Andy’s blog on the June visit to Fiji
They say “Fiji time” is a reflection of the laidback lifestyle and the way Fijians want their visitors to feel whilst there. Nothing is too rushed and the friendliness of the Fijians should relax you, so you don’t worry too much about being on a schedule. Our visits there seem to have a measure of that relaxed and unhurried element but also the need to get to meetings that rely on ferry schedules or a couple of hours on very slow and unpredictable roads.
We have been working with Victoria Wines in Fiji since 2012 and look forward to our (almost) annual escape from the Central Otago winter to visit the many resorts and restaurants that are their customers. Over the years we have become friends with many of the GM’s, Food & Beverage Managers and the staff who so eagerly attend our training sessions on New Zealand wines. This year we flew out of Queenstown on a chilly 4 degrees Celsius Sunday morning to land late in the day in Nadi at a balmy 31 degrees. Sweaters and thermals were replaced by shorts and tee-shirts and the messages back to the team were “I know this looks bad – but really – we are here working”!
First up on Monday morning was a ferry ride out to Castaway Island with our wonderful Victoria Wines’ Account Manager Eunice. Castaway is a beautiful resort on an idyllic island that has been a supporter of our wines for quite a while. GM Steven and F & B Manager Monica were on hand to meet us as we stepped ashore to the sound of guitars and a Fijian welcome song. As with prior visits, lunch was the first priority and we were treated to a delicious island lunch while chatting to Monica. After lunch it was time to meet their staff and spend a couple of hours taking them through our training. Some of the team we had met before but many were new and had very little wine experience.
The staff sessions that Misha and I run are very much based on passing on a little knowledge of New Zealand wines, where Central Otago is located and why it has become so famous, then getting familiar with some of the Central Otago wine varietals – pouring Misha’s Vineyard wines of course! Some of the teams have a good understanding of wines but for many they had no exposure to wines in their home and their lack of basic knowledge can make them uncomfortable being asked questions about wines by their guests. Giving them wines to taste and expressing the flavours, mouthfeel and food matches in a way that relates to flavours and food commonly found in Fiji, goes a long way to make the hospitality team feel more confident. Many of them have become “friends” on Facebook or other social media channels and follow our travels and wine information with great interest.
Given the limited ferry schedule, Castaway was a full day with no opportunity for another resort visit. Normally we would use the Victoria Wines boat and be able to get to at least two or more islands resorts in a day, but wind swells made it unsafe to contemplate the smaller boat so staying safe on the large interisland ferry was certainly the right call.
Day two was started with a 2-hour drive down to the Shangri-la Fijian Resort on Yanuca Island – connected to the main island by a small bridge. Our host was F & B Director Gerrard, who has been a great supporter of our wines in other properties that he has managed. Misha remembered staying at the then-named Fijian Resort more than 35 years ago! Now under the Shangri-la group, the resort has had several make-overs and just recently has had the F & B outlets remodelled into some stunning dining and bar venues. Gerrard took us on a walking tour of the resort and we quickly began to realize how big the resort is. They will be soon hosting a three-day conference for 800 people! Yet despite the size, the atmosphere was refined and intimate. We tasted through some of our range and are looking forward to going back for some staff training and possible wine event on the next visit.
After the drive back to Nadi we met with Amy – the delightful owner of Nadina – the authentic Fijian restaurant at Denarau Port. We had a wonderful lunch with Amy and heard a lot of the news on what’s happening in Fiji with the tourism and hospitality sector. If you visit Fiji this is definitely a place to put onto the dining list. Misha and I have had a meal there on every one of our trips to Fiji and are already looking forward to going back!
The afternoon on day two included two staff training sessions – the first with the team at Victoria Wines – with a couple of Nadina staff included. Victoria Wines has three shops in Fiji – Nadi, Denarau and Suva. They have a great selection of wines and really knowledgeable staff to help with the wine selection. Although some of the team have heard our training sessions many times, they still join in each visit to update their knowledge and of course enjoy a taste of the new vintages! The second training for Tuesday was at The Sofitel Resort & Spa in Denarau – where we were staying. This was our third session of training staff at The Sofitel over the past six years and it was again a really interested team of F & B staff who came along to hear about New Zealand and our wine. As always in Fiji when we ask what they know about New Zealand, the first answer is “All Blacks”!
Wednesday was yet another bright sunny day! After a business meeting with Victoria Wines’ owner/director Kate and some of the team, we boarded the Six Senses shuttle boat for an hour’s ride out to the new stunning Six Senses Fiji Resort on Malolo Island. Six Senses Hotels and Resorts embody the concept of discovering your fun side, your emotional side and your connection with yourself. It could be through exhilarating activities, simply relaxing or having the most memorable experiences. It’s a wonderful concept and shows in the design and operating of their resorts. Misha and I visited Six Senses Fiji two years ago as it was in the early stages of construction. Now nearly complete we met with F & B Manager Laurence to tour the site, look through some of the magnificent villas, dining venues, bars and the spa. We then enjoyed lunch in the recently completed main restaurant Tovolea, with a stunning view out to the azure blue Pacific Ocean. Following lunch we ran our wine session with some of the key F & B staff. Again, some very knowledgeable members of the team delved into the regional stories and wines to some depth, others simply discovered something new through tasting a wine that they had never tried before and relating it to some of their favourite tropical fruits or flavours.
Back on shore and after a quick break at our hotel to catch up on some work backlog, we joined Kate, Angus, Hamish and Elle from Victoria Wines for a dinner at Rhum Bar. Rhum Bar is a favourite for local expats – especially those from New Zealand or Australia. It seems to be the go-to place for a good meal, nice wines or cold beer. Sitting out on the deck overlooking some of the most amazing super-yachts along the marina, we seemed a million miles from Central Otago. Kate and her team are truly some of the best hosts and always make our visits to Fiji special.
Thursday was the last day scheduled for work with only a training for staff planned for the afternoon at the amazing Tokoriki Island Resort. This adult’s only resort paradise was to be our home for the next couple of days. GM Robert had a treat for us on arrival with an upgrade to one of the magnificent Pool Villas at a secluded end of the beach. We had time to unpack, relax over lunch then met with the F & B team for a couple of hours of training. The Tokoriki staff are amazing – everyone addressed us by name from the moment we arrived. From the front desk to the gardener they were friendly, took time to chat, told us how much they loved working there and what wonderful owners the resort has. Robert has been General Manager for many years and has a wonderful philosophy for letting his team express themselves in a genuine and natural way. One of the resolves that we had on sadly having to leave on Saturday, was that we would be back. Given some of the guests have notched up over 100 stays, I guess that’s a common commitment!
It’s always sad to leave Fiji but not so bad knowing we’ll be booking flights again soon for our visit next year.