There is a flash of blue as a kingfisher dives past. Then the chuck-chuck sound from a bright orange dove can be heard, scolding from a fruit-laden papaya tree. In the distance, the azure ocean washes against the palm-fringed shores of Laucala Island, in Fiji. It is another exquisite morning in paradise.
Laucala (pronounced Lau-tha-la) is as rare and exotic as its wild life. The all-inclusive tropical hideaway in the north east of the Fijian Archipelago, is a member of The Leading Hotels of the World and prides itself on its exclusivity.
“You come here because you are seeking the ultimate in privacy and discretion,” says Christoph G. Ganster, Managing Director, Laucala Island. “We do not show too much on the website as we want to keep it a bit select”.
Despite being made up of 3,500 acres, only 20% of the South Pacific island is used and there are just a handful of villas. Even at its busiest, it would be possible to go days without bumping into anyone, if you wished.
It was that kind of reassuring anonymity which appealed to Elle MacPherson who had her wedding here in 2013. And it is why high profile guests love it so much: Keith Richards and Oprah Winfrey are both fans and many of the guests are often repeat visitors or referrals.
Much of this Fijian island’s charm is due to its picture postcard diversity. Old coconut plantations meet lush tree–covered mountains, while sweet fresh water ponds and waterfalls flow to sugar white beaches and a turquoise sea. A mere 25 villas with upwards of four secluded hectares of flower-filled garden, are dotted throughout, each enjoying different aspects of this bountiful Eden.
Plateau Villas sit on verdant Nawi Mountain; the one to two bedroom thatched, Fijan-styled luxuriously appointed residences, offer sweeping views from the rainforest to the ocean, across to neighbouring islands. Near the shore, tucked in amidst the coconut trees of the old estate are The Plantation Villas; while Seagrass Villas are dotted amidst the rich canopy of greenery by the coast. Both idyllic locations offer one, two and three bedroom villas, all with their private pools though they have their own private beaches. Other residences, sympathetic to Laucala’s unique topography have also been created, often with spectacular results.
The Peninsula Villa, a one bedroom island-within-an island home, crowns a lush tree-covered outcrop. “During construction everything was brought in by helicopter as there was no access by land,” says Ganster. Easy to reach now, there are elegant wooden walkways which lead up to a tree-top dining pavilion and down to a small sandy bay, offering the ultimate in privacy. Meanwhile, the Overwater Villa, “Wai”, perches above the protected gin-clear lagoon, sheltered by the reef, and is the ultimate in marine living. Find Nemo while you sip your G&T.
“Delana” Hilltop Estate is the home of the island’s owner, Austrian billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz, cofounder of Red Bull energy drink. The CEO bought the island from Malcolm Forbes’ heirs in 2003 and has protected Laucala, keeping it as unspoilt as possible. Sitting on the highest point of the island, the Hilltop Estate is let out when he is not visiting and comes as a three bedroom estate, with two guest villas, its own pool, and landscaped gardens with panoramic views. “It is an impressive estate, featuring 360 degree views, which expands over more than 100,000 square feet,” says Ganster.
The homes all reflect the resort’s holistic ethos which aims to incorporate elements of the entire island into each guests’ experience. Floor to ceiling windows enhance seamless indoor and outdoor living, while local materials are used throughout. Natural stone and mahogany are used for floors (and baths!), and locally carved granite is used for the additional tubs which feature in both the indoor and outdoor bathrooms.
Fijian culture is seen in the hanging “Jellyfish” chandeliers crafted from local “magi magi” (coconut fibres) and strung with shells and husk tassels; driftwood is reimagined as table-lamps, while airy outdoor furnishings are by Filipino design darling Kenneth Cobonpue.
Laucala whose team are 95% local and 400 strong, has one of the largest staff-per-guest ratios of any resort in the world. There are 16 staff per villa, and no detail is overlooked. Every afternoon, freshly squeezed juice is provided in the health bar, in the villa. “A different choice of juices, freshly squeezed from island-grown fruit and vegetables as well as the purest coconut water is offered each day”, says Ganster.
