One island, two resorts.
One full-service and scaled up (266 keys), one small and laid back (33 rooms).
Actually, there are dozens of resorts on Viti Levu, the island where Fiji's international airport is located, but a "compare and contrast" of the InterContinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa and Volivoli Beach Resort provides a 360-degree look at what the island has to offer.
If you turn left as you leave the airport, you're on the road to Volivoli, a collection of detached cottages terraced onto a spit of land jutting out of the northern coast.
Volivoli evolved from a patch of bush and scrub to a backpacker divers' dorm, then to an upscale resort, under the stewardship of the Darling family. Steve Darling was an instructor at a local dive shop, Ra Divers (which the Darlings eventually bought), and observed that the shop was losing business because there weren't enough local rooms to handle everyone who wanted to dive there.
Thus, the divers' dorm was born.
Steve and his brother Nick began to make improvements, but in 2016 Cyclone Winston knocked down every building on the property.
"It was a blessing in disguise," said Nick, now managing director of the resort. "We were wiped out for nine months. In that amount of time, everyone forgets about you and sends business somewhere else. But it gave us an opportunity to refine and redefine ourselves. We rebuilt for the four-star market, primarily targeting divers. But not just divers."
I'm a not-diver but still found Volivoli attractive. I do snorkel, and the snorkeling was the best I've experienced in years: The coral wasn't bleached or damaged, fish were plentiful and -- a first for me -- the (numerous) jellyfish were of a nonstinging variety. They are awesome up close.
A sunset boat ride I took with my family was more than just pleasant; day after day for the week I was on the island, I saw the most incredible skies at dusk, and the sunset on the night of our cruise was a stratified, intensely orange sky. Adding to the experience was a cheerful crew pouring Champagne and passing hors d'oeuvres. It far and away transcended the average sundowner.
Other water excursions include fishing and a dolphin encounter.
Volivoli also has an arrangement with its former bartender, Soni, for tours to a pristine local village, Nabalasere, whose residents harvest kava, a mild intoxicant with spiritual significance for Fijians. A 20-minute walk from the village is a stunning waterfall.
The food at Volivoli is excellent and the service is -- as it is throughout Fiji -- very friendly. The grounds are well landscaped, but the spa and beach, it must be said, are relatively small.
Volivoli's evolution continues. Darling said they're planning an adults-only section and "four two-bedroom villas with private pools." Construction will start before the year is over.
Dinner on the beach is an option at the InterContinental Fiji Resort & Spa. Photo Credit: TW photo by Arnie Weissmann
And over here …
Had you turned right out of the airport, you'd be making your way to the InterContinental. This is a full-on resort, with a mile and a half of beach, watersports, a business center, a kids club, a PGA championship golf course, a full spa, conference and meetings facilities, a tour desk, a fitness center, two pool areas (one is adults only) and multiple restaurant and bar options. There's even an ice cream shop.
A fire-dancing demonstration and other entertainment is provided nightly. Basket weaving, cooking classes, yoga and beach volleyball -- all are on the schedule.
Golf carts and a "Bula Bus" move people around this 35-acre property. There's a hilltop "club level" of one- and two-bedroom suites that has its own pool and clubhouse serving complimentary breakfast, high tea, sunset cocktails and canapes. Butler service is upon request.
The Natadola Suite is a step above that, a 2,350-square-foot retreat with a private pool and courtyard of tropical foliage.
Lower down, rooms and suites face the beach or a lagoon or are poolview or gardenview. Be aware that the poolview rooms face the children's pool; while convenient for those with kids, it can be noisier than other choices.
All guests are entitled to a complimentary hour of nonmotorized water equipment (kayaks, paddleboards, surfboards, snorkels) each day, and there's a rental center offering other watersports options.
There are plenty of off-property excursions offered, as well, including jet-boating, a village kava ceremony and visits to local schools, an ecopark and a cave. Snorkeling and diving trips are also available (the coral at a close-in reef I explored was farther below the surface and less colorful than what I had seen offshore from Volivoli). A Fijian village, Sanasana, is a 15-minute walk away.
Golf, water, a kid-friendly environment and gastronomy are the obvious draws of the resort. I asked director of sales Hudson Mitchell what, overall, he feels Fiji's greatest draws are. "Adventure and romance," he said.
To that, I would only add: Sunsets.