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Bula! Last week we left off from rainy Castaway Island, disappointed because we really didn’t get to explore (or at least veg out on) the beautiful tourist paradise. It was just bad luck for us, because Fiji usually has beautiful weather. However, the sun finally came out for a few hours, and we got a dose of what most travelers to Fiji experience: pure tropical bliss.
Before Amber Airplane and I left on our trip, when I told a few friends that we were going to the islands of Fiji, their eyes lit up. Several of the fortunate ones had been to Fiji themselves, and they always asked which islands we were going to. When I mentioned Vatulele (pronounced ‘Vah-too-lay-lay’), I could see them almost turn green with envy. It was amazing.
It seems everyone who has been to Fiji has heard of the island of Vatulele, one of the country’s (and world’s) top resorts. As it turned out, one of my green friends had been to Valulele and asked, "You wouldn’t be staying at The Point, would you?" When I nodded yes, he practically fainted. I had no idea what The Point was other than another spot on my itinerary, but after that reaction I went home and did some research on the internet. After reading and seeing pictures about the resort, I almost passed out myself. It was that incredible.
Vatulele is situated 30 miles off the Coral Coast of Viti Levu, the main island in the Fiji group. The flight south to the island is only 30 minutes from Nadi airport. There is one daily departure at 11:30 a.m. (the return flight is at 12:50 p.m.), operated by Pacific Air Charter. Due to the rough seas the 10-seater seaplane had to land at the island’s airport, rather than the usual "Hollywood-Style" beach landing in the lagoon in front of the resort. The plane then pulls right up on the beach. How cool is that?
Actually, calling it an "airport" in Vatulele is wrong; it’s really just a grass field. I wasn’t that upset on missing out on the beach landing, though. Not many people can say they landed in a grass field, can they?
When we touched down we were greeted by wide-eyed schoolchildren. It’s not every day they see a plane on the ground. (They usually they land on the other side of the island, in the water.) There was also a handful of friendly resort staff members. Everyone gathered at the side of the field, waiting for us to get off the plane.
After deplaning we waited a few minutes under umbrellas that the staff handed out, while they said farewell to the departing passengers. That gave us a good feel for the resort. Those guests all smiled, and told us how much we would love the resort.
Their remarks made us even more excited to get to our new home for the next couple of days. (Although the resort has a four-night minimum stay, we got permission to stay less in order to jump around and see multiple islands.) After the plane left we boarded an unusual 4x4, which looked like a bus from another planet. The resort was a 10-minute drive down a bumpy dirt road.
When we arrived we enjoyed a welcome similar to the one at the Koro Sun resort in Savusavu. A beautiful smiling Fijian woman carried a tray of colorful, tropical and delicious non-alcoholic drinks, followed by chilled French champagne. A welcoming band followed behind.
Six of us -- three couples – had just arrived. We sat down together on a couch in the main building (had it not been raining, all this would have taken place on the porch), and filled out a simple registration card. We were quickly briefed about the island and the resort by the manager, and then we were photographed.
The resort takes everyone’s picture with a Polaroid, then writes the guests’ names and posts them on the bulletin board so people can learn each other’s names. Workers at Vatulele are required to know everyone’s first name; the guests are encouraged to as well (most people – including us -- did learn one another’s names). I was impressed how quickly the staff learned our names. Within just a few minutes we were greeted by new faces, all bearing genuine smiles and the phrase "Bula, Johnny and Amber!"
Vatulele Resort is set amid 60 acres of jungle and coconut plantations. The resort sits on a magnificent, three-quarter-mile-long white sand beach and lagoon. The island’s total population is 1000, in four primitive villages. The villagers are all Methodist, and quite conservative. It is important for visitors to the villages to dress appropriately.
