After the two and a half our drive from Nadi’s international airport, Mango Bay resort feels like an oasis when it finally comes into view. The winding and often bumpy journey finally ends down a particularly bumpy stretch on unsealed road where the manicured lawns and palm groves of the resort lead up to where the ocean timidly laps at the shell strewn shore.
Like everywhere in Fiji it is the friendliness of the Fijian people that immediately leaps out at us. On our drive down to the resort our driver twice stopped for us – once in Nadi to visit an ATM and once farther along at a roadside store for us to buy beer and snacks for the trip.
The ladies at reception made short work of checking us in and making us feel welcome, even going so far as to have security move an additional bed into the beachfront bure we’d reserved so that a shyer member of our party wouldn’t have to endure dorm accommodation.
He needn’t have worried. The spacious and surprisingly well kept dorms were near abandoned for much of our stay. On two nights it was just the two members of my party in an eight bed dormitory.
Modestly designed and furnished, the dorms boast a refreshing lack of bunks. Single beds are portioned off in four bed cubicles surrounded by bamboo privacy screens and each bed has its own mosquito net and bedside table. Some beds also have overhead lamps, although I wasn’t one of the lucky few. The traditional bure design coupled with overhead fans means that the dorms enjoy a cooler temperature than the more compact (and expensive) beachside rooms.
What of our beachside base of operations? Thatched roofs line the waterfront and beneath them can be found slightly more comfortable accommodations. A separate toilet is a step up from the generally dirty and frog infested dorm bathrooms, and the tastefully designed outdoor showers are a new and pleasant way to wash off the dirt and sweat after a day’s excitement. Don’t fret. There are high walls for the modest, so no need to worry about peeping toms.
After dropping off our belongings we began to explore the resort proper. Mango Bay’s website prominently displays its schoolies and New Year’s attractions, and it was clear to us that we were no longer in peak season. In a resort built to host upwards of two hundred, I never saw more than thirty or forty people.
There are other signs too that the place sees most of its activity during November and December. The much vaunted night club played host to a battered table tennis table for the duration of our stay and the poolside bar served up only flotation devices and beach mats despite the pleas of a dozen or so of us on one particularly hot afternoon.
The hammocks that dot the shoreline are either too tattered or too tightly strung to be used, and only about half of the deckchairs sport cushions for comfort.
Over Vonu beers on our first night at the resort I discussed New Year’s with one of a large group of drunk Aussies.
“It was insane,” he boasts “People dancing on the pool table and having sex on the beach. It was going off. Girls would just walk up and ask if you wanted to fuck”.
Obligatory exaggeration aside it seemed we’d either timed our trip very poorly or very well depending on your viewpoint.
That’s not to say that the resort was without its charms. The waterfront lagoon pool is larger than average and pleasantly warm throughout the day. While the poolside bar might only exist in the busy season, the bar staff were happy to bring our drinks to the pool if we asked.
The central bure, a high roofed structure housing the night club, bar, and restaurant was a real highlight for me. I’m a big fan of communal space and many a chat was had with a fellow guest over beers at the bar or nightly Killer Pool competitions.
Of the staff at the resort I found the bar staff to be the most friendly, but that’s just smart business isn’t it? The bar has a selection of local beers as well as cocktails, wine, and soda – and there’s even Corona for the yuppie crowd. If you’re feeling budget conscious, you can even ask one of the bar staff to put your duty free liquor behind the bar and they’ll let you but it with their mixers. Not a bad deal.
The Moody Marlin restaurant has a modest menu which you’ll rely on for the duration of your stat. There are no nearby shops or cafes to offer an alternative. My personal favorites were the black pepper tuna and the chicken burger, while my brothers swore by the rump steak. All portions are generous and there are daily dinner specials to spice up the limited menu. While most resorts require you to buy a daily meal plan as part of your costs – Mango Bay provides a free continental breakfast (cereal, toast, juice, coffee, and fruit) and the pricing of meals means that it generally works out cheaper than a meal plan.
My one complaint on the food front would be with regards to the consistency of quality. On our first two days we raved about how delicious our food was, but a chicken burger that was perfect on Tuesday came burned on both Wednesday and Thursday. After declaring Wednesday’s fries the best we’d had in a long time – Thursday’s were limp and unseasoned. It was as if, having won us over early on, the kitchen staff just stopped caring what we thought.
Another area of poor consistency was in the running of daily events. While the board was updated nightly with a slew of activities for the day to come – fully half of them never happened. Some of them, like coconut bowling or day trips to Suva relied on participation and lived and died on the malaise of the guests, but others such as cooking classes and touch football were never even announced.
Still others seemed to exist at the whims of the owner and his friends, who used the resort as their playground while we were around. My group was particularly unimpressed when the sunset booze cruise we’d been looking forward to was hijacked by the owner’s friends and left without even offering other guests a place.
My lingering memory of Mango Bay will be one of missed potential.
We had a good time. Daily beach volleyball with the friendly local staff was a highlight, as were two nights of outdoor cinema. We consumed vast quantities of Vonu lager from three liter towers and spent plenty of time in the pool with beer in hand.
But I can’t shake the feeling that our five nights at Mango Bay could have been better. It’s understandable that resorts have their off seasons and there’s nought that the staff could do to solve the problem of the place being a bit of a ghost town – but simple things such as running activities as posted and delivering on promises would go a long way. Guests shouldn’t be sitting around in the bar bored because none if the staff felt like running an activity.
Don’t completely discount Mango Bay. The massage is second to none, the facilities are top notch, and the Fijian staff are typically friendly. The events that did run were a lot of fun and admittedly we didn’t attempt to arrange a snorkeling trip or scuba dive. Of course, these seemed to again rely upon the whims of the ownership.
I don’t regret my time at Mango Bay at all, but I’m not sure I’d go back outside of it’s peak season again. I just couldn’t get past the thought that I was missing out on a lot of the experience.