On Turtle Island off the coast of Fiji’s, Vita Levu, the largest island, the buzz and hectic activity had nothing to do with shooting another movie. Although Blue Lagoon starring a young Brooke Shields and the two important published photographs shot here and features in the swimwear issue of Sports Illustrated, certainly did bring much attention to this isolated, romantic and sandy island.
From the moment the 35 minute flight on Turtle Island’s private Beaver seaplane lands in blue waters metres from the shore there’s one surprise after another. Waiting are two men dressed in straw skirts and tops who, with crossed arms, insist on carrying guests to the shore. No water should touch any prince or princess coming to this very special resort.
The fact that the fast pace in this usually slow going atmosphere had to do with the building of platforms, decorating the reception area and making sure that the 14 exclusive bures (huts) were spic and span was due entirely to a wedding. Owner and visionary, Richard Evanson was getting married within a few days… yes, yet again. (no one in the know would say whether it was his fourth or sixth tying of the knot).
Thirty years ago, the American born magnate decided he preferred to live in the slow lane after his visit to Fiji and after seeing the then uninhabited island, never left. Instead, he purchased this 500 acre island with 14 beaches with no infrastructure for a mere $500. And with the help of the islanders now has one of South Pacific’s most sought after and much awarded luxury resorts.
My jaw dropped at the sight of my bure, #11. Above the door there was even a hand carved welcoming wooden sign with my name. Even the day bed had thin leaves that spelled out “welcome home”.
Coming “home” is special since this wildly spacious bure also has an indoor plunge/spa pool, double showers, two separated loos, double sinks on a long vanity and a four poster bed from which the sheer white mosquito netting drapes for wooden poles to be dropped in the evening sleep, with hopes of not getting bitten. There is a wet bar, a micro wave, which I couldn’t understand since meal times were terrific. The long outdoor communal table holds up to 30 guests where we all got to know each other, chattered about various issues, none newsy since there is no TV, or telephones, and just a single computer in the business centre. Suddenly, you realize that the outside world has nothing to do with guests on this very active island and it really doesn’t matter.
All the ‘ss’ were included the activities, surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving for starters but also fishing, canoeing and kayaking. On terra firma, there was the quaint but lovely sessions on learning how to tie a sarong in various styles, how to crack open a coconut, (with a pointed pole but set in a special position), a cooking lesson,(see CUISINE) horseback riding and one evening there was actually a sand crab race with cheers as though we were watching a bull fight.
Evanson, a most cordial and approachable man always seemed to have time to talk to his guests, surprised us by joining the dinner table on a few occasions. He loves reminiscing about how this magnificent property came to be and is very keen on ‘green’ environment and practices what he preaches.
Over the 30 years 500,000 trees have been planted, there’s a 4 acre hydroponic and organic vegetable and herb garden, a turtle preservation program where the turtles have names paid for by guests or other decor etched on the shell making it then impossible to sell, hence no killing of this sea worthy creature, preserving mangroves and coconut groves and many more incentives.
A huge banyan tree which will never be cut down, holds a grand position in the centre of the outdoor meeting area. Even #11 bure has two trees inside, now varnished and used to hold a desk and another with a circular table attached adding even more interest to the exquisite native wood decor.
One evening, most of us climbed to the top of a hill to drink to the marvelous sunset that was spectacular as were the hors d’ouvres.
Like any well known and appreciated accommodation, much has to do with the staff. And here the Bure Mamas make life a joy by never being intrusive yet getting the large apartment sized room cleaned, picking up the laundry and sewing and doing a few minor errands. Throughout the resort, each and every staff member is memorable for their friendliness from Mr. Dockman to Mela and Ana in the gift boutique to Mili who certainly seems in control of every situation .
Since casual is the key word, during the day a no-shoe policy was certainly kept by the sandy beach walkers while in the evening, the dress code was more casual chic. However, that wasn’t always the case but no one seemed to care.
While I was there, the 14 bure luxurious, romantic hideaway for up to 28 guests included 5 honeymooner couples. Costs are clearly for an elite group since daily costs are approximately $2600/day-worth every dollar if you have the dosh and want the best.
Perhaps the only glitch was at that time, the GM, ( I wonder if he’s still employed), who was arrogant, disinterested in protocol my seating himself at the head of the table at all times, never thinking of mixing with the other guests, showed distain for us lucky four journalist, and since he never would give out his last name, caused us to speculate about his past. In most unlikely Fiji fashion, he didn’t even come down to the dock to wave goodbye.
As the float plane arrived at the dock to take us back to the mainland, I turned for my last look at one of the most exclusive and enjoyable resorts I’ve ever visited. It was a once in a lifetime experience that I will take away as I did a turtle bracelet from the gift shop ..a keep sake of a memorable, but short time.
This was as if I was on a deserted island but with luxury and never wanting to be discovered.
Getting there. From the private Turtle Island air field is on one of the Beaver four to six seater water planes.