Islands and honeymoons are a time-tested match made in heaven. Furthermore, as more couples flirt with the divinely intimate alternative of destination weddings, faraway islands in the South Pacific are as appealing as those alternatives get. Fiji certainly fills that bill in many respects, as it is one of those great catch-all destination where the biggest decision visitors will make every morning is whether to escape or explore.
Adventurous people will discover that Nadi, the first and last place they will visit during their journey to Fiji, has plenty to keep them busy and occupied. Architecture buffs will enjoy wandering the grounds of the Sri Siva Subramaniya Hindu temple, while botanists should not miss the Garden of the Sleeping Giant (home of actor Raymond Burr’s world-famous orchid collection). There are also local village tours, golfing and New Zealand Natural Ice Cream shops for those who desire it.
Though souvenir and swimwear shops abound, those looking for the perfect piece of Fijian Pearl jewellery will not be disappointed with the downtown Nadi branch of Jack’s (with its comprehensive, well-priced collections in silver and 18 ct gold) or Jewels (for those who prefer one-off pieces from independent designers). Bargain-hunters will take to the bustling bazaar environment of Nadi’s central business district, which can be as intense as open-air markets in Thailand and India. Those with more upscale tastes will gravitate to Port Denarau, which serves Fiji outposts of the Sheraton, the Weston and well-to-do expats occupying nearby vacation homes.
A visit to Fijian capital Suva on the opposite end of Viti Levu is also essential if time allows. It has a full complement of vibrant colonial government buildings, museums and public gardens. It also happens to be home for the nation’s small Jewish community. In 1881, 20 year-old Australian Henry Mark was the first Jew to settle in Fiji in 1881, and would later be joined by Jews from India, the Middle East, and other Asian countries. Today’s community is just as eclectic, with about 60 individuals claiming some form of ancestry. Public relations expert George Rubine and Mark One Apparel boss Mark Halabe are known to have dwellings in the area.
Turtle Island Resort on Nanuya Levu
One resort in Fiji that could (literally) claim credit for writing the book on romantic adventure in an isolated, self-sustaining paradise is Turtle Island. In 1972, cable television industry pioneer Richard Evanson purchased the former Nanuya Levu to experience romance of a different sort (the masculine version, involving action and adventure, à la Marlon Brando). However, the arrival of a Columbia Pictures film crew in 1979 brought about a change of heart in Evanson. The movie that resulted, The Blue Lagoon, was one of the biggest box office hits of 1980, idealizing paradise for a generation of teenage girls.
While The Blue Lagoon also proved itself to be a great advertisement for Fiji, it also gave Evanson unexpected inspiration to transform his once-private island dream into a resort devised especially and (mostly) exclusively for honeymoons and destination weddings. However, from the moment his first guests arrived on January 1, 1980, he was determined to do this in a way that was rooted in nature, and true to the Fijian way of life.
Rather than go for broke developing the most amenity-filled resort he could get away with, Evanson stayed with the vision that brought him to Fiji in the first place. Even today, as an internationally acclaimed destination wedding locale, Turtle Island is a work in progress. Ongoing improvements include the preservation of mangroves and coconut groves, introduction of freshwater ponds to encourage bird life, a Turtle Release programme designed to help save endangered green and hawksbill turtles, and a four-acre hydroponic and organic vegetable garden supplying fresh produce for guests and staff. Evanson purchased about US$1 million in solar equipment, with the objective of making Turtle Island 100 per cent solar-powered by May 2012.
One of the most indelible environmental footprints Evanson instituted through Turtle Island’s success is the Yasawa Community Foundation. Established in 1992 with an initial donation of US$50,000, this foundation ensures that funds are collected and applied to projects considered to be important by the people themselves. These projects include health, transportation, education, and the development of cultural activities amongst immediate neighbours—the villages from which the majority of Turtle Island’s staff come.
Fabulous things in the pike for Turtle Island’s stretch of paradise in 2012 include a free-standing spa with Pure Fiji product-based treatments (currently, one free massage per person is administered in your bure, and additional massages can be purchased). There will also be an expanded gift shop with an eclectic assortment of made-in-Fiji beachwear hand-selected by Evanson’s wife.
Speaking of an eclectic assortment, people who have chosen Turtle Island as their Honeymoon home include Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson, and Trista and Ryan (the couple from the ABC-TV series The Bachelor). Others who have made Turtle Island their home-away-from-home include movie producer Andrew Tennenbaum (The Bourne Ultimatum, Water for Elephants), Sen. John McCain (14 stays and counting), Al Gore, Eddie van Halen, Tommy Lee, John Cleese and Ringo Starr.
While many high-end resorts seeking this calibre of clientèle are now getting LEED certifications and their own organic gardens, Evanson insists this resort is not so much a trend-setter as it was something he developed to exist as a one-of-a-kind experience that could not be duplicated—something that would make economist Theodore “Ted” Levitt, a favourite professor and mentor from his Harvard Business School days, proud.
While maintenance of the island’s integrity is a selling point, the property does offer the accoutrement of a luxury resort that has earned it numerous travel industry awards: expansive bures with hardwood interiors, judicious use of Pacific Island design motifs and indoor hot tubs; top-shelf wines and spirits; dreamy bedding and delicious cocoanut-infused toiletries by Pure Fiji. Each couple has a ‘bure mama’ or ‘papa’ who goes far beyond tending to the needs and requests of visitors, making Turtle Island’s romantic element even more customized and authentically Fijian.
Fruits and vegetables from the island’s hydroponic gardens are transformed (along with local fish and meats from New Zealand and Australia) into a wide range of global dishes under the guidance of French-Australian chef Jacques Reymond. The menu “theme” changes and surprises on a daily basis, with the weekly Mongolian barbecue, Indian feast, American-style barbecue with a Polynesian spin as highlights.
While Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins had each other and a tricked-out tree house in The Blue Lagoon, they have nothing on what Turtle Island guests have at their disposal. Activities include scuba diving, snorkelling, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, kayaking and just enjoying one’s bure and a glass of Moët with a good book when the occasional rains do come in. Though a handful of couples keep to themselves, Turtle Island offers convivial group dinners every night, with different themes that ensure visitors will make friends that could possibly last a lifetime.
Though Turtle Island continues to revolutionize the way a self-sufficient luxury resort should be run, Evanson and Weiss agree that a former marketing line, ‘Where Luxury Meets Romance’, does not accurately describe the experience, especially with Evanson’s determination to let the indigenous culture shine through. ‘There is something reassuring about the Fijian people that just being around them will even put the most insecure or shy individuals at ease,’ observes Evanson.
Perhaps a new tagline incorporating a sentiment such as, ‘…as nature intended,’ is more apt. Though Turtle Island is remote and presents a minimalist sort of luxury, the experience makes a guest feel insanely relaxed, and extremely well cared-for by the staff. Though Evanson will insist it’s a couples-only affair, it is the sort of thing that can be shared. Isn’t that kind of warmth a big part about what romance is all about? •
While The Blue Lagoon proved to be a great advertisement for Fiji, it gave Richard Evanson inspiration to transform his once-private island dream into a resort devised for honeymoons and destination weddings. From the moment his ﬁrst guests arrived in 1980, he was determined to do this in a way that was rooted in nature, and true to the Fijian way of life
For more information, visit http://www.turtlefiji.com or call 1 800 255-4347 in the US. For general information about Fiji travel and highlights, visit www.fijime.com.
Elyse Glickman is US west coast editor of Lucire.