I'm in the middle of the ocean and for some reason it smells like freshly baked pizza. We're crashing through choppy waters in a longboat on our way to Cloud 9, a floating bar located on Ro Ro Reef in Fiji's Mamanuca Islands.
Thankfully, I've remembered to take my Sea-Legs. But any hint of nausea soon fades away when, out of nowhere, a two-level pontoon appears. It is blasting Michael Jackson and Wham! and other cheesy 80s hits. It is emitting the curious pizza fragrance from a massive wood-fire oven, where you can order a slice to line your tummy before making your selection from the fully stocked bar. It is, in short, paradise.
We are hoisted up onto the bar, and I choose the naughtily-named Sex on Cloud 9 cocktail. I sit back savouring the view as fellow patrons practise their diving skills off the top deck, and snorkel in the turquoise waters below. That's not just a travel cliche, by the way. The sea which holds the Mamanucas is the brightest blue I have ever seen.
Splash! I accidentally knock my cocktail off the edge of the bar, sending it flying overboard. I watch guiltily as it drifts away, and vow to make a donation to the sea turtles later.
Approaching Cloud 9, a floating bar on Ro Ro Reef in Fiji's Mamanuca Islands.
It's my first time in Fiji and I can't believe how much I am enjoying myself. I had always thought I wasn't a suitable candidate for an island holiday. I can't swim. I am more or less allergic to the sun. And the thought of wearing a bikini induces great anxiety (my flatmate caught me trying to sneak a pair of boardshorts into my suitcase and told me sternly, "you absolutely cannot wear those").
But against all odds I have found my happy place at Tropica Island Resort, an adults-only haven nestled in a private bay on Malolo Island. It's less than a two hour catamaran cruise from Port Denarau Marina, but the change of pace is so immediately obvious that you could be light-years away from the bustling tourist strip.
"Bula!" As we glide into shore, the resort staff are waiting on the pier to greet us with a song. "Welcome home. You're on Fiji time now."
Fiji time is a concept that visitors to the archipelago will come to be very familiar with. It means time is irrelevant - things will simply get done when they get done. It goes hand in hand with another popular Fijian phrase, "sega na lega" - no worries. It's basically a Type-A personality's worst nightmare.
Losing all sense of time has its benefits, however. Happy hour at the resort's sunset bar on the water's edge can very easily turn into happy hours, sipping White Lady cocktails - an order which elicits a giggle from the waitress - and watching the sky put on a dreamy technicolour show of purples and oranges.
A spectacular Fiji sunset captured at Tropica Island Resort on Malolo Island.
Fiji time is also an excuse to laze around in my beachfront bure. Tropica has 12 of these postcard-perfect thatched roof villas, which each have balconies complete with a romantic porch swing overlooking the ocean. Every bure also has its own secluded little garden with a selection of sun loungers and hammocks beneath the palm trees.
I become quite attached to my hammock, until one morning I emerge from my bure to find a rock-hard coconut has landed beside it - just inches from where my head would have been. I hesitate for just a moment, glancing at the ominously wobbly palms above. Sega na lega, I think to myself, climbing back in. Death by coconut wouldn't be the worst way to go.
It's only been two days, but I can't believe how much Fiji has changed me.
The magical beachfront bures at Tropica Island Resort.
If you do find yourself experiencing cabin fever, there are plenty of activities to enjoy on the island, with an activity shed well-stocked with water toys and all kinds of fun to be had with the friendly staff - everything from cooking demonstrations to crab racing to coconut bowling.
For an extra charge, the resort can also arrange offshore excursions, like a visit to the heavenly Cloud 9 - about a half hour ride away in the longboat - or a day trip to Mondriki, the uninhabited island where the Tom Hanks blockbuster Castaway was filmed.
Feeling adventurous, we head out in the boat on a snorkelling safari, and I am forced to face my fear of the water. One of my mates at the resort has sorted me out with a noodle so I can float, and after a few false starts, I realise it is actually possible to put your head under without inhaling gulps of salty water up your snorkel.
I'm pretty chuffed with this new skill, and spend the next hour drifting above the coral in a meditative state, enjoying a rainbow of tropical fish with punky orange eyelashes and pointy noses.
Back at Tropica, I only feel slightly guilty about my fishy friends as I select the beautifully fresh catch of the day for lunch - snapper - which is followed by a fruity Peach Melba for dessert. I waddle back to my hammock and fall into a food-induced slumber.
For a relaxing holiday all you need is sun, sand and a hammock.
Even more relaxation can be found by participating in a kava ceremony. There had been much build-up to our encounter with this potent Pacific crop, which Fijians dry out, crush into powder and combine with water to produce a drink known as "grog".
Sunny, one of the resort's charismatic entertainment boys, surveys our group with a mischievous twinkle in his eye as he prepares the kava bowl. "Is it your first time?"
Unlike alcohol, which gets a party started, kava works to calm a party down. After a few bowls, a boisterous crowd can be reduced to a blissful stupor, thanks to its sedative properties. Kava can also be taken in tablet form to treat anxiety - the idea is that it melts all of your worries away. You can get these from most souvenir shops. I may or may not have stocked up.
It's completely normal to lose all feeling in your tongue when drinking kava, Sunny assures. "You'll transfer that numbness from your tongue to your brain, from your brain all over your body, and you'll be just fine.
"You'll be on Fiji time, no rush."
The sunset bar at Tropica Island Resort - where happy hour turns into happy hours.
When receiving your bowl, it's customary to clap once and say "bula", before drinking it all in one gulp. After handing the bowl back, you clap thrice to show your appreciation.
Kava tastes about as unappealing as it looks - like water that has been used to clean filthy socks. But there is no doubt the effect is pleasing, and before long, my tongue is tingling and I feel utterly at peace. I glide back to my bure, pausing along the way to have a delightful conversation with a frog. As I sink into bed, I feel as though I am being rocked gently by the ocean waves. It's the best sleep I've ever had.
Possibly the best thing about kava is that it leaves no hangover, which is just as well, considering the next morning we are making our glamorous exit from the island - in a helicopter.
Under normal circumstances, I would be terrified. But for some reason, I can't wipe the grin off my face as the resort staff serenade us for the final time, while the whirring of the chopper blades grows louder. Then it's up, up and away from our tropical paradise. In the blink of an eye, we have soared over the glittering Mamanucas and are hovering above Denarau Island.
"Welcome back to DenaVegas," the pilot says.
Maybe I've gotten too much sun. Or perhaps it's the kava. But my introduction to Fiji has ended on a literal high.
In fact, you could say I'm floating on Cloud 9.
MORE INFORMATION tourismfiji.com
GETTING THERE: Fiji Airways flies to Nadi from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. See fijiairways.com.
South Sea Cruises operates catamaran transfers to Tropica Island Resort from Port Denarau three times a day, or if you're after a faster ride, Island Hoppers provides helicopter transfers from Nadi Airport or Denarau in just 12 minutes.
STAYING THERE: Tropica Island Resort is a boutique adults-only resort (16 and over), featuring four deluxe beachfront suites, 12 beachfront bures and 14 resort rooms. Pricing begins from $1300 NZD per person twin share for five nights in a beachfront bure (includes one night free). See tropicaisland.com
BEING THERE: A range of complimentary activities are on offer at the resort, or excursions can be booked for an extra charge. Guests can also enjoy the 25-metre infinity pool and day spa. The resort has two restaurants and three bars, with all dietary requirements catered for and lunch and dinner menus changing daily.
The writer travelled courtesy of Tourism Fiji and Tropica Island Resort.