How It Feels To Have A Tropical Fijian Island All To Yourself
Dolphin Island is a small but perfectly formed private island in Fiji offering a grand experience both intimate and elegant
There's something about having a Pacific Island paradise all to yourself that triggers some primeval urge to do away with things like shaving or wearing clothes. My wife drew the line when I decided one morning to abandon my deodorant in favour of more natural vibes. We were detached from any responsibility, with no commitments on 14 acres of a private island estate.
But stranded on Gilligan's Island we were not. As I dreamed up visions of me as Tom Hanks in Cast Away living off the land and desperately trying to extract coconut juice by thrashing the nut against a rock wall, our personal butler, Tito Rasoni, poured me another champagne in a crystal glass as I poked at a plump piece of crab meat swimming in butter and garlic oil.
Tito, who lives with his family on the mainland, is attentive but not overbearing (he makes a choice Tom Collins by the way) and shares funny anecdotes and stories about life on the island. Case in point — the school of inquisitive striped fish that immediately gather around you as soon as you hit the ocean. "Those are the sea police. They're welcoming you but also checking you out at the same time," he says with a laugh.
On the award-winning Dolphin Island, situated just north of Fiji's main island of Viti Levu, time stands still. Daily decisions range between figuring out which hammock to lie in and whether to swim in the pool or the ocean. Dolphin Island comes with a good pedigree — it is part of Alex van Heeren's luxurious Huka retreats portfolio and, if you've had the good fortune of staying at his Grande Provence estate in South Africa or Huka Lodge in Taupo, you'll understand this sister property in Fiji is well versed in Huka's values of a wholly intimate luxury experience tailored to your preferences.
Nestled between Nananu-i-Ra Island to the northwest and Nananu-i-Cake to the southeast, Dolphin Island, known locally as Yanuca Island, is the type of holiday destination that's homely, the ultimate way to experience the beauty and serenity of Fiji's myriad outer islands.
With exclusive use of the entire island for as few as two people or as many as eight, sharing facilities with other guests is no problem. In fact, you're welcome to do cartwheels or lunges right across the estate 10 times over without interruption from fellow guests. The place is all yours.
After our short 20-minute boat ride from the mainland, we're greeted by the island's affable manager, Dawn Simpson, whose famed hospitality has won her recognition on the Bulanaires List - a unique gauge of wealth based on happiness and Fiji's well-known 'Bula spirit'.
Dawn epitomises this, and even for the most hardened cynic, her welcoming committee complete with fresh flower necklaces and a refreshing mocktail puts you at complete ease as she embraces you with a warm hug like a long-lost grandmother. "Bula darlings and welcome home," she coos.
Having just recovered from a tropical cyclone the week before, Dawn and her small team are in good spirits as we make our way towards one of four private huts, tastefully decorated by renowned New Zealand interior designer Virginia Fisher. Contemporary and with flourishes of local crafts, the bures offer tranquil respite when you need time away from the sun. A bath tub, an outdoor shower, and the fragrant smell of Pure Fiji toiletries are just some of the highlights indoors — yet outside is where the real magic is.
Bring walking shoes or sneakers as you'll want to explore the island. It takes about 30-40 minutes to stroll around the periphery, and this is the perfect way to start or end your days. A walk towards the nearby jungle is perfectly punctuated by a quiet interlude — a hilltop, open sleepout complete with four-poster bed and a crisp mosquito net swaying in the breeze.
Half way through a bushwalk, I park up on the bed and finish reading my book, relishing the uninterrupted peace with only the sound of crashing waves below eventually lulling me to sleep.
There's no need to stock up on supplies — meals are freshly created three times a day by Dawn and co and depend on what's available on land and sea.
From fresh crab to a traditional Fijian lovo (similar to a Māori hangi or Samoan umu) with taro, slow-cooked meat and seafood, the smorgasbord of dishes were laid out in front of us to enjoy, and the perfect introduction to authentic Fijian cooking, of which Dawn is an expert. A flick through Dawn's cookbook in our bure revealed a woman whose passion for local ingredients and classic Fijian cooking makes her a national treasure worth spending time with during meal times.
We couldn't look past the fully stocked bar of snacks, healthy and decadent, perched on the bar waiting to be opened; and cooler boxes dotting the premises filled with Fijian beer and champagne, further adding to the indulgent convenience of mindless grazing off-duty. Without fail my predilection for constant snacking on holiday is balanced out with daily swims, bush walks and the array of water activities at our disposal including snorkelling and paddleboarding. "Or you can choose to be completely lazy, do absolutely nothing," says Dawn.
In between mooching around and active pursuits, there are other relaxed activities to consider, including a visit to the local markets, or perhaps a fishing expedition with the locals. You can also experience a traditional Fijian Bobo massage or engage in a tapa cloth-making class instead.
On our final night, we were treated to a bonfire on the beach with a traditional kava ceremony as local villagers shared stories passed down from generations through song and dance, as the sunset made way for a twinkling, starry night. Seated on the beach on two chairs, it wasn't long before we were on our feet joining in on the dancing. The farewell was an overwhelming display of that very generous hospitality Fijians are famous for and as we headed back to the main bure for another round of Tito's Tom Collins and a midnight dip in the pool before retreating to bed, we bid our private sanctuary vinaka vaka levu and goodnight, in anticipation of another day in our personal slice of heaven.
• To book your ultimate getaway to Dolphin Island visit Dolphinislandfiji.com