With all the hype that it's hip to be green, it's easy to see that flocks of folks have begun trending towards more sustainable types of travel. And that's a fabulous fact. Unfortunately, another less alluring aspect of this growing industry is the pretty price tag inevitably attached to it. The ugly truth is that it's not always cheap to be environmentally conscious, but luckily there are still a select few destinations dedicated to leaving a minimal impact on the environment and your budget. The key, of course, is being lucky enough to find one. Which is precisely why I was so pleasantly surprised when I accidentally (of all things) stumbled across one such gem while rambling aimlessly around the South Pacific.
Maqai (pronounced Mangai) is—to put it quite simply—a pristine paradise situated in the bluest waters of northern Fiji. And that's no lie. This awesome, adventure-oriented resort offers backpackers and vacationers alike an authentic experience that, four trips and 18 islands in, I've found nowhere else in the country. You may arrive as a tourist, but from the moment you step onto the white-sand beach and stroll up the stairs to the open-air sand bar, you're family.
Depending on your timetable (and, of course, your sense of adventure), you can either hop a quick flight (1.5 hours) from Nadi International Airport or board a boat from the capital city of Suva and cruise a cool 16 hours over the open sea. Whichever route you choose will deliver you directly to the island of Taveuni, which then leaves you no more than a hop, skip, and a jump—by which I mean a quick coastal drive and one more short boat ride (20 minutes tops and both included with your stay)—away.
Mmmm, the food. Not only are most of the fruits and veggies farmed directly from the resort's own sustainable garden, but fresh fish are caught almost daily and the kitchen employs some of the surrounding villages' most talented chefs, which—if you haven't guessed—affords guests a fabulous and traditional taste of the Fijian dinner table.
When I say this resort has something for everyone, it's no lame platitude. And although the word NOTHING hilariously occupies the number one slot of things to do on the activities board (and most afternoons found this girl napping peacefully in the oceanside hammocks), there is quite literally EVERTHING to do. Best known as a secret surf spot, Maqai offers a killer range of world-class reef breaks. But if the surf scene isn't your thing, there's also fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, hiking, village trips, and outings to even more secret and secluded (if you can believe that) islands. The list goes on and on. In short, if you can dream it, just ask the staff who seem to be perpetually only a turn-around-the-corner away.
Clean and comfortable, the safari-style eco-bures are beautifully basic, and everything you could ask for: a bed, a shelf, and a solar-powered lamp to light your night once the generator is switched off. They also happen to be built from mostly recycled materials, situated right on the water's edge and equipped with fabulous front porches and ensuite facilities. Rates for stays in April 2011 run less than $25 per person per night for a private ensuite twin. Dorm-style lodging is less than $20 per guest.
A Word to the Wise
It may have been hard to find, but it was certainly way harder to leave. I recommend leaving ample time to extend your stay. Oh, and beware of the Bula Bowl. (Sorry, but you'll have to take the trip and figure that one out for yourself.)
After completing a dual degree in English and anthropology at the University of Georgia in 2007, Shannon Donnelly embarked on an adventure abroad, never to return. Years of random rambling have taken her throughout Europe, South and Central America, and—most recently—over to Australaisa, where she has settled herself in the South Pacific islands of Fiji. There, she happily spends her days writing and relaxing with a cold beer in her hand and a smile on her face.
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