Cast away, in com­fort

Get away from it all on Fiji’s friendly Malolo Is­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence -

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

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