Romancing the Remote
Vatuvara Private Islands
Away from Fiji’s bustling towns, tourist hot spots and beaten tracks lies another world not often seen or heard of. A world of epic landscapes in the northern Lau archipelago where picturesque limestone rocks jut out of pure azure waters, where white powered sand stretch for miles and native birds sing rare tunes. What more could you add to that? Your own private infinity pool, the pampering and the awesome cuisine offered at the ultra luxurious Vatuvara Private Islands. It’s the stuff of which tropical daydreams are made, perfect for honeymooners and couples looking for celebrity style luxury and those seeking a bespoke VIP experience, as Naziah Ali discovers.
A luxury private island escape is the ultimate antidote to high paced, urban lifestyles. Something to allow us to soak into a Robinson Crusoe lifestyle without skimping on the style and luxe quotient. Vatuvara Private Islands are masters at getting the priorities in perfect balance. Being able to frolic undisturbed on a beach is just as important as, say, a private massage in your own spa bure – preferably with a delightful cocktail close by. We first laid eyes on Vatuvara Private Islands when we pressed our faces to the windows of the resort’s own Twin Otter aircraft as it descended upon Kaibu, the idyllic Lau island where the resort is located. Before us spread a breathtakingly beautiful vision perfect for postcards. It’s almost impossible to count the shades of blue that surround the islands we approach. The sea changes from translucent hues of midnight blue to turquoise around the shoreline, identifying the calm shallows for swimming that slide into deeper water. Kaibu is a 800-acre exclusive island nestled in one of the world’s most pristine biospheres, home to tropical fish, turtles and migratory whales. The five minutes it takes to fly over the circling reef and the beautiful villas perched
on limestone rocks effect a mystical mental transformation. As the ocean breeze whisks through your hair when you step off the plane, and the sun shines just a bit brighter than you remember, and the harmonious sounds of a Fijian welcome song reaches your ear, the understanding dawns that here, in this lavish hideaway, your every wish will be someone’s command – and even some wishes you didn’t know you had. All this the unspoiled beaches, the electric-coloured coral and fish flickering beneath the crystal water, the intriguing geological activity of eons – for now exists only for you. The greeting party including Resort General Managers Rob Miller and wife Lynda, accompanied by singing staff, offer us welcoming flower garlands and welcome fresh coconut water. Rob takes us on a jeep tour before settling us into Vatu Villa, one of the three villas on the island. Dubbed the most exclusive island in Fiji, Vatuvara Private Islands is owned by Oakley founder Jim Jannard, who fell in love with Lau some twenty years ago when he came on holiday. He bought neighbouring Vatuvara Island before purchasing Kaibu from US fiberglass magnate Jay Johnson. The Millers previously ran Wakaya Island Resort, then the epitome of Fijian luxury before moving to this remote enclave and spending the past five years realising Jannard’s dream of creating the ultimate island getaway. In just a few short years, Kaibu has been completely transformed from a deserted island into an outstanding getaway. Resort architecture exudes Fijian glamour sourced from a rich nature that has supplied unique and striking materials for the villas. Each of the islands expansive Villas affords a level of handcrafted detail by local artisans in a comfortably elegant interior designed and selected by the Millers. The Millers have worked with nature instead of against it, resulting in awe-inspiring, pavilion-style Fijian traditional designs that keep their cool throughout the year. They also knew how to keep the calm, scattering their landscape, and in the case of Delana Villa, the interiors with exquisite water features that delight the eye and soothe time-driven souls. Valhalla, the main restaurant and bar, is at
