Fiji and yoga are two four-letter words linked by relaxation, both physical and mental.
Tropical, laid-back Fiji offers tourists a holiday choice of everything from modern, multi-star resorts with activities galore to serene backwaters to get away from it all.
One of the latter category on the northern island of Vanua Levu has opened the island nation's first custom-built yoga shala (covered platform) with space for up to 24 people at a time.
The Daku resort, just outside the town of Savusavu (population about 5,000) has added yoga to its annual list of week-long "Paradise Courses," among them painting, gospel-singing, writing, quilting and bird-watching, conducted by high-profile tutors in their respective fields.
A total of 17 five-day yoga programs in seven-day packages are scheduled for this year, led by teachers including Mark O'Brien of Sydney, Andrew Mouyrnehis of Melbourne, Flo Fenton and John Ogilvie from Byron Bay NSW, also New Zealander Deidre-Lee Allen.
Another notable is Mark Whitwell, an internationally-known American yoga guru - who officially blessed the 10m-square platform late last year.
Most visitors taking Paradise Courses come from Australia, Fiji's biggest tourism source.
Other participants have been from New Zealand, Britain, the United States - and a lone woman who flew 20,000km from Denmark to take a singing course with Rachael Hore of Lawson NSW, a singer, song-writer and choral leader.
Their ages vary, although most visitors are over 45. The writing and painting courses are limited to 12-14.
Youngest attendee was an 18-months-old boy, travelling with his yoga student mother; a Daku handyman fabricated a temporary cot for the toddler by placing bars around a normal bed for safety reasons.
Each yoga course has a different theme: the first, from March 20, intriguingly combines yoga with singing, "two disciplines which rely on a central skill - the breath."
The Daku resort is set amid rainforest trees and facing Savusavu Bay, one of Fiji's finest harbours.
It was built and originally operated by the Anglican Church as an enterprise which raised funds to pay for its administration costs, arranging education-based holidays for the over-55s that are still popular with some large overseas groups such as Elderhostel in the US.
British-born Australians John and Delia Rothnie-Jones globe-trotted to 70 countries before falling in love with the Savusavu area and buying the resort in 2004, later renovating and expanding it to its present 19 units totalling 55 beds.
They see Fiji as "the Pacific's new centre" for yoga, which originated centuries ago in India with its tradition of improving health and relaxation through mental and physical disciplines.
Elsewhere on Vanua Levu, daily yoga sessions with a team led by Tonka Tabua have been held for some years at the five-star Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Resort further down the road from Savusavu, and it's also part of the daily schedule on the top deck of the sailing ship Tui Tai during "adventure cruises" on Vanua Levu's spectacular Natewa Bay.
As well, Mark Whitwell, founder of the US-based organisation Heart of Yoga, owns a property on Fiji's "Garden Island" of Taveuni east of Vanua Levu, and has indicated he plans to organised a yearly retreat there.
John Rothnie-Jones, known to everyone in Savusavu as JJ, says Fiji "has its own magic and most particularly its own joy, which is very much part of yoga".
He sees this as a real plus: "Yoga isn't a deadly serious pursuit. It's about finding happiness and relaxation and most people get a lot of joy out of it. Fiji is a place of laughter - completely in tune with yoga."
JJ is proud of the workmanship in the yoga platform, which was built by his staff largely from the rainforest trees on his property: it's held up by four sturdy central poles which took eight men each to carry from hills behind the resort.
A look at the itinerary for one yoga course to be conducted in June by New Zealand expert and TV personality Deidre-Lee Allen titled "Pure-Balance and Pilates" shows most sessions are of two hours in the mornings and one-hour in the afternoons.
Interspersed are such activities as beach and boating trips, a tapa-making demonstration, visits to a nearby village for a Fijian "meke" (traditional dancing and singing), plus evening drinks at the Savusavu Yacht club and dinner in town.
The seventh day is free for guests to shop in Savusavu or further explore a pearl farm and other attractions in the area often called Fiji's Hidden Paradise.
Boat trips, the swimming pool, snorkelling, diving and spa massage are available for all guests including those not taking courses.
"There's lots to do here - or time to do nothing at all," say the Rothnie-Joneses.
They describe it as an "upscale budget" - small, low-key and casual, adding: "The staff is small, the smiles are large and our guests are welcomed like old friends of the family."
IF YOU GO:
Dates for this year's Daku Yoga sessions: March 20-27, April 4-11, May 23-30 and May 31-June 6, July 3-10, 10-17 and 17-24, August 21-28, August 28-September 4, September 12-19, October 3-10, 10-17 and 23-30, November 20-17 and December 11-18.
Full details, and dates for other courses in the arts, music, textiles and writing: in Australia call (02) 9969-4753, in New Zealand call (09) 9309-3591 or visit www.dakuresort.com/paradise-courses/ .
The yoga course costs $1,980pp and other courses $A2,280pp which includes twin-share accommodation, all meals, all excursions listed in the program and return airfares between Nadi International airport and Savusavu, a flight of about one hour.
Add $300 for a single supplement.
Accommodation for non-course visitors is available from $F180 (about $A105) a night plus a five-per-cent government hospitality tax, for an ocean-front bure (cottage) for two.
Extras are international flights to Nadi and personal items at the resort such as bar bills and laundry.
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