I’m not sure if there’s anything after this life, but if there is, I sure hope it looks like Turtle Island, Fiji.
Turtle Island impresses the filthy rich, celebrities and sports stars on a level rarely seen anywhere. Britney Spears and Kevin Federline honeymooned here, as did Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey.
We fantasize about digital disconnection, going off the grid; more often than not, we end up managing emails, texting friends, and maintaining the life on a device. Turtle Island is one place to unplug from the hustle and bustle..
South Seas Seaplane over Turtle Island.
The only way to get to Turtle Island? From Suva, it’s a 30-minute awesome private flight designed as a VIP exclusivity for each guest. It’s just you, your partner, and the pilot. But it’s more than just an aerial commute from one island to another.
Our pilot’s name was Mint, a young Fijian dude wearing a pilot’s shirt and shorts; he gave us the flight low-down as my wife (Megan) and I clapped on headsets and off we went; ski pads splashed, the prop buzzed, the engine accelerated, we were airborne.
Unlike most flights, this one stays at a low 1,000 feet for great views of little islands, reefs, and boats, between Nadi (the main island of Fiji) and Turtle Island.
Landing at Turtle Island is extraordinary. The seaplane tacked and taxied in the salt spray as it approached the dock. As we exited the plane a team of Turtle Island staff on the beach smiled, strummed guitars and ukuleles, and sang.
New Fijian friends greet with song.
Rather than swim to the island, a group of strong Fijian men with interlocked arms carried us off the plane to white-sand-shores of this magical oasis. With bare feet on the sand I was presented with a coconut with a bamboo straw in it. For Megan it was Moet champagne.
Before arrival we filled out a questionnaire to ascertain our favorite drinks, snacks, dietary restrictions, and activities, such as snorkeling, yoga, and spa services.
We were guided to our own private Bure, a sizable multi-room hut. The floors, furniture, and bed are all hand-made with materials from the island. Unlike many other all-inclusive resorts, Turtle Island is eco-sustainable, using materials from the land, growing their own food, and even desalinizing potable water. Each Bure has its own in-ground hot tub, a dual faucet shower, an air conditioner over the bed (really nice when its hot and humid), and a foot bath outside on the front porch to wash the sand off our feet.
We seldom wore shoes during our stay, we were usually in the sea or sand. I noted the frogs everywhere and when returning to our Bure at night, the foot bath was likely filled with them. They think its their own little personal froggy pool!
Only 14 couples allowed at a time in the Bures.
Hanging on the door step is a customized wooden sign that showed our names engraved in it along with the number of the Bure, #14; we could keep the sign and take it home as a memento. We’ll hang it over our porch.
It is nice to have awesome accommodations and each couple gets their own “Bure mama” – a personal assistant who cleans the room daily, washes our clothes, serves breakfast in bed, sets up picnics on our own private beach, arranges all extracurricular activities, and truly becomes our l Fijian friend!
Our Bure mama was Lu Fox, or Mama Lu as we called her. She’s always smiling, always happy, and she works hard. She lives with her son and husband Raymond, a photographer of Turtle Island guests throughout their stay; photos are compiled into a wooden photo album given to guests along with a thumb drive archive to remember their experiences.
The niceness of the staff doesn’t feel like a requirement, but a way of life. There are no forced smiles; I recognize the hearty, unique laughs of each staff member.
A private feast on a private island.
About the private beach picnic: There are seven private beaches on the island, reserved through our Mama, to have it to ourselves, all day! Also reserve a catered private picnic lunch, snorkel gear, beach towels – a dream come true, so we reserved three beach times, at three different beaches. The best was Paddy Beach, a little cove on the north end of the island that looks out at a smaller island about a ½ mile away. This scene might look familiar as the movie, The Blue Lagoon, starring Brooke Shields, was filmed here. There’s a scene where the actors swim to this small island. I wanted to do it, but the tide was strong.
Plenty of private time on private sands.
