Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort offers all the luxury nature has to offer.
Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort is famous for its premier diving, but there’s so much more.
From several thousand feet high, the lush island of Vanua Levu looks like a brilliant emerald floating in the middle of an infinite aquamarine cocktail. Of its 330 islands, this is the second largest in Fiji and is an hour flight from Nadi International Airport via a small Fiji Airways commuter plane. The only other way in from the South Pacific country’s transportation hub of Nadi is via ferry, if you have 16 hours and 25 minutes to spare.
Either way, the journey is well worth the unique destination that awaits you here in the small town of Savusavu.
Within its sprawling 17 acres of land, the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort has created a perfect balance of luxury and simplicity, privacy and community. And while sustainability is not often associated with comfort or opulence, this resort has managed to achieve all of the above. Sure, there are no televisions or telephones in any of the 25 individual bures—thatched bungalows made from local timber and straw—but you won’t miss them.
Connecting all the bures and the main communal structure that houses the restaurant, gift shop and front desk are narrow pathways, creating a village-type atmosphere that was intentional in design. While walking along the paths, you’re likely to come across several workers who will greet you with a lively “Bula!” The literal translation is “life,” although locals commonly use it to say hello.
The eco-resort offers numerous activities and spa treatments that showcase and leverage its unparalleled natural surroundings. As its namesake would suggest, it’s most known for premier scuba diving sites with the Jean-Michel Cousteau Dive Centre located on property. While Cousteau does not have ownership in the resort, his love of the ocean and sustainability made a partnership with its owners, Canyon Equity (based in Marin), a perfect fit. His one condition was that the resort educate its guests, particularly children, about ocean conservation.
Guests can paddleboard from the resort to a private island for lunch and exploration.
This requirement is carried out through the resort’s Bula Club, a complimentary children’s program that features activities, such as rock climbing, glass-bottom boat excursions and educational outings led by the resort’s full-time naturalist and marine biologist, Johnny Singh. Each child under the age of 5 is designated its own personal nanny, leaving parents free to enjoy a day of diving.
If you can’t swim and are afraid of the water, as I have been all my life, this wouldn’t seem like the ideal place for you. But it is. The dive staff, led by Australian expat Andy Frazer, specialize in easing people into the water, starting lessons in the property’s swimming pool, then eventually into the Savusavu Bay, teeming with colorful sea life and newly planted coral (a project of the resort). My trainer accompanied me with a small whiteboard attached to his gear, writing messages and using hand gestures to help guide me. I was later presented with an official certificate acknowledging my completion of the program—no small feat for someone who’s never even ventured down a water slide.
Prices $800-$3,000 per night, fijiresort.com
The weather and water temperature (at 27 degrees Celsius) remain fairly consistent, according to general manager Bart Simpson, so start planning. If you go, here are some tips and activities that can be arranged through the front desk:
Kokoda: If you like ceviche, try the Fijian version, called kokoda, which has a creamy coconut base, local chiles and fresh seafood likely caught that day. Delicious curry dishes are also a local staple.
Kava: This drink has cultural significance in Fiji and is used in many ceremonies. Made by mixing the powdered root of the plant with water, it creates a numbing effect and causes a sense of relaxation after drinking.
Snorkeling trip: Accompanied by a staff member, you can explore a shallow reef system with a wide variety of tropical fish and invertebrates. Night snorkeling is also available off the resort’s pier.
Private island: Visible from the resort is a small island that is available only to resort guests. Book a private lunch and spend the day there all to yourself. Transportation and lunch are provided.
Rainforest and waterfall hike: Take a 45-minute scenic drive around Savusavu Bay to Nakawaga Rainforest. The hike ends at a beautiful waterfall, and you’re free to swim at its base.
Farmers Market trip: Explore Savusavu Farmers Market for a closer look at the daily lives of local Fijians through their local produce and seafood.
Fishing trip: Head out into the deeper waters beyond the bay. Likely catches are tuna, mahi-mahi and swordfish (all considered sustainable). The resort’s chef will be happy to prepare whatever you catch.
Village trip: Learn more about the Fijian culture and participate in a traditional kava ceremony with the village chief by spending a day at the Nukubalavu Village.
Flights: Fiji Airways (fijiairways.com) flies year-round from SFO, twice per week and three times during high season (from June through August and December). Starting your trip from Los Angeles? The airline recently debuted flights between LAX and Nadi on one of its two brand-new Airbus A350-900 aircraft, which features lie-flat business class seats.
Photography by: Courtesy of Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort