" one of my all-time favorite places in the world having been there
6 times "
Bula! Welcome to Likuliku Island Resort - Photo by Burt Fine
Bill and Melinda Gates chose Fiji for their honeymoon. So did Britney Spears and Kevin Federline. Oprah flies in just to relax. Lavishly, of course. And Stones' guitarist Keith Richards obviously found Fiji so relaxing he fell right out of the coconut tree he was attempting to climb.
You probably won't fall from a tree, but you are very likely to fall in love with Fiji. More specifically, you going to love the famous private island resorts that have come to exemplify Fiji's extraordinary hospitality.
Let's face it. Planning a high-end vacation really is a no-brainer. Anyone can find luxurious resort complexes on just about every beach from Miami to Maui to the Maldives. And it requires zero effort --- or imagination ---to book a penthouse suite in one of these posh resorts which reward you with a predictable menu of perks -- everything from marble-clad bathrooms to sub-arctic air-conditioning. You'll have to navigate acres of carpeted halls and lobby to reach the beach and, once you're there, you'll be sharing the sand with hundreds of strangers, all jockeying for the best location, the best chaise or shade tree.
But why on earth would you settle for such predictable vacationing when you could be living large at an intimate little resort on one of the private islands scattered throughout the seas of Fiji.
A PRIVATE BURE ON THE BEACH
Here on your private island, your home away from home is a bure, a Fijian-style luxurious and very private villa-like haven. And the beach that fronts your bure will be virtually private, too; you probably won't see another soul on the entire stretch of sand.
And regardless of how many luxe appointments this bure includes - and, believe me, you will discover a jaw-dropping array of them - you are not likely to find any electronics that might tempt you back into the world you've left so far behind: no phones, no TVs, no wifi, no computers.
What you will find woven through the fabric of this new luxurious lifestyle are the outrageous pamperings of a genuinely caring staff, a five-star cuisine, and all the relaxing privacy you've ever dreamed of.
ALL ARE PRIVATE, BUT OH SO DIFFERENT
Each of Fiji's private-island resorts has created its own unique and iconic style, each one fabulous, and each one markedly different from all the others. However different they may be, though, each one shares several key elements with the others:
Size: Most are quite small (and several are super-small, accommodating only eight or 10 people, max).
Guest mix: Some resorts welcome families with older children; others accommodate adults only. And one resort actually insists on couples-only.
Lifestyle: Some resorts go all-out to safeguard the guest's privacy and personal space; while others heartily encourage guests to interact with each other.
Most of these resorts are completely all-inclusive, which means that virtually everything you could possibly want is part of the deal. (But if you have a specific vacation goal, do be sure to check ahead to determine if your private retreat charges extra for extra-special activities such as scuba certification, spa services, or deep-sea fishing.)
In the final analysis, all these fantastic islands share the ability to offer visitors a lifestyle of rare privilege --- even if it's just for a brief time.
Once you've arrived on the island you quickly discover that the charms of such a Fijian resort are many. But once you fall into the rhythms of the place you'll also discover the true secret to their success - the charisma of the Fijian people. It's astonishing. It's like a dream come true. And it's also intangible, something you can't quite put your finger on.
It's what I call the Bula Factor.
You probably will not encounter the true Bula Factor outside of the private islands. In the more urban areas of Fiji , workers tend to get stressed by the hassles and stresses of coping with large numbers of international visitors. And that's totally understandable.
But Fijians truly blossom into their true personalities ---- gracious, welcoming and caring ---- once they're within the relaxed atmosphere of the intimately sized, private island resorts.
JUST HOW REMOTE IS REMOTE?
Although there are more than 300 islands that make up the Republic of Fiji, only a dozen or so are privately owned and occupied exclusively by a single resort. These unique private island resorts represent the ultimate gems of vacationing; the destinations sought by the truly discriminating traveler.
But, like all of life's worthwhile luxuries, they do require some extra work to achieve.
Here's how it works: Your journey across whatever expanse of the Pacific you choose to travel (10 hours from Los Angeles or four hours from Sydney or three hours from Auckland) does not end when your plane lands at
Nadi International Airport (NAN) on Fiji's main island of Viti Levu. The next leg en route to your private destination will involve a transfer to the resort's private yacht or perhaps even to a small airplane. In fact, a couple of these island resorts are so remote, you'll need to take both a plane and a boat - and then perhaps even a van - to reach your private retreat.
