Cast away, in comfort
Get away from it all on Fiji’s friendly Malolo Island
WHEN I first saw the Tom Hanks movie Cast Away, in the middle of a cold and wet Amsterdam winter in 2000, I couldn’t have dreamed that 13 years later I’d be having breakfast on that same Fijian island.
But here I am, with my wife and daughter, on a perfect November morning enjoying freshly baked pastries, tropical fruit and coffee. We have not washed ashore after a plane crash; we’re here with boatman Ray from nearby Malolo Island Resort.
Ray is very cool; he sits on the roof of the small runabout’s cabin and steers it with his dangling left foot.
We’ve got up at 6am to take advantage of the early morning’s flat seas. It’s warm and the sky is blue as we walk along the palm-shaded path between the sea and the colonial-style guest bures down to Malolo’s jetty.
After a smooth and stunningly scenic 10-minute boat ride we arrive at Monuriki, where Tom Hanks’s character in the movie, Chuck Noland, spent 1500 days in absolute isolation. Ray tells me that mon means land and riki means a place from where you can see a long way.
Appropriately, the 1km-long island is deserted but we are hardly the first visitors since Hanks and the film crew left; on the sandy tip of the beach there are coconuts arranged in the shape of a heart, and above it the words HELP ME rendered in small rocks.
Somewhat disconcertingly, Monuriki looks only vaguely like it does in the movie. I can’t see, for example, the spot where Noland did his fishing or where he first created fire. But those abrupt, 180m-high cliffs, from where he was going to end it all by jumping off, are definitely here. They’re the ones that put the riki in Monuriki.
After breakfast, we snorkel and explore the island and then I come up with what I think is a very clever idea. In order to more fully immerse myself in the Cast Away experience, I ask Ray and my wife and daughter to abandon me. But just for half an hour.
Most of the guests at family-friendly Malolo are parents of young children; consequently, most of us spend our holiday applying (and reapplying and reapplying) sunscreen to writhing, wriggling, reluctant youngsters. And telling them to wear their hats. And helping them on and off with their sandals and swimsuits.
And spraying insect repellent on their arms and legs and pleading with them to eat vegetables as well as endless amounts of pasta. And telling them to stay in the shade of the pool. And not splash other kids and scream and shout too much, even though plenty of other parents are quite happy to let their kids do precisely all of that.
So as I lie on a sun lounge by the busy kids’ pool I reflect on my 30 minutes of isolation on Monuriki that morning and can’t help wishing it had achieved a more Hanksian dimension.
By the time happy hour rolls around on Malolo, even if you haven’t done much, you can’t help feeling you deserve a drink.
At the Beach Bar next to the jetty I have a delicious coconut-spiked mojito that takes the edge off my anxiety at not being Tom Hanks. Nearby, some of the staff are playing rugby on the sand and in the water. Beneath the soaring apex of the adjacent arrivals bure, a trio sings a highly unpredictable mix of pop standards and traditional Fijian tunes.
Soon after cocktail two, bamboo torches are ceremoniously lit and, when a blue-winged seaplane lands in the bay 50m from meandmytiny cocktail umbrella, the picture of tropical paradise is made complete.
The following evening we take a sunset cruise. For company we have a few bottles of the excellent local lager, Vonu, as well as a charming, voluble and very funny host named Amare, who’s also a guitarist and singer and who proceeds to massacre (lyrically at least) songs by Roy Orbison, Eric Clapton and the Beatles.
I must confess that the idea of a sunset cruise has always struck me as pretty corny, even a little boring, but it’s actually a terrific thing to do off Malolo. The shiny water, the humped shapes of neighbour islands, Captain Ray’s dangling steering foot, the torches lit along the shore, the vast shimmering clouds and the ever-changing colour of the sky as the sun slips slowly and spectacularly — it’s all quite magical. Although I can see that 1500 days of it might be a bit much.
Leaving daughter Sylvie in the hands of a babysitter, which costs an absurdly inexpensive $5 an hour, my wife and I head to Treetops for dinner. This adults-only restaurant is perhaps the crowning glory of Malolo’s recent $3 million refurbishment after the devastation wrought by Cyclone Evan in December 2012.
Its entrance, via a double- width wooden staircase reminiscent of a colonial homestead, is spectacular, while the airy dining room overlooks tropical gardens and the resort’s tiered pools. The ambience of tropical chic is continued inside, with wooden chandeliers, shuttered windows and waiters in white.
The menu, which changes daily, is a first-class marriage of fine contemporary cuisine with local touches, typified by an excellent lime-infused pumpkin soup. A slow-cooked beef cheek with a perfectly fried garlic prawn on top is chef Yngve Muldal’s play on surf and turf and it may be the single best thing I’ve eaten in half a decade.
Malolo Island was once a copra plantation, and in a nod to the past the guest bures are built and furnished in colonial style; white ceiling fans spin above white- tiled floors and white wicker furniture.
There is no WiFi and no television, and neither is missed because the water and the snorkelling are outstanding — and on the doorstep of just about all the resort’s 49 bures.
Because of the rocks and coral, reef shoes are essential. My wife makes a suggestion to Steve Anstey, the affable group general manager of Ahuru Resorts, which also owns neighbouring Likuliku Lagoon Resort, that management should consider making their own line of shoes with red soles and call them Malolo Blahniks.
He says he loves the idea and promises to get on it right away. We promise we will return next year to check. Sean Condon was a guest of Malolo Island Resort.
Malolo Island Resort’s activity centre, above; the colonialstyle restaurant complex, left; Tom Hanks in below left; executive chef Yngve Muldal, below right