Turtle Island – Welcome Home
I’m not sure if there’s anything after this life, but if there is, I sure hope it looks like Turtle Island.
This is a place that impresses the filthy rich, celebrities and sports stars on a level rarely seen anywhere around the world. Britney Spears and Kevin Federline took their honeymoon here as did Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey. John Travolta, Oprah Winfrey, John Cleese, Pierce Brosnan, Pamela Anderson and Ringo Starr all visited here, and the list goes on and on. Read on and you’ll hear why even people with an insatiable appetite for luxury are not only blown away, but continue to return again and again.
We fantasize about being disconnected, about going off the grid. But more often than not, we end up managing emails, texting friends, and maintaining some sort of connection to our digital life back home. But if there’s one place you truly want to disconnect from all the hustle and bustle, all the drama, all the stress, it’s here.
Getting to Turtle Island is half the fun. The only way to get there is by seaplane, like the kind that takes off and lands directly on the crystal azure Fijian waters you drool over when looking at a postcard. It’s a 30-minute long, awesome private flight designed to give off an heir of VIP exclusivity for each couple who stays on the island. 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. After giving us the low-down on how the flight will go, my wife (Megan) and I put on our headsets and off we went. Looking out the window, I watched intently as the ski pads splashed along while the loud buzz of the propeller accelerated us further and further out to sea. Then, before we even knew what to expect, we were up!
Unlike most flights, this one stays at a super low 1,000 feet the entire way so you can have a great view of all the little islands, reefs, boats, and whatever else may be there between Nadi (the main island of Fiji) and Turtle Island.
And as great as the flight itself is, the landing at Turtle Island is extraordinary. Not only do you land right there on the water, but as you approach the dock, you’ll see a team of local Fijians – the staff of Turtle Island – standing there on the beach, singing and smiling as you exit the plane!
But the plane is still floating in the water, and rather than swim up to the island, a group of strong Fijian men come and interlock their arms, and literally carry you off the plane while the staff sings and plays guitar and ukulele on the white-sand-shores of this magical oasis. And, as soon as you step foot on the sand, you’ll be presented with your favorite drink, which for me was a coconut with a bamboo straw in it. For my wife, it was Moet champagne.
It’s no guessing game that they knew what we’d want when we arrived. Before coming, the staff at Turtle Island has each of their guests fill out a questionnaire form so they can know which are your favorite drinks, snacks and if you have any eating restrictions like being gluten free. They even ask about your favorite things to do so they can make sure to have snorkeling gear, a yoga mat, or whatever else you’d need to enjoy your favorite activities on Turtle Island.
Once you’ve had your drink and the awe of the arrival has faded slightly, you’re taken to your own private Bure – a sizable multi-room hut. The floors, furniture and bed are all hand-made with materials from the island. In fact, unlike many other all-inclusive resorts, Turtle Island strives to be sustainable, using materials from the land, growing their own food, and even de-salinizing the water for consumption. Each room has its own in-ground hot tub, a dual faucet shower, an air conditioner over the bed (really nice when its hot and humid out), and a foot bath outside on the front porch to wash the sand off your feet before you enter.
You may notice that hardly anyone wears shoes during their stay here. I mean, why would you even need them when you’re on the sand and in the water all the time? Another even more interesting note – there are frogs everywhere on the island and if you return to your Bure at night, your footbath is likely to be filled with them. They think its their own little personal froggy pool!
Hanging on the door step is a customized wooden sign that shows the names of guests engraved in it along with the number of the Bure. Ours is number 14, and we got to keep the sign and take it home as a memento of the experience. We’ll probably hang it over our porch at home.
But as nice as it is to have awesome accommodations, the thing that really sets Turtle Island apart from any other resort is the fact that each couple gets their very own “Bure mama” – a personal assistant who not only cleans your room daily, she’ll also wash your clothes, bring you breakfast in bed, set up picnics for you on your own private beach, arrange all extracurricular activities, and will truly become your local Fijian friend!
Our Bure mama was named Lu Fox, or Mama Lu as we called her. She’s pretty awesome; always smiling, always happy, and she works hard. She lives here on the island with her husband and son who also work for Turtle Island. Her husband is a photographer named Raymond who takes photos of each of the guests throughout their stay. At the end of the stay, all the photos are compiled into a wooden photo album given to guests along with a thumb drive of the photos to help them remember their experiences.