Hey! Nobody ever said paradise is easily achieved.
HOW MUCH SECLUSION DO YOU CRAVE?
Once you've settled into your bure, you (and your companion) may decide you want to remain blissfully alone for the entire vacation. Or, you may welcome the option to meet ---however briefly --- your fellow guests before you disappear into seclusion once again.
So selecting your perfect resort requires some research. Although all these island resorts are super-small compared to traditional high-rise resort hotels, some are smaller than others. To determine the maximum number of guests with whom you will be sharing your private island at any one time, simply count the number of bures and multiply by two. Several private island resorts consist of only four bures (which means there, you'd share the resort and beach with a max of only six people--- besides yourselves). Another resort has as many as 29 bures. (You do the math!) On average, you can figure that most resorts have about a dozen bures.
EXPANDING ON THE BULA FACTOR
Bula is a word you'll hear dozens of times every day. It's the age-old Fijian greeting of welcome and good wishes. And herein lies your major clue to understanding Fiji's unparalleled charisma: Fijians' smiles are genuine and their welcomes are sincere. Their wide-open friendliness is in their genes. It's not a touristic ploy; it's the real deal. Fiji's tribal customs require that all children be taught "chiefly behavior," which means they learn to embody the practice of respect, deference, attentiveness and humility.
And here's something that's really difficult to explain: Although you arrive as a tourist, you will leave feeling like part of a warm and loving family.
And when it is time for you to depart the resort, and the entire staff gathers to serenade you with Isa Lei, the traditional song of farewell, I guarantee you won't be able to hold back the tears.
This is the essence of the "bula factor."
A SAMPLING OF PRIVATE ISLAND RESORTS TO CONSIDER:
Likuliku Lagoon Resort
The first, and so far the only Fijian resort to accommodate guests in "living aquariums," the Likuliku's collection of 10 over-water, ultra-luxurious villas-on-stilts lets you become one with the sea, even watching the lagoon's marine life through a glass panel in your livingroom floor.
You can gaze out on the panoramic lagoon views from your king bed on its raised platform, or from the tub in your spacious and airy bathing pavilion. Or. You can jump right into the swim by snorkeling the lagoon's marine treasures - simply climb down the ladder from your bure's private deck. This proximity to the water is mesmerizing; you begin to feel a true kinship with the lagoon.
Designed as a "suite," each overwater bure features two large rooms - a bedroom/livingroom and bathroom connected by a windowed foyer/hallway. The bedroom's plush decor of upholstered sofas and chairs and pieces crafted of local mahogany is accented by the intricate and distinctive coconut-fiber designs known as magi magi. The all-important glass floor panel fronts the sofa, and folding panel glass doors open onto a large private wooden deck. Across the hallway, the "bathing pavilion" is huge, ultramodern and filled with light that floods in from many oversized windows.
Likuliku has 30 more bures that line the shore right at the water's edge and feature spectacular lagoon views. But, alas, they're not over the water.
Here even the restaurants, bars and the Tatadra Spa focus on the spectacular proximity to the sea. And, of course, scuba diving the nearby unspoiled sites is one of the primo activities.
On this island it's possible to immerse yourself in something uniquely and authentically Fijian - a bush walk along the protected and sacred sites adjacent to the resort. One of Likuliku's Fijian guides accompanies you, pointing out such archaeological treasures as Vatu Tagi, the "weeping rock," Vatu Tabu, the "sacred wishing rock" (for high priests only) and Yadra Vula, a site of early Fijian habitation so significant it's listed in the Fiji Museum. En route, the guide relates the Legend of the Magic Box, the story of Fiji's beginnings. Each turn along your path reveals another treasure - and also another spectacular view of the Mamanuca Islands on the horizon.
Likuliku is on Malolo Island in the Mamanuca Archipelago, 16 miles northwest of Nadi International Airport (NAN),
(888) 946 5458;
Remote and lush, Royal Davui Island rises up out of the vast expanse of Beqa Lagoon like a freeform green oasis. Only 16 vales (another word for bure) comprise this resort, each of which is perched on a hill or waterfront cliff, its privacy shielded by the indigenous tropical forest. Except for the
labyrinth of pathways (helpfully lighted at night) that connects each vale to the restaurant and reception building, your home-away-from-home feels as remote and secluded as this island itself.
