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December 22, 2004
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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET ?                                           Cousteau Resort, Fiji
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Bula once again! Our incredible trip to Fiji ends this week, and of course we saved the best for last. You’ll need to hold on to more than your seat, because we’re about to check into one of Fiji’s best resorts.

One of the reasons I went back to Fiji for the second time in a year was the chance to stay at the renowned Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort. Better known as "Cousteau," it is one of the most distinguished vacation destinations in the South Pacific. That’s not just hype – it has all kinds of awards to back it up, including #1 Resort in Fiji (Travel + Leisure 2001), #1 Award for Outstanding Contribution to Culture Tourism (Fiji Excellence in Tourism Awards 2002), World's Best for Diving (Harpers Abroad 2003), Best Food in Fiji (Travel + Leisure 2001), and Best Service in Fiji (Travel + Leisure 2002, tie). Now you can see why I wanted to go.

My colleagues (remember, I was on a press trip) and I were picked up in downtown SavuSavu in the Cousteau van. It was a hot day, so when the driver pulled up in that four-wheel, air-conditioned oasis and handed us ice-cold bottles of Fiji water, I already loved the place -- and I hadn’t even seen the property. That required a 15-minute drive down a long, bumpy dirt road. We didn’t pass one car, so I knew the resort would be remote – and it was. When we arrived we were greeted with another fantastic, warm traditional Fijian welcome. Check out this short video clip (be patient -- it takes a couple of minutes to load).

Like every guest, we were given a quick familiarization tour of the resort by Karen, one of the general managers (her husband Greg is the other). I asked if the owner was in town for the Music Festival that was about to begin (that was the main reason we were there -- more on it later). She said he was, and that she could introduce us. I was excited to meet Jacques Cousteau’s son Jean-Michel—after all, I grew up watching Jacques’ television programs. However, Jean-Michel owns only a small part in the resort and visits only twice a year. He came up with the idea of taking over the Nakoro resort and turning it into the posh, eco-friendly resort Cousteau has become today. Jean-Michel’s main job is overseeing the environmental program, which employs a full-time marine biologist through his organization, Ocean Futures. Having a marine biologist on site helps visitors truly appreciate the underwater world. Cousteau is the only resort in Fiji to do this.

Instead I met Mike Freed, the main man behind Cousteau and (I later learned from a colleague) currently one of the hottest hoteliers in the industry. Mr. Freed owns Passport Resorts (with his business partner Peter Heinmann), which includes Cousteau and two other fine properties: Hotel Hana in Maui and the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur. Yeah, I had the same reaction -- you can pick up your bottom jaw now. If it didn’t drop, that’s probably because you weren’t aware that last year, Conde Nast Traveler Magazine readers voted the Post Ranch Inn the Best Hotel in the WORLD! BTW: All three are not only unbelievably posh retreats, but eco-friendly as well. That says a lot about Mr. Freed.

We’ll have to check out the other two resorts in 2005 (I know -- wishful thinking). For now let’s dive (no pun intended) into Cousteau. It is located on 17 acres of a former coconut plantation, overlooking the peaceful waters of SavuSavu Bay. There are 25 bures (Fijian thatched bungalows) throughout the property, which resembles an authentic traditional Fijian village from about 50 years ago. When Passport Resorts took over Nakoro Resort, they completely renovated it. All the bures have one king-size bed, and one day bed. The mattresses are all custom made. These are the same beds used at the Post Ranch Inn. Also, the linens are the same as the Four Seasons hotels. Calling the beds "comfortable" is an understatement. The bures have a South Pacific feel -- except the bathrooms, which are done in Italian tile. The bath products are made by Fiji’s own Pure Fiji, a local company that produces an awesome array of eco-friendly soaps, shampoos, lotions and body oil.

I was stoked to learn the resort has the cheapest laundry service around. For example, washing a pair of underwear costs only 30 US cents. The reason they charge at all is so people won’t abuse the system by getting everything washed twice a day. Washing, of course, hurts the environment.

I stayed in bure 14, one of eight with a garden view. This room category is the lowest they have -- but if my plush room was the worst on the property, then I had to see their best. I did -- and that was bure 25, the Pointe Reef Villa. That bad boy was totally sweet. It’s isolated from all the rest, and comes with a private plunge pool, waterfall, spa tub, private garden area with waterfall, and a kitchenette. But I was perfectly content in my bure—besides which, I didn’t have to walk far to get to it.

Although this resort is known for some of the best diving in the world, it’s definitely not just for divers. Not even close. In fact, guests can do as much or as little as they like when it comes to activities. Every day, there is something to do (land or sea), from early morning yoga to an afternoon catamaran trip. They even offer adventure hikes in the rainforest, and Sunday trips to the local church. They also offer ecological awareness tours, like exploring the reef with their in- house marine biologist. I didn’t want to leave the resort, but I also wanted to visit the local village, because they holding an important ceremony for us. I will never forget our guide telling me not to cross a certain line during the ceremony (I was taking pictures for the group). If I did, I would be clubbed by one of the chief’s guards. I only had to hear that once. The highlight came after the ceremony. I was checking out all the great (and inexpensive) handcrafts made by the women, and of course I had forgotten my wallet. But the Fijians did not miss a beat, and allowed me to charge what I bought to my room.

