Destinations

Fiji: Garden in paradise

Louise Richardson finds Fiji in full bloom

If God were ever planning a revamp of his celestial grounds, he could do a lot worse than to seek tips from the green-fingered folk who tend the magnificent gardens dotting the heavenly tropical isles of Fiji.

In this wonderful humid climate, gardeners can enjoy the luxury of planting tiny seeds or cuttings, then seeing them spring up and explode into life in no time at all. And it isn’t only flowers that grow madly. Exotic varieties of fruit burst forth in their natural habitat absolutely everywhere!

En route from Nadi airport, we see banana palms covered with bright yellow finger-like bunches. Huge pineapples are growing everywhere and, in a few weeks, says our driver, it will be literally raining mangoes. We look up and, sure enough, the trees are groaning with almost-ripe fruit.

At the Sofitel, we’re welcomed warmly and soon feel right at home. Every spot in the immaculate grounds provides a new photo opportunity – from the vivid hibiscus and the gorgeous, fragrant gardenia to the lilies that float on the surface of the pond, over which the restaurant extends.

The beautifully manicured gardens are tended throughout the day by friendly, knowledgeable garden staff who glide about, trimming and tidying. They will happily take time to chat and are only too willing to share their expert knowledge about the flora and fauna. We spend some time drinking in the atmosphere – and a refreshing cocktail at the seafront café – before our first offsite Fijian excursion with a Rosie Holidays guide who takes us to the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, 10 minutes north of Nadi on Fiji’s main island.

This exquisite oasis extends over 20 hectares of land and contains more than 2000 varieties of orchid plants. The graceful flowers were a particular passion of the garden’s founder, Hollywood actor Raymond Burr, best known for his starring roles in TV shows Perry oason and Ironside. Raymond adored the peace and tranquillity of Fiji and would often escape there during breaks in filming.

In 1965 he bought himself a small Fijian island and 12 years later, he established the Garden of the Sleeping Giant some distance away, on the slopes of a former volcano. Its jutting peaks bear a striking resemblance to – you guessed it – a large man in repose! The actor had a holiday shack on-site and regularly came across from his island to visit the garden – and especially his orchids. It was here that he lovingly and painstakingly cultivated many prize blooms, often naming new varieties after friends and TV co-stars.

Under Fiji’s sunny skies, a lush, tropical jungle draws visitors deep into the garden’s intense and humid atmosphere. Along stone paths, past lily ponds and towering trees, we wander at a relaxed pace, stopping regularly to exclaim at the delicacy of the orchids, the bold beauty of bromeliads and the melodious soundtrack of birdsong. My camera whirrs busily as each twist and turn in the pathway reveals another picture-postcard scene – a bamboo grove scraping the sky, softly rustling fan palms or a burst of bougainvillea in the most vivid pink imaginable.

After an hour’s exploration of these scenic surroundings, we are back at the shady refreshment area and sit for a while in tall cane chairs, cooling off with revitalising glasses of chilled mango juice. Returning “home” to the Sofitel in time for an afternoon rest, my friend and I indulge our new “foodie” passion – the tamarind, which grows in pods on a large tree. At the hotel convenience store, we discover little jars of tamarind chutney and find, to our delight, that it goes rather nicely with cheese and crackers and a chilled pre-dinner chardonnay on the balcony.

Dinner is a feast of local taste sensations at the hotel buffet – all beautifully laid out and utterly irresistible. The chef makes daily visits to market for the freshest produce available and you can taste the difference. The seafood has barely stopped wriggling and the fruit desserts are to die for – especially with the added bonus of a chocolate fountain. After indulging rather extensively, a late-night dip by moonlight is the ideal way to round off a glorious day.

**Factfile

**Get there Air New Zealand flies to Nadi: www.airnewzealand.co.nz. Where to stay Sofitel: www.sofitelfiji.com.fj. For more information Rosie Holidays: www.rosiefiji.com

Related stories


Get The Australian Woman’s Weekly NZ home delivered!  

Subscribe and save up to 38% on a magazine subscription.