Rustic Beauty: Fiji As It Was
The staff isn't exaggerating when they call Nukubati Island the last resort. On a remote private island off the northern coast of Vanua Levu, this resort, one of the few owned by native Fijians, is shadowed by a rugged cloud-ringed peak on the main island and is surrounded by serene untouched waters. The seven beachfront cottages are spare, with nothing more than a rattan chair and table, no air-conditioning, and simple bedframes. Nukubati isn't about commonplace luxury. The privilege of being here is to dive at the nearby Great Sea Reef, seeing manta rays and miles of coral, and experience true Fijian culture. General manager Gordon Leewai has been known to ask guests to join his family for lunch or for a birthday party on the main island. Rooms, $630-$780; 800-707-3454, 679-881-3901; www.nukubati.com.
The spa at motivational guru Tony Robbins' NAMALE resort on Vanua Levu is open to the public. Try the scalp massage ($65). 800-727-3454, 679-8850-435; www.namalefiji.com.
Be Sure To Pack
• A Pucci swimsuit to compete with South Pacific scenery. $175; 212-752-4777.
Villa To Rent: Right To the point
ONE TO WATCH A world away from the Club Med atmosphere of the rest of Vatulele, the point, the property's new luxe villa, is a beauty: a striking whitewashed duplex overlooking the sea with modern decor accented by unique pieces such as African woodcarvings and a large silver and bone mirror from Morocco. It also has two pools and air-conditioning (amenities lacking in the rest of the resort and extremely welcome given the lack of a breeze on this side of the island), as well as a personal butler, the savvy and warmhearted Mela. The meals, brought up from the main dining room, are unreliable—the pizza was soggy, the veal no better than airline food, and the seafood salad oily and tough. But the kokoda, the islands' raw fish marinated in coconut cream, was wonderful. Solution: Ask the chef to cook more Fijian specialties. Rates, $2,250, includes all meals and drinks for two; 800-828-9146, extension 144, 310-846-3144; www.vatulele.com.
For The Family: Cousteau For Kids
While some of the other Pacific resorts may accept older children on a case-by-case basis, no one makes a greater effort to entertain the whole family (and give parents time alone) than the Jean-Michel Cousteau Fiji Islands Resort. Given the Cousteau imprimatur and the resort's location near the area widely acknowledged as the ne plus ultra region for diving, water sports are the main attractions here. But the children's programs also emphasize Fijian culture and an appreciation of the environment with outings to local villages and trips through the rainforest. The 25 authentic (read: no air-conditioning) thatched bures are simple but attractive—wood floors and brightly colored cotton bedspreads. Best are the five oceanfront Point Reef bures granting privacy and ocean views. Rates, $455-$795, includes all meals; 800-246-3454; www.fijiresort.com.
Villa To Rent: Pacific Heights
Vale O, the three-bedroom, 12,000-square-foot home of Wakaya Club owners David and Jill Gilmour, means "House in the Clouds." And being here is indeed heaven. Perched on a hillside overlooking Homestead Bay (and its spectacular sunsets) with wraparound terraces, a cliff-hugging pool with a waterfall, and plank walkways studded with koi-filled ponds, the house is elegant but not too formal. It's furnishings are a mix of custom bamboo furniture and singular Asian antiques, like a 17th-century gilded Buddha. And as the centerpiece of a 16-acre estate, it's completely self-contained. It has its own chef to prepare the creative, European-Fijian dishes that are a hallmark of the resort, and a driver to take you down to the beach to explore the marine life around the island's barrier reef. Rates, $3,500 a night for one bedroom, $5,000 for two, $6,500 for all three; 800-828-3454; www.wakaya.com.
Yacht To Charter: The Surprise
The Surprise, a 115-foot expedition yacht, based in Fiji, can be chartered anywhere in the South Pacific. The main salon and four guestrooms have beech paneling, furniture with mahogany inlays, and buff colored contemporary couches. Captain Carol Dunlop knows all the best locales, and can arrange visits to sites not usually open to the public. Her itinerary is a combination of the Lau islands and Ha'apai and Vava'u in Tonga. Rates, $55,000 per week; 64-9-302-0178; www.surpriseshipping.com.
