fit for a king…. and queen by karen kranenburg

The ultimate honeymoon destination on the edge of the glittering Koro Sea.

Fiji was one of my stops on a South Pacific odyssey some years ago and wanting to experience the best of what Fiji had to offer, and after lunch with the King of Tonga and a firm royal recommendation, I made my way to Namale.   Located about 11km (about a one hour drive) from Savusavu on Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second-largest island, Namale is nestled amongst lava pinnacles, vast expanses of lush rainforest foliage, cascading waterfalls, and mature trees dating back centuries.  It is quite appropriate that the resort derives its name from the Fijian word na-vuni-male, male being a type of tree that was indigenous to the property and in abundance over 40 years ago. The 525-acre private peninsula is perched majestically on volcanic rocks, offering breathtaking views of the turquoise Koro Sea below and the South Pacific Ocean beyond.  Namale  Resort and Spa is Fiji’s leading 5-star boutique resort, a haven of peace and tranquility for the more discerning traveler used to the finer things in life. It provides the idyllic backdrop for endless expressions, sensory satisfactions, and private passions. Offering an exclusive and authentic Fijian experience, it is a place where dreams become magnified, romance ignited, and the natural balance of mind, body, and soul rejuvenated and restored. Forgive me if I am some-what effusive with my prose, but it really is that good.  So good that I don’t think that mere words, no matter how eloquent, do it justice; it has to be seen and experienced to be believed.

If ever I was to conjure in my mind a place I would call “Paradise,” it would most certainly be Namale. It has been lauded by many and won numerous accolades and awards, including the #1 Honeymoon Suite in Fiji and #5 in the World, as well as being recognised as having the Sexiest Villas in the South Pacific. Of course, its remoteness and exclusivity makes it a favourite of  A-list celebrities such as the very private Angelina Jolie, Meg Ryan, and of course the ubiquitous Oprah Winfrey. The Namale philosophy though, is that everyone is treated like a celebrity, and they don’t just pay lip service to that philosophy.

I arrived at Namale, some-what travel-weary, having taken a boat ride, four flights, and a car ride to get there from Mounui Island in Tonga,  a soul-destroying journey that took over 14 hours.  By the time I arrived at the unassuming stone pillars that mark the entrance to the resort, I was in need of some much needed pampering; I had no idea the bliss that awaited me beyond.  From the moment I drove through the 15ft high gates, I was transported to another place and time.  A traditional Fijian welcome awaited me, and as I thirstily drank in the exotic surroundings, and the tropical infusion of juices which was the welcome cocktail, I could immediately feel my weariness begin to ebb. The formalities over, I was whisked away in a golf cart to what could only be described as my own private slice of heaven. Attention to detail is everything at Namale, and nowhere was that more evident than when I arrived at my exclusive hide-away for the next three days, Villa Duavata. Hand-carved on my door was a plaque with my name  – this is done for every guest, a memento that you take away with you as a reminder of your visit, and one which surely, every time you see it, not only brings back fond memories but encourages you that one day you must return. Duavata was a palatial 2-storied villa, built in traditional Fijian style, with every modern convenience you could hope for and expansive views over the koro sea below from every aspect of the airy villa; divided into two wings with a private infinity-edge pool in the middle.  The West Wing, as I liked to call it, surpassed the Presidential suite in any luxury 5star hotel. It included the bedroom with the most comfortable king-size bed I think I have ever slept in, and bearing in mind that travel is an integral part of my life, I have slept in a few. It contained a large walk-in/through dressing area, that could comfortably house my entire 300+ collection of Jimmy Choo’s and Louboutins, a private outdoor shower, and an indoor bathroom, with a spa bath for two in front of an enormous floor to ceiling picture window, ideal for appreciating those fiery Fijian sunsets, and a romantic interlude and martini before dinner. And whilst there is no TV, why would you want or need one in such spectacular surroundings? For the IT junkies amongst us, each villa is equipped with BOSE surround sound systems, high definition projectors, a DVD Player, and Apple Entertainment System with over 1000 songs of various genres and some 570 movies on demand from Breakfast at Tiffany’s to Sex and the City – and the popcorn is just a phone call away.     

The East Wing provided another 500 sq ft of living space, a lounge with a full-length deck that wrapped around the villa, a formal dining area, where your meals could be taken if a trip to the restaurant Bure was a journey too far, and another secluded outdoor shower.  Upstairs was the piece de resistance – an indoor/outdoor lounge with picturesque views of the peninsula below. 

Amidst this 1,000 sq feet of air-conditioned luxury, my personal favourite though, was a simple pleasure. The freshly baked cookies (an entire jar of them) baked fresh and delivered inconspicuously twice a day; I was home, and I never wanted to leave. The three days would fly past in a flash. It’s true the old saying that time flies when you are having fun.

