AS THE FAMOUS FRENCH WRITER HILAIRE BELLOC NOTED, “I HAVE WONDERED ALL MY LIFE AND I HAVE ALSO TRAVELLED; THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO BEING THIS, THAT WE WANDER FOR DISTRACTION, BUT WE TRAVEL FOR FULFILMENT”.
I went on a cruise in Fiji. Cruises may not be for everyone. They are as restful or energetic as you feel. You are effortlessly on the move and there is a definite passive beauty in viewing the shorelines, in passing gently past static land. And it is not just ‘plain sailing’. There is always something to feast upon. With over 300 islands across Fiji (of which a hundred are populated) the mountain ranges are friendly and green-topped, the waters crystalline and the sand truly white.
The Yasawa Island group, around twenty in all and volcanic in origin, is properly remote, accessible only by a handful of options. It looks out over Bligh Water, named after William Bligh, Captain Cook’s first mate. It’s also famous as the location for the filming of both Blue Lagoon versions (the 1948 one starring Jean Simmons and the more recent one with Brooke Shields). And yet, miraculously, it remains unspoilt and innocent.
I made more of my visit going to the wonderful Matamanoa, a deluxe resort, perfect for honeymooners as soon became apparent. It offered a delightful aspect over the nearby Modriki Island, the setting for Tom Hanks’ Castaway, with the hillock where he buried Wilson.
At nearby Beachcombers Island I finally got a chance to recreate my own desert island experience. Like “mad dogs and the Englishman” that I am, I swam a circle around the island. I had the place to myself alongside a myriad of little creatures. Snorkelling is the best way to enjoy them especially in and amongst these renowned soft coral spots. I had a hat and some water and of course underestimated the distance and the heat, nothing that a drop of iodine and tea tree oil couldn’t restore.
Robert Louis Stevenson, on his travels in the Pacific, hated the sea but loved the islands. He wrote in 1888 that sailing the sea was “stupefying to the mind and poisonous to the temper … but you are amply repaid when you sight an island and drop anchor in a new world”.
I skipped happily onto Taveuni the delightful island neighbouring Laucala. It is bang on the date line and is only one of two bits of land across the world, it appears (were the line to have been kept straight); the other being somewhere in Siberia. It has fabulous waterfalls and is known as the ‘Garden of Fiji’. A visit to Laucala, a superlative island resort, on a 2×350 horsepower aluminium speedboat cutting across the choppy water proved to be quite an experience.
There, at the efficiently built dock to meet me, alongside the standard wonderful singing that greet all guests in Fiji, stood the stout, patrician, General Manager, Andrew Thomson, who was to dedicate much of his time to showing me around the island. “Doctor Livingstone!”, I jokingly called out and we were to play up other duels and duets, acting out with our golf buggy drive Thatcher and Reagan and then James Bond in the lair of Dr. No as we met at the panoramic Seagrass bar for lunch.
Laucala (pronounced Lauthala) has an extraordinary mystique not just amongst the truly well-heeled jetsetter clientele, but to the normal Fijian. They all see it as something special, unique actually. Malcolm Forbes bought it originally as a hideaway for his private interests, but on his death, it was sold in 2002 to Dietrich Mateschitz. C.E.O. of Red Bull drinks company, and launched in 2011 as a private island resort. And as I sat there thinking that being on an island, off an island, off the mainland of Fiji was surely as remote as you could get I met the head chef Anthony from Brisbane who worked at the restaurant 200 yards from my in London!
Andrew is keen to push for an even more sublime island of paradise. Improvements underway include the cobblestone roads made specifically from the best stone in Vietnam and along which everyone travels in their electric golfing buggy, a style seemingly American but highly practical.
Recently he has included the ‘Deep Flight Super Falcon’, a submersible, for those who love to see fish and coral but don’t scuba dive. It’s the first resort in the world to offer the experience. This is the most advanced of underwater craft, I discovered, and it was available at a mere $2,000 per hour!
As a guest I got to see these 360 degree views of fish busying themselves, and circling sharks, while sitting in comfort in the craft. The shallow lagoons are home to colourful reefs that themselves play home to schools of tropical fish, such as coral trout, angelfish, lionfish, and even octopus. The submersible has LED lights and low electromagnetic fields, and so it keeps sea animals and the environment in rude health.
Set upon a private island of 3,200 exclusive acres in the Fijian Pacific archipelago, Laucala Island brings a new meaning to the term “all-inclusive resort.” It is undoubtedly beyond five-star, it is set among coconut plantations, sandy beaches, turquoise lagoons and rich green mountains. It is 80 percent self-sustainable and Andrew made me aware of how the resort prides itself on incorporating elements of the entire island from homemade spa products to cuisine based on indigenous plants, fruit and fish.