Of course, good customer service means being nice to guests. The staff at Turtle Island take this to a whole new level. Here, the niceness of the staff doesn’t feel like a requirement, it feels like their way of life. There are no forced smiles here. Instead, you’ll learn to recognize the hearty, unique laughs of each staff member before the end of your stay.
One of the most awesome all-inclusive activities you can take advantage of while staying at Turtle Island is the private beach picnic. There are 7 private beaches on the island, and once you reserve one with your Mama, you can have it all to yourself, all day! But what’s better, is you can also have a catered private picnic lunch, snorkel gear and whatever else you want, for as long as you want! Talk about a dream come true.
We did this three times, but the best one by far was at a place called Paddy Beach. It’s a private 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 from the shore that is quite famous. I wanted to do it, but the tide was strong, so we opted not to.
But listen to how this plays out. We meet Mama Lu at the dock, and she’s there with another staff member waiting for us with a boat. We hop on the boat and motor through the azure Fijian waters 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.
When we arrive, Mama Lu takes out a pack full of food, comes over to the table and sets it for us. We ordered grilled lobster, buttered prawns, grilled fish, fried coconut (which strangely tastes like popcorn) and a salad. We also had a bottle of Moet champagne and some water. Once we were all set, away they went by boat off into the distance leaving us to be alone in paradise for as long as we wanted.
Each guest is given a Walkie-Talkie (radio) which is how we communicate with the staff. When we’re ready to be picked up, we just radio to them and they’ll come get us. When we want to eat, we radio them and they bring us whatever we want whenever we want.
So there we are, looking out at the island from the movie The Blue Lagoon, on our own private beach in Fiji, eating lobster, prawns, grilled fish and coconut all freshly caught or grown there on the island, with no one around. Oh, and did I mention that they rake the sand every day just so it looks untouched for the guests? Talk about details!
But there was one problem. Two actually. First, we forgot to bring 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 radio’d back to the staff and asked them if they would bring us snorkel gear, and some curry. 15 minutes later, here comes the boat! It was Mama Lu again, and another gentleman with exactly what our hearts desired. They set us up for a second round of lunch with a silver platter and all, and off they went into the blue sea to leave us stranded just the way we wanted.
So once we finished relishing in the extravagance, we did what any newlywed couple would have done – we got naked!
Now if you’ve never tried naked snorkeling, you absolutely must. There’s no one there, just me and my wife, a set of snorkel gear, our bellies full, our champagne glasses empty, and thousands of fish encircling chunks of reef just waiting to be seen. So off we went, naked as the day we came into this world, floating and swimming in a slightly less colorful but 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. It is, paradise. Well that is until I realized that I forgot to reapply suntan lotion.
As excited as I was to enjoy eating fresh lobster on the beach, I hadn’t realized that I would eventually become one! When we got back to our Bure, I was crispy as a piece of bacon! Fortunately, the Turtle Island staff anticipates this happening from time to time, so they keep a fresh stock of home-grown aloe leaves in the refrigerator for times just like this. But if you don’t have a wife or husband who’s willing to apply it for you, the staff will surely help you out.
There’s a health spa available for guests to arrange massages, facials, manicures and pedicures, and even a special aloe treatment for intense sunburns. I didn’t partake in that though because I brought my personal masseuse, AKA my wife, who took good care of me.
But maybe snorkeling isn’t your jam. Maybe your more of a land lubber type. Well in that case, listen to what else we did.
Per recommendation of our awesome Mama Lu, we decided to wake up before dawn (extremely abnormal for us Rip Van-Winkle types), and go for a sunrise horseback ride along a private beach. And although we dreaded it the night before (remember, there’s an open bar literally ALL the time), it wasn’t actually so bad waking up that early. I think partly the fact that its warm and humid makes getting out of your comfy bed not so horrible.
Nevertheless, we walked along the shore for a few minutes to where Mama Lu had a golf cart packed with gear, waiting for us to hop aboard. She drove us to the stables where the staff tends to their horses, and met our companions.
Megan (my wife) rode a light-colored horse named Nemo, and I rode a lazy slow-poke named Dip. And away we went, slowly meandering our way along a jungle-lined path, passing by what seemed like a sea of hopping wild frogs, listening to the chirping morning birds as we made our way to yet another private beach reserved just for us.
