Turtle Island Fiji
Travelers can indulge their escapist fantasies while enjoying a socially responsible getaway.
by Natalie Compagno
The intoxicatingly beautiful islands of Fiji call to adventurers and romantics alike. Their history is one of myth and legend, filled with cannibals, royal chieftains and swashbuckling tales. Captains Cook and Bligh sailed swiftly through their bright azure waters. For the traveler, Fiji is a paradise known as the friendliest place in the world. Locals warmly call out "Bula," the Fijian greeting, to anyone passing by. Surfers, snorkelers and divers love the nutrient-rich waters and vibrant natural beauty.
To take advantage of Fiji's friendly vibe and private, perfect beaches, tourists need a resort that embraces both. Turtle Island makes vacationers feel a part of the Fijian family and yet secluded at the same time. In 1972, Richard Evanson purchased the 500-acre uninhabited island, and with the help of local villagers turned it into an oasis for couples. One of those villagers, Joe, helped Evanson survive a cyclone and ended up working at Turtle Island for the remainder of his life. His son Arthur now helps run the resort and, along with the staff of 120 Fijians from local islands, they create a unique, nurturing atmosphere.
Guests arrive via Turtle Airways' seaplane, floating above numerous islands leading to the famous Blue Lagoon, Turtle Island's aquatic playground. Upon landing, the bures (cottages) appear, nestled in lush plant life. Women are escorted off the plane through the tropical water in the arms of two Fijian men, while male guests walk the short distance. Couples are greeted with welcome cocktails where they meet their Bure Mama who will be their personal guide and attendant. The Bure Mamas also document the vacation and present a wooden photo album filled with memories to guests when it is time to leave the island.
Turtle Island has 14 bures so only 14 couples can stay at the resort at any one time. Each bure is an open, eco-friendly space built by Fijian craftsmen, and most of the woodwork is done on the island in their impressive studio. Twisting, polished branches adorn the tables, spiraling upwards to support the ornately carved ceiling, and serving as posts for the canopy beds. Indulgences include a comfortable living space, refrigerator stocked with fresh fruit and beverages, open windows with curtains blowing in the breeze, and flowers and palm fronds on the bed spelling the words, "Welcome Home.”
Evanson wanted couples to enjoy time together during every moment of their stay, so he designed his bures with two shower heads, side by side. The vanity hosts two sinks and there are even two toilets next to each other, separated by a wall with louvered slats. There are hot tubs inside the rooms that beg for a soak while sipping Champagne, and outside the queen-size day beds beckon for an afternoon nap. All bures open onto a short pathway to a hammock on the beach. For total privacy choose Vonu Point, the premium bure elevated on the north side with the nearest neighbor being 500 yards away.
Although the resort focuses on couples' private experiences, it also encourages guests to bond with each other and the staff. "Bula!" floats on the wind throughout the day, welcoming interaction. Some meals are shared family-style at a single table. Happy hour is on "Fiji time,” a relaxed, fluid pre-dinner gathering. The meals are memorable and delicious. Most of the vegetables and fruits served come from the island's garden, which has a bounty of crops. The chef creates Fijian classics, European and American fare, and a surprise favorite, Mongolian barbecue. A highlight is the authentic group Fijian picnic lunch where staff catches fish and crab just minutes before grilling or cooking in freshly squeezed coconut milk.
Couples can also dine alone, by candlelight on a pontoon under the bright Southern Hemisphere stars, or at Oyster Point overlooking the Blue Lagoon. The private beaches are the pride of the island and each couple rotates, enjoying the serenity of a new hidden gem. Bure Mamas pack a fresh lunch, set up a hammock and towels and then leave guests to truly feel like castaways. Of course, service is always a radio call away if needed.
Relaxing, swimming and watching fiery sunsets can take up most of the time, but Turtle Island provides a wealth of activities for those who want to do more. Scuba diving, windsurfing, paddle boarding, kayaking, sailing, fishing, horseback riding, biking and sunset cruises are all available. Highly recommended are the personal island tour, snorkeling (some of the best fish spotting is right off the main pier) and spa time. Fijian Bobo massage with cold pressed nut oils and Lomi Lomi four-handed massage are offered in the Vonu Spa.
Wi-Fi is prudently limited to the gift shop area, which along with the spa is the lone place on the island where further expense is required. Turtle Island is an all-inclusive resort, which encompasses all activities, entertainment, food, and top shelf liquor, wine, beer and Champagne.
Turtle Island is an exclusive yet personal place. It caters to culturally intrigued travelers who embrace community. The Fijian staff brings their enthusiasm, affection and faith to all they do. "Once discovered, never forgotten," says it all.