Although the Beqa Lagoon is awarded legendary status among scuba divers for its abundance of awesome sharks and pristine reefs, not all Royal Davui's guests feel the need to strap on gear and plunge into the lagoon to explore the wonders down under. Many opt to stay topside in their vale, lulled into languor by the luxurious options: the outdoor whirlpool tub overlooking the lagoon and its resident dolphins and turtles, the bathroom's freestanding spa, the book-filled den/ library/lounge furnished with comfy chairs and sofas and bi-fold glass walls that open to let in the breezes and sounds of sea birds in flight.
A massive Pacific banyan tree rises through the middle of the aptly-named Banyan Tree Restaurant, the heart and gathering place of the resort. While the
open-air setting is spectacular and the cuisine a sophisticated Pacific Rim fusion (focus on seafood and local
produce - pan-seared tuna with red radish,
nama sea grape miso salad, ginger and lime brûlée with banana and chili confit), the dress can be as casual, or as fancy, as you choose. Guests usually gather here for a sunset-watch accompanied by pre-dinner drinks to swap stories about their day's dive or their day's idyllic leisure.
Beqa Lagoon, south of Viti Levu (helicopter or launch transfers must be booked through the resort),
679 330 7090;
A bedroom at Royal Davui
This intimate little charmer is so remote (its nickname: The Last Resort) that you will travel by plane, car and boat to reach it. But, once there, you fall under its spell of total harmony with nature. Set among acres of lush coconut groves, Nukubati's seven bures hug the seashore, facing west, so the spectacular sunsets become your own private extravaganza. Each oversized bure, designed in Fiji's graceful colonial/ plantation style, comes wrapped with a spacious verandah fully furnished with comfy upholstered bamboo sofas and chairs. This quickly becomes your al fresco living room, the perfect perch for watching as the sun takes its nightly dip into the sea.
The island is located off the northernmost coast of Vanua Levu, at the very edge of the awesome Great Sea Reef, the third-longest barrier reef in the world. Because Nukubati is the only resort in Fiji with access to this vast underwater treasure-trove, you have come to the right place if unparalleled scuba diving and fishing top your wish list. In addition to swimming with manta rays, turtles, dolphins and whales, divers routinely happen upon "undiscovered" new reefs and then have the thrill of bestowing its "official" name.
Not up for scuba? You can enjoy many of the same underwater marvels aboard the two-person Wild Thing, a glass-bottomed boat - sort of like snorkeling, but without even getting wet. For a mind-blowing and uber-romantic experience, let Nukubati's staff set you up with a champagne picnic on one of the sandbars in the middle of the bay where you will laze under a shade umbrella while sipping bubbly and dining on the gourmet goodies they have set out on the linen-draped table. Then the resort crew departs, leaving you indulged and alone, in the middle of a vast coral bay. And yes, like Cinderella's stroke-of-midnight carriage, the staff returns on cue to fetch you before the tide turns to reclaim your sandy haven.
Admirably green and almost entirely self-sustaining, Nukubati grows its own kitchen produce and catches its seafood daily, so meals are wondrously fresh and delicious. Its solar panel plants supply uninterrupted electricity for the resort.
Equally significant is the intense sense of traditional Fijian ways here at this resort. The staff numbers 40 (with a maximum of only 14 guests), so there's an abundance of interaction, a chance to chat and listen and learn about the real Fiji.
And their version of Isa Lei never fails to make me cry. Watch the video and, in the background of the singing, you'll hear my friend Judy kid me about my tears.
North coast of Vanua Levu (small plane, van, boat transfer to reach the island )
Turtle Island is the only one of Fiji's private island resorts that enforces a couples-only policy.
The guest-to-staff ratio is high, and each couple is assigned its own "Bure Mama" whose job is to cater to their every whim. She is also tasked with guiding them into participating in all the resort's activities. She also snaps candid photos of their entire stay so, upon departure, each couple receives a photo album that chronicles the entire vacation.
While Turtle Island bures are sybaritic, with gauze-draped four-poster beds, splash pools and even a day bed for napping on the private verandah, couples who crave privacy may find it hard to remain in seclusion. Mingling with other honeymooners is enthusiastically encouraged, meals are at a communal table, and shared activities are highlighted and encouraged.
