DOWN IN KOKOMO

Ro­mance reigns at Fiji’s new­est lux­ury re­sort

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - Escape - - DESTINATION FIJI - VANESSA CROLL THE WRITER WAS A GUEST OF KOKOMO PRI­VATE IS­LAND

Some­thing’s not right. Wak­ing from my most contented sleep in ages, there’s a pain in my back that re­ally shouldn’t be there. Not when the mix of feath­ered and con­toured pil­lows or­dered from the pre-ar­rival pref­er­ences check­list for Kokomo Pri­vate Is­land – Fiji’s new­est and most ex­clu­sive pri­vate is­land re­sort – ex­ceeded all my com­fort ex­pec­ta­tions.

Then it dawns on me. The ache is mus­cle sore­ness from the epic bat­tle I had with a hefty Span­ish mack­erel the day be­fore.

Cel­e­brat­ing our third an­niver­sary, my boyfriend, who be­came my fi­ance by the end of the trip, and I thought it best to add a lit­tle ad­ven­ture to break up the ridicu­lous amount of re­lax­ing we had planned dur­ing our four-day lux­ury es­cape.

So we booked a deep sea fish­ing ex­pe­ri­ence to try our luck with some big game.

EX­PLOR­ING THE SEA

Af­ter a quick break­fast of fresh pas­tries and top class Fi­jian cof­fee, we find wa­ter sports ex­traor­di­naire Ed­die at the jetty wait­ing in a fancy Fi­jian-made 200L Is­lan­der fish­ing boat with driver, Kitti. We’re a lit­tle late for the ar­ranged time of 7am but as all the ex­cep­tion­ally friendly staff keep re­mind­ing us, “it’s cool, re­lax, you’re on Fiji time”.

Ed­die is se­ri­ous about get­ting us hooked for bat­tle. Rods are ready, lunch packed.

Even if we didn’t catch a thing, this deep sea ad­ven­ture would still be a suc­cess, purely for the ex­pe­ri­ence.

It’s easy to see why the pri­vate re­sort – brought to life by Aus­tralian prop­erty de­vel­oper Lang Walker over three years – has been get­ting great re­views since its open­ing in March.

As we head past the sur­round­ing is­lands – part of the Ka­davu group of is­lands, many of them un­in­hab­ited par­adises and some har­bour­ing small vil­lages – the sun rises spec­tac­u­larly be­hind loose grey clouds.

We sip hot choco­lates, the boat purring qui­etly, as schools of garfish fly from the wa­ter – a sign there’s big fish out there chas­ing them.

THE FISH RE­ALLY WAS THIS BIG!

And then it hap­pens, one of our trawl­ing lines stops bob­bing … it’s hooked some­thing … a big some­thing. I’m up and on the rod. At Ed­die’s in­struc­tion, I find a rhythm pulling up and reel­ing in and think I’ve got this sucker in the bag. Then my bat­tle op­po­nent gets tricky and heads in the other di­rec­tion.

The strength of this yet-to-be re­alised sea crea­ture catches me off guard, wrench­ing me for­ward. I find my foot­ing and get to work pulling it in. Af­ter a de­cent adren­a­line surge, I am vic­to­ri­ous.

It’s a big beauty of a Span­ish mack­erel and I’m told this catch, and the sub­se­quent mack­erel caught by my part­ner, will not go to waste.

FROM OCEAN TO PLATE

“You catch it, we cook it for you.” Just what you want to hear af­ter a fish­ing trip. Back at the jetty, our crew guts and cleans the fish.

The op­por­tunis­tic school of res­i­dent remora, aka shark suck­ers, gather below in the azure wa­ter, wait­ing for their feast of mack­erel in­nards. Noth­ing goes to waste.

The alien-look­ing re­moras get in a feed­ing frenzy, loudly suck­ing at bits of fishy tis­sue. It’s both ex­cit­ing and strangely hyp­notic to watch.

