Qamea: Above the surface

Qamea Island, Fiji
Qamea Resort, Fiji

We landed in Fiji the day a cyclone hit.  We’d come so I could rediscover the love of  scuba diving—I’d been certified in college and gone on a few initial trips but had  drifted away from the sport, not consciously, just had found other sports  that captured my interest and none of my  friends in recent years were divers.

Not exactly the sort of weather we’d envisioned

I had recently begun dating a dive master (and attorney) who needed a break from his law office. We’d just spent two weeks in New Zealand and besides the interest in a diving adventure, we wanted to break up the arduous 12-hour plus flight home back to the states. We landed in Nadi and hopped a plane to Taveuni island. It was a small 12-passenger or so plane where you couldn’t hear the person next to you unless they yelled.

I was ready to scream seated in the front row– I could see the pilot’s view out the front windshield as the tiny windshield wipers went back and forth. The visibility was close to nil. The rain just pelted the tiny aircraft.

Miraculously, we landed safely and were taken by van to the beach where we were greeted by a guy who looked like a very dark-skinned Fijian version of the Gordon’s fisherman. “Bula!” (hello in Fijian) he said. He was dressed in a yellow rain slicker and hat and took us by private boat to the island of Qamea.

It rained sideways on the boat. My boyfriend and I looked at each other, “So much for diving.” My boyfriend shouted as we bounced from wave top to wave top.

Such a shame. It had been a good fifteen years or so since I’d last been diving and I had just outfitted myself in all the latest gear and gadgetry. Technology had completely transformed the sport since I’d learned. I was excited to try out my new Suunto computer dive watch, new wetsuit, BCD, everything from mask to fins.

We arrived on the island, which looked straight from the set of a Fantasy Island episode (well, except for the fact that I don’t think it ever rained there). I half expected Tattoo to come running out, “Boss, de boat, de boat.”

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Instead, a Fijian native met us with umbrellas, took our  luggage and escorted us to our Bure (thatched hut) where  we arrived drenched. We set our resort umbrellas down  and dipped our feet in the conch shells embedded in the  entryway of our hut with fresh water to wash off the sand.

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Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 5.52.21 PM Our room was magical with 20-foot soaring ceilings,  hand- polished, local mahogany hardwood floors and  authentically outfitted in antique Fijian art from  neighboring islands. All the beachfront bures had just  been remodeled the previous July with new furniture,  romantic  four-poster beds and new deck furniture.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 5.52.35 PM The covered outdoor  riverstone courtyard shower  had Pure Fiji brand amenities  and the bathrooms boasted  gorgeous European fittings.  My boyfriend and I each had a chocolate chip cookie from the Mason jar full of a fresh-baked batch which was part of our welcome gift.

“Well, time for plan B.” I said. “Let’s go see what else there is to do here.” It was hard to imagine coming to Fiji and not diving. It would be like going to Aspen in the winter and not skiing.

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Beachfront Bure

The grounds were pristine–carefully manicured vibrant green grass with just 11 beachfront bures and two larger honeymoon bures, a split-level honeymoon villa and two new private 1600 square foot villas. Qamea has the beautiful island to itself so it’s easy to see why it would make for an ideal honeymoon or destination wedding locale.

We wandered over to the restaurant where the rainy activity of the day was, and I kid you not, basket weaving. We sat down on the porch and grabbed a couple of palm leaves as the resident artisan showed us how to weave. The rain continued to beat down. We finished our baskets, which were quite impressive for first time basket weavers. I was disappointed to learn we couldn’t bring them home with us as they constituted a live plant and wouldn’t make it past customs.

Sunburned visitors played cards, read books and sipped cocktails in the open dining area that looked out over the ocean. We retreated back to our room and took a nap. There’s nothing like sleeping during a rain storm. The wind blew and I drifted to sleep wondering if we’d blow away like the three little pigs straw house.

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We awoke that afternoon to the sun shining. The sky was clear and the rain reflected on the grass as if it had just been painted for a postcard. There was a rainbow off in the distance.

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It seemed like a perfect afternoon for a raw  sugar rub and relaxation massage with  exotic coconut oil at the resort’s spa. I left  feeling like a wet palm leaf and smelling like  a piña colada. The smell of coconut made  me hungry.

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Working out the knots from the plane/boat/van ride in

Cuisine at Qamea is world-class. Executive resort chef, Michele Campbell has owned and managed leading restaurants in London, Sydney and Auckland. Her team of six full-time Fijian chefs combines a Fijian south Pacific Rim style similar to California cuisine using fresh, organic fruits and vegetables grown on the island or flown over three times a week from New Zealand. Qamea fishermen catch the daily fish and beef and poultry are flown in fresh from Australia and New Zealand. The food was superb. If the resort put out a cookbook, I’d buy it. The lunch and dinner menu changed daily and breakfast is made to order.

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Each evening there’s a kava ceremony (a Fijian drink made from a grounded root that numbs the tongue and provides a nice buzz)Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 6.00.48 PM

and meke ceremony (Fijian music and dance).

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The next day, the water still murky from the storm, we took off on one of the many excursions the resort offers to Bouma Waterfalls. The resort packs a picnic lunch and off we went by boat to a neighboring island for a hike to a waterfall along a river shrouded in tropical foliage and colorful flowers.

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Native Fijian boys who serenaded us on our hike

Looking up the river we saw a group of children in waist-deep water walking down the river singing songs. They seemed as excited to see us as we were to see them. We visited with other local Fijians, proud to show off their homes, their new church and artwork at a craft hut.

The resort offers many such excursions for a nominal fee, including one to the area where Blue Lagoon was filmed.

Screen Shot 2015-01-29 at 5.54.48 PMA few days later the water had settled enough to finally go scuba diving. Qamea resort is close to world-class dive sites like Purple Wall, Devil’s Canyon, Qamea freeway and Yellow Wall. We did a check out dive off the resort’s beach where we saw lionfish and anemones with live egg cowries in the shallow water steps from the shore.

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The next day we ventured further away to the famous Purple wall. The visibility wasn’t ideal and the water was still a bit choppy but once down 40 feet or so, I remembered quickly how hypnotic and addictive diving can be. I lost myself in the wonders of marine life. Purple Wall is actually three separate vertical walls with thick concentrations of purple soft coral. Fish activity is plentiful with an abundance of banded sea snakes.

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The visit was quick with not as much diving as I would have hoped, but a nice reminder that the vacation you set out on isn’t always the adventure you’ll discover. With a little flexibility and open mind, you can dive deep and come up with great memories.

When we left the resort, the staff came down to serenade us with a ukulele and singing. They gave us each a red tropical flower and told us to put it in the water once out to sea. The legend has it if the flower comes back, so will the guest. I made sure to put mine in the water close enough to ensure it made it back, as I definitely know this is one place I can’t wait to return.

If you go:   Visit www.qamea.com   Beachfront Bures start at $585 a night with continental breakfast or $795 with full breakfast, 2-course lunch and 3-course dinner.Children under age 16 not allowed.  Check website for special packages.

This story originally was published on divinecaroline.com. Prices have been updated. As soon as my son turns 16 we’re going.

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