By Jenny Hewett
Aug 1, 2022
RAIN RETURNS TO ITSELF, dropping like a thousand pins into the natural pond behind me. I gather my footing on the muddy stones underneath and throw a punch. Left, right, upper cut, then duck. My opponent, Sisi, is shadowing them back harder and faster. To get here we’ve swum through swamps, trudged through mud and hacked with machetes through dense jungle. My clothes and trainers are soaked right through. So a little rain is like water off a duck’s back at this point.
We haven’t been able to reach the main pool at Waisese ‘Lost Water’ Waterfall in the interior of Fiji’s south coast due to the slip danger the rain poses on the boulders. I’m cool with that, because after a challenging two-hour hike I don’t have much left in the tank. Having come this far, however, it would be crazy to refuse a ‘jungle boxing’ session with one of this South Pacific archipelago’s most esteemed Olympians.
The wellness tourism scene in Fiji is not as developed as those in Southeast Asian destinations. But it has the potential to be. Athleticism is rooted deeply in Fijian culture, especially rugby, with many hotel staff forming teams and playing and training regularly within staff quarters before and after work, as well as in their own villages. And Nanuku Resort Fiji is one of the few resorts on the islands that offers fitness alongside flopping-and-dropping. But what it really offers is something more holistic than a few squats and downward dogs can achieve.
Prior to Covid, the now 37-room Nanuku resort on the Pacific Harbour offered a Raka Rugby program in partnership with Fiji Rugby Union that put guests through an intensive three or five-day training camp inspired by Fiji’s Olympic gold-winning 7s team. While that program is no longer offered, the resort still has its own glory in the form of wellness coach and former judo athlete Sisi Naisiga, who has been with the hotel for seven years and represented Fiji at the Commonwealth Games and Olympics.
Warm, strong and armed with a great sense of humor, Sisi is fluent in Japanese, having lived there for eight years while she studied and competed in the sport. But judo is something that seemingly fell in her lap. She got into it through her uncle who worked in the police force after he hired a judo master to train colleagues in self-defense once a week. But he was worried the judo master would get bored, so he asked if could train the kids on the other days. Sisi ended up having more natural ability than her male relatives, eventually competing in both the Athens and Beijing Olympics. She retired from competing in 2013 after 15 years.
“My only wish is that I knew yoga before because my balance is better now than before I was playing,” she says after a private beach yoga session on the first morning. It’s very gentle and the perfect way to wake up after a long day of travel. As well as group yoga sessions, guests can also sign up for one-on-ones with Sisi, both in the resort gym and surrounding nature, whether it’s bootcamp on the beach or jungle boxing in the mangroves. Personalized sessions are one thing, but to do them with an accomplished athlete in a setting that gets you out of the gym and out of your comfort zone is another.
This a luxury hotel with an edge that you rarely find at stays of its caliber. One minute I’m up to my neck swimming through a swamp in the middle of the jungle, the next I’m stretched out on a sun-lounger next to my private pool eating a cheeseburger. Side note: healthy options such as poke bowls do exist, but there’s no obligation. I’m all for eating what we want when we want; it’s often the healthiest and most rewarding thing we can do on holiday.
I’m staying in one of the 13 new beachfront pool villas that Nanuku Fiji launched in 2019 on its 200-hectare property, and have a two-story, two-bedroom abode all to myself. Having the privacy of my own villa, with the option to order room service and watch a movie or join other guests at the main dining and pool area is a freedom I’m happy to indulge in.
For travelers that want to wake up feeling healthier on holiday, but have the option to chill out, too, the programming at Nanuku Fiji is the ideal way to do it. It’s not necessarily about getting your heart pumping, either. On my third day, Sisi, activities guide Benji and I head off under an arching canopy of mangroves on kayaks to check for mud-crabs in traps that they had set earlier that morning.
The one we do find is a tad small, and so we return him back to the mangroves in accordance with local law. Getting off my phone, out into nature and connecting with these beautiful people has made more of an impact on my wellbeing than the serotonins from any fast-paced work-out ever will. You should try it.
nanukuresort.com; doubles from FJ$2,949.