The resort, on the other hand, is very casual. Guests don’t even need to wear shoes to dinner. In fact, the June 2002 issue of Fortune Magazine named Vatulele one of the "Top Ten Barefoot Resorts" in the world. In March 2001 Travel + Leisure Magazine gave Vatulele its "Top Value in South Pacific, Australia, New Zealand Award". The resort has won many other honors in the past few years as well.
The only resort on the island was founded in 1990 by Australian television producer Henry Crawford, and remodeled 11 years later. Most guests stay in one of 18 identical bures. One really rich (or, in our case, lucky) couple gets to stay in The Point (more on that later).
All bures have 12 doors that open on to an expansive terrace. From the living room you walk up three steps to the bedroom, with a king-size bed and a dressing area. Off to the right is the bathroom. There area also outdoor showers. The bures are set on the edge of the beach in the natural jungle 50 or so yards apart, allowing for plenty of privacy. (Tip: Bures 3 and 4 are the farthest distance apart. If you want the most privacy, request those two).
The resort is very safe. Guests do not have to lock doors, but the resort recommends placing valuables in the in-room safe (they’re just covering their behinds). Because the resort is in a jungle, there are some bugs (especially mosquitoes in the rainy season). The good news is that none of the bugs (or predators, for that matter) are poisonous. Phew!
Vatulele is a not a place for kids. In fact, children under 12 are not allowed. This resort is for grownups who want to relax and get away from the outside world. To prove the point there are no TVs, newspapers, telephones or money transactions. (There is a computer in the massage office that guests can use for free). Because I am an internet junkie, the only way I snuck off and got online was by buying Amber Airplane a massage. Oops -- I think I just busted myself by disclosing that info. But I suffered for that: The connection is dial-up, and v-e-r-y, v-e-r-y s-l-o-w.
Everything (except scuba diving, fishing and massages) at Vatulele is included in the price. That made it feel like all the food and drinks -- including the best wines and champagne (Mumm was the brand while we were there) -- was on the house. The resort staff even does your laundry and mails your post cards for free. Incredible, huh?
There are 120 workers for the maximum 38 guests. Almost all the employees come from nearby villages. The only ones who don’t are a few members of the upper management, imported from the other islands of Fiji or Australia.
As in the rest of Fiji, there is no tipping on Vatulele. Instead, visitors are encouraged to contribute to a Christmas fund that is distributed to workers at the end of each year. The resort recommends $20 USD per couple a day, payable at the end of your stay. That’s a pretty cool concept, huh?
Guests have several options of where to take their meals. You can have a romantic dinner in your bure, or eat on the beach with moon and lantern light, in the library, the wine cellar, the folly (a cross between a medieval- and modern- looking tower with lots of deep colors and great views), or at a large communal table with other guests in the main dining room. The latter is where most people dine. But you should make a reservation for any of the special places, because each location (except the beach) has room for only one couple, and the unique places fill up fast.
Surprisingly, the communal dinners work. There's an interesting mix of guests -- some American, some Australian, some older, some younger – but, there's very little of the "What do you do?"-type questions. Most of the talk is about "What did you do today?" That’s refreshing – and everyone learns a lot.
Another way the resort encourages guests to get to know one other is by throwing nightly cocktail parties half an hour before dinner. They are nothing elaborate; just a small gathering around the bar. Most of our meals were served indoors because of the rain. However, when the weather was nice we dined on a terrace outside the large central pavilion overlooking the lagoon.
Our first meal took place just after arriving. Instead of going right to our bure and unpacking, we had lunch with the rest of the guests. Wood-fired pizzas were the special of the day, and the toppings spread out on a long table for us to choose from were quite impressive: all kinds of fresh vegetables, meats, seafood, even fruit. After ordering we sat down at the table. We were introduced to everyone, and it felt like we had been there for 10 months -- not 10 minutes.
Our pizzas were amazing – in fact, all the food was too. Fresh ingredients are flown in daily from Australia and New Zealand. Of course there is an emphasis on seafood, but landlubbers like me can be very happy too. The cuisine ranges from Californian to Thai, Japanese, Austral/Asian and Indian. This place was like a dream come true -- and we hadn’t even seen our super bure yet.
