Turtle Island in Fiji is more than a place. It’s a feeling.
The kind that starts with a warm welcome the moment you step off the boat, and is alive in the smiling, happy faces of its community and a constant chorus of ‘bula!’
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Yes, the accommodations are incredibly luxurious, the scenery breathtaking, and days are filled with snorkeling, sunset cruises and secluded beach escapes that are a romantic fantasy come to life.
However, the real reason to come here is for the people–something only found in this tiny slice of paradise.
Turtle Island Fiji
The epitome of ‘barefoot luxury’, there are 14 bures (villas) which means less than 30 guests at a time, guaranteeing exceptional service and attention to detail from the island’s nearly 100 staff members. It seems odd to refer to them as employees, when Turtle Island is essentially their home.
While this is considered one of the best resorts in Fiji for couples, it’s operated more like a village since 1972 when American executive Richard Evanson Sr. purchased what was then called Nanuya Levu.
With the help of locals, the neglected, uninhabited island was brought back to life by clearing brush and planting more than 60-thousand mahogany and eucalyptus trees, which is why Turtle Island is so lush today.
It began operating as a resort in the ‘80s, and employees live in staff housing on the island and frequently socialize with guests which means a unique opportunity to get a glimpse of Fijian culture.
Kava ceremonies, strumming guitars and high-spirited games like beach volleyball matches are the norm, and getting to watch the church choir perform on Sunday nights is completely captivating.
Community on Turtle Island
General manager Rob Burns has helped run Turtle Island with his wife Landi since 2017, and says that ethos is what helps set them apart from other resorts.
“It’s a sense of community,” he explained, while chatting with me under a shaded palapa perched over the tranquil lagoon. “We give the staff greater leeway when it comes to interacting with guests.”
Burns adds that Evanson Sr. had a vision from the beginning to blend amenities of what a higher-end traveller expects with traditional touches.
“He combined [his] western upbringing with the Fijian elements that wowed him…we try to get the guests to immerse deeper into what Fiji is.”
That starts upon arrival, with strapping, shirtless Fijian men carrying female guests off the seaplane to shore as a chorus of staff on the beach sway and sing a traditional welcome song.
Each one of them introduces themselves, including the couple’s ‘bure mama’ who acts like a personal concierge. She helps schedule activities, unpack bags, set up private picnics, ensures favourite drinks are stocked in the room, and delivers special touches like making sure her guests have clean laundry, fresh towels and sunscreen.
With so few guests everyone quickly learns each other’s names, and some even become lifelong friends. When I visited, there were three American couples who had met there decades earlier, and returned to the island together years later to celebrate milestone wedding anniversaries.
While the intimate setting might not be right for those looking for a splashy, buzzing resort, Burns says that suits their clientele just fine.
“They just buy into the experience.”
Turtle Island’s links to Hollywood
You might end up enjoying happy hour with a famous face, as Turtle Island is also a celebrity hideaway thanks to its first foray into Hollywood as the filming location for The Blue Lagoon starring Brooke Shields (who stayed in Bure 7, by the way).
Staff are happy to point out the best known spots like Paddy’s Island, and some of them even appeared in the film including the first manager Joe who played a warrior. And yes, the resort organizes a movie screening every week.
Since then, Britney Spears, Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey have honeymooned here, politicians Al Gore and John McCain relaxed on its shores, and rock stars like Eddie Van Halen and Ringo Starr also made it out with the former Beatle even giving an impromptu concert on the lali drum as he left the island.
Sustainability on Turtle Island
Senator McCain was a repeat visitor, as evidenced by one of the trees he helped plant which now towers over a row of vegetable gardens. It’s one of the unique experiences each couple gets to do, to connect them to the land and mark the spot with a memory stone engraved with their names.
With its isolated location in the heart of the Yasawas, sustainability is key on Turtle Island. A dam was built to collect rainwater, all of the furniture is handcrafted in the workshop, and a 986-panel solar farm (the largest in the South Pacific) produces almost 95 per cent of the energy required to power the island.
The farming operation includes chickens, pigs and a cow to produce their own butter and yogurt, raised garden beds, groves of fruit trees for making fresh juice, and even beehives for honey.
Rooms at Turtle Island Resort Fiji
Turtle Island is an adults-only resort, save for a few weeks a year during summer and Christmas when children are allowed (a dedicated minder is provided for each family, to ensure parents get to enjoy their vacation too).
There are three room categories, each with a king size bed, massive bathroom, stocked mini bar, outdoor shower and private outdoor patio with a daybed.
The Grand Villas and the Vonu Point Villa also have a separate lounge area, and in-floor hot tubs with water views.
Every bure has easy beachfront access, a swinging hammock, and is surrounded by thick foliage to ensure privacy. Nightly rates range from $2400 to $3500 USD per couple (five night minimum), and include all meals, alcoholic beverages, daily laundry, room service, activities and one massage each.
Things to do on Turtle Island
One of the best things about staying on Turtle Island is the exclusive, out-of-a-movie experiences–it’s no wonder this is a top spot for weddings and honeymoons.
There are nine beaches including seven private ones, which can be reserved for the entire day for the ultimate romantic escape. Couples are dropped off with a picnic lunch, cooler of drinks and a walkie-talkie, and left to do whatever their heart desires in complete seclusion until they radio back for a pickup.
In the evening, private dine-outs are set up on a floating pontoon in the Blue Lagoon, at Racheli’s Escape which features sunset views of the surrounding islands, and Cliff Point where a saltwater pool awaits for a post-dinner dip.
Other activities include water sports (even diving), excursions to neighbouring villages, palm weaving, Fijian cooking demonstrations, island tours and horseback riding. For complete relaxation, there’s also an on-site spa.
A fond farewell to Turtle Island
They say parting is such sweet sorrow, and that’s exactly what happens when couples reluctantly have to say their final goodbyes as staff sing the traditional farewell song Isa Lai to send the couple off. I watched grown men cry as they made their way to the dock after a week of bliss, if that’s any indication of how transformative the experience of staying here truly is.
As anyone who’s spent time on Turtle Island knows, even after you’ve left its sandy shores the unforgettable feeling of this idyllic, special sanctuary lives forever in your heart.
Globe Guide explored Turtle Island as a guest of the resort and Tourism Fiji. As always, hosts have no editorial influence on articles.
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