5th May 2012 - 12th May 2012
Dan's Fijian Birthday Bash
We don't need much persuading to spend a week in Fiji, and Dan's forthcoming 40th birthday was the perfect excuse. Katie had hustled together a good crowd to help Dan celebrate: Nick and Beth; AJ, Philippa and Jack; Amanda, Paul and Joshua; Family Burrows and of course Katie, Dan and Hugo. Everyone had their own itinerary, but apart from Amanda and Paul who were spending the whole week on Mana Island, we were all having a few days chilling at the Radisson on the Mainland before the celebrations really kicked off at Mana Island.
We were on the same flight out as AJ, Philippa and Jack and despite the four of us being squeezed into three seats it went pretty well. It was only once we'd landed and packed into a minibus that the trouble began. An exhausted Zoe who hadn't slept all day refused to sit still, and it was all George could do to stop her climbing out of the window. Thankfully it was a short drive to Denarau and we didn't have to put up with the screams for too long. Nick and Beth were in the hotel lobby to greet us, just a little wobbly for having gone straight from the pub to the airport for their 6am flight. They joined us all for dinner at Blu restaurant in the resort, then it was back to our apartment to crack open the duty free gin.
It was so easy coming back to the Radisson. We knew how everything worked and it took no time at all to settle in. We made sure we booked a 9am babysitter for the girls for the first day, and happily packed them off to the kids club, only to find they had changed the start time to 11am. Oh well, the sun loungers by the adults only pool were calling us and the babysitter could entertain them for 2 hours. We tried not to feel guilty as we snoozed in the warm sun. We collect the girls at 1pm and meet up with Katie, Dan and Hugo at the main pool. AJ and Philippa and Jack join us later that afternoon and eventually Nick and Beth emerged from their room to take up their seats at the swim-up bar. This year Emily was brave enough to go down the water slide, not only by herself but on her knees, on her stomach, face first... That night Katie is feeling unwell but the rest of us are up for a return to Cardo's restaurant in Port Denarau, home of the infamous Vonu tower. Last year Nick and Beth helped us demolish 4 of these 3L beer towers, and it was a messy night. This year we ordered two towers to the table, just to start. Nick and Beth had only crawled out of the pool at 7.30pm after a large session at the swim-up bar. They kept falling asleep at the table. Beth was particularly amusing as every time she nodded off she's slouch forward then snap awake groaning in pain. She'd slipped in the shower and fallen sideways onto the edge of the bath, but the alcohol seemed to have numbed the pain for now. With food ordered we started the Vonu Tower Challenge: put your head under the tap and see how much beer you can drink. This quickly evolved into playing the Wizard drinking game, only instead of the wizard we would explain that 'this is the Vonu Tower'. The food was delicious - a sizzling steak washed down with plenty more Vonu. We'd demolished 5 towers between us when George took it up a notch by suggesting we should take turns to lie on the floor beneath the Vonu Tower tap and see how much you could drink. So we did. It was christened the 'Vonu Long Drop' and we were soon making quite a spectacle of ourselves. Even Beth with her sore ribs was lowered down for a turn. Some local guys from the next table joined the fun and each bought us another two towers. It was an hilarious night. Finally at midnight they refused to sell us any more towers so we started heading home only to find Nick and Beth had got their second wind and were staying for a few more. Turns out Beth had actually broken two ribs that night. Legendary behaviour.
The next day is our last at Radisson. We decide to keep Zoe with us and drop Emily at kids club at 11am. We had the best located apartment in the resort - on the ground floor directly across from the main pool. Zoe sleeps in our room while we doze on sun loungers just outside. We feel surprisingly ok and I even go for a beach run along the whole length of Denarau beach. We have a lovely afternoon with the girls in the pool spending hours going up and down the water slide. That night Nick and Beth join us for a trip into Nadi to an Indian restaurant recommended by a random guest who got chatting to Katie a few days ago. It was a good tip. Fantastic curries and amazing service - no sign of Fiji time here! Luckily they didn't have the Vonu tower but they did have Vonu on tap and the waiter swooped on our empty glasses and refilled them in seconds. Everyone took the utmost care to ensure we didn't step outside the gated grounds of the restaurant and the Denarau taxi driver insisted he had to pick us up. The streets of Nadi didn't look that mean, but we were happy to comply.