Best Cellar: Yasawa Island
Apart from the usual reasons to come—tranquillity, diving and snorkeling in pristine waters, villas recently renovated in a sleek interpretation of local style—the Yasawa Island Resort has one of the best wine cellars in Fiji, particularly strong in Australian and New Zealand wines. Among more than 200 wines on the list: a 1960 Penfolds Grange Hermitage, Gibbston Valley Reserve Pinot Noir, and Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay. Room to get: the Lomalagi villa, separate from the rest of the resort and with its own secluded beach. Rates, $820-$1,275, includes all meals; 679-672-2266; www.yasawa.com.
Eco Traveler: The Other Side of Paradise
No one comes to Turtle Island to listen to a mission statement. Guests choose this Fijian resort to celebrate a honeymoon, dive the coral reefs teeming with angelfish and hawksbill turtles, or simply to disappear from sight. But on this remote archipelago, a 30-minute flight from Viti Levu, American owner Richard Evanson has established a new paradigm of sustainable tourism.
Ecotourism's latest catchphrase, "sustainability," aims to move beyond the "save it and they will come" eco-strategy (think solar-powered safari tents) to nurture the resident population and establish viable and renewable resources. On Turtle Island it translates to a whole host of progressive local enterprises—a perpetual trust that limits visitors to 14 couples at a time, annual medical clinics for staff, externships in Australia—which engage the resident population and sustain tribal traditions. "You can't operate a successful business in a failed community," says Turtle Island Director Andrew Fairley. So, in order to promote self-sufficiency, furniture fashioned in the woodshop is sold to guests; seaweed and coconut husks raked off the beach at low tide are mulch for the organic vegetable garden; uniforms are sewn by the staff. When Evanson purchased the 500-acre island in 1972, he immediately began a reclamation program by planting over 300,000 trees and shrubs, built dams and reservoirs, even established his own airline to transport guests. He's just erected a new high school, where students are learning to operate laptops with software donated by a vacationing Microsoft executive.
Guests are quickly snared by the spirit of the place (not to mention the location—the setting for both Blue Lagoons). Turtle Island is, unquestionably, the closest they'll come to being adopted by a Fijian village. Meals are gatherings around a communal table set with wahoo or mahimahi caught earlier that day. Evenings wind down under a banyan tree, playing guitar and sipping kava, the local drink. Next to fresh hibiscus blossoms, housekeepers leave handwritten notes when they turn down your bed: "Hope that you are enjoying another beautiful day today." It's not just a calculated show; a native custom demands that villages honor their visitors. In turn, the staff is on a first-name basis with guests, whether they're John McCain or the Black Crowes' Chris Robinson. The 14 bures are intentionally simple, with rustic twig furniture, an ironwood four-poster bed draped in mosquito netting, hammocks, and shaded patios (though mini-bars are stocked with complimentary Champagne and fresh fruit). Fourteen different beaches mean daily escapes with picnic lobster lunches for snorkeling and beachcombing in absolute privacy.
Some visitors have returned a dozen times, frequently bearing gifts which are sold at a weekly staff auction. (No one here wants a handout, but logo tank tops and Levi's jeans are precious commodities.) Vacationing doctors have established annual pro bono medical clinics, and all guests may donate to a staff welfare fund. Evanson hopes a community foundation campaign will raise funds to build a full-time medical facility. No permanent doctor has lived in this island group for a decade.
But stewardship of a tropical island isn't always blissful. Typhoons, political coups, even conflicting personal ideologies all can cause trouble in paradise. Evanson, who friends call the "shaper of islands," takes the long view—a 500-year land trust protects his island from further development. At a recent communal dinner, a honeymooning couple from Arkansas gave their farewell speech. The groom choked up when he thanked the staff for their loving attention, and then asked them never to let the island change. Rooms, $1,300-$1,900; 877-288-7853; www.turtlefiji.com.
Hotel rates range from the lowest-priced double to the highest-priced suite in high season. In most cases VAT is not included. Meal prices are for a three-course dinner for two, excluding beverage and gratuity.