Fiji Airways flies from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Nadi. More: fijiairways.com. Island Hoppers operates helicopter transfers from Nadi airport to Qalito; flying time is 12 minutes. More: islandhoppersfiji.com. Seaplane, catamaran and express water taxi transfers are also available. Castaway Island bures sleep up to four and cost from $F949 ($600) a night (valid to March 31). Meals and drinks are not included but kids’ club and many activities are. Until December 20, guests can add premium activities such as waterskiing, massage and guided snorkelling for $F19.66 to commemorate the resort’s opening in 1966. More: 1800 608 313; outrigger.com; castawayfiji.com. Castaway was filmed, with Tom Hanks and that famous volleyball.
There are five drinking spots, including the Sundowner Bar with its wood-fired pizzas and ringside ocean views, and four restaurants, the standout of which is 1808, an open-air beach venue where guests savour haute cuisine while wiggling toes in the sand.
Executive sous chef Denis Chandra prepares the favourite local raw fish dish of kokoda in front of me by toasting fresh coconut on hot rocks, straining it through cloth then muddling the milk with slices of Spanish mackerel cured in lime juice. Silky and smoky, it is arguably the most delicious cured fish I have tasted.
Shaw believes Castaway’s greatest asset is its “family” of employees. Hospitality comes naturally to Fijians — perhaps, he says, as a result of being raised in extended family communities. Caring for others is ingrained in their DNA. “This has been a joint venture in the real meaning of the term. So much of the inspiration has come from staff over the years.” Location is another Castaway strong suit. Catch a catamaran for the 30km commute from Viti Levu, the main island, and you can step off the boat on to the sand in 90 minutes. A chopper with Island Hoppers will get you there in a fraction of the time; the aerial views alone justify the cost.
The dozen or so other islands of the Mamanucas are on your doorstep and easily reached aboard Teivovo, a ridiculously fast speedboat custom-made for Castaway. I spend one morning flying across the ocean at 50km/h, my cheeks flapping around like a skydiver’s. The sense of freedom is thrilling.
There is change afoot at Castaway. Outrigger is modernising the bures and plans to upgrade the spa and add another pool, general manager Steven Andrews says. But, like Shaw in the past, he says the new owner “is mindful that as changes are made, they don’t lose the essence of the place”. “The common feedback we get from all our returning guests is not to change a thing.”
Kendall Hill was a guest of Castaway Island and Island Hoppers.