DOWN IN KOKOMO
HE DIDN’T NEED AN ISLAND, BUT HE COULDN’T VERY WELL RESIST. A BRAND-NEW LUXURY RESORT BY AN UNSPOILED FIJIAN REEF IS THE LATEST PROJECT FROM DEVELOPER LANG WALKER.
It doesn’t take long to get to heaven, or at least a good earthly approximation. Yaukuve Levu is a small island in Fiji, south of Suva in the Kadavu group, framed by the Great Astrolabe Reef. Here you’ll find Kokomo Island, the first resort built by Australian developer Lang Walker (see our fashion shoot from page 92). It’s about 45 minutes from Nadi in the resort’s helicopter or seaplane; leave, say, Sydney at a civilised 8.30am and you can be in your private infinity pool on the deck of your villa by mid-afternoon.
Opening in March after four years in development, the resort consists of 21 thatched beachfront villas on the east and west shores of the island, as well as several opulent residences on the peak, with a spa complex, restaurants and bars. There are plans for a completely private honeymoon island a short hop away.
Walker hadn’t exactly been planning to buy an island, says Luke Caldwell, captain of Walker’s motor yacht Kokomo II and acting dive centre host; it “sort of fell in his lap”. Friends called him one day to let him know they’d found the best beach in Fiji and that the island attached to it was for sale. It had no village, just an old caretaker living there, and the roofless remains of the previous attempt to build a resort, which was stymied by the GFC; an earlier enterprise had been foiled by one of Fiji’s numerous coups d’etat.
“We don’t need an island,” Walker’s wife Sue allegedly told Lang. “I know, but I’ll just go and have a look,” he replied. And one thing led to another ...
The name, incidentally, is nothing to do with the disappointing Beach Boys comeback, but has a Rosebudstyle significance. Kokomo was the name of young Lang’s first sailing dinghy, and has gone on to grace every one of his fleet of sailing and motor yachts.
But as a name that evokes an imaginary, dreamy tropical paradise, it’s perfect for this place. The island is surrounded by reefs, the sea so full of coral that the waves tinkle as they come in and out. In the gardens around each villa, butterflies bob from hibiscus to bougainvillea and dragonflies cruise by, while huge frigate birds circle over the sea.
The unpolluted waters are a snorkeller’s delight, with healthy coral and a profusion of coloured fish everywhere you look, and no boat trip is needed – your intrepid reporter found Nemo and friends within minutes of slipping off the jetty. Take a boat trip, however, and the possibilities open up dramatically: manta rays, sea turtles, dolphins, even humpback whales that have been known to come right inside the lagoon for an afternoon frolic.
For the active, there is world-class diving, fishing, surfing, kite-surfing, sailing, kayaking, paddle-boarding wake-boarding, aquablading and other ever-more obscure watersports – “but we’ve stayed away from noisy things like jetskis”, Caldwell says. “People come here for peace and quiet.” There are also walking trails with waterfalls on surrounding islands. It all feels untouched, unmessed-with.
The villas have traditional thatched roofs, but everything underneath them is cool and modern. Sydney designer Philip Garner took his inspiration from local culture and says the design principle was “to let nature be the hero. The villas and residences are all surrounded by white sand, tropical vegetation and the