A true sur­vivor

Cast­away Is­land in Fiji cel­e­brates its 50th birth­day

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - TRAVEL & INDULGENCE - KEN­DALL HILL

Cast­away is the Fi­jian is­land from cen­tral cast­ing, all rustling palms, thatched bu­res, singing lo­cals with flow­ers tucked be­hind their ears, and 70 lush hectares lapped by trans­par­ent sap­phire wa­ters.

When Lingo Reece came to work at this tapa-andthatch hol­i­day re­sort 27 years ago he couldn’t be­lieve his eyes. “It re­minded me of the vil­lage I grew up in!” he laughs. “How can you sell this to for­eign tourists?”

Tra­di­tional ar­chi­tec­ture wasn’t the only sur­prise. Cast­away was in re­ceiver­ship and look­ing worse for wear, but hol­i­day-mak­ers seemed obliv­i­ous to its woes.

“I was re­ally sur­prised they still had peo­ple com­ing,” says Reece, now duty man­ager at the re­sort. “It was still as busy as ever be­cause of all the re­peat clients [more than 40 per cent of guests]. Peo­ple just fall in love with the place.”

It’s easy to un­der­stand why. As well as tick­ing all the trop­i­cal bliss boxes, there’s a mel­low vibe to Cast­away that makes it feel like the friendli­est vil­lage in Fiji.

The Ma­manuca Is­lands are home to some of the re­gion’s most cel­e­brated prop­er­ties, in­clud­ing adults-only Liku­liku La­goon re­sort and its fam­ily-fo­cused sib­ling Malolo, plus Six Senses Vun­abaka, Wadigi pri­vate is­land re­sort and Toko­riki re­sort. But back in 1966 there was only Qal­ito Is­land, aka Cast­away, the pi­o­neer­ing re­sort that has evolved from a hum­ble property of four mo­tel­style units to the bare­foot idyll favoured by gen­er­a­tions of Aus­tralians and New Zealan­ders to­day.

Cast­away turns 50 this year but it has not been an easy birth­day. In Fe­bru­ary the is­land was smashed by Win­ston, the strong­est cy­clone recorded on the archipelago. Like many a neigh­bour­ing is­land property, the dam­age was ex­ten­sive. Four­teen guest bu­res had to be re­built and the clean-up was gru­elling.

But Cast­away re­opened less than four months later on June 1, a lit­tle bat­tered but ar­guably in bet­ter shape than ever. It’s a tes­ta­ment to the is­land’s re­silience and en­dur­ing ap­peal that when I visit in Oc­to­ber ev­ery bure is booked out, the land­scap­ing is lush and per­fumed with frangi­pani, and happy fam­ily hol­i­days are in full swing.

Cast­away’s suc­cess is largely due to Ge­off Shaw, the Aus­tralian property de­vel­oper who res­cued it from (yet an­other) re­ceiver­ship in 1992 and op­er­ated it for 22 years be­fore hand­ing the keys to the fam­ily-owned, Hawai­ibased Outrig­ger Re­sorts group in 2014.

Shaw re­mains a con­sul­tant to the new own­ers and is on site dur­ing my visit, his en­thu­si­asm undimmed af­ter all those years (and more than his share of cy­clones).

“I have hon­estly never had a bad day on Cast­away,” he says over wine and sal­ads on the sun-drenched din­ing deck. “I have had days that are more chal­leng­ing than oth­ers … but it’s just one of those won­der­ful ex­pe­ri­ences that, some­times, you are for­tu­nate enough to gain in life.”

When Shaw took over, the re­sort and its staff were lan­guish­ing. “It was a pretty sad old property.” He set about re­build­ing morale, then fa­cil­i­ties, and then the clien­tele. If he could cap­ture the fam­ily mar­ket, he fig­ured, Cast­away’s fu­ture was as­sured.

So he opened a kids’ club staffed by Fijians, surely the world’s best child­min­ders, and in­tro­duced end­less ac­tiv­i­ties and some of the best food at the time in Fiji. The strat­egy has been so suc­cess­ful that the open­ing of a sec­ond, adults-only pool has been a hope­less fail­ure. It is al­ways swamped with chil­dren, but no-one seems to mind.

For a small is­land this one packs a lot of punch. When guests tire of the two pools and whirlpools, beaches, ham­mocks and hik­ing through the for­est, there’s a “house” reef for snorkelling.

Wind­surfers, kayaks, cata­ma­rans and pad­dle­boards are avail­able free of charge at the Boat Shed; there are hand­i­craft demon­stra­tions and cul­tural per­for­mances.

Paid fun in­cludes wa­ter­ski­ing, jet­ski­ing, scuba and a cham­pagne brunch on nearby Mo­driki Is­land, where

Fiji’s Cast­away Is­land, top; beach­side bure, above; Ge­off Shaw, who res­cued the re­sort in 1992 and ran it for 22 years, above right

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