© Text and photography by Franz Scheurer
When Richard Evanson purchased the uninhabited island of Nanuya Leva
in 1972 its vegetation had been decimated by hundreds of feral goats and
roaming cattle and Richard made the commitment to restore the island to its
original state. As a result of this commitment and the investment of
thousands of trees and plants, the island is now internationally recognised
as a prime example of how environmental and cultural sustainability can be
integrated into a top-notch tourist operation. Turtle Island is where both
of the ‘Blue Lagoon’ movies were filmed and it was the company of the actors
and crew during the filming of the second movie that convinced Richard to
open the island up to other people in 1980.
Turtle Island is billed as a honeymoon destination, a place for romantic
picnics on secluded beaches, relaxing in a hammock, moonlit dinners and leisurely
strolls through the rainforest with a wonderful tropical climate. Turtle
Island only accommodates 14 couples at any one time but boasts a staff of
over 200 to guarantee the guests the experience of a lifetime.
Activities on the island range from snorkelling, scuba diving, and horse
riding to wind surfing, deep-sea fishing and boating. The bures are luxuriously
appointed, beautifully furnished, very private and guests are assigned a
‘bure mama’ who looks after them 24/7.
We visited Turtle Island in the second week of November, a very good time
of the year as the rainy season had not yet started and it wasn’t too hot.
The adventure starts as you board the seaplane in Nadi. Turtle Airlines owns
several aircraft but we were lucky enough to experience the wonderfully original
1959 Beaver sporting a powerful De Havilland orbital engine. The flight takes
you out over the reefs towards the Yasawa group of islands, which Turtle
Island is part of. Although it’s only a short flight you will have to set
your watches forward one hour, preserving that precious daylight. On arrival
you are greeted by the manager, Graham and his wife, Jennifer, your assigned
bure mama and a gaggle of staff holding welcome flags and singing. This will
be the first time you hear ‘Bula’ or in most cases the more enthusiastic
‘Bula Bula’, a greeting for every occasion, which you will get accustomed
to hearing hundreds of times a day. You need to learn two words, Bula and
Vinaka, the Fijian words for hello and thank you. There is only one important
rule on Turtle Island: Keep smiling, and everyone does!
The welcoming committee wades ashore with you (the seaplane lands in the
lagoon, about 25 metres away from the shore) and your entire luggage magically
reappears in your bure. Welcome drink in hand you inspect your new home,
acquaint yourself with the services and accept that you are now