VOMO ISLAND, Fiji -- There were only two logical explanations: I was either dead or dreaming.
It was mid-morning when I hopped onto a small boat in the middle of the South Pacific that sped towards a desert island. The sun, already blazing hot, reflected off the azure and turquoise-green water, so clear you could see glittery schools of electric-coloured fish below.
Waves crashed onto the nearby jagged volcanic rocks as we made our way toward a small island surrounded by a rim of pristine white sand, with a lush green mountain jutting up one side. Multiple hammocks swayed between the palm trees that dotted the beach.
A choir of people sang as the boat lurched ashore, and I dipped my toe in the warm ocean water.
When I first boarded a Fiji-bound plane from Los Angeles the week before, I was cynical about visiting some of the romantic hideaways featured on the recent season of The Bachelorette. Though I had never seen an episode, I had my suspicions the exotic locales featured on "reality" TV series were about as genuine as the showmances themselves. To be clear, there were not 25 single men awaiting my arrival. There was no grand proposal, and the closest I came to receiving a rose was the white hibiscus flower I once tucked behind my left ear.
There were, however, a group of women including myself armed with a daunting task: examine some of the resorts and luxury spas that attract honeymooners and celebrities to Fiji.
Turns out, reality is stranger than fiction...
There is something dreamy about Fiji, so far away in the middle of the South Pacific, it's no surprise it's been the location for films such as Castaway and Blue Lagoon. If you imagine a picturesque desert island, that's basically what some of Fiji's 333 islands look like, peppered with private, beachfront resorts geared towards couples, families, and partygoers.
Our trip along The Bachelorette's trail began in the north part of Fiji in Savusavu. From the airport, we were whisked to Koro Sun Resort, an eco-friendly hideaway where Barbara Streisand and the Coen brothers have been guests.
Someone handed me a rum-filled drink in a hollowed-out coconut before quickly escorting me to a lounge area, where I dipped my feet in a cool foot bath and staff massaged my legs and feet with freshly shaved coconut and coconut oil. My two-storey over-water villa was larger than my house, with a terrace overlooking the ocean only a few steps away from my bed. The "winner" of The Bachelorette stayed here during filming, I was told, and it didn't take long before I felt like a winner myself.
This place was hopping with honeymooners and was the location where the bachelorette and one of her conquests had dinner in the rainforest.
I was about to enjoy the same meal, dateless.
It was dark when I walked past a flower-filled pond toward the rainforest and arrived in a clearing where a wooden platform was covered in jewel-toned pillows and a Fijian tapestry. The entire area was surrounded by candles, flowers and kerosene lamps. A white-linen-covered dining table was set as though I was about to attend a lavish wedding.
Unlike on the TV series, however, the most action I saw was the three-eyed green bug who decided to crash the torch-lit affair.
Next, we headed to the all-inclusive Namale Fiji, to see where the magic happened on The Bachelorette's "fantasy dates." This is where she can hand her date a key to an over-the-top luxury suite, if he wants to join her for the evening, wink wink. We took a peculiar tour of the bure (Fijian beach hut -- though this was far more than a hut) where she and one of the finalists (who was eventually dumped) reportedly shared a wild night between the sheets.
Word is, the bachelorette didn't venture out of her sprawling house much during her stay. Between the massive wrap-around pool overlooking the ocean, outdoor showers, rooftop dining area and Jacuzzi tub, it's not hard to imagine why.
Fantasy is the appropriate word, really.
A carved wooden sign that read "Jennifer" hung on my private bure door, and each night staff wrote "sweet dreams" in flower petals on my bedspread. My private balcony overlooked the beach.
The place is owned by motivational speaker Tony Robbins, and Russell Crowe and Quincy Jones have been among the resort's guests.
It's around this time that all this pampering kicked in, and I really started to feel perhaps I am kind of a big deal.
A quick flight back later and we were off to Denarau Island -- the Wakiki, if you will, of Fiji -- where a string of family-friendly resorts, golf courses and shops dot the white-sand coast. We spent a night at the Westin, where John Travolta has reportedly partied with the locals and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes treated themselves to a couple's massage.
It was then time to hit the beach, and we hopped on a ferry that shuttles visitors to the islands off the coast of Fiji's main island, Viti Levu.
The area looks exactly how you imagine your tropical happy place, or at least, how I've always envisioned mine: secluded beach, swaying palm trees and crystal-clear ocean as far as you can see.
It was no coincidence a card that read "Enjoy paradise" was surrounded by a flower on my bed at Vomo Island. Vomo Island was the last leg of our journey, as it was for The Bachelorette.
Here, couples and families relax in private villas along the beach, though not the huts you're probably thinking of, la Survivor or Gilligan's Island. To put it simply, European royalty visited the week before our stay.
I grabbed a mask and plopped my head underwater where, right by the shoreline, hundreds of multicoloured fish zipped around in schools. Fiji is considered a primo dive and snorkel spot, and I headed out to Vomo's sister island, Vomo Lai Lai, to get a better glimpse of its underwater treasures.
I floated above sunlit caverns filled with deep, blue water. An array of tropical fish swam between the pastel corals, and the coral shelf dropped down 25 metres in places. It was near one of these drop-offs that I came face-to-face with a shark.
My first reaction was to scream and splash around frantically. My second was to inquire what said shark likes to eat for dinner.
Turns out, this was a white tip reef shark, and it was more interested in munching on crustaceans than taking a bite of my leg.
At sunset, I walked down a wooden staircase toward a feast on the beach in the exact location where The Bachlorette's main squeeze got down on one knee and proposed. Tiki torches surround the white-linen table where we dined on grilled mussels, Tasmanian beef, goat's-milk brie and figs as the sun descended across the Pacific, casting a warm orange glow.
Across the water, floodlights shone upon the picturesque volcanic rocks on Vomo Lai Lai.
I have one thing to say to you, Fiji.
During my trip to Fiji, I investigated some top-notch spa treatments. It's a tough job, but someone's gotta do it.
Here's my report:
Koro Sun Resort's Rainforest spa
Claim to fame: The spa is tucked away in the rainforest next to a babbling creek.
What I tried: The banana leaf massage. I was scrubbed with clay and seaweed before the masseuse wrapped me up in a blanket of giant banana leaves she picked from the grounds earlier that morning. I was toasty warm inside a giant green cocoon until the leaves were removed and I was treated to a subsequent 60-minute massage.
What I thought: I like the butterfly effect.
Claim to fame: Its huge hydrotherapy room with floor-to-ceiling windows (and a waterfall massage and plunge pool) with breathtaking views of a volcanic cliff near the rainforest.
What I tried: Fijian Bobo, where the masseuse uses her feet to get the knots out.
What I thought: While it was neat to try, I realize I do not like being stepped on -- both literally and figuratively. The plunge pool and aromatherapy baths were refreshing.
Westin Denarau Island Resort & Spa
Claim to fame: Chic outdoor massage bures (beach huts).
What I tried: Plain old relaxation massage.
What I thought: Best massage I had in Fiji.
Vomo Island Resort Fiji
Claim to fame: The spa is small and intimate, and treatments begin with a relaxing foot soak and massage.
What I tried: Papaya anti-aging facial.
What I thought: I got ID'd on my first trip to the wine store upon my return to Winnipeg. Enough said.
IF YOU GO:
How to get there:
Air Pacific runs overnight flights to Nadi, Fiji, from Los Angeles.
Nadi is about a 10-minute drive from Denarau Island, where ferries depart to resorts in the Mamanuca islands, an archipelago west of Nadi.
From Nadi, Air Pacific also runs regional flights to Savusavu.