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Vivian's Corner
Turtle Island, Fiji

Lovers' Paradise

On Thursday, May 22, 1997, a traditional Fijian marriage ceremony or Vakamau began at sunset on Dolphin Beach, Turtle Island with the punting of a Billi Billi across the lagoon to the beat of the lali drum and the echoes of the Davui (conch shells). A Fijian witness accompanied Terri Baker of Washington, D.C., who was about to wed Kevin Davis, on the trip in a raft bedecked with flowers. When they reached the outdoor altar where the rites would take place, the punters, dressed in long flax skirts that Fijian men put on for festive occasions, carried her ashore. She and the groom wore identical native wedding costumes with billowing skirts of tapa cloth, made from masi, the bark of the mulberry tree, and decoratively printed with dyes from mangroves and other trees and plants.

The bride looked as beautiful as every bride should; we might have preferred to see the groom in summer clothing or even a sulu, the sarong worn by both men and women. A native Fijian Methodist minister from a neighboring island officiated. Although the guests had been strangers to the couple until a few days ago, they were as moved as if they were witnessing close friends tying the knot.

The nuptials were celebrated with a lovo, the most important Fijian feast that is named for the underground oven in which the food is cooked. Earlier in the day a pit was dug; meat, chicken, fish and seafood were wrapped in banana leaves; placed on heated stones, which imparts a slightly smoky flavor; and covered with earth.

Bride on a Billi Billi, Turtle Island (Credit: Edwin Fancher)

We first met Terri and Kevin at the dock in Nadi when we boarded the four-passenger seaplane to fly to Turtle Island. The resort is about instant friendship and after a few minutes together we were excited to learn that we would be attending their wedding several days later. Other pleasant surprises would follow. The promotional video that we received prior to our departure did not entirely sell us on the place, and we wondered (type A's, listen) how we would pass six days here. But we had also heard that couples from all over the world visit repeatedly and can't get enough of the resort.

The 30-minute ride - we had some trepidation about the seaplane - turned out to be an intoxicating adventure. Members of the staff welcome every arrival with songs, punch and garlands. They even carried us from the plane through the water to the beach, so our pants would not get soaked. With 80 in lodge help (40 more are employed in construction), that kind of personal attention was the norm throughout our stay.

The housekeeper noticed that we had gathered up the flowers that were strewn over the bed and other surfaces in the bure (Fijian-style hut) and inquired as to whether we would prefer the hibiscus and frangipani to be placed in bowls. When we suffered a bout of seasickness, three musicians appeared at our door with lunch in a cooler and stayed to serenade and serve us. Management even arranged massages. Because of their crowded schedule the masseuses couldn't get to us until after 8 p.m. Since it was dinnertime and we were departing the next morning, they cheerfully returned at 8 a.m. Two of them working together on one person using the lomi lomi technique was the ultimate in body treatments.

Guests are in closer contact with those who work here than at any other vacation site and everyone is addressed by their first names. The Fijians are familiar, sincerely friendly and greet everyone with a smiling bula, bula, saying hello twice to each twosome they meet. On a sunset cruise where both employees and guests shimmied to a song, "I want to taki, taki, shake it, shake it," the staff's laughter was genuine, and their pleasure in being part of the silliness was not a pretense.

Turtle Island accommodates no more than 14 couples at one time. Richard Branson, owner of the 500-acre private island, is a booster of romance and hosts only those in committed relationships. He says that his "vision was to create an atmosphere for people to celebrate and rekindle their love."

The days take on a rhythm of their own and as soon as we got into the routine, we sensed how much there was to do. You can arrive at any time in the week - the minimum reservation is six nights - and experience a full round of activities. A golf cart tour to acquaint newcomers with the facilities and the landscape is followed by a boat trip around the island to view all 14 private beaches where they can swim, sun and picnic.

Vacationers choose from a wide array of water sports like deep-sea fishing, kayaking, snorkeling, scuba diving, windsurfing and sailing. They can stroll on the boardwalk that skims the top of the mangroves, hike in the rain forest and horseback ride at sunrise and sunset. On a dawn ride we started out in darkness, but by the time we reached Shell Beach, where we had a champagne breakfast a deux, the sun had burst into the sky.

Visits to the missionary school on a nearby island; shopping at the shell market; observing the kava ceremony, an ancient ritual in which islanders share a special brew, and the meke, a festival of song and dance; watching the movie, "The Blue Lagoon," which was filmed here; and the turtle auctions are regular events. Local fishermen are paid a fee for delivering live sea turtles to the resort. After the bidding by guests, the winners scratch their initials on the shells, rendering them worthless to poachers and souvenir hunters, and release them. The money goes to the island's ecology projects.

Turtle Island accepted its first guests in 1980, Branson having acquired in 1972 the desolate property where he built his "14 dream houses." He is planning to reduce the number to 12. Accommodations are in two-room, two-bath bures stretching along the shore of the fabled Blue Lagoon. Our newly renovated luxurious thatched-roof hut (a large spa bath was added) is called mana, meaning magic in Fijian. Each room is double-height with an intricate ceiling woven from coconut leaves and is furnished with pieces, such as graceful free-form tables, which are produced from local wood in the island's workshop. We had a bed on the porch, our own expanse of sand and a personal hammock near the water's edge.