Our lunch is at the jetty-side ca­sual diner, Walker D’Plank. There’s time for a quick snorkel to cool off be­fore eat­ing. At the dive cen­tre we’re fit­ted up with snorkel gear and in the wa­ter within min­utes.

Coral reefs teem­ing with a healthy ar­ray of marine life hug Kokomo Is­land, mak­ing a quick dip a mem­ory that lasts. Diving down, we’re met by stern-faced clown­fish, pro­tect­ing their fancy coral estab­lish­ments, gi­ant clams, exquisitely coloured par­rot­fish munch­ing al­gae, and many other won­der. It’s another world just me­tres from the shore.

Af­ter a quick shower, a staff mem­ber ap­pears from nowhere with a ju­bi­lant “Bula!” and some fresh tow­els, then we’re seated in the lush sur­rounds for lunch.

The is­land’s din­ing op­tions are over­seen by ex­ec­u­tive chef An­thony Healy who the night be­fore cooked us a de­li­cious three-course meal of lo­cal caught coral trout.

His en­thu­si­asm for us­ing freshly grown pro­duce from the is­land’s evolv­ing farm, lo­cally sourced food from neigh­bour­ing is­lands and, of course, the abun­dance of seafood make ev­ery meal a true culi­nary ex­pe­ri­ence.

Our chef to­day is Caro­line. She chats with us about our taste­buds’ de­sires to de­ter­mine a tai­lor-made lunch. The Span­ish mack­erel is served as a sashimi en­tre with wasabi, pick­led gin­ger, radish and soy sauce – and it is mag­nif­i­cent. The fresh­ness can­not be un­der­stated. Nei­ther can the lob­ster main that fol­lows. Half tem­pura, half cooked on the open grill, we feast on lob­ster like we’re sea ti­tans. With an Asian salad and gar­lic-in­fused greens, we’re in gas­tro­nomic heaven.

On Caro­line’s ad­vice, we de­cide to wait un­til to­mor­row to have a main pre­pared us­ing our mack­erel, as a day’s rest is rec­om­mended for bet­ter flavour. And she’s cor­rect. The next day she cooks us the most su­perb black bean mack­erel as part of our de­par­ture feast.

CHASE THAT WA­TER­FALL

The day I wake with aching mus­cles is the day of our wa­ter­fall ex­cur­sion, which is per­fect – pulling in the fish worked my up­per body, my legs will get a good turn hik­ing to the wa­ter­fall. A 30-minute speed boat ride gets us to Kavala, on Ka­davu is­land.

We reach the dock and are hit with the smell of freshly bak­ing bread. A fam­ily-run busi­ness op­er­ates a bak­ery here set up in a cor­ru­gated iron shed. Our guides tell sto­ries of their is­land lives as they take us on the lush path to the wa­ter­fall. We stop at a small clus­ter of shacks to pay wel­com­ing lo­cals to be on their land. The wa­ter­fall is a beau­ti­ful sight at the end of a short hike through true Fi­jian for­est, where ba­nana trees, palms and var­i­ous vines are aplenty.

There’s a quick pit stop at a de­serted is­land on the way home for another spot of mag­nif­i­cent snorkelling. Our guide, Male, climbs up a palm grow­ing on the beach to bring down some young co­conuts. We crack them open on rocks and de­light in drink­ing the fresh con­tents.

BULA, SEA YOU LATER

On our fi­nal day, the staff, who we’ve grown quite fond of, meet on the beach out­side our villa. They sing a farewell song as we’re taken by boat to the wait­ing sea plane. The night be­fore, my boyfriend pulled out a ring and pro­posed over din­ner, mak­ing us the first en­gage­ment for the re­sort.

So de­part­ing this spe­cial place comes with ex­tra emo­tions. We’re al­ready look­ing into it as our hon­ey­moon lo­ca­tion.

PIC­TURES: SUP­PLIED, VANESSA CROLL

Kokomo Pri­vate Is­land’s Beach Shack restau­rant and (below) Span­ish mack­erel served as a sashimi en­tree with wasabi, pick­led gin­ger and radish.

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