But listen to how this plays out. We meet Mama Lu at the dock, and she’s with our boatman with a skiff. We hop on and motor around the bend to reveal the most beautiful private beach oasis I’ve ever seen. It has white sand beaches, a little open-walled hut with a hammock, and a table and chairs.
Mama Lu takes out a pack full of food. We had pre-ordered grilled lobster, buttered prawns, grilled fish, fried coconut (which strangely tasted like popcorn), and a salad. A bottle of Moet champagne appeared. Once we were set, away they went by boat off into the distance leaving us alone in paradise for as long as we wanted. We were given a walkie-talkie to communicate with Mama Lu for pick up Did I mention that they rake the sand every day just so it looks untouched? Talk about details!
But there was one problem. Two actually. First, we forgot our snorkel gear, and the water looked very inviting and clear. And two, as delicious as the lobster and prawn plates were, we were still hungry.
So like true aristocrats, we radioed Mam Lu to bring us snorkel gear, and some curry; 15 minutes later, here comes the boat! It was Mama Lu with our hearts desire set up as a second round of lunch on a silver platter. Then we were once again stranded castaways.
Snorkel surprises in the Blue Lagoon.
Once we finished relishing the extravagance, we did what any newlywed couple did – we got naked!
Naked snorkeling is an absolute must. There’s no one here except thousands of fish encircling chunks of reef just waiting to be seen. We floated and swam in a real-life version of Finding Nemo. We saw sea cucumbers, little striped “Nemo” clown fish, virtually every color from a box of crayons, and they didn’t seem to mind us. No tour guide, no time limit, no rules. It was paradise. That is until I realized that I forgot to reapply suntan lotion. Later, back at our Bure, I was crispy as a piece of bacon. Turtle Island had a fresh stock of home-grown aloe leaves in the refrigerator for relief.
There’s a health spa for massages, facials, manicures, and pedicures, and special aloe treatment for intense sunburns. I didn’t partake in that because I brought my personal masseuse, AKA, my wife, who took good care of me.
But maybe snorkeling isn’t your jam. Maybe you are more of a land lubber type. Well in that case, listen to what else we did.
A private sunrise ride to start the day.
Mama Lu, recommended a sunrise horseback ride along a private beach. Although we dreaded an early rise ( there’s an open bar ALL the time), the morn broke warm and humid. Mama Lu picked us up in a golf cart packed with gear and drove us to the stables.
A light-colored horse named Nemo, was saddled for Megan; I rode a lazy slow-poke named Dip. We cantered slowly, meandering along a jungle-path, passing by what seemed like a sea of hopping wild frogs and chirping morning birds.
No one here but us.
Dip and Nemo kept getting distracted by the food-lined path to Long Beach. We trotted along the water’s edge with no footprints. Raymond walked along with us and took photos to add to our photo book.
After the ride we discovered that Mama Lu set up a table with fresh hot coffee and pastries and fresh mangoes – a pre-breakfast picnic. They tied up Dip and Nemo, and disappeared for about 30 minutes so we could have privacy.
Dip and Nemo got some special treatment too, we gave each an apple and then they became our friends. Maybe that’s why they picked up the pace on our way back. Before we left, I spied Raymond sprinkling blueberry muffin rumbles down little holes in the ground for the sand crabs to eat. Nothing goes to waste.
We rode past the vegetable garden and the solar farm. All the energy used on the island comes from a solar battery bank that stores energy for future use. Most fruits and vegetables come from the island’s garden and trees. We regularly saw the staff climbing trees to gather coconuts, picking mangoes, flowers, and vegetables used for our culinary experience. No fear of eating GMO foods from who knows where.
Nothing felt more appealing than breakfast in bed in our Bure.
We ordered Indian spiced eggs, a prawn omelet, cappuccinos, a mango smoothie, some toast and butter and local honey. In addition to our regular bed inside our Bure, there was also a daybed on the patio, a perfect spot for breakfast in bed, watching the frogs and birds, a warm tropical air caressing my skin, delicious food aromas – 100% taken care of in every way.
