By Rhiannon Taylor, June 2019
We hadn’t taken two steps off the plane before we spotted a floral clad security agent holding a plaque with our names. In an astonishing matter of minutes we were whisked through a VIP customs line and in our transfer to Turtle Airways.
It’s at the Turtle Airways base that I get my first taste of island life. It’s gone past our scheduled departure flight time and I’m pacing up and down worried. “Just relax, the seaplane will be here soon” staff tell me as I look around utterly perplexed. This is not good for someone who likes to be in control and have a clear plan.
Sure enough, when the time and winds are right, we take off with our barefoot captain soaring over a seemingly endless smattering of reef formations, aqua blue ocean and islands. We glide in over still waters to Turtle Island, our home for the next 5 days. Our seaplane landed about 20 metres out from shore and I look down at my (sweaty) denim and sneakers wondering how I’m going to wade out to the beach. Just as I start rolling up my jeans the door flies open and two rather fit looking men tell me to exit the plane. And as I do, they scoop me up and carry me to shore. I’m terrified, laughing and crying at once, but after I’m safely placed down they do the same one by one for the rest of the arriving guests.
The Turtle Island team individually greet us and we’re overwhelmed by the friendly welcome and countless “Bulas!”. Here we’re introduced to the island’s general managers Landi and Rob (and their dog Zak) and Muma Ellie - our personal attendant for the week. We instantly feel like family and more importantly we’re ready for lunch!
We head to the open air dining room and graze on crisp salads and fresh fish chatting to Landi and Rob about the island. Privately owned, Turtle Island sits in the pristine Yasawa island chain, that brought Fiji to fame in 1980 when Blue Lagoon was filmed here, including one scene on Turtle Island. There are 7 private beaches dotted around the island and only 14 villas, so even if the resort is fully booked you can still get a private beach at least every second day. Now that’s luxury we think to ourselves as we sip on a buttery chardonnay from Australia.
Checking in to our villa, we’re met with a driftwood four poster bed that billows in the breeze, a sunken Jacuzzi (bathrooms are being renovated later this year) and views over the neighbouring islands. It’s laidback luxury and just what we needed. There’s no wifi (you can connect at the gift shop if you absolutely must) or cell phone reception and communication is done via a two-way radio with the Dockman who sits at the jetty around the clock. “Come in Dockman, can we have some champagne?” we muse to ourselves.
Turtle Island is all inclusive and the list of activities is endless. I look around for a schedule for the next day and there’s nothing to be found. I ask Muma Ellie and she simply replies “What would you like to do?”. Confused, I ask “well, what time do things run?”. I soon learn that things run whenever you’d like them to. Want to horse ride along the beach at sunrise? No problem. Want to have a picnic delivered to your private beach at noon? Totally fine. Feel like popping across to the neighbouring island to visit a local village? Done.
Everything feels very loose and flexible and at first it’s strange to comprehend. But this is exactly why so many guests return time and time again. We’re on Fijian time and at Turtle Island its as though there are no rules. By day two we’ve completely forgotten the pressures of emails and work life and settled in to island life like total naturals.
Breakfast is set up on the beach and we order avocado toast and a serve of pancakes off a daily changing menu. Staff gather to let us know that there’s a guided morning snorkel available and we opt in. Not too far off shore we’re taken by boat to a stunning reef full of fish and colourful coral in beautiful warm water.
Back at our villa we’re tempted to nap after nibbling on some coconut cookies in our mini bar but we decide to head to one of the private beaches to spend the day. Bumping along in a golf buggy, picnic in tow, we arrive at Devils Beach and flip on the do not disturb sign ensuring privacy. The beach is stunning, with squeaky white sand and crystal clear water gently lapping at our feet, framed by overhanging palm trees. The hours pass by with a series of floating in the sea, sleeping in the sun and snacking on our picnic.
In the evenings the island comes alive with cocktail hour on the beach. We mingle with other guests, gin and tonics in hand whilst being served canapés before being seated for a fire show. Local dancers emerge out of the water and twirl fire sticks in a fabulous display before being taken out on a boat to a floating pontoon adorned with glimmering candles for a surprise three course dinner. It’s incredibly romantic and we watch the last bit of sun go down behind a nearby island.
This is all incredibly impressive, but it’s the smaller moments that make Turtle Island so special. It’s listening to the angelic voices of the staff choir sing to us in perfect harmony. It’s dancing with the muma’s at night and immersing ourselves in their culture. It’s sharing a cup of kava or playing volleyball with staff that makes us feel part of the family. By the end of the week we know everyone by name and it’s no surprise why guests return so often. We’ve gotten to know the people on the island now and are invested in their stories. When the time comes to leave tears stream down our faces and we can’t wait to return one day not only to come back to paradise but to see our Fijian family.
THE TURN DOWN
Rates: Starting from US$2,100 per night per couple and transfers are US$1,000 return per couple, which includes all alcohol, food, most activities and a 30 minute massage.
Getting There: Turtle Island is a short seaplane flight from Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. Complimentary transfers to Turtle Airways base can be arranged upon arrival at Nadi International Airport.
Best Room: All villas have direct beachfront access and offer privacy but if you can splurge villa one is our favourite for it’s elevated seclusion.
We were guests of Turtle Island.