Releasing a sea turtle, Turtle Island (Credit: Edwin Fancher)

The expectation at a five-star hostelry is that the food will be terrific and it was. A sizable garden supplies the kitchen with organic fruits and vegetables, and freshly caught seafood is delivered daily. Chef Jeremy Dochery, protégé of Jacques Reymond, owner of Australia's finest restaurant, plans the menus and selects the wines, serving vintages from New Zealand, France, the U.S. and Australia. Reymond visits four times a year to consult.

Breakfasts, lunches and dinners are served at a communal table on the beach, but not everyone elects to join the group. For the noontime meal order from a long list of selections, cold seafood, salads and so forth, and a boat will deliver you and your hamper to Rachel, Rose, Channel, Honeymoon or any one of eight secluded coves. At twilight it is possible to dine out alone in a different private place. One evening we went to Karen's Point, an elevated spot, where a table was set and dinner was served. On Saturday night everyone is driven to Mountaintop to share Dockery's delectable spread. When the lanterns are turned off and the darkness closes in, you feel as though you can reach up and touch the stars.

And about that video; we were given a new one when we left, a record of our days on Turtle Island. We liked it better than the one we had seen beforehand.

Turtle Island, Nadi Office, Nadi International Airport, Fiji. Tel. 679-722-780, fax 679-720-007. Reservations, Turtle Holidays, 10906 N. E. 39th Street, Quad 205, Suite A-1, Vancouver, WA 98682. Tel. 800-255-4347, 360-256-4347, fax 360-253-3934. Rates are $910 per couple per night including meals, beverages (wine, champagne and spirits), all activities and laundry. Six-day minimum required. The seaplane is $620 round trip for two. Charges are subject to an additional 10% Fijian tax. Dress is casual and guests are limited to 33 pounds of luggage. www.turtlefiji.com

Turtle Island Escape, a package, will be in effect through Dec. 31, 1997 and includes round trip airfare from Los Angeles, seaplane transfers, one night at the Sheraton Royal Denarau in Nadi and five nights at Turtle Island. Rates are $3,860 per person. Call South Pacific Holidays, 800-940-1712.


The Republic of Fiji encompasses over 300 islands scattered across 200,000 square miles of ocean. Viti Levu is the major one and the three largest cities are located there: Nadi, home of the international airport; Suva, the capital; and Lautoka, the second-largest metropolis.

A two-day stay in Nadi proved disappointing. Flight connections from the United States to Turtle Island might require a one-night sleepover in Nadi, which seemed sufficient to us as we did not find much of interest in the area.

A one and one-half hour drive to Lautoka provided some pretty scenery, but there was nothing to see in town except the outdoor market. If we had gone to Suva, a three-hour drive from Nadi, we could have taken the city tour, visited the Museum at Thurston Gardens, the Orchid Island Cultural Center and the handicraft center.


The most interesting site in Nadi is the Garden of the Sleeping Giant, founded by Raymond Burr. On display are acres of orchids and other flowering plants. Guides are included in the admission charge.

The Shotover Jet is a 30-minute ride on a narrow mangrove-lined corridor of the Nadi River. The highlights are jet turns, with the boat repeatedly spinning 360 degrees.

The Garden of the Sleeping Giant, Wailoko Road, 6.5 km. north of the airport. Open daily except Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tel. 679-520-347.

Shotover Jet, Denarau Island Marina. Tel. 679-750-400. Reservations essential.

Where To Stay

The Sheraton Royal Denarau Resort is convenient to town and to the airport. Every room in this Fijian-style hotel has a terrace, is decorated like a bure and is surrounded by gardens. The daily program lists a full roster of activities - aquaerobics, tennis, lawn bowls and windsurfing classes. A shuttle takes guests to the Sheraton Fiji, which is next door.

Sheraton Royal Denarau Resort, P O Box 9081, Denarau Island. Tel. 800-325-3535, 679-750-000. Rates start at $220. www.starwood.com/sheraton/index.html


Nadi Handicraft Center, Jack's Handicrafts and Nad's Handicrafts are all located on Main Street in the downtown area and sell native artifacts, such as tapa cloth, woven baskets and mats, carved bowls, sulus, war clubs, cannibal forks and Fijian combs. Branches of the shops can be found at the Sheraton Fiji and are open longer hours than in town.

Nadi Handicraft Center, P O Box 618. Tel. 679-702-357. Open daily, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Jack's Handicrafts, P O Box 259. Tel. 679-700-417, 700-744. Open weekdays, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Nad's Handicrafts, P O Box 956618. Tel. 679-703-588. Open weekdays, 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.; weekends 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

When To Go

The driest, coolest months are June to October, winter in the Southern Hemisphere. Year-round daytime temperatures range from 68 to 90 degrees. The nights are breezy. December through March are the hottest months. The summer season from November through May brings rain, high humidity and possibly tornadoes to the islands.

Fall 1997