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FIJI - Barefoot Elegance in Vatulele

Secrets of the Blue Lagoon
by Kaya Morgan

We all dream of escaping to the ultimate tropical island, a paradise where we can leave behind our worldly cares in exchange for the tranquil rhythm of island life. As the film location for "Blue Lagoon" with Brooke Shields in 1979 and the original 1948 Jean Simmons version, Fiji has had its share of celebrities and well known personalities including Michelle Pfeiffer, Bill Gates, Ringo Starr, John McCaw, Pamela Stevenson and Pierce Brosnan — all looking for that perfect, secluded ultimate getaway. They found it in Fiji with over 1,000 miles of pristine, white sand beaches and crystal, azure lagoons.

First inhabited by indigenous peoples, later known as Melanesians and Polynesians, as they migrated from Southeast Asia and Indonesia some 3,500 years ago, Fiji came to be known by the sailing ships as the Cannibal Isles because of its fierce warriors and treacherous waters. Then in 1643, the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman was the first to sight Fiji, followed by Captain James Cook in 1774 and Captain William Bligh in 1789. Missionaries, shipwrecked sailors and runaway convicts from Australia soon followed until its cession to Great Britain in 1874. Finally gaining its independence from Great Britain in 1970, it became a sovereign republic in 1987.

Often considered the crossroads of the Pacific because of its unique location, and only hours away from New Zealand, Australia or other islands in the Southwest Pacific, Fiji is located exactly on the International Dateline. That is where the first moment on earth occurs each day and in relation to the United States always one day ahead. The Fiji Times still proudly carries the motto, "The First Newspaper Published in the World Today."

With 333 islands covering over 200,000 square miles of ocean and land, the diversity of life is overwhelming. The most friendly people you could meet anywhere, they are avid rugby players and churchgoers that greet newcomers with a shout of "Bula!" grinning wide as they shake your hand, welcoming you with open arms and hearts to their homeland.

Just a brief 25 minutes by plane from Viti Levu, the main island, lies the most exotic, romantic fantasy island — Vatulele. One of the southernmost islands and merely twelve square miles, this upscale hideaway is the quintessential island escape of your wildest dreams. Nestled in a 60-acre coconut plantation of dramatic architecture coupled with all of the romantic beauty of the exotic South Seas, Vatulele resembles paradise — only the food is much better.

Renowned for its exclusivity, Vatulele was the first Pacific Island resort to be admitted to the exclusive Relais & Chateaux hotel association, and has received the Fiji Tourism Award of Excellence in 1999 and the Small Luxury Resort Hotel of the Year award in 2000 — all for a very good reason.

Outside of the four small villages, the island is blanketed in lush tropical forest with inland caves, crystal-clear lagoons and spotless white sand beaches. A living coral reef embraces the ancient shore, creating peaceful waters just made for lounging on a raft while gazing into the transparent waters or deep blue sky. This is the stuff dreams are made of — just like in the movies. And, why shouldn't it be?

Vatulele was created by Australian Emmy Award-winning producer, Henry Crawford, while searching for a project of a different ilk. Wanting to have life imitate art, he decided to produce his own real-life version of paradise — a place where people like himself could escape the pressures of high-profile, sometimes high-anxiety, careers. Along with partner Martin Livingston, a fifth-generation, European-Fijian and former manager of Fiji's Turtle Island Resort, Crawford spent two years searching for just the ideal island, then another two years creating the ultimate South Pacific retreat.

Crawford and Livingston have successfully built an environmentally sensitive resort almost entirely by hand. "Santa Fe goes tropo," as Crawford describes the architecture, is an unusual but surprisingly stunning combination of New Mexico and Fijian design. The idea came from a book Crawford found while on a trip to the States entitled "Santa Fe Style." Both partners loved the rustic, hand-wrought architecture of New Mexico and were confident it would translate well to the island. The book's co-author, Sharon Woods, was hired as a visual consultant to work with California architect Doug Nelson to produce a plan combining the native Fijian with Santa Fe styles.

From the moment you step off the plane, the friendly, smiling staff welcomes you to the island with the traditional Fijian greeting of "Bula" along with a tall, cool tropical drink. At the top of a dramatic flight of steps from the beach, the open air Bure (thatched building) serves as the center of social activity, beginning with registration.

The ocher-colored plaster walls are crowned with a thatched Fijian roof that soars fifty feet into the air. Thick columns of tree trunks made from the strangling fig offer artistic as well as additional structural support and the bar is imbedded with local petroglyph designs. Comfortable rattan furniture and armchairs made from gnarled tree branches invites lounging while a cozy library with an extensive selection of books is tucked aside in a loft overlooking the communal area. A hypnotic flute is likely to be heard playing, accompanied by the gentle sounds of whispering palms and lapping water demonstrating further that you can begin to relax, your vacation has begun.

Down a jungle path, twelve smaller bures are widely spaced, in typical Fijian style both for privacy and free flow of ocean breezes through the many screened and louvered doors and windows. Discreetly hidden among lush tropical foliage, these 2,000-square-foot villas were designed primarily for couples.

The split-level, open-air floor plan is spacious with a simple, clean elegance — a soothing respite after the brilliant technicolor of the tropics. Wooden shutters allow dazzling ocean vistas by day and cool sea breezes by night. Each villa has Santa Fe-style, Saltillo tile floors, thick white-washed walls with nichos (build-in shelves). The living area is rimmed with bancos (benches that protrude from the walls) covered in brightly colored cushions, a wet bar and doors that open out onto private ocean-view terraces complete with a double-size hammock just perfect for an afternoon nap.

The villa's upper level is dominated by the king-size bed centered under yards of netting — more for romantic ambiance than necessity. The separate dressing area has an elaborate, shell-encrusted mirror and lovely scented cotton kimonos while the spacious bath is designed with walk-in shower of blue-green mosaic tiles above a floor of clear, fiberglass-coated sand. A wind chime serves as the doorbell and a Cowrie shell is hung from the outside tree to indicate, "privacy please." Without phones, faxes, TV's newspapers or money transactions, a couple could live in this Garden of Eden, betwixt jungle and beach, quite happily ever after.

Yet, when the urge for activity arises, a wealth of options are at hand. Guests can enjoy windsurfing, sailing, snorkeling, swimming, deep-sea fishing, volleyball, tennis and land yachting. Beyond that, Fiji is well noted as one of the top scuba diving destinations in the world, and Vatulele offers a complete program with resident PADI instructor and pristine conditions for viewing the lush coral reefs with their colorful sea fans, sponges and a variety of fascinating sea creatures such as sharks, barracuda, eagle rays and turtles, in season.

For the ultimate in total privacy, guests can reserve Nooki Nooki Island for the day where you are delivered to an ultimate fantasy of your own making. The staff will prepare a gourmet lunch in the style of a Robinson Crusoe adventure and of course champagne, champagne and more champagne — to help create a day you will never forget.

Ah, then there is the food. The chef continually impresses guests with gastronomic feats of international culinary splendor — lobster cooked in terra cotta pipes, Indian curies, Mongolian barbecue, wood-fired pizzas, sushi, Thai fare and more — all accompanied by fine champagnes and wines from the extensive wine cellar. And, the communal dining brings guests together for some of the best parties on Fiji, unless you prefer a candle-lit dinner on your own private terrace.

Guests leave with genuine regret as the art of escape has never been done better. As the poet Rupert Brooke recounted in 1913, "The sunsets here! The colour of the water over the reefs! Fiji in moonlight is like nothing else in this world or the next." Believe it... because it's true.

To reserve your fantasy island vacation, call 800.828.9146 or at

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