Scenic Matavai Resort, Niue Island
As a traveller, I don’t normally stay in hotels or resorts. Maybe it’s because I grew up on Australia’s Gold Coast; a city teeming with luxury highrises and family-friendly resorts, none of which my family ever went to, much less stayed in. ‘What’s the point in going away for a holiday when you live in one of Australia’s most popular holiday destinations?’ was my family’s attitude of the time.
I’m guessing this is where my inherent ambivalence towards these popular accommodation options stems from and explains why I get such a travel boner over staying in hostels, backpackers and sleeping on airport floors. It just seems way more honest, if not more interesting.
So when I was invited to stay as a guest of Scenic Matavai Resort, Niue Island, to celebrate the official opening weekend of the 2016 season, I was curious to see what all the fuss was about.
The opening night celebrations kicked off with sunset drinks and canapés on the lower pool deck overlooking the pristine reef below. VIP guests from local Government departments and the private business sector, as well as tourism operators and the media all mingled and networked, whilst enjoying the delicious creations of Scenic Matavai’s new head chef, Eddie Wilson.
Maybe it was the groovy acoustic island tunes floating on the gentle ocean breeze and the spectacular electric pink sunset blazing across the horizon, or maybe it was the endless refills of Sauvignon Blanc that kept magically appearing in my hand, but whatever the reason I couldn’t help but think ‘Damn, this whole resort thing ain’t so bad after all. Maybe I’ve been too harsh all these years? Oh look! More wine!’
After I’d single-handedly made the most of the open bar (once again proving that, like most writers, I’m probably an alcoholic in training), I made my way up to the Dolphin Restaurant & Bar to indulge in the new Friday night ‘Taste of Niue’ buffet menu.
As soon as the smoky scent of freshly-barbequed cuts of New Zealand beef, fish and prawns hit my nostrils, I was off and running to the chef behind the coals, briefly noticing the ample salad bar and local food dishes in my haste. I’ll blame this on the somewhat accurate stereotype that as a simple backpacker-style traveller, I’m a sucker for free shit. Especially free steak. The end result? A food coma that promptly put me on my (overindulged) ass. I couldn’t even fit in dessert, which is a crime in itself. Tears were wept in privacy later. It was all I could do to drag myself back to my Resort Superior Room and pass out like an overstuffed starfish on my super king bed, which could only be improved if it was made out of clouds, marshmallows and unicorn fur. Best. Night’s. Sleep. Ever.
Located in the quiet village of Tamakautoga on the southwest coast of Niue, the 44-room, 3-star Scenic Matavai is the only resort on the island, making it a popular accommodation choice for international holidaymakers. With sweeping ocean views and a simple, friendly, laid-back ambience that reflects the island’s general attitude, the Matavai has undergone some big changes in recent times, not the least the new management direction headed up by General Manager, Simon Jackson. And with an expansion on the horizon (watch this space), it seems that the Matavai is stepping up as leading accommodation option in Niue.
The Matavai has the usual amenities one would expect from a small tropical island resort: restaurant with open-air balcony overlooking the ocean; modest swimming pools complete with adjoining pool bar; well-maintained lawns and gardens brimming with local tropical flora; plenty of sun lounges along the lower decking with uninterrupted views of the Pacific Ocean stretching as far as the eye can see; and of course, friendly local staff who are only too happy to make your stay as comfortable and memorable as possible.
And as the new season commences, guests can expect some pretty rad inclusions with poolside welcome drinks (Tuesdays and Fridays); extended pool bar hours; Sunday Sessions by the pool featuring the smooth acoustic sounds of Glen Jackson; as well as new dining options among the exciting (if not much needed) changes, including Sunday’s ‘International Night’ menu and interactive dinners where the chefs will showcase their talents outside of the kitchen itself.
But for me, it was the small, yet thoughtful details that made me think this little resort has more to offer than meets the eye: the welcoming handwritten card waiting in my room on arrival; the big smiles and bright greetings from all the staff I encountered; the beautifully presented and absolutely mouthwatering Niue Takihi Salad Stack with grilled fish and papaya that I had for lunch (if they don’t serve this kinda thing in heaven, then frankly, I don’t want to go there); right down to the little eco drawstring bag included my bathroom with the message ‘Please enjoy your remaining bath and body products at home’, basically eliminating the guilt I usually feel when pilfering toiletries from places I stay. Because I’m a sucker for free shit. Because body wash.
The Scenic Matavai Resort may not have all the glitz and glamour of a Hilton or a Hyatt, but it does have the relaxed, warm and unpretentious ambience of Niue itself. It doesn’t have that ‘compound’ feeling of some resorts in the South Pacific islands, where you feel trapped within the grounds of the resort, eating only at their restaurants, using only their facilities, basically tethering you to the accommodation without letting you see the actual country you’ve come to visit.
Here, the staff provides you with the humble, yet tasteful, amenities you’d expect from a resort and then gives you the freedom to come and go as you please, encouraging you to explore the local villages and connect with the people who make this island so damn special.
The Matavai is not like its contemporaries, but then again, neither is Niue. And if big, wanky, swanky, over-the-top hotel chains are what you’re looking for, then buddy, you’re on the wrong island.
Either way, I’ll be back.
How to get there: Air NZ now flies to Niue twice weekly (Tuesday & Friday) during the tourist season, and is just a 3 ½ hour flight from Auckland. The Scenic Matavai Resort Niue is less than a 10-minute drive from the airport, with an airport courtesy shuttle available to guests. Details here.
The accommodation: Rooms at Scenic Matavai Resort Niue start at around NZD$200 per night during high season. There are a range of rooms to choose from that include Resort Ocean Rooms, Resort Superior Rooms with private balconies, Studio Apartments and Villas. Details here.
Thursday: Traditional Niuean spit roast buffet and fire dancing performance.
Friday: Welcome drinks by the Pool Bar; ‘Taste of Niue’ buffet featuring local food and your choice of steak, as well as a cultural performance by Niue’s youth.
Sunday: Sunday Sessions by the Pool Bar (6-8:30pm), featuring live music from Glen Jackson and special menu; ‘International Night’ dinner options at Dolphins Bar & Restaurant.
Images: Scenic Hotel Group