However, as they can on other private- island resorts, every so often a couple can sneak away for a romantic dinner for two served at a secluded location on the island.
In the Yasawa Island Group (where Blue Lagoon was filmed), 35-minute seaplane flight from NAN (reserve at time of booking),
The Wakaya Club
The first of Fiji's premier private island resorts, Wakaya consists of only ten bures, each one a treasure trove of South Pacific luxuries and seclusion. This resort considers your privacy to be sacred, so you can be as invisible as you choose. If and when you do decide to emerge, you are cocooned in such generosity of caring and giving you can't help but revel in the VIP attention. Meals are served in Wakaya's dramatic "chiefly bure," at tables for two. You can always dine a deux, or perhaps join another couple --- or not --- as you please. Wakaya has recently introduced the new Breeze Spa. You can play croquet on the David Niven course, play the 9-hole golf course, scuba dive Fiji's pristine reefs, explore the surrounding island, visit the village where staff and their families live, attend a village church service (highly recommended), or simply laze in blissful solitude on the beach. (Just please ignore the urge to climb any nearby coconut tree!)
?? ( 800) 828-3454;
At this posh hideaway, each of the 18 bures is sculpted of colorful stucco, a bit more reminiscent of Santa Fe than of Suva, perhaps, but each one is an airy gem of up-scale details. And each bure occupies its own very private tropical forest, out of sight and sound from any of the others. And each bure is fronted by its own private stretch of beach that comes complete with its own private thatched sunshade and a flagpole. No noisy water toys are allowed to disturb your solitude. And, should you desire a cool drink or a snack, simply raise the flag and a staff member cruising the shoreline will boat over immediately to fill your order.
Vatulele believes that communal dining affords guests the opportunity to meet each other. Many guests here are high-profile celebrities, some of whom go along with this policy, while others decline to mix with the group. If you prefer to stay in seclusion you can dine, alone, at various romantic spots around the island, including a torch-lit private beach.
www.vatulele.com ; (contact resort on their site)
Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Island Resort
An obvious choice for scuba divers, this resort is not technically on a private island. Fronting the calm waters of Savusavu Bay and sprawling across 17 acres of a coconut plantation, it is located on the large island of Vanua Levu.
There's nothing really private or secluded here. You can actually drive into the nearby town for shopping, sampling some local restaurants and even touring Fiji's only cultured pearl farm. Crowd-alert: if blissful solitude is a high priority for this vacation, you should also be aware that the resort welcomes non-guests into the restaurant and bar, and also aboard the dive boats.
Yasawa Island Resort
A peaceful enclave of 18 beachfront bures tucked within a palm grove, Yasawa Island is a part of an archipelago northwest of the main island of Viti Levu.
Yasawa's super-spacious bures are decorated in contemporary South Seas style (including air conditioning). But, for romantics, it is the bure's al fresco details that will likely provide the most memorable moments: your private deck overlooking the sea, and the discreetly private open-air garden shower located just outside your bure's enormous bathroom.
Yawasa's Baravi Spa is located on the beach. And the infinity pool, too, focuses on the sea. This is "Blue Lagoon" territory (remember the Brooke Shields movie?) so one of the resort's most popular activities is to boat visitors to the caves and coves that inspired a generation of South Seas fantasies.
www.yasawa.com (contact by email on site)
~ Above and below water - it doesn't get any better ~
For more than 30 years, Brenda Fine has written travel articles on romance, honeymooning, adventure and pure love of travel for national and international magazines including Travel + Leisure, Islands, Caribbean Travel and Life, The Peak, Travel Holiday, Bridal Guide, Brides, Modern Bride, Endless Vacation , Diversion and others. Same for newspapers, which include The New York Times, The New York Law Journal, the Daily News and The Post.
My girlfriend Joy captured the above with her smartphone - video is poor but the audio works well.
Fiji, officially the Republic of Fiji, is an island country in Melanesia in the South Pacific Ocean about 1,100 nautical miles (2,000 km; 1,300 mi) northeast of New Zealand's North Island. Its closest neighbours are Vanuatu to the west, France's New Caledonia to the southwest, New Zealand's Kermadec to the southeast, Tonga to the east, the Samoas and France's Wallis and Futuna to the northeast, and Tuvalu to the north.