Namale is one of those places that you can either do nothing or do everything; even though it is an all-inclusive resort, this is not all-inclusive as I had ever known it.  This is all about luxury and service all the way – the staff to guest ratio is 3:1 just to give you an idea of the personal attention that is lavished on each visitor. The ever-helpful staff unobtrusively caters to your every desire, as though they were permanently hovering above you on a magic carpet and anticipating your needs, and satisfying them before you even realized that there was a need. Yet you never see them; for that matter, you never see anyone unless you absolutely want to.  Offering a pristine sanctuary of peaceful seclusion, there are only 19 bures and private villas set in the 525 acres, and because Namale has taken a greener approach to the construction of bures, it is important to note that no two bures or villas are the same. 

Here time is never measured by clocks. Days begin with the gentle hum of the native Lali drum from its echo, resonating and rapturous. You design your day as you wish; you may want to contemplate life and just relax on the private beach or retreat for an afternoon nap or read in a rocking chair on your own private deck, free from the daily stresses of responsibilities. For the less sedentary amongst us, activities and adventure abound; one can explore the island and the beaches on horseback or on foot, or go off-piste and visit the nearby villages of Savusavu and Labasa.  If you really want to get immersed in the local culture, you can attend a Fijian church service on Sundays or participate in a traditional Meke or Kava ceremony.   There are also a variety of incredible hikes around the resort, as well as tennis, mountain biking, volleyball, croquet, indoor gym, a full-sized bowling alley, and much more.  In the water, you can dive with the experienced Namale team of PADI divemasters to wall dives, drift dives, and pinnacle dives, or simply snorkel on the islands surrounding reef. You can try your luck at sport fishing or enjoy kayaking, water-skiing, reef walks, or simply fish for fun.

If none of the above takes your fancy, there is always the Namale Spa, a 10,000 square foot sanctuary of pampered bliss to relax and rejuvenate your mind, body, and spirit.  The expansive interior features shining wood floors, exposed beams, lush native flora, and walls of glass that look out onto the sea. The focal point of the building is a central hydrotherapy/aromatherapy room, the only one of its kind in Fiji and the greater South Pacific. Regardless of what your treatment option is, the Namale spa experience begins with the ritual of having your feet washed in jasmine water. The spa menu is extensive, and you can experience indulgent treatments from around the World. Ancient aromas and soothing rhythms will envelop you while gentle hands lead you on a journey of rediscovery. The large private treatment rooms feature comfortable spa beds that may also be moved onto the adjoining open-air decks for a different kind of a spa experience; there is nothing else quite like this in Fiji…  I want to say in the World, not that I have experienced anyway.

Not to be overlooked, with everything on offer, is Namale’s signature cuisine, which is positively exquisite, an eclectic mix of international dishes with a gourmet tropical flair, an adventurous vegetarian selection, and a healthy Spa Cuisine menu for the body-conscious. Only the best local seafood & meats are used in their kitchens, and the majority of vegetables served to guests are grown on premises in their organic greenhouse—a taste sensation to be savoured.  In addition to their plethora of meal choices, their chefs also specialize in desserts & pastries. However, if your appetite calls for flexibility or specific dietary requirements, or even just a whim, the kitchen can cater to that as well.  One day I expressed a desire for a Fijian curry, and even though it wasn’t on the menu, one magically appeared for me for lunch, and when I expressed a desire to have the same for dinner again that night, I was not disappointed.  For that matter, on the day that I left, for my long journey back to New Zealand – the chefs had prepared a “curry picnic” for me to sustain me on my long journey.

Even though there are two designated Restaurant Bures in different parts of the island – one for breakfasts and lunches, and one for dinner, one is not compelled to dine in these areas.  If you want to be alone with that special person, the Fijian staff will deposit you and a gourmet picnic near a secluded waterfall or the location of your choice, where the stunning beauty will set the stage, and you can create the rest. Namale is also an enchanting place at night, where by candlelight; you can enjoy an intimate dining experience. No matter where you choose to dine, you’ll appreciate the stunning views and soothing atmosphere.  And After dinner, you may want to grab a flashlight and meander throughout the forest to the deck perched on an overhang, within feet of a roaring blowhole, and count the shooting stars glowing across the sky, and make a wish for your future.

I was stunned at the majesty of this resort’s traditional Fijian craftsmanship, complemented by the comfortable and luxurious decor and the superior service.  You can’t help but relax and reflect while at this peaceful sanctuary of seclusion and solitude lulled by the sounds of the ocean in the distance, enjoying the moments where time seems to just stand still.  Even though I went on my own to escape the hustle and bustle that is my everyday life, to me, this is also a honeymooners paradise, where everything is thought of, and nothing left to chance. What a perfect way to begin that long journey that is a life together, and even though I wasn’t royalty, I was sure made to feel like a Queen, so imagine what would happen if the real deal showed up.

Better known to her friends as the Global Nomad, Karen Kranenburg has traveled to over 94 countries; from scaling the heady heights of Mount Everest to diving with sharks in Borneo… Her travel stories have been published in numerous magazines and newspapers around the World. For more photos of Namale and other inspirational destinations from her global travels, check her out on Instagram @karenkranenburg