AUGUST 2018 I SUSAN KUROSAWA
A tropical island paradise, relatively remote but intriguingly accessible, with just three holiday villas, activities galore and a complement of staff worthy of a fully fledged resort? It sounds like the stuff of fantasy, but on Kaibu, the centrepiece of the Vatuvara duo of neighbouring private isles, the dream is delivered. First comes a flight from Fiji’s gateway of Nadi aboard a Kaibu Air twin-otter helmed by Central Casting pilots. Our flight of more than an hour over the main isle of Viti Levu reveals mesmerising views of the dip and rise of forested valleys and fertile highlands, then lagoons of paint-chart blues that fade to rinsed turquoise shades around encircling reefs. As the plane lands on Kaibu’s immaculate airstrip, edged with an acreage of solar panels, and staff appear to sing in melodious welcome, it’s as if the real world has all but disappeared. Management’s assurance of the fastest and most efficient wi-fi access in Fiji somehow seems a disappointment.
I may be linked to satellite but otherwise feel off the map and into territory at once surreal and welcoming. The trio of thatch-and-stone one-bedroom villas on the island’s sheltered lee side all come with private pool, vast sea-facing terrace and adjoining massage and yoga bure where treatments are a finger’s snap away. The resort’s mantra of “conscientious luxury” refers mostly to sustainability and marine stewardship, but also to a design restraint that suggests you are in a vacation home and not a gold-plated palace.
I am ensconced in Vatu Villa, perched on a rockery of limestone sprouting with wild sage above the clear and vivid sea. My infinity-edge pool is heated and outdoor lounging options beckon in an abundance worthy of an emporium. There are no neighbours, unless I count the occasional coconut crab, almost cartoon-like in its sideways scuttle. All is cushioned comfort and a sense of oceanic space, with textiles patterned in shells and coral, and woven mats and artefacts that hark back to the South Seas plantation era of the Fijian islands. There’s hardwood and cane furniture, basalt tiles, indoor-outdoor bathrooms and pots of orchids at every turn. Beach-towels are rolled and topped with hibiscus blooms; palm-frond castaway hats with frangipani flourishes are placed beside sun-loungers. It’s like pitching up in a James A. Michener novel and being welcomed with a fridge filled with champagne and chilled hand towels and a double-decker coconut cake the size of a top hat.
Private steps lead from Vatu Villa to groomed lawns in front of Jim’s Bar & Grill where breakfast and lunch are served in a mahogany-pillared bure or, if preferred, picnic-style on a scoop of sandy bay. Jim refers to Jim Jannard, the billionaire founder of the Oakley eyewear and sports gear behemoth, and of the game-changing Red Digital Cinema camera company. For the 324ha Kaibu and its satellite isle are his, a playground he shares with elite travellers who want to effectively fall off the map. He purchased the islands and a neglected resort on Kaibu and installed Rob Miller and his horticulturist wife Lynda, both ex-Fiji’s exclusive Wakaya Club, to oversee the development, which opened in 2015.
Jannard’s villa, the eye-popping Delana, crests the shoreline, complete with command centre-style office, and is part of the resort inventory when he’s not in residence. The televisions chez Jannard are enormous, but who would be bothered sitting in front of a giant screen when, up here beyond the Fiji most of us know, you are living the Discovery Channel.
Susan Kurosawa is The Australian’s travel editor.
The breakfast card at Jim’s Bar & Grill changes daily but could include lemon soufflé pancakes with local honey, smoked salmon eggs benedict with chilli relish on the side or waffles with passionfruit butter. There’s always freshly baked bread and tiny fruit muffins or cheese scones. Such is the temptation to linger and chat with my favourite staff members Leba and Ruci that suddenly it’s lunch and the agonising choice between lobster with pomegranate orbs and breadfruit crisps or raw fish kokoda drenched in tangy limes grown on site.
Dinner at the elevated Valhalla restaurant, bar and lounge could start with caesar salad strewn with toasted coconut followed by fighting fresh fish of the day with crispy skin, coconut cream, julienned vegetables and sweet potato mash. A plate of fist-sized oysters arrives unsummoned from the manager of Mel Gibson’s nearby Mago Island. Puddings in paradise? Here come chocolate cheesecake or sorbets made with fruit from Lynda’s thriving orchard, and served under a high-pitched ceiling worthy of a paramount chief. It’s all delightfully informal and cooks may appear from the kitchen to grab a guitar and serenade guests.
EVERYONE’S TALKING ABOUT
Rob and Lynda’s environmental scientist daughter Katy runs the non-profit Vatuvara Foundation, set up to protect marine life and corals with “ridge to reef conservation”, raise local community awareness and inspire young “ocean advocates”. Projects include threatened species restoration and adaptation to climate change, both particular passions of Katy’s. Snorkel or venture by glass-bottom boat over the aquatic nursery where more than 150 endangered juvenile giant clams are being monitored and nurtured, their coloured mantles gleaming like twisted strands of gems. Virgin coconut oil is starting to be manufactured on the island and staff sponsored in training projects to ensure further self-sufficiency and empowerment. Ask the Millers how to get involved in, or donate to, the foundation.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn how to play golf in a non-threatening environment full of supportive laughter, Kaibu’s four-hole, hand-tended course is just the shot. Resident pro Pana (fondly known as Arnold Pana by his colleagues) is patient but persuasive and the greens are the stuff of postcard perfection, edged with stands of palms. “The only organic certified course in the world!” Pana beams as kingfishers swoop in opal-blue flashes and orange and black butterflies circle our heads.
Each villa comes with a high-slung military-looking electric golf cart in which to tootle about and explore, but also ask Lynda for a guided tour of her plant nursery, shade house and abundant gardens that are a showcase of environmental excellence. Chooks peck about, the giving soil of the vegetable patches yield almost everything the cooks require. Lynda speaks of “ocean-hardy plantings” and “using food from the landscape”, whether myriad herbs, plump bananas, intensely sweet red papaya or pale-skinned passionfruit that taste of sunshine.
Vatuvara villas can be rented individually or all three taken as a sole booking. Tariff is inclusive of meals, drinks, activities and return Kaibu Air transfers from Nadi or Suva. POA. vatuvara.com.