Ask for a bath to be run and it comes complete with Bollinger champagne, bubble bath, and scattered flower petals. And then of course, there is the kaleidoscopic array of sporting and cultural activities. “Designed for guests of all ages, almost all are “part of the ultra all- inclusive rate”, says Ganster.
Golf carts are provided so you can zip around the island, to do whatever you choose. And what a choice there is! Enjoy a round of golf on the emerald green 18-hole championship course, which snakes its way to the ocean, or head to the shore for horseriding along glorious sands. Tennis with the coach and yoga are also available, naturally.
Then there is the rather fabulous 2,000 sqm lagoon pool which equally fabulously, includes a 25m glass freshwater lap pool within it. Given the variety of recreation, the resort’s mantra, “a day is not enough”, seems something of an understatement. Mountain bikes, cooking classes, trekking, jet-skiing, inner reef diving, sailing, water-skiing, wakeboarding, windsurfing, paddle-boarding, kayaking and even sailing on a traditional Fijian outrigger (a form of canoe) are all also part of the wide amenities to be enjoyed.
One of the most popular activities is a complimentary dive in the DeepFlight Super Falcon, a two-seater submarine. “You feel like James Bond or a Bond girl,” says Ganster. Plunge into the inky depths to spot hawksbill turtles, sting rays or just enjoy the technicolour marine life.
The Fijian way of life can be fully explored at the Culture Village where there are indigenous houses, regular Kava (a relaxing drink) ceremonies and handicraft work by local artists. But to be honest, some of the simplest things are the best. The spa is pure hedonism and a 60 minute massage with organic just-mixed unguents, is complimentary for each guest.
Guests are equally spoilt when it comes to dining, as all food and drinks (those from the extensive wine, champagne and spirits menu), are included in the daily rate. Under the guidance of Executive Chef Jean-Luc Amann, guests can enjoy dining at five different restaurants and bars. The French Master Chef, a long-time leader in the culinary world, serves up international cuisine at the elegant colonial style Plantation House Restaurant.
“The 8-course dinner menu changes on a daily basis and is planned around what is available on the island or from local fishermen. This allows us to create very innovative and delicious dishes for our guests” says Amann. There is also an all-day menu at the Pool Bar, cocktails at the cliff top Rock Lounge and fresh BBQ and Fijian cuisine at the Beach Bar. The Thai fusion menu, eaten overlooking the ocean at Seagrass, is a must: the spicy lobster tail salad is to die for! Most of the ingredients whether scotch quail egg, pineapple carpaccio or simple fillet steak, are produced on the island.
In an effort to be as sustainable as possible, the island has its own farm and is almost 80% self-sufficient. “We do offer a real farm-to-table concept”, says Ganster. “And it is difficult to find anything more organic”. Temperatures are fairly constant in the 80’s (peak season is between July and September), so almost everything grows here.
Stroll over to the far side of the island and you will discover the 240 acre farm, with pigs, ducks, goats, coconut crabs and several rare breeds such as Wagyu cows as well as Sulmtaler gold wheaten chickens.
A multitude of fruit, vegetables and herbs are also produced, many of which are grown, protected in hydroponic greenhouses. A walk through the spa and flower gardens is a sensuous delight of colour and aroma. In the orchid nursery there are six different types of the rare species, including Dendrobium, Vanda, Mokaras, Cattleya, Palm and Phalaenopsis orchids. The flowers are not only used to decorate the homes and restaurants but also to create the signature scents and toiletries, used in the villas. And all of course, created by the helpful, local staff.
“Our guests fall in love with our staff” says Ganster. “The friendliness of the personnel is much of Laucala’s charm and the arrival welcome alone is enough to cure any jet lag”.
Unless you choose to fly in on your own jet, guests are met at Nadi international airport (NAN) and flown to the island in 45 – 50 minutes in one the resort’s two seven-seater King Air twin-turboprop passenger aircraft – all leather and polished wood.
As you step off the plane you are greeted with a chorus of “Bula!” (Fjian for “hello” or “welcome) from the staff who hang a garland of orchids around your neck.
“You have the feeling of finding a new home”, says Ganster. No wonder no one ever wants to leave.