As soon as the familiarization tour was over, I put on my bathing suit and grabbed some snorkel gear from the dive desk. I was so excited that I ran down the long dock as if I was chased by bees. I jumped into the bath like water (a perfect 82 degrees), and swam out to the float. It was 50 yards away. I felt like I was in a swanky fish tank at a fancy seafood restaurant, because the coral and fish were so vibrant.

After* rinsing off the salt water at the outdoor shower, I took a few laps in the calm pool, then tried to relax on one of the colorful orange day beds. I just lay there with my legs crossed, and thought to myself, This is unreal – I have to tell my family. So I grabbed my laptop from my room and logged on the internet. Can you believe they have wireless internet? The only negative was that it wasn’t cheap: $24 USD for one hour. Ouch! But that’s probably a good thing, so people won’t spend time working online. To use the wireless, you have to be in the bar area (where the router is located). By the way, on this trip I visited many of the same resorts as I did nine months ago, and am happy to report that in that short time the entire country has upgraded to faster connections. Almost all of the resorts I went to now have high-speed – Cousteau was the only one that was wireless.

Speaking of the bar, all non-alcoholic drinks are free (except fresh-squeezed lemonade, smoothies and milkshakes), including as many bottles of ice-cold Fiji water as you can drink. Also at the bar are fresh slices of coconut, addictive taro chips, and fresh sushi/sashimi. The latter is only there if a guest goes deep-sea fishing – although everyone is guaranteed to catch at least one fish. Here’s another of Cousteau’s little details that make a big difference: The bar also has a large assortment of insect repellent for guests. The mosquitoes were not crazy annoying like at some places we visited; however, we still needed repellent. One more bar tip: At 4 p.m. the staff puts out fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies. No one seemed to know about them except me (of course my nose found them).

As at all the resorts we visited, Cousteau offers an array of spa treatments and massages. The first place our group usually went to – wherever we visited -- was the spa (we wanted to sign up before all the times were filled). Our photographer Rosanne arrived the same time I did. I joked that we were there to sign up for the couple’s massage (Rosanne laughed and said don’t you wish). The receptionist didn’t realize I was joking. When we showed up for our 5pm massage (thinking they would be in different places) to find the tables side by side for a couples massage we were shocked. I wasn’t about to give up my massage, and neither was Rosanne. So as I started undressing I whispered into Rosanne’s ear "close your eyes otherwise you will get a big surprise" and I slipped under my sheet. After the massage, it was time to sign the paperwork. When we gave separate bure room numbers, the masseuses looked at us like we were freaks. I realized they thought we really were a couple, so as I put my clothes back on I stuck out my hand to Rosanne and said, "By the way, I’m Johnny. What’s your name?" You should’ve seen the smiles from those ladies -- it was classic*!

So who is this place for if not just for divers? Because I was there for work (if that’s what you want to call it), I spoke to all the guests. They were very friendly, and hailed predominantly from the U.S., New Zealand and Australia, with a couple from Europe. Some were on honeymoons – in fact, an Australian couple I met had gotten married at the resort in a small ceremony, and loved it. Most guests were celebrating anniversaries, but some were just water enthusiasts. What surprised me most was that some of these couples had kids with them, but I didn’t know it until later. This place is great for everyone. Seriously, I have never been to a resort with a better kids’ program. I didn’t realize there were kids on property, except for an occasional meltdown in a bure. First of all, children are discouraged from being around the big pool (called the Serenity Pool). That’s okay – it probably would be too boring for them. Their own pool has a slide. I never saw it (although I heard screams of delight), but from the picture on the website it looks real nice. Parents loved that kids under 5 get their very own nanny, while those older than 5 are put in a group with no more than two other kids. The program runs from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., with one hour break. Here’s the best part: It’s free! Of course, kids love it. Every parent I spoke to said their kids didn’t want to leave. That’s probably because Fijians are such great people. Honeymooners will be pleased that kids rarely eat in the main dining area -- and if they do, it’s early, before everyone else. When I was there, most guests had breakfast with their child; then the kids had lunch and dinner with each other at the kid center, which everyone preferred.

I can’t forget about the food. All meals are included, and the food is divine. We ate like kings. The setting was ideal. We ate outside under the stars every night of the six, except once when it rained. And after every meal but breakfast we had at least one dessert. That’s right -- they were so good, we had to order more than one. The hotel also offered private settings, like dinner at the end of the dock or a picnic on your own* private island. We were fortunate to have a special breakfast on the private island -- not once, but twice. The first was with three of my *colleagues; the other was with other colleagues, and Mike and his friends. The private island is usually reserved for one couple at a time. It can be reached by kayak (15 minutes) or motor boat.

I’m sure everyone who stays here loves this place. How can they not? You have to love a resort that not only has heavenly surroundings, exceptional dining, an organic garden, a very friendly staff that remembers your name, but is also eco- friendly. If those reasons aren’t good enough, then their cultural host, Numaia, is. Numaia is an older, wise gentleman who everyone refers to as the Medicine Man. He takes guests on weekly edible plant tours around the property, and teaches them which plants to eat, or which treat ailments (McGyver would’ve loved this info). Numaia can also be found singing with the Cousteau Bula Boys (the resort’s Fijian String band) each night around the kava* bowl.

The reason we stayed at Cousteau was they were one of the hosts for the first South Pacific World Music Festival. The other hosts were the Koro Sun Resort and the SavuSavu Hot Springs Hotel. We didn’t stay at the Hot Springs hotel, but it’s a clean place for travelers on a limited budget (rooms begin at $55 USD). During the week-long festival, a band performed at one of the host properties each night. There were supposed to be bands from all over the region, including Hawaii and Tahiti, but unfortunately some canceled at the last minute. They were also supposed to have either Michael McDonald or Jackson Browne, but that fell through too. However, they did have Fiji’s own world music phenomenon, Black Rose, and Edou from New Caledonia. They also brought in one of Fiji’s most famous singers as the host; Laisa Vulakoro. She has recorded 14 albums, and was really nice*. I spent a lot of time with her, including drinking kava with her and the Tourism Minister, Pita Nacuva.

Another celebrity brought in was Wendie Malick. She’s most famous for the TV show "Just Shoot Me" (she played Nina, the tall ex model). Wendie was very cool to hang with, as was her brother, Scott. One of the highlights of the trip was Thanksgiving night, when Wendie, Scott and four of my colleagues had dinner together at Cousteau (they offered turkey as a dish!). After dinner Black Rose was playing by the pool. We were dancing, and were all hot and sweaty. I said to Wendie and my colleague Lisa, "We should just jump in the pool with our clothes on." They looked at me, and said they’d jump if I did. Sure enough, as soon as I jumped they were on my tail. They practically landed on me. Then it was like a scene out of "Fast Times." Everyone flew through the air into the pool with their clothes on -- including Mike the owner. How wonderful is that?

As one can tell I am totally sold on this place, actually they had me at Bula!

SPECIAL: January 15, 2005 through April 15, 2005 (excluding holiday periods), Cousteau offers a "Winter Getaway in Fiji" package deal. You get two nights free (when you pay for five nights), and receive two free massages! The offer is based on double occupancy, in oceanfront accommodations or better. Taxes and gratuities are additional. Blackout dates, other terms and conditions apply. Subject to availability. For reservations and information , contact Randy Gardner at 1-800-246-3454, via email at info@fijiresort.com or online at FijiResort.com. Special airfares to Fiji are available with this "WINTER GETAWAY IN FIJI" package; call Scott at 800-845-1054.

Merry Christmas and Happy Travels,

Johnny Jet
*Please tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Pictures From

The Trip


Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort


Welcome Greeting





Mike Freed





Inside Bure



Cousteau Dock



Day Beds by Pool



Pool Towel


Outside Dining


Glass Bottom Boat


Private Island


Bula Boys




Wendie Malick


Dancing at Music Festival


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  • Dude, you sold me on this place. I’m getting married on January 22nd, and THIS is the place I want to go. Cripe, what a place! Aaron - Boston
  • The Taveuni newsletter was one of your best! I'd love to go there! Thanks, Linda - ??
  • I will be returning to Australia for the holidays and I recall reading a previous newsletter of yours mentioning a restaurant within or close to LAX that was perfect for airplane enthusiasts. Can you refresh my memory? I will be traveling with someone who is obsessed with planes and flying and thought this would be a fun thing to do with our lay over there! Thanking you kindly, Renee REPLY: Next time you land at LAX on runway two-five (the far left one), look out the left window just before touching down. You will see The Proud Bird almost directly below you: The Proud Bird, 11022 Aviation Boulevard (northeast corner of 111th) Tel. (310) 670-3093.
  • GREAT ONCE AGAIN!!! Becky - ?
  • My experiences in Fiji centered around KAVA. The director of security at my hotel was so impressed by my 9 cups of Kava- and me still standing (just barely) - that we got a Christmas Eve invitation to his village for Dinner. Throngs of children peeked through doors and windows of the chief's hut - he explaining that, "it's not that the children haven't seen white folks before - just not in the village"!!! A male dominated society of the Fijians part (Indo-Fijians is another matter), Kava opened doors, hearts and minds to us -otherwise not as easily achieved. LTC (US Army, ret) Mike and Karen Horn -- Tracy, CA
  • Another really great article. The whole series from Fiji have been great. You can tell just how much you love being there. What is really amazing too is the response that your readers have had to these articles. People seem so passionate about Fiji and sharing their experiences with you as well. PS. That one picture that you took of the red drink (I think from last week) looked straight out of bon appetite...nice job. Jeanie – Topeka, KS
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