Now to the good stuff: After lunch it was finally time to go to our dream bure we had heard so much about. Along with the 18 bures, there is one very special and unique residence on Vatulele. It is sometimes called "the super bure," but usually referred to as The Point.
We were introduced to Tukini. He is assigned on a fulltime basis to take care of visitors (usually high-profile guests seeking privacy) staying at The Point. Tukini is truly an amazing worker. He was always there when we needed him -- as you will read about shortly.
Tukini drove us 200 yards in his electric cart down a narrow path from the main building to The Point. I knew this place was going to be incredible, by everyone’s reaction and the pictures I had seen, but I had no idea it would be this un-frickin’ believable in person. Words cannot describe it. However, I’ll try.
Tukini stopped the cart next to a gigantic wooden door that was the entrance of the property and he said, "Welcome home, Johnny and Amber." My heart sputtered, and I whispered to Amber Airplane, "Too bad this really isn’t our home." Beyond the doors was a long walkway made from soft small stones. Walking on it with bare feet felt incredible.
The walkway was directly above one of our pools. (How sick is that? I had never heard of a place with two pools). Both were fresh water infinity-edge pools (water dropping off, so we couldn’t see a wall). The lower pool was larger, and had a coral waterfall flowing into it.
After becoming dizzy from shaking my head in awe and looking up, down, right and left, we finally approached the front door. These doors were also huge and wooden, but darker than the first ones. When we opened them we saw our living room decorated in a Santa Fe/Fijian motif. There was a kava bowl, amazing sculptures, and paintings that probably cost more than my car. Beyond the oversized glass doors (which also came with thick wood shutters) was a 180- degree view of the lagoon, coral sea and white sandy beach. On the deck was our second pool (this was a lap pool), which faded over to the ocean. At that point my face started hurting, because I couldn’t take off my cheesy smile.
We looked around and saw a fully stocked fridge, a jar filled with fresh- baked chocolate chip cookies (yum!), a desk with a wall featuring every electrical outlet on the planet, a CD player, air conditioning, and a beautiful bathroom. Unbelievable! I should mention that this was just the downstairs part of The Point.
Tukini then showed us the upstairs. (Speaking of stairs, there were two freshly picked plumerias on each step. Every night someone picked them up, and every day someone lay new ones down.) Even more incredibly, the flowers weren’t just on the stairs; they were everywhere throughout the house.
Upstairs was even more spectacular than downstairs, even though that sounds impossible. We had a very comfortable king-size bed. We also had a way-plush bathroom, including a bathtub with views to die for. Our shower had three heads: one on the ceiling, another where most shower heads are mounted, and a third by our feet. How good did they feel? We even had a mirror that made you look skinny. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
Upstairs also offered even better 180-degree views than downstairs (hard to believe), and another wraparound balcony. To top it all off, on our bed was a handwritten welcome note and a pair of sulus (sarongs). In Fiji, both men and women wear these skirts. I tried putting it on one night. I had no idea how to tie it, because like a dummy I didn’t want to spend time reading the short directions, so of course it ended up falling off in front of all the other guests into a puddle of water. I stood their naked, like a deer in headlights with my mouth wide open. The lady guests had the same expressions (just kidding about the expressions).
The first thing we did when Tukini left our super bure was laugh uncontrollably out loud. My cheeks finally changed their position, and my facial muscles loosened up. We saying things like "Can you believe this place? How lucky are we? This must be where the rich and famous stay." Later, as we flipped through The Point’s guest book, how right we were. The first page was filled out by Tommy Lee Jones. Jim Carrey also stayed there. The list went on and on….
