. No biggie, I mean I’ve seen much worse in the Philippines, but the main issue was that we stood in line to exit “customs” for almost 2 hours.
While waiting, we were serenaded by 2 men (airport staff?), playing guitars and singing. They weren’t too bad and at first I was like, “aww, what a nice welcome!”… until they finished the first song, received 2 half-hearted claps and zero dollars from the crowd (apparently they were busking) and the music stopped abruptly, the two of them wearing slight scowls on their faces. Hmm.
Despite the long wait, the customs staff barely glanced at our paperwork and shooed us into the main part of the airport. We debated over whether to hire a car (AUD400) to allow us to go exploring for the week or just get a taxi (AUD75) to drive us to the resort which was 90 minutes away. Already freaking about money (the tiny amount of research we’d done revealed at that restaurant food is crazy expensive), we went with the taxi. Oh plus I was freaked out about finding the place with no GPS.
The only road that led to The Warwick.
Turns out there is one road that will drive you around the entire island of Fiji. One lane each direction. We’d been told by the guy at the Travelex (who said he was from Fiji) that the roads were terrible and no one could drive. Lies. The trip was enjoyable, the taxi driver pleasant and the roads drama-free. The view was pretty awesome too.
I swear I would haven’t taken way better photos if we ever came to a stop, but traffic lights aren’t really a thing here.
Our taxi driver told us that we needed to know two words: Bula and Vinaka (hello and thank you) because we’d be saying them constantly. Sure enough, while driving past the local villages, the residents all yelled “Bula” to us enthusiastically, waving and grinning. We were pretty bummed we couldn’t stop as they seemed pretty cool.
Terrible shot, sorry. I was too busy saying, “Bula!”
We arrived. The place looked nice and resort-y, I guess. We got the cranky lady at the check-in desk but were grateful for our complimentary bottle of Fiji water. We also overheard someone mention the FJD72 a head buffet dinner which made us a little nervous but we tried to stay upbeat. To be honest, the main thing we noticed was that the place was FULL of Aussies. To the point where it felt like we never even left Australia.
I’ll fast forward through the first night:
Room: Fine. Though from the photos online, we thought it’d be a bungalow, not a 3 storey monster resort with 80m long hallways. They ignored my request for a room with a bath, too. Oh, and the running water from the day spa beneath our room makes it sound like it’s always raining (and of course messes with your bladder), but the ocean-view was intact, as promised.
“Italian” restaurant: Hardly Italian (no surprises there) but lovely, attentive staff and the food wasn’t terrible. We paid FJD123 (approx AUD80) for 2 pizzas, a weird mini pizza bread thing, plus a beer and a nice Argentinian wine. No complaints – the restaurant had a nice vibe and was pretty quiet.
The One Good Day.
Day two, just as the weather forecast had been predicting for weeks, was the only day of sunshine and blue skies. It was stunning. The ocean was crystal clear, the temperature was warm but not unpleasant, and it felt like we really were on some tropical Island.
The number one thing on my wish list for the trip was to stand-up paddleboard. So we headed down to the beach to make it happen. Sweet, 2 of the 4 paddleboards were free. But no paddles. Wha?? Staying positive, I grabbed us the double ended kayak paddles and we headed out. Super fun, but the paddles were less than ideal. Nevertheless, we were doing “holiday-y things” and felt like we were off to a cracking start.
My one and only holiday-y photo:
Since it was a working holiday, we headed to the pool (me with laptop in tow), ordered a couple of drinks and found some banana lounges. I managed to get some work done, but between the sunshine and the Corona kicking in, I was less than productive. I don’t recommend it. Oh, pretty sure everyone at the pool would have hated us as we totally looked like the kind of people we generally despise. #sorrynotsorry
The kayak incident.
After the “good” day, the skies turned gray and drizzly and the ocean looked less appealing. After our buffet breakfast (plenty of choice, not much of it appealing… even the fruit looked old and sad) we hit the gym daily, both for the exercise and also cuz it’s the only source of free, clean water in the resort… everywhere else they were charging FJD8-10 per bottle (NOT in our budget!) and I’d struggle through some work.
A few days in, we decided it was time to brave the weather and head out on the SUP’s again. Apparently everyone else had the same idea. They were all gone. So the pushy Fijian activities guy shoved some life-jackets in our hands and took us to a kayak. Important to note: We have both kayaked before and are pretty confident both with the strength and balance skills required.
We paddled out about 100m at a decent speed, no worries, until something weird started to happen. The kayak got ridiculously hard to balance and seemed to be getting lower in the water. We kept paddling a bit longer, me yelling, “what the hell is wrong with this thing”, until we came to a stop, kayak teetering dangerously, and then capsized.
Cue: Screaming and intense pain.
Oh, that’s right! The water is shallow and they call it the “coral coast” for a reason.
We got back in the kayak. Within seconds, the balance was gone and we were capsized again. More screaming, additional swearing, much pain.
Apparently the kayak had filled with water, meaning any slight movement we’d make, the water would SWOOSH to one side and flip, knocking us overboard, into the coral, which was fast destroying our feet and knees.
We tried for at least half an hour to get the two of us in and start paddling before capsizing. No luck. At one point I was going to paddle back solo, but still got capsized within seconds. We were still yelling, still swearing, and of course there were plenty of bratty little kids watching from their stand-up paddleboards, wondering why these two stupid grown-ups couldn’t sit in a kayak in 110cm deep water.
