Play, eat and laugh in Fiji
IF ANYONE had ever suggested I might appear on the sports pages of a newspaper, I'd have laughed.But there I was in the Fiji Sun, snapped with the leaders of the Denarau Ladies' Golf Tournament.
I am a golf player but not competitive enough for anyone to take notice of me as I prefer to be known for my ability to cook and serve food. However, the offer to play in return for cooking my favourite salmon dish at the tournament's opening cocktail party had me up and off.
Fiji, as a holiday destination, is a treat for me. At this time of year it provides a balmy escape from Auckland's spring chills. With a range of accommodation available, a host of diverse activities on offer and numerous eating options, Fiji has everything I need for a leisurely break.
I shared a week of laughter and fun as more than 100 women competed in a superbly run Regal Salmon-sponsored golf tournament organised by the PaR nz team.
Played on the golf course next to the Sheraton/Sheraton Villas/Westin hotel centre, I was challenged by a course that is well kept and a tad tricky.
I am not disclosing how many golf balls were mine of the astonishing 545 that were lost in the water hazards over our four days of competition.
The women organised beach parties, lunches with plenty of nutritious salmon dishes and a Best of British-themed prizegiving dinner. I went as Jamie Oliver and looked ridiculous.
Golf started each day at 8.30am, leaving afternoons and evenings free to explore and relax.
It took five minutes to sort out which pool to sit beside. The infinity pool at the Sheraton villas overlooks the ocean and had a couple of barmen to ply us with colourful, complex concoctions known as tropical cocktails. A non-stop programme of activities runs daily for those who want to learn about Fiji's culture and arts, play sport, or go fishing or diving. I took the sedentary option.
I was impressed by the 10 different dining options, each at a different price level. Nothing seemed particularly cheap but the conversion rate of Fiji dollars to New Zealand dollars was in our favour.
A buffet breakfast at Feast Restaurant each morning left me groaning with a surfeit of baked ham, island fruit, steaming cauldrons of tasty fare including curries and well-stewed tea and coffee.
Snacks and meals are easy to come by at the bars, delis and other eateries.
The Denarau Golf and Racquet Club produced tasty affordable meals and specially cooked treats for our golfing contingent.
A couple of well-known Aussie restaurants have opened franchises within the hotels and I kicked off my sandals under the table to burrow my toes in the sand at the Sheraton's Flying Fish.
Our fish meal didn't quite meet the culinary standard we've experienced at the same restaurant at Jones Wharf in Sydney, but it was fresh and well seasoned.
At the Westin, Moo Moo, a restaurant from the Gold Coast, had a menu stacked with different cuts of meat from well-known Australian sources. As a Kiwi I hadn't a clue about the different brands so ordered the Wagyu. It was good, although it needed to be after a 90-minute wait.
My biggest find was Port Denarau. I paid a $5 taxi fare - although I could have taken a bumpy ride on the Bula Bus - to this compact, modern mall with shops, bars and restaurants.
There's a Hard Rock Cafe, plenty of waterside bars and restaurants to choose from, plus stores stocked with resort gear and tourist souvenirs.
My favourite eateries at Port Denarau, Indigo and Nadina, offer the sort of local food I imagine everyone thinks they might find but rarely do in the hotels.
Indigo's huge menu stretches to Fijian-style Asian food with Chinese and Indian dishes.
We headed here for a real feast of spicy curries, flaky breads and the "famous goat curry" that left us licking our fingers.
Next door and overlooking the water, the modest Nadina is where I found a complete menu of indigenous Fijian food. Kokoda ( marinated fish with fresh coconut milk), palusami (spinach cooked with coconut) cassava, fish, mud crabs, lobsters and the local drink kava make for a truly Fijian-style feast here.
I didn't win the golf tournament, but who cares? I returned tanned and relaxed - to find myself, unfortunately, shivering with cold back home. It seems like a dream.
Vomo Island: Perfect peace
A mere 10-minute helicopter ride from Denarau took us to Vomo Island for three glorious days.
Vomo may well be the most perfect luxury holiday destination in Fiji.
Guests have a villa to themselves, some on the shoreline of a perfect white sandy beach and others perched on the hillside with glorious sea views over the canopy of coconut palms. Vomo is child-friendly too, and there's so much space that I hardly noticed they were there.
We enjoyed an a la carte menu, different every day, in the central restaurant overlooking the beach and across the resort pool, and sipped cocktails at sunset at a bar at the western end of the island.
While I slept late, my husband fished at dawn, returning with a walu that the chef whipped up island-style for our lunch.
And after my golf overload at Denarau, I wasn't tempted by the fascinating nine-hole golf course, cleverly constructed over, under and around the palms.
But I did spend time reading by the pool, feeding fish that almost nibbled my ankles, snorkelling among the coral and observing tanks of baby turtles that are part of the island's conservation programme.
Vomo is a little slice of heaven.