Although Dip and Nemo kept getting distracted by the food-lined path, we eventually made our way to a beach called Long beach where we trotted along the water’s edge on a perfectly pristine white sand beach with no footprints. Raymond (who, remember is also Mama Lu’s husband), walked along with us and took photos to add to our photo book. It’s pretty awesome to have a personal photographer come along with you whenever you want.
After the ride on the beach, we discovered that Mama Lu had already set up a table for us so we could hop off the horses and have fresh hot coffee and pastries along with fresh local grown mango (which by the way, was the best I’ve ever tasted) for a pre-breakfast picnic. They tied up Dip and Nemo, and disappeared for about 30 minutes so we could have privacy.
We also made sure that Dip and Nemo got some special treatment too, so once the staff disappeared, we gave each of them 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 taking what was left of the blueberry muffins we didn’t finish, and watched him drop crumbles into little holes in the ground for the sand crabs to eat. Nothing goes to waste here.
On our way back, we passed by 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. Almost all the fruits and vegetables come from the island’s garden and trees, and even the coconuts are from here. In fact, we regularly see the staff climbing trees to gather coconuts, picking mangoes, flowers, and vegetables to be used as part of the culinary experience. Its very reassuring to know exactly where your food is coming from and to relieve the fear of eating GMO foods from who knows where.
When we got back, it was still pretty early and we weren’t quite ready to attack the day. Nothing felt more appealing than just going back to our Bure and ordering breakfast in bed, so that’s exactly what we did.
We ordered Indian spiced eggs, a prawn omelet, cappuccinos, a mango smoothie, some toast and butter and local made honey. In addition to our regular bed inside our Bure, there’s also a daybed on the patio, a perfect spot for breakfast in bed. It was so nice to be sitting there, watching the frogs and birds, letting the warm tropical air caress your skin, smelling the delicious foods set there in front of you, knowing that you’re 100% taken care of in every way.
The island itself was purchased by Richard Evanson in 1972, and he still lives there with one of his 9 children. When Columbia Pictures decided to film the blockbuster hit Blue Lagoon here, Evanson decided to use part of 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. The island has a solar farm, gardens, and is virtually entirely self-sustained save for the importation of various fruits and meats that cannot be grown on the island.
Evanson is also a philanthropist and regularly donates to and hires from nearby villages. One such village that we were able to tour was surprisingly connected with solar power in spite of being so disconnected from society. 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 which I’ll get into a bit later. For now, let’s get back to the food.
Coming from the San Francisco Bay Area, my wife and I are real foodies. We aren’t uppity aristocrats, but we do have a special appreciation for high-end, delicious food. In the Bay Area, there’s no short supply. That being said, it is with great appreciation that I can say that Turtle Island’s own chef “Beni,” who was taught by world-renowned Australian chef Jacque Reymond, cooks up literally anything you want, anytime. Seriously.
We’re not talking about boring turkey sandwiches and pizza. You want a lobster omelet for breakfast? Done. You want fresh caught sashimi right from the sea? Done. You want filet mignon at midnight? Done. Anything you want, anytime. Its hard to imagine having an executive chef at your beck and call all the time, but believe it, it’s real! And I have to say, we can get used to this!
For the indecisive types, there are scheduled meals in a main dining hall, which is a gigantic wooden table on the beach where you can be a little more social. But don’t expect to be too social as there are only 14 couples maximum allowed on this private island, with a staff of 80! You read that right.
With that many staff members, each guest is given an extremely adaptive and customized type of care that really raises the bar for typical all-inclusive resorts. 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 $1200/passenger.
If you’re the type of person that gets 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.
Believe it or not, we actually met one couple who had returned 23 times, and that says a lot considering the cost! Some of the guests included 3 other honeymoon couples (in addition to us), a few older people there to celebrate one of their anniversaries, a ridiculously buff 50-year-old guy and his wife, who we called “The Rock” because of his gigantic arms, and another character who we dubbed “Captain Motivated” along with his wife.
I imagine that most people come to Turtle Island to bask in the sun, float in the water while having drinks served to your floatie, or to just unwind on a private beach somewhere with exotic foods. I never imagine 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. But this man “Captain Motivated,” as we call him, did. He and his wife were incredibly happy and appreciative, as they told us at dinner one night, that being on the island gives them an opportunity to bond and connect with each other again. They have 4 kids and don’t often see each other at home as they said. They went on to explain that Turtle Island provided them with the space and time they needed to revive their connection.