Our boat to Mana Island didn't leave until noon so there was plenty of time for a last swim in the pool. We had a minor panic when the transfer bus to the port departed without George and Beth on board - after 45 minutes at the checkout desk the receptionist was still unable to split the bill from our adjoining rooms. Thankfully they arrived in a cab just a few minutes after the bus. We are welcomed onto the pier at Mana with shell necklaces and a ukelele band, then marched through the resort to the bar and made to wait for a hour while we filled out pointless forms and our daughters threw glasses of sticky cordial all over the floor. Then Nick and Beth were pulled aside. Oh yes, it wasn't bad enough that they got to lie-in everyday and spend all afternoon at the pool bar - to really rub it in the couple who had got the best deal for the accommodation on the island got an upgrade to the honeymoon bure. With their own golf buggy. Bastards. Eventually we had the keys to our garden bure. It was the real Fiji deal - thatched roof and an awesome outdoor shower - but all four of us were sleeping in the same small room. Finally we get to the pool, and meet up with Amanda, Paul and Josh. Just in time for a gale to have blown in. By the time we've got a beer from the bar it's raining. Just like Dan, Mana Island Resort was celebrating it's 40th birthday this year, and just like Dan it's age was showing. The drizzle just accentuated the crumbling concrete and peeling paint. Thankfully the storm blew over quickly and the sun came out for a fantastic sunset. Amanda and Paul warned us that the food at the resort was pretty ordinary so we joined them, Nick and Beth and Katie and Dan at the backpacker bar. It was all quite happy clappy when we arrived and before I could sit down I had to introduce myself to the crowd in true Blind Date style: 'My name's Fay and I come from Australia!' The food was cheap and tasty - the Fijian fish was freshly caught on the reef. AJ and Philippa join us later and we discover they sell jugs of Gin and Tonic. Awesome.
Emily couldn't wait to get signed up for the Mana kids club, and we booked Zoe in at the babysitting room with Hugo, Jack and Joshua for 2 hours each morning. We'd discovered a much nicer pool with a view across the beach and spent our time there reading books and sunbathing. We returned to the backpackers for lunch, then headed to the South Beach for the afternoon.It was sunny and calm on this side of the island, and by just standing ankle deep in the water you could see hundreds of fish, starfish and a live conch shell. We grabbed some snorkel gear and swam out just a few more metres to find amazing coral bombies with trigger fish, clownfish, a couple of puffer fish, Moorish Idols and hundreds of other reef fish. It was quite amazing how close to shore it was. Things got even better when a chap arrived to open the sunset bar. We had a lovely few hours playing in the shallows supping cocktails and watching the sunset. That night was Dan's birthday bash. Katie had done a great job organising games: all we had to do was turn up in fancy dress. The murder game, an old favourite from Yulefest, was resurrected, but with a tropical twist. Amanda was the first to expire, done in by a considerable quantity of sand in a dark or shady place. Her murder was all the more gruesome for the sand having been stored in George's pants. We had a table reserved in the main buffet and Katie started the night with a quiz about 1972, the year Dan was born. As most of us weren't even alive then, we did surprisingly well. Nick was the eventual winner after defeating me in a tie-breaker. Next was a rather violent game of hunt the small piece of drinking straw in a bucket of plastic creepy-crawlies. The bucket was tipped over in seconds with everyone scrabbling around on the floor and elbowing each other out of the way. The final game was to make an origami boat and decorate it in tropical style. There were a few good efforts, and Amanda's tropical effort won. Time to move on to the backpacker bar. We find a pack of cards and set up the infamous ring of fire drinking game. It takes forever as it's several part packs put together and the drinking chains soon became ridiculous. Time for the introduction of another old favourite - the Pamplemoose game. George introduces it as his final Ring of Fire rule, and I waste no time calling it, vaulting over the side of the bar and dropping down to the beach to run into the waves. Swimming in your clothes is always more fun in fancy dress.
We battle through the next morning until it's time to drop the girls at kids club and childcare. Then we snooze on sun loungers for a couple of hours. Emily had made a friend at kids club and the two of them spent hours in the pool in the afternoon jumping in and swimming together. With Zoe happily floating in her armbands we were free to sit back and watch from the loungers. That night we book at table at the 'popular upmarket restaurant' South Beach. We'd hoped for a romantic dinner for two but when we arrived we realised it was just a big barn with long tables filled with overtired kids. We got a drink at the bar and waited for AJ and Philippa to arrive, and asked them to join us. Good company and a couple of bottles of wine would save the day. The kokoda starter was ok, but my steak, served with a side of two potato wedges, was practically inedible. Wish I'd gone for the pizza like George and Flips. After dinner we make our way to the backpacker bar and are greeted by the rest of the crew who excitedly inform us that they have become guests at a Russian wedding. It's kicking off with Mike the Fijian guitarist taking requests and the newlyweds falling across the floor clutching bottles of vodka. It's such a happy atmosphere we can't help but join in and when George calls his Pamplemoose the happy couple join us in their clothes in the ocean. Another soggy stagger home at the end of a great night.
Our final day is spent on the North beach. We take the snorkels out across the reef and are staggered by the numbers and variety of fish. There's also patches of brilliant blue coral. I'm eyed off by a large sturgeon fish, chase puffer fish and swim above an enormous eagle ray. I go out by myself that afternoon and swim through a school of cuttlefish. Having such an incredible reef just splashing distance from the beach really made it worth coming out to the island. It's a lovely afternoon with the girls on the beach and in the pool and we're treated to a wonderful sunset. Nick and Beth had invited us all to the honeymoon bure for pizza that night, but with our very boat leaving at 6.30am only George and I are game. It's a pretty quiet night, although we do manage to finish up the duty free gin. No doubt we'll find an excuse to return again next year.