The philosophy of the staff with the guests is one of community, all blessed by nature’s providence. I got chatting to two waitresses. While Hamlet and Julius Caesar was on their school curriculum there are no art books to show Paul Gauguin’s work, a much more vital and fitting connection between European and Oceanic values. They were stunned as they recognized many of the themes Google Images offered of his paintings.
British Colonialism has left its mark with hymn plaques in the Methodist churches and teachers at schools, perspiring in their ties. I bought a copy of the Fijian to English dictionary. Cobo – to clap the hands crosswise, so as to make a hollow sound – was something I had witnessed as part of a ceremonial act. Tele – to paint with
FIJI BENEFITS FROM TOURISM, EXPORTING SUGAR, TUNA, GOLD EVEN BUT IS PREY TO CHINESE COMMERCE WHICH IS GOING TO SLEIGHT THE ISLAND WITH A CASINO, A NEON-LIT ENVIRONMENT CURRENTLY ONLY SEEN AT THE AIRPORT AND THE INDIAN SHOPS
MATAMANOA · LAUCALA ISLAND RESORT · NANUKU (PACIFIC HARBOUR) · THE WAKAYA CLUB & SPA (SUVA)ROYAL DAVUI ISLAND
RESORT (LAMI) · SHERATON TOKORIKI ISLAND RESORT & SPA (MAMANUCA ISLANDS)
INTERCONTINENTAL FIJI GOLF RESORT & SPA (NATADOLA, CORAL COAST) · EMAHO SEKAWA RESORT (SAVUSAVU)
JEAN-MICHEL COUSTEAU FIJI ISLANDS RESORT (VANUA LEVU ISLAND) · SHANGRI-LA’S FIJIAN RESORT & SPA (CUVU, SIGATOKA)
DOLPHIN ISLAND · VOMO ISLAND RESORT · LIKULIKU LAGOON RESORT (MALOLO ISLAND) · TAVEUNI PALMS
Fiji benefits from tourism, exporting sugar, tuna, gold even but is prey to Chinese commerce which is going to sleight the island with a casino, a neon-lit environment currently only seen at the airport and the Indian shops. The land is 10% freehold and 82% native land (ruled by the chiefs known as i Taukei). The remainder is owned by the state, formerly by the crown. Andrew summed it up: “During Colonial times when sugar was king, Fiji was governed by Britain, educated by New Zealanders and owned by Australians”. Andrew explained further about Fiji’s recent inheritance: “In 1970 Harold Wilson decided to get rid of the island, both from costs and left wing sentiment towards independence. In 1993 television came in and was a positive influence as it meant people were more careful about saving up for things advertised”.
Fijians are stockily built, with a strong sense of identity, the village group more important than the individual. For a man coming back from abroad it is the news of any children created that matters most. They don’t worry about provisions: the land is so bountiful and the village chief simply summons one of his tribe to perform their fishing duties, if that is what’s wanted for their evening meal. Fijian villagers are self-sufficient. They need only import from overseas kerosene, outboard motors, corrugated iron roofs, fuel, and fish hooks.”
The classiness of what’s on offer at Laucala is everywhere to be seen. The Island’s farm and hydroponic gardens make it uniquely 85% self-sufficient, with such rarities as its own soap, papaya jam and green tea ice cream. I was spoilt with an evening and breakfast degustation. Some hire the whole island as Arnold Schwarznegger allegedly did recently. Mel Gibson was photographed next door on the island of Qamea getting friendly with the chief. Laucala does get honeymooners but inevitably they are tired from their event and are not that adventurous.
I shall at least dream forever of returning, boosted by being sent on my way by a flattering, humbling turn out of staff to sing their personalized “Isa Lei”, the famous departure song:
Isa Isa vulagi lasa dina
Nomu lako au na rarawa kina
Cava beka ko a mai cakava
Nomu lako au na sega ni lasa.
Isa Lei, na noqu rarawa,
Ni ko sana vodo e na mataka
Bau nanuma, na nodatou lasa,
Mai Laucala nanuma tiko ga.
Isa, Isa you are my only treasure
Must you leave me, so lonely and forsaken?
As the roses will miss the sun at dawn,
Every moment my heart for you is yearning
Isa Lei, the purple shadow falling,
Sad the morrow will dawn upon my sorrow,
Oh forget not, when you’re far away
Precious moments at Laucala Island.