the centre of the island. Its soaring ceilings are constructed from much-admired native hardwood and there is a large wooden bar. The professional kitchen was designed by Rob. Guests can opt to dine inside or out on the spacious patio to enjoy a gentle breath from the trade winds and the soothing sounds of the ocean. The menu has also been meticulously designed by Rob, who first put his foot in the luxury tourism door as a young chef. He is promoting a new concept called ‘Zero Mile Food’ to give an assurance that the food is sourced fresh and organic. The resort is one of the few in Fiji that is organically certified by both the US and Australian Organic Certification body. Guests get a taste of his rich coconut cake on arrival at the villa, awaiting with a chilled bottled of Tattinger. This decadent cake is moist and rich in flavor, with caramelised, shaved coconut topping. Throughout your stay you enjoy delicious meals such as the Fijian ceviche called Kokoda, perfectly made New Zealand lamb (my fiancé says it’s the best he’s ever had) from artfully created menus. An additional building, Jim’s Bar and Grill sits close to the beach for casual dining and lounging. The three villas on the island, Delana Villa, Vatu Villa and Saku Villa, are comfortable one bedroom constructions that feature generous en suites, a kitchen, indoor dining and living room area, a dedicated villa spa, tropical courtyard and bionised heated pools, indoor and outdoor showers, outdoor entertaining areas, stocked bar, verandah, complimentary Wi-Fi, satellite TV, air conditioning and ceiling fans. As in any good intimate relationship, these villas are discreet – just like the staff. Small in scale by way of number of villas, this allows staff to take the time to know guests’ special needs and desires and do their utmost to fulfill them. They try to pre-empt them, firing your imagination with their own offerings. Their calling card is peace and quiet. Nevertheless, knowing the individual nature of guests, beyond seclusion usually lies a hankering for an element of escape and adventure. The three villas clinging to the cliffs with pools that drip over the edge speak to this hankering. But if that doesn’t answer the
need for a little excitement, try the cliffside dining at Valhalla, edging out over the rocks. The organic produce, fruit and vegetable gardens are sustainably incorporated into the islands’ lush landscape and are the main source of ingredients for meals during your stay. An island tour will show how young plants are propagated in the landscape nursery while more fragile tropical treasures are grown in the orchid house, carefully tended by staff under the guidance of Lynda, who has degrees in Conservation and Horticulture. As for coconuts – groves full of the graceful palms and their sweet nuts abound. But the truth is that none of it will ever match the magnificence of the world beneath the surface of the sea. The basic reason for the existence of a resort on Kaibu is the phenomenal clarity of the water and intense colour of its reefs that harbour manta rays, turtles, whales, gaudy anemones, gem-like fish and so much more. Little wonder Vatuvara Foundation was set up to protect the waters and have stewardship of the area. The islands are home to several rare and endemic plant and marine species like the endangered giant clams, rare coconut crabs and host a variety of sea and shore birds. The Lau group of islands is also home to some of the most well-preserved reef systems in the world. Diving enthusiasts will be enchanted by the myriad of softcoral colours and exotic marine life. Immediately off the beach, warm tropical waters and an abundance of aquatic life makes for unforgettable snorkelling experiences. Waters beyond the reef offer pelagic fish, whales, dolphins and sailfish. One of the most appealing spots to bask in this tropical glory is Vatuvara Island, known for its silvery beaches that stretch for miles without a soul in sight. Just a 30-minute boat trip from Kaibu provides a front row seat to view an unspoiled landscape covered in mangroves and jungle foliage. Abundant wildlife calls Vatuvara and the surrounding waters home, including unusual crabs and rare birds. A noteworthy, must-do visit is Yacata Island, a quaint Fijian village 20 minutes away across the water. It is home to most of the resort staff, who are happy for guests to visit the school, meet other villagers and enjoy some cultural activities. There is always time to take advantage of the area’s great reputation with anglers aboard Houdini, the resort’s private boat. The island also features its own organic four-hole golf course, with fantastic views of the Lau waters. A red prawn filled limestone grotto also exists on the island. Just ask one of the staff to show you the way there. A fourth villa is in the works but even in its present glory, the island represents the ultimate status symbol – a romantic place to escape under the Fijian sun. And if you really want privacy, you can hire the entire island.