Pri­vate par­adise in Fiji

Pour me a pina co­lada, Tito, be­cause I own an is­land — for a few days, at least

Sunday Territorian - - FRONTIER TRAVEL -

STORY KA­T­RINA STOKES

Man­i­cured green lawn fringed with co­conut-laden palm trees stretches be­fore me and then drops off to a small beach that sinks into the in­tox­i­cat­ing inky-blue South Pa­cific ahead. Salty and sandy, a brush of pink sweeps across my nose af­ter a solid day in the sun.

Tonight, the air is thick with hu­mid­ity and the sun has slipped lazily into the hori­zon.

I can hear waves lap­ping just a stone’s throw away at the is­land’s edge and there’s the gen­tle buzz of in­sects. Then, as if by magic, about 100 lan­terns man­i­fest and are lit, scat­tered across the prop­erty, light­ing an en­chant­ing path on the is­land front, twin­kling like stars un­der the evening sky.

It’s night one of a three-day stay on Dol­phin Is­land, a 5ha pri­vate oa­sis just a 20-minute boat ride off Fiji’s main is­land, Viti Levu. And, af­ter only a cou­ple of hours, as if my state of bliss couldn’t be any fur­ther to­wards Zen, Tito, the is­land’s unas­sum­ing, cheer­ful bar­man, ap­pears to ask me the tough­est de­ci­sion I’ll make all day. (First world prob­lems alert).

“Kat, would you like a drink?” he asks, his mouth stretch­ing into a smile. I pon­der my op­tions for a sec­ond. “Any drink,” he prods, as if read­ing my mind.

Know­ing that the is­land pro­duces much of what we eat and drink over the next few days (think mud crabs and fish and lob­ster caught fresh daily from the sur­round­ing coast), I ask Tito to make the kitschi­est of all cock­tails — a pina co­lada. When in Fiji, right?

A few min­utes later, one ar­rives. He’s used the fresh­est of co­conut milk (from co­conuts on the is­land and sweet but not sickly sweet pineap­ple juice), gar­nished with a wedge of pineap­ple and a maraschino cherry, skew­ered to­gether with a cute lit­tle pa­per um­brella.

It’s hard to hide my hap­pi­ness, which is fit­ting given the Fi­jians are some of the hap­pi­est peo­ple I’ve ever met.

I hadn’t un­der­stood that Fiji would be full of so many mouth-wa­ter­ing culi­nary high­lights, and food is a huge part of our time on the is­land, pre­pared by the re­sort’s ma­tri­arch and tal­ented host, Dawn Simp­son. Dawn’s food is sim­ple stuff, done well.

A mix of In­dian in­flu­ences and tra­di­tional Fi­jian (steamed and deep fried fish adorned with toma­toes and onion, char­grilled prawns, lob­ster and smoked mack­erel), Dawn and her staff take us on a jour­ney of our taste­buds.

“We have guests that eat lob­ster ev­ery day and I say, ‘of course you can have it ev­ery day,” she tells me.

“There’s no menu here, they of­ten tell me ‘just sur­prise us’. Guests own the is­land when they’re here — this is your home.”

The group of us (five women) de­velop a par­tic­u­lar lik­ing to a de­li­ciously light and del­i­cate lo­cal Fi­jian dish called Kokoda (pro­nounced ko-kon-da) that Dawn shows us how to pre­pare.

She mixes small cubes of white fish, cooked us­ing lots of lime juice, com­bined with co­conut milk, co­rian­der and bits of crunchy to­mato, onion and cap­sicum, fin­ished off with a sprin­kling of salt and pep­per.

Break­fasts are what­ever you like. Trop­i­cal fruit and yo­ghurt, muesli, lo­cally baked crois­sants and bread comes be­fore a full­cooked spread, in­clud­ing ba­con, eggs or an omelet, should you so de­sire.

Day two and three are as dream­like as the first. As a guest, the op­tions on Dol­phin Is­land are to do as much or as lit­tle as you like.

I get time to ac­tu­ally fin­ish a book, plunge in to the deep emer­ald pool to cool off be­tween chap­ters and take dips in the ocean, where I spot tiny fish and a blue starfish sprawled across rocks near the shore­line.

Be­ing a pri­vate is­land (up to eight guests, or as lit­tle as just two, must hire out the en­tire is­land), Dawn can ar­range daily ac­tiv­i­ties from trips to the nearby mar­kets to fish­ing, div­ing and snorkelling or like I had, an af­ter­noon mas­sage.

The prop­erty is owned by New Zealand’s Alex van Heeran (pro­pri­etor of the other famed Huka Re­treats in New Zealand and South Africa) and forms one of Fiji’s 332 is­lands that float, like jew­els, in the sea.

Van Heeran bought the prop­erty in 1987 for fam­ily hol­i­days, then in 2011, its liv­ing spa­ces and four bu­res (com­plete with out­door show­ers and In­sta­gram-wor­thy views for days) were re­fur­bished by ac­claimed in­te­rior de­signer Vir­ginia Fisher, with a brief to re­flect “a lux­ury cast­away ex­pe­ri­ence”.

And, luxe to the max it is — yet the spa­ces feel so home­like.

Lots of ex­posed wood, whites, shell, soft blues and touches of pa­paya-hued orange give a sense of el­e­gance and the re­sult is seam­lessly time­less, ef­fort­less chic.

On our last morn­ing, we take a kayak and lazily loop around the is­land in about 20 min­utes. With the sun on my shoul­ders, I fo­cus on pad­dling, steady and rhyth­mic from side to side. It’s then I re­alise, for the first time in a long time, I feel a world away from the ping­ing emails and con­stant phone calls in the of­fice.

I’m not think­ing about any­thing in par­tic­u­lar and it feels so good to think of noth­ing but the task at hand.

A few hours later, we’re packed and none of us want to will­ingly leave this slice of par­adise.

Our boat takes off from the jetty and we look back and Dawn, Tito and all the staff are wav­ing good­bye to us from ashore.

So moved by their gen­eros­ity, I ask our boat driver why Fi­jians are such happy peo­ple.

“Sanga na langa,” he says and I smile. It’s a say­ing that we’ve heard many times over the past few days and lit­er­ally means “no wor­ries”.

“We’re al­ways happy. There’s no point in be­ing sad,” he says. The writer was a guest of Fiji Air­ways

and Dol­phin Is­land.

The in­fin­ity pool at twi­light on Dol­phin Is­land con­tin­ues to be mag­i­cal

Main bure, Dol­phin Is­land, Fiji.

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