Private paradise in Fiji
Pour me a pina colada, Tito, because I own an island — for a few days, at least
STORY KATRINA STOKES
Manicured green lawn fringed with coconut-laden palm trees stretches before me and then drops off to a small beach that sinks into the intoxicating inky-blue South Pacific ahead. Salty and sandy, a brush of pink sweeps across my nose after a solid day in the sun.
Tonight, the air is thick with humidity and the sun has slipped lazily into the horizon.
I can hear waves lapping just a stone’s throw away at the island’s edge and there’s the gentle buzz of insects. Then, as if by magic, about 100 lanterns manifest and are lit, scattered across the property, lighting an enchanting path on the island front, twinkling like stars under the evening sky.
It’s night one of a three-day stay on Dolphin Island, a 5ha private oasis just a 20-minute boat ride off Fiji’s main island, Viti Levu. And, after only a couple of hours, as if my state of bliss couldn’t be any further towards Zen, Tito, the island’s unassuming, cheerful barman, appears to ask me the toughest decision I’ll make all day. (First world problems alert).
“Kat, would you like a drink?” he asks, his mouth stretching into a smile. I ponder my options for a second. “Any drink,” he prods, as if reading my mind.
Knowing that the island produces much of what we eat and drink over the next few days (think mud crabs and fish and lobster caught fresh daily from the surrounding coast), I ask Tito to make the kitschiest of all cocktails — a pina colada. When in Fiji, right?
A few minutes later, one arrives. He’s used the freshest of coconut milk (from coconuts on the island and sweet but not sickly sweet pineapple juice), garnished with a wedge of pineapple and a maraschino cherry, skewered together with a cute little paper umbrella.
It’s hard to hide my happiness, which is fitting given the Fijians are some of the happiest people I’ve ever met.
I hadn’t understood that Fiji would be full of so many mouth-watering culinary highlights, and food is a huge part of our time on the island, prepared by the resort’s matriarch and talented host, Dawn Simpson. Dawn’s food is simple stuff, done well.
A mix of Indian influences and traditional Fijian (steamed and deep fried fish adorned with tomatoes and onion, chargrilled prawns, lobster and smoked mackerel), Dawn and her staff take us on a journey of our tastebuds.
“We have guests that eat lobster every day and I say, ‘of course you can have it every day,” she tells me.
“There’s no menu here, they often tell me ‘just surprise us’. Guests own the island when they’re here — this is your home.”
The group of us (five women) develop a particular liking to a deliciously light and delicate local Fijian dish called Kokoda (pronounced ko-kon-da) that Dawn shows us how to prepare.
She mixes small cubes of white fish, cooked using lots of lime juice, combined with coconut milk, coriander and bits of crunchy tomato, onion and capsicum, finished off with a sprinkling of salt and pepper.
Breakfasts are whatever you like. Tropical fruit and yoghurt, muesli, locally baked croissants and bread comes before a fullcooked spread, including bacon, eggs or an omelet, should you so desire.
Day two and three are as dreamlike as the first. As a guest, the options on Dolphin Island are to do as much or as little as you like.
I get time to actually finish a book, plunge in to the deep emerald pool to cool off between chapters and take dips in the ocean, where I spot tiny fish and a blue starfish sprawled across rocks near the shoreline.
Being a private island (up to eight guests, or as little as just two, must hire out the entire island), Dawn can arrange daily activities from trips to the nearby markets to fishing, diving and snorkelling or like I had, an afternoon massage.
The property is owned by New Zealand’s Alex van Heeran (proprietor of the other famed Huka Retreats in New Zealand and South Africa) and forms one of Fiji’s 332 islands that float, like jewels, in the sea.
Van Heeran bought the property in 1987 for family holidays, then in 2011, its living spaces and four bures (complete with outdoor showers and Instagram-worthy views for days) were refurbished by acclaimed interior designer Virginia Fisher, with a brief to reflect “a luxury castaway experience”.
And, luxe to the max it is — yet the spaces feel so homelike.
Lots of exposed wood, whites, shell, soft blues and touches of papaya-hued orange give a sense of elegance and the result is seamlessly timeless, effortless chic.
On our last morning, we take a kayak and lazily loop around the island in about 20 minutes. With the sun on my shoulders, I focus on paddling, steady and rhythmic from side to side. It’s then I realise, for the first time in a long time, I feel a world away from the pinging emails and constant phone calls in the office.
I’m not thinking about anything in particular and it feels so good to think of nothing but the task at hand.
A few hours later, we’re packed and none of us want to willingly leave this slice of paradise.
Our boat takes off from the jetty and we look back and Dawn, Tito and all the staff are waving goodbye to us from ashore.
So moved by their generosity, I ask our boat driver why Fijians are such happy people.
“Sanga na langa,” he says and I smile. It’s a saying that we’ve heard many times over the past few days and literally means “no worries”.
“We’re always happy. There’s no point in being sad,” he says. The writer was a guest of Fiji Airways
and Dolphin Island.
The infinity pool at twilight on Dolphin Island continues to be magical
Main bure, Dolphin Island, Fiji.