Tukini had has his own little plush pad next door, and said if we needed anything just to call. But we never had to. Every time we even thought of Tukini he mysteriously appeared, out of nowhere. He was like the butler in the movie Mr. Deeds. One time I picked up the phone to call him, but before I could even dial his three-digit number the dude knocked on the door. Another time at dinner we toured the wine cellar. I thought, "Gosh, since it’s raining so hard it would be nice to have an umbrella." Sure enough, the moment I opened the door Tukini was standing there -- not only with an umbrella, but with the electric cart almost on top of the bushes. I asked, "How the hell do you do it, boy?" He just laughed – with what Amber Airplane swears is one of the warmest laughs you will ever hear.
Each day Tukini came in to show us that night’s menu. He asked if we liked any of the dishes, or would prefer to have something else made. He also asked where we wanted to dine: in the house, or with the other guests in the main dining hall. (Because of the rain we couldn’t eat on the beach or in the folly.) One night we ate at the communal table; another time we romantically dined alone by candlelight in our bure -- I mean, super bure. It was amazing to have a butler serve a three-course meal. He always knew exactly when to leave, and when to reappear. Unbelievable!
Every day Amber Airplane and I had breakfast and lunch with the group. That was great, but because of the weather we missed having a picnic on a private island the resort calls Nooki Nooki. Hmmm…I wonder what goes on there?!
On our last day the sun finally came out. Wahoo! We got up early (6:30 a.m.) to take advantage of the day. We strolled down the deserted beach, kayaked a couple of hundred yards out to a reef, and snorkeled by our lonesomes. Then we paddled back to the beach, where the sand was as soft as talcum powder. We jumped in the water for a swim. We didn't want to come out, because it was as warm as a bathtub and as clear as a pool. What’s crazy is that the workers said the water was not really clear – they thought it was still cloudy from the storms.
If we had more time we would have taken part in many of the activities the resort offers with a guide. At least two are planned every day, but if you stay at The Point you can do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it. The choices ranged from seeing the legendary red prawns, swimming in caves and climbing a seven-story lighthouse to touring a village, attending Sunday Mass, even learning the different uses of a coconut.
Vatulele is famous for its tapa cloth, made from the bark of mulberry trees. Every departing guest gets a handmade tapa cloth lei, a very nice touch. There’ still a little more to tell, but because this week’s newsletter is already pretty long, we’ll end here. We will continue next week with our flight to Nadi, our stay at our last hotel in Fiji, and a story about our flight on Air Pacific to another country.
Vatulele is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels which represent only 300 properties worldwide.
If you are interested in going to Vatulele or a having a holiday in Fiji, my recommendation is to start with Air Pacific’s package deals (some are listed above in the Specials section). Their website is airpacificadventures.com. As you know, it's cheaper to purchase air and land arrangements together than separately. You should also try your local travel agent (if you don’t have one, ask friends for recommendations, or use our partner travel agency, JohnnyJetTravel at 1-800-JohnnyJet). To contact the U.S. representatives for the Vatulele resort directly, click on their website: vatulele.com. Their email is email@example.com; the toll-free phone number is 1-800-828-9146.
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Question, I have two daughters 20 and 21 who will be in Melbourne in June 2004, they will have a 4 day layover in Nadi Fiji at the end of their trip (first week of July). I have arranged a stay at a youth hostel but what exactly can they do in those 4 days? Can they fly to one of the other islands and stay a night? Are there places in Nadi they should avoid? Any help is appreciated.
(A) From A Fiji local who runs a charter service called Fiji Sail (www.fijisail.com)
I am assuming they are on a backpacker's budget, as their dad booked them into a youth hostel. Nadi Bay hotel is a great place to stay in Nadi, if they can get in. It is a the best backpackers spot in Nadi. It is often full, book early. Once they arrive in Fiji, take a deep breath, breathe slowly, walk slowly…everything happens at a slower pace. No one is in a hurry. The first week of July is the middle of the winter here – the dry season – identical to Hawaii’s climate – absolutely perfect! My advice is to get off the mainland immediately and head out into the islands. CLICK HERE FOR REST OF TIP
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