Between laying in hammocks, eating breakfast in bed and relaxing on the beach, Megan and I took a page out of Captain Motivation’s book ourselves and decided to get active. One morning, a staff member took us out on a boat to go snorkeling at the Blue Lagoon. After a quick 5-minute boat ride, we arrived at a beautiful little lagoon with crystal clear water.
Masks on, we hopped in and went exploring along with our friendly boat captain who brought along some bread so we could feed the fish! Hundreds of hungry fish circled around us, as we put the pieces of bread in our mouths (while underwater) so the fish could get right in there for an underwater video I was taking (that didn’t come out very well). It was like their own personal all-you-can eat lunch, served right from our mouths.
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 by a staff member with a tray of fresh coconuts for us to drink. Talk about service! They really do anticipate your every need before you can even ask for it.
Yet another example – I happened to mention to Mama Lu that I absolutely love cookies but that I also have been trying to avoid chocolate. So magically, fresh homemade coconut cookies showed up each morning in our room! That equates to a happy Josh! For Megan, it was all about the Moet champagne and fresh island fruits, of which there was no short supply.
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.
First, let me tell you about the Kava ceremony. Kava is a root that when mixed with water makes a muddy-looking drink. You drink it, usually out of a coconut shell, and you drink a LOT of it. Each night at Turtle Island, the staff gets together and sits down on a giant tarp with guitars, and 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 to basically just makes your entire mouth numb.
So there we are, sitting Indian-style on the ground with about 8 other couples and maybe 20 of the Fijian staff. They dish out the Kava and you drink as much as you humanly can handle. Everyone is laughing and smiling, and some of the more seasoned guests are peer-pressuring you to drink as much as you can. I drink four or five bowls, but Megan (my wife) 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 having a numb mouth and a full belly. Either way, it was definitely fun to peer pressure our neighbors, listen to songs and dance along with our always-smiling favorite Fijians!
One thing was for sure though, we definitely slept well! I barely even remembered falling asleep, but I woke up feeling incredibly refreshed! That is until I saw a gigantic tarantula-sized spider hanging out on our mosquito net. Time to call Mama Lu on the radio for some spider killing duties! And she was there in like 2 minutes flat with a tissue ready. Spider gone.
Speaking of bugs and critters and whatnot, one of the most magical surprises we discovered was an unexpected bioluminescent visitor! Megan and I have always wanted to visit one of the bioluminescent bays, and we never expected there’d be one right here on Turtle Island!
So we’re walking along the beach, and I swear I keep seeing little dots of light. “No, no”, a couple other people said as we walked along, “It was probably a reflection of something.” But I kept seeing it and at first thought I was going crazy! Then I saw another one. A little single pixel of blue light right at the edge of the water along the beach. Then a few more and a few more!
Megan started telling me how she remembered reading that with bioluminescent bays, you start walking around and you can leave a footprint of light or something. So we tried walking around, and unbelievably, it seemed like the more we walked and stomped around at the water’s edge, the more little light dots showed up! Next thing you know, a small group of us are all dancing around at night on the beach, celebrating the discovery of what felt like little light creatures straight out of the movie Avatar!
I tried to single out what each light pixel came from, but whenever I put my phone flashlight on one, it just looked like sand. I even scooped a little light pixel up and it got under my fingernail, but when I put the light on it….just sand!? I still don’t understand how it works, but I do know that getting to experience thousands of little dots of blue light under your footsteps on a private Fijian Beach was one of the most magical, unexpected treats I could never have even imagined.
Eating dinner on the pontoon was also an incredible experience. Right there in the bay is a floating dock. You can swim out to it, or you can arrange to have a romantic meal alone on the floating dock in the bay and we did just that; a perfect honeymooner’s date. The best part is that you have your radio. So once you’re done eating (for us it was once again lobster, grilled fish and Moet champagne), then you just radio to the staff and they show up by boat with dessert! Radio again when you’re done and they’ll pick you up!
There’s just so much to Turtle Island. From the fully stocked refrigerator with your favorite snacks, the unlimited customized meals, the many all-inclusive options you have to choose from, it’s truly a luxurious paradise island oasis. For those reasons and about a thousand more, it’s no wonder that after your grand entrance by seaplane and song, the local Fijian staff encompass the entire experience with their first two words to you – “welcome home.”Follow and Share your Jetsetters Magazine Adventures.