Saddle up for fun

Caroline Gladstone is never short of things to do at a resort where all the family is catered for.

I wake to the sound of chirping geckos on a bright day that looks perfect for jet-skiing.

Abdul, my guide and instructor, has been leading adrenalin seekers on rides across clear-blue waters and out to the idyllic islands of the Mamanucas for four years. He's a little surprised when I turn up alone and say I'm more than happy to be a pillion passenger, as most want to hoon around on their own.

Truth is, I'm flying out of Fiji in a few hours and after 10 action-packed days, I want to end on a high - and not capsize in Nadi Bay.

We head to Malolo Island, the hunk of land I can see from the balcony of my beachfront bure. The waters between Sonaisali Island Resort and the mainland, where we board, are as calm as could be, but once we round the island and hit the open seas, it's a bumpy ride. And Malolo Island looks a long way away - it's actually about 30 kilometres.

As we draw near he slows to a crawl to weave through the maze of reefs that encircle Malolo and its neighbour Malolo Lailai, edging bit by bit into the waters.

It has taken about 45 minutes and my derriere is relieved when we stop. The long coral-strewn beach is empty and we tuck in to the morning tea of muffins he's brought. The reef looks alluring and Abdul attaches the jet-ski rope to his wrist as we both swim out a few hundred metres to snorkel among the gorgeous corals and colourful fish.

Back in the "saddle", we have a quick look at Plantation Island Resort and Musket Cove on Malolo Lailai before Abdul guns the engine. I can't believe I actually enjoy being slapped in the face by buckets of seawater as the ski rises and crashes into the Pacific.

The day before, I'd climbed into a more traditional saddle and set off on an hour's horse trek to explore some of this 44-hectare island resort - an expanse of reclaimed mangrove swamp that was fashioned into an attractive holiday haven only a few hundred metres from the mainland.

I always like the idea of horse riding but never really relish the reality. At one stage, a long deserted beach looms before me, ideal for a canter, but instead I plod along on Trixibelle holding fast to the reins in case she even thinks about breaking into a trot.

The languid pace gives me a chance to chat to Rebecca, from Melbourne, whose husband is off jet-skiing, and their nine-month-old daughter is happily ensconced with one of the babysitters.That's the charm of Sonaisali, a 4½-star resort, which Australians have been visiting since it opened its 123 hotel rooms and beach bures in 1987. Aussies make up about 80 per cent of guests, and they are likely to come in even larger numbers following the recent introduction of an all-inclusive tariff that for $F130 a day ($75) provides all meals, unlimited local beer, house wines, soft drinks and Wi-Fi. Also included in the new deal is live entertainment (cultural shows and house bands), an invitation to the general manager's Monday night cocktail party, and a "jungle cruise" along Nadi River.

There's also a long list of free activities, such as kayaking, catamaran use, tennis and Fijian cooking classes. Among the freebies is the kids' club (open from 8.30pm to 9pm for children aged four to 12) and babysitting.

You also need time to take an escorted shopping trip to Nadi Town, go scuba diving on a wreck or catch a wave on a surfing trip to Cloudbreak reef pass or go paintballing, a huge hit with wedding parties and families.

Resort meals are good and I enjoy my poached coconut chicken salad at lunch and skewers of king prawns at dinner at the casual Terrace eatery. Gourmet fare is on offer at the 40-seat Plantation restaurant (not included in the all-inclusive deal).

Lodgings are clean and comfortable with a quirky touch - the hot tub on the beach bure's open deck is perfectly shielded from view by cane blinds.

Caroline Gladstone was a guest of Captain Cook Cruises' Fiji Islands and Sonaisali Island Resort.



Fiji Airways flies daily to Nadi from Sydney. From $685 return in late July, rising to more than $900 in school holidays.

Sonaisali Island Resort is 25 minutes by car from Nadi International Airport. The island is 300 metres off the mainland and accessed by a small boat that runs 24 hours a day. The 123 rooms comprise 32 beachfront hotel rooms, 42 ocean-view bures, 42 beachfront bures with balcony spa baths and three two-bedroom family bures. Beachfront hotel rooms start at $F372 ($215) a room a night for up to two adults and two children. Ocean-view bures start at $F446.40 a room a night for up to two adults and three children under 18 years. The price includes American breakfast for all guests and free meals for children under 12.

A 2½-hour Jet Ski Safari, departing at either 6am or 9.30am, costs $F515 for solo use of ski or $F598 with two people on board. An hour's horse ride costs $F70. The escorted shopping tour to Nadi is $F28 a person.