Near the bayside town of Savusavu on the south coast, Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort is strung along the shore of north-easterly Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island.
Fly into Nadi International Airport (www.airportsfiji.com) on Fiji's main island, Viti Levu. From there, it's just under an hour’s shared charter flight north-east to Savusavu Airport on Vanua Levu island with Island Hoppers (www.helicopters.com.fj) – which also offers helicopter rides (75 minutes). Cheaper, but less reliable, domestic airline Pacific Sun (www.fijiairways.com) flights take 70 minutes. Alternatively, Pacific Island Air (www.pacificislandair.com) provides seaplane charters from Nadi Airport to Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort’s jetty. If you’re flying from Fiji’s capital Suva, you’ll usually make a 30-minute pitstop at Nadi before the flight on to Savusavu.
The resort is a 20-minute drive from Savusavu Airport. Free return transfers for the 9km drive are included in rates, and the hotel team meets Pacific Sun flights at Savusavu Airport. There's free parking at Jean-Michel Cousteau, but it's not worth hiring a car unless you plan on exploring the island. Savusavu town is 15 minutes’ drive from the hotel.
Savusavu marina is just 15 minutes away, so private yacht charters are another way to reach Jean-Michel Cousteau. There are also ferry and car-ferry connections to Savusavu from other islands, but Smith recommends flying to save time. Helicopter transfers (www.helicopters.com.fj) and seaplane flights (www.pacificislandair.com) to the resort's dock from Nadi or elsewhere can also be arranged. For help with transfer connections, contact Rosie Holidays (www.rosiefiji.com).
Worth getting out of bed for
With a striking shoreside setting on Savusavu Bay watersports are a big attraction here. Enjoy sea kayaking, paddle boats, glass-bottom boat rides, or sailing on the resort's impressive catamaran.
Underwater action is also spectacular, given the pristine waters, colourful fringing coral reef and clutch of 13 local dive sites, as well as protected marine areas further afield. The hotel's dive operator L'Aventure Jean-Michel Cousteau offers PADI-certified diving courses and packages, a full-service dive shop with gear to rent or buy, and trips accompanied by a resident marine biologist. Cruise the walls and canyons of Shark Alley, gasp at the coral heads of Namena or join the team to explore new, as yet unnamed, sites. Popular spots include Nsonisoni Pass, a drift dive where experienced divers go with the current flow along a wall alive with purple soft coral, large barracuda and small sharks. Snorkellers can get their kicks on guided boat trips or night safaris.
Eco fun continues on land, care of nature hikes, mangrove tours, reef-flat walks, and rainforest and waterfall hikes. Cultural immersion includes the weekly lovo dinner (with dishes cooked in an earth oven), Fijian story-telling, trad medicine walks, and palm-leaf basket-making sessions. Beyond the resort, you can head out on visits to nearby Nukubulavu village, local church services, clam farms or Savusavu farmers' market, especially lively on Saturday mornings.
Don't miss a trip to Savusavu's acclaimed black pearl farm for gifts for friends (or your good self). Start your tour at J. Hunter Pearl Farm’s (www.fijipearls.com) showroom on Naverea Road in Savusavu, which kicks off with a presentation on how to culture pearls. Afterwards take a 40-minute glass-bottom boat cruise out to their marine farm to see the oyster production process, which includes implanting, cleaning and harvesting at different times of the year. Bring your own gear to snorkel over the farm, where you can see oysters suspended on lines below the water. Wrap up back at the showroom for a spot of shopping. Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort offers pearl-farm excursions.
Savusavu boasts the only natural geothermal hot springs in Fiji, reputed to offer healing properties for your skin and bones. Locals also use the warm, volcanic springs for slow cooking, and a concrete pot has been built to form a stove. Find it by the beach at the west end of town where steam rises from underground, with more springs between the school and sports field
Tennis, volleyball, rugby and beach larks round out your day. Then again you could just recline in a hammock, or hit the beachfront spa, which will pamper you with Fijian-inspired treatments and serene sea views. Free daily yoga at dawn ticks our start-the-day box, with stargazing or a chance to join a kava ceremony (Fiji's shared, slightly narcotic ritual drink) the perfect way to wrap up the night.
You'll need to pay for scuba diving, and other activities not covered by rates such as deep-sea fishing, a private island picnic, trips to the pearl farm, mountain-bike hire, use of Savusavu Gym and guided kayak trips to rivers in Vanua Levu's interior.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort offers all-inclusive meals, so you'll probably want to eat in, but pretty nearby town Savusavu is just an hour's walk away (or a 15-minute drive) if you fancy checking out some local restaurants and watering-holes.
Dating back to the 1800s, Copra Shed Marina (+679 885 0457) was once a loading bay for the local copra industry (coconut meal used to extract coconut oil), which dominated these parts. It now serves as a hub for tourists and expats, offering flight and ferry bookings, postcards, email, currency exchange, a well-stocked bottle shop (Savusavu Wines & Spirits), and laundry services, hot showers and toilets for yachties. Swing by for the restaurant, the Captain’s Café, which does a good line in pizza and beer. There’s a small historical display and if you’ve arrived by boat you can arrange marina moorings here.
Ideal for a cocktail with a waterside view – we suggest a margarita – or tasty lobster and fillet mignon, Surf ‘n Turf (+679 885 3033) is a respected spot in the Waterfront Building on Savusavu’s main street. It’s owned by Fijian chef Vijendra Kumar who was trained at Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort, and is open for lunch, dinner, coffee and drinks. Tasty Fijian meals draw on local vegetables, spices and herbs, with curries and seafood a speciality. The house-made ice-cream comes highly recommended, including delicious coconut and coffee flavours. Service can be erratic, but hey, you’re on Fiji time.
A humble, local Fijian-Indian restaurant with just a scattering of tables, cosy eatery Country Kitchen (+679 927 1372) cooks up a storm. Chicken or fish curry with roti, dahl, rice and split-pea soup is popular with the locals, or opt for a veggie curry if you can’t handle the bones. It’s very affordable, and right across the street from the bus station.
With an expansive, open deck on Savusavu’s main street, Decked Out Café (+679 885 2929) is the go-to spot for people-watching over breakfasts, burgers and sandwiches. There are daily specials, and you can wash the whole lot down with fruit smoothies. Sunset views are no slouch either.
The first social club in the South Pacific for European settlers, Planters’ Club (+679 885 0233) is a colonial-era affair at the western end of Savusavu where planters came to drink after bringing in the copra. Once strictly open to members’ only, and their bona fide visitors, you can now ask bar staff to sign you into the register as a guest. You can sense the history in this tropical clapboard space, with vintage photographs on walls of past club presidents and members. Play a spot of pool, order a cold, young coconut at the bar (or throw in some rum) or chow down on curried goat or lamb and puri. Happy hour is 5.30pm–6.30pm, and opening hours are usually 10am–10pm on weekdays, and until 11am and 8pm on Saturday and Sunday.
Yachtie types and expats throng the wharfside bars at the Savusavu Yacht Club (+679 885 0685), at the Copra Shed (open Monday–Saturday, 10am–10pm; Sunday, noon to 10pm), and the nearby Waitui Club (+679 885 0536), upstairs at Waitui Marina, which sports nautical decor and tropical views from its deck (tourists can be temporary members).