Ask someone to think of a tropical island they’ll usually conjure up images of palm trees, white beaches and crystal clear waters. If you’ve been lucky enough to spend some time in the South Pacific Islands you’ll know that these places actually do exist.
Recently my husband and I packed up our 2 young boys and headed north for a well earned dose of winter sunshine. Destination: Fiji. We had 10 days in a tropical paradise, and yes it lived up to our expectations and came complete with the palms, beautiful beaches and an ocean brimming with tropical fish.
Of course I couldn’t help but notice the gardens. Fijians know how to keep a place ship shape and they were constantly ‘grooming’ the grounds of our resort. There had been obvious care taken with the plantings of beautiful frangipanis, palms and plenty of other tropical delights, like these colourful crotons.
The landscaping was simple but very effective. Fijians keep things super clean for tourists and are very proud of their gardens. If there’s a patch of sand, they’ll rake it. If there’s some leaves on the ground, they scoop them up. They even rake up the seaweed on the beaches each morning, burying it under the sand. One wouldn’t want to spoil the tourist dream of that perfect unspoiled beach!
Fresh produce is important, as transporting food to the islands can be expensive. An extensive vegetable patch helps to feed resort guests year round as well as reduce costs. They also propagate some their own plants to use around the resort in new garden beds or to replace any lost to storm damage.
The first thing our kids noticed of course was the palm trees “Just like in the picture mum!” said the youngest. And so one of the first activities they wanted to try was coconut tasting. The coconut palm, Cocos nucifera, is the only accepted species in the genus Cocos. It may be a lone member of the genus, but its uses are endless.
The kids soon leant that coconuts have different uses according to their colour. The younger coconuts are green and are full of coconut water – a delightfully refreshing drink, although somewhat of an acquired taste. The flesh inside the green coconut is softer than in mature coconuts and readily eaten. The locals use a broken piece of coconut shell to easily scoop the flesh out.
The local villages explained to us that they eat and drink from coconuts every day, placing a high value on their importance. They don’t just use them for their nutritional content but rave about their medicinal uses. Coconut seems to be prescribed for just about every illness. You can also find it in heavy use in the local beauty salon.
Of course the uses of the coconut do not stop there. Fijians use the coir – the natural fibre from the coconut husk – to make from everything from floor mats and mattresses to placemats, brooms and clothing.
Coconut harvesting and preparation is a fine art. In a matter of seconds our guide had 3 or 4 coconuts on the ground and used his machete to expertly open them up for us to sample.
A final word of warning if you’re heading into the tropics. Falling coconuts are often used as an analogy when people ask about the threat of sharks. “You’re more likely to be killed by a coconut than attacked by a shark” they say. My own 10 days in paradise included 2 near misses from falling coconuts, so be careful!