There is a reason why New Zealanders have long chosen Fiji as their family escape of choice. Beyond the incredible natural beauty and gorgeous weather of this island nation, its fascinating culture and wonderfully welcoming people are really what has us returning time and time again, each trip a chance to create lasting memories.
This has long been the case for renowned fashion designer, Karen Walker, who first visited Fiji when she was four years old, and counts it as a cherished destination of her childhood. She has since returned over 20 times as an adult, and as such, has become something of an expert in where to go, what to see and (crucially) the perfect things to pack.
Given that Walker recently returned from her latest trip, with husband Mikhail and daughter Valentina in tow, we called on her knowledge to deliver an insider’s guide on everything to consider when planning a trip to Fiji — essential for anyone thinking about making this tropical pilgrimage themselves.
How to get there
One of the biggest drawcards of Fiji for New Zealanders (particularly those with young families) is the ease of travelling there. There are over 20 flights from New Zealand to Fiji every week, with flights taking around three hours and crucially, no time difference to adjust to when you arrive. In fact, you can leave New Zealand in the afternoon and land in Fiji just in time for cocktail hour, set against an exquisite sunset over one of Fiji’s coral atolls.
If you opt to fly Fiji Airways, expect a delectable in-flight service, created by award-winning Kiwi-Fijian chef, Richard Cross, who designed the on-board menu using local ingredients in innovative ways. (Think cinnamon ice cream, Kava and more.)
Once you have landed in Fiji, the process of getting to your resort usually means more than just a simple taxi ride. If you are staying on one of Fiji’s 333 islands, getting to your final destination could mean either a helicopter or seaplane fight or a speedboat ride, all of which allow you to soak in the stunning beauty of your surrounds before disembarking on the doorstep of your resort to be immediately immersed in a traditional Fijian welcome.
As Walker says, “Arriving in Fiji and hearing Bula Maleya (the Fijian welcome song) sung and smelling the syrupy sweetness of white frangipani is one of the best feelings I know.”
Where to stay
On her most recent trip, Walker revisited a favourite island — the Dolphin Island Resort — on which she had three new experiences: The Wakaya Club & Spa, Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa and Six Senses Fiji.
Dolphin Island Resort
On this private island, the sleek, luxury accommodation is run by a matronly resort manager, Dawn, who is famous for her hospitality that wraps guests in love and laughter, and has long made this resort one of the most special and memorable you are likely to experience. As Walker explains, it’s the reason she keeps going back. Only able to accommodate a maximum of eight guests, Dolphin Island feels more like being in a lovely home than a resort, and will feel like coming home every time you visit.
Wakaya Club and Spa
Discover another luxurious hideaway at Wakaya Club and Spa, set on a picture-perfect private island paradise and offering accommodation for only 28 guests at a time. Boasting a beautiful, golden-sand beach (right on the doorstep of your bure), incredible snorkelling (thanks to the rich coral reef surrounding the resort) and a spectacularly lush garden from which food is harvested and which can be enjoyed by guests, the resort is truly second to none. As Walker says “[this is] without a doubt the best example of a lush, tropical environment that I’ve ever seen in Fiji”.
Sofitel Fiji Resort & Spa
Set on the sheltered western side of Viti Levu, the Sofitel Fiji Resort and Spa offers a tranquil escape on the main Denarau Island in Nadi — which makes it one of the easiest places to get to once you leave the airport. The Waitui Beach Club offers adults-only luxury like nowhere else, with lagoon-style infinity pools, a swim-up bar and cabanas galore. But beyond all of that, the Sofitel really leans into its French heritage by offering a gastronomic experience unlike anywhere else in Fiji. Offering stunning experiences such as barefoot dining in the sand, sipping house-infused rum on the Suka Bar swings, taking a walk through the on-site herb and vegetable gardens, or immersing yourself in the Fijian Night at Bazaar Kitchen & Bar, the resort is a foodie destination not to be missed.
Six Senses Fiji
Operating with health, wellbeing and sustainability at its heart, Six Senses Fiji is a calm, luxurious escape that offers an incredible spa and astonishing villas but that also places a strong emphasis on caring for the natural environment. In fact, Six Senses Fiji is home to 39 Fijian crested iguanas, a critically endangered species with less than 5,000 remaining in the world. Karen, Mikhail and Valentina enjoyed a double villa, which offered over 300 square meters of space and not one, but two, private pools.
“Bad lighting is a pet peeve when I travel,” Karen explains, “so I especially loved the care given to the interior and the lighting at Six Senses Fiji and to know it was designed by Kiwi architect Richard Priest is even better.” She adds, “and having dozens of critically endangered Fijian crested iguanas in the rainforest near our villa was pretty darn special too.”
What to pack
In Fiji, make the most of barefoot luxury and the casual, laid-back vibe with a suitcase full of easy, breezy pieces that keep comfort front of mind. Here, Karen Walker delivers her top tips, as a seasoned Fiji holiday-goer.
Pack light — at a lot of resorts, laundry is generally included or at a small cost, so it’s really easy to re-wear your favourite holiday outfits!
Don’t overcomplicate it — Most resorts also have all the gear for activities like yoga, snorkelling, water sports and even quite often have an excellent library consisting of many of the greatest Penguin Classics so that’s half a suitcase freed up right there. My favourite holiday reads right now are Let Me Tell You What I Mean by Joan Didion and Busy Being Free by Emma Forrest.
Multiple pairs of shades, Karen Walker ones (obviously) and a spare pair of spectacles in case of any accidents. Some of my favourite shades right now are the Blow Wave Two Torts (for a classic mood), the Wavy Ultra Two Torts (for a bit more fun) and the True North Wave Sundown Triple (for a LOT more fun).
Don’t forget sun protection — I never travel in summer or to the tropics without a big hat, a paper parasol (which you can get from Wah Lee in Albert Street) and of course, my preferred sunblock, Osmosis’ Protect.
Lots of swimmers too!