We gave up and swam the 100m back to shore, me carrying the paddles and lifejackets, him pushing the huge, waterlogged kayak. When we finally arrived and tried to pull the kayak out of the water, we could barely move it, it was so heavy. Upon inspection of the other kayaks, which I could lift with one arm, it confirmed our suspicion that we were, in fact, given the dodgy kayak. Thanks, activities man.
PS I was going to share the photos of our scabby knees but they’re pretty gross.
The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Night.
We decided to play it safe (hermit-style) after the incident. Sticking mostly to our rooms after braving the nightmarish breakfast buffet. Nightmarish due to the sheer volume of guests all fighting for the last hashbrowns. Our plan was to chill, get some work done, and save as much money as possible. One of the ways we did this (besides sneaking water out of the gym… totally against the rules. We were being watched by burly gym staff and there was a threatening sign on the wall warning against it) was to eat muesli bars for lunch and order room service for dinner. It was a fair bit cheaper than the restaurants, plus the added bonus was not needing to deal with, well, people during mealtime.
Friday night we ordered our usual: A beef burger & a chicken quesadilla. I also got my standard glass of cab sav in an attempt to keep that “holiday” feeling. It wasn’t great that night, but we weren’t expecting much.
An hour or two later I started to feel thirsty and my stomach swelled up. Another hour later and I felt properly unwell. Thought a shower would help, but it did the opposite. My stomach started to cramp. At 11pm I was genuinely concerned and told D that I thought I was going to be sick. By midnight, I was right.
I won’t go into detail, but let me tell you this: It was the worst food poisoning of my life. It lasted 3.5hrs without stopping. At one point, I was so faint, I collapsed on the bathroom floor and couldn’t speak. Every time I got up to move, I had to be sick again. I thought I was going to die. And this is coming from someone who has been in the ICU, on life support.
It was not a good night.
The morning after the night before.
So despite the resort information packet mentioning an onsite doctor, when D called reception at 1am upon my barely audible plea, “Need… doc…”, they informed me that we’d have to drive 45 minutes to see someone. Considering I was lying on a pile of wet towels on the bathroom tiles at that point, it wasn’t an option. Oh, they also informed us that no, we couldn’t order any juice from the 24-hour in-room dining service as the bar was closed. “Why do you want juice, it’s 1am?” Cue: Slamming of telephone. So we waited it out.
The next day D spoke to management who provided us with a ready-to-go food related incident report (hmm) and put us onto the doctor who would generously come and see us at the resort for FJD300. I wasn’t up to travelling, so we agreed, thinking she’d at least give us a certificate to allow insurance to cover the expenses and get us home early. Ha.
After listening to my version of events, she very quickly started off on a very rehearsed sounding spiel about how it is an airborne virus hitting many of the locals at the moment and all of my symptoms prove that it’s viral, not bacterial. She contradicted herself many times while we were questioning her logic.
She also refused to give us a certificate recommending we go home because there were no medical grounds for it. Nevermind that I don’t even have access to gastrolyte here. Oh, and let’s not forget the offer for “optional” antibiotics and the mention that this is a “24-hour bug”…”sometimes 3 weeks” and that I’m “still going to be sick until 11pm”. I stopped being sick at 3:30am and aside from the usual food-poisoning aftermath, could tell that whatever I got sick from, was no longer an issue.
Despite the claim that the sickness was viral, the hotel happiness manager seemed quite terrified and offered us not one, but TWO housekeepers to clean the room for us, and said she’d find us water, crackers, anything we need.
Shortly after this package arrived at our door:
Bless her heart, she was trying really hard. She’s called multiple times since to check up on me and (half-jokingly) check we’re not leaving early.
Maggi Noodles & Ritz Crackers.
So you can see why we’re now hiding away from the world and living on packaged goods bought from the local supermarket (which we should have visited on day 1… the water is only FJD2.50 per 1.5L).
No, not your typical tropical escape, but certainly a trip to remember! In fact, the short taxi ride to the insanely poor supermarket (the kind that is behind bars and the cashier has to fetch everything for you) and noodles in a French Press have been almost as fun as the “only good day”.
We’ve learnt a lot from this trip. Things like…
- Read all the TripAdvisor reviews, especially the bad ones. (My mum started reading them after I got sick and saw about 50 mentions of food poisoning at this resort).
- Check the weather forecast before you book.
- Wear reef shoes if you’re going to swim/kayak/paddle in a coral reef.
- If you learn water costs 8 bucks a bottle on the day you arrive, GO FIND CHEAPER WATER.
- Don’t expect much productivity to come from a voluntary working holiday. It’s really hard to focus and you’ll be super resentful about missing out on guilt-free relaxation. Oops!
- Resorts run by greedy Australians are disgusting, blatant scams. Well, The Warwick is, anyway.
- Fijians are lovely and we wish we’d hired a car so we could see the country, despite now realising just how impoverished it is.
Let’s be fair. The trip wasn’t entirely a nightmare – we had plenty of nice times. But none of them really came because of the resort… in fact, they came despite the resort.
Of course, we drew a fairly short straw and I’m sure the majority of people visiting Fiji absolutely love it, so don’t let my story turn you off visiting. Simply read the reviews, budget accordingly and find a local supermarket with cheap water!