The island was purchased by Richard Evanson in 1972, and he still lives here with one of his nine children. When Columbia Pictures filmed the blockbuster hit The Blue Lagoon, Evanson used the income to improve the island and the resort. Since then, Evanson is constantly investing in the island’s infrastructure and improving the quality of life for its attending residents.
Ger lost in the South Seas.
Evanson is also a philanthropist and regularly donates to and hires from nearby villages. The one village we toured was connected with solar power. During the tour, Turtle Island staff presented the chief of the village with some Kava root, a traditional Fijian plant used both medicinally and recreationally.
Turtle Island’s chef “Beni,” was taught by world-renowned Australian chef Jacque Reymond. Want a lobster omelet for breakfast? Done. Want fresh sashimi from the sea? Done. Want Filet Mignon at midnight? Done. Anything , anytime. I can get used to this!
For the indecisive types, there are scheduled meals in a main dining hall, with a gigantic wooden table, which is a little more social. But don’t expect to be too social, only 14 couples maximum are allowed on this private island at a time, with a staff of 80.
With that staff-to-guest ratio there is an adaptive and customized type of all inclusive care. But next level service comes at a cost, and that cost is typically about $2,600/per night, not including the seaplane transfer which is an additional $1,200/passenger.
If you get sticker shock, you might not be Turtle Island’s target audience. Most of their guests stay for between 5-10 nights and more than 35% return for additional stays. We met a couple who had returned 23 times.
Hand-made furnishings in our Bure.
I imagine that most people come to Turtle Island to bask in the sun, float in the water while drinks are served to the floatie, or to just unwind on a private beach with exotic foods. I never imagined that on an extravagant luxury vacation like this one, I’d wake up every morning and do a 5k run around the entire island, do pull-ups on the side of a boat, or swim, snorkel, run, bike and workout all in the same day. Some guests do. Turtle Island provides space and time to revive personal, non-digital connections.
One morning we went snorkeling and reef exploring along with our friendly boat captain who brought bread to feed the fish. Hundreds of hungry fish circled around us, as we put bread in our mouths for an underwater video.
Once the fish had their fill, we hopped back in the boat and headed back to Turtle. Before we could even set foot on the shore, we were greeted with a tray of fresh coconutsdrinks.
The fish were friendly when fed.
For some people, the idea of a luxury exotic vacation may be to integrate into the local culture. And for that aspect, Turtle Island absolutely has it covered.
About the Kava ceremony: Kava is a root that when mixed with water makes a muddy-looking drink sipped out of a coconut shell, and you drink a LOT of it. Each night at Turtle Island the staff gets together and sits upon a giant tarp to strum guitars and imbibe tons and tons of Kava. It supposedly helps your sex drive, helps you sleep, and is used for overall medicinal purposes, but I found it basically made my mouth numb.
Kava and guitars.
So there we were sitting Indian-style on the ground. They dished out the Kava and we drink as much as humans can handle. Everyone is laughing and smiling. I drink four or five bowls, but Megan went all-in! She drank about 10-15 bowls so she could really experience it, but neither of us felt drugged or drunk or anything other than numbness and a full belly. It was fun to listen to songs and dance along with our always-smiling favorite Fijians!
We slept well. I awoke refreshed. That is until I saw a gigantic tarantula-sized spider hanging on our mosquito net. Time to call Mama Lu on the radio for some spider killing duties. And she was there in minutes flat with a tissue ready. Spider gone
There’s so much to Turtle Island. From the fully stocked refrigerator with personalized favorite snacks, the unlimited customized meals, the many all-inclusive options – a luxurious paradise island oasis, encompassed by Fijian song and our fondness for Mama Lu who made our stay a welcome home.
Mama Lu was always near for special care.
Featureby Josh Edelson, Jetsetters Magazine Adventure Correspondent; photos by Josh and courtesy of Turtle Island Resort, Fiji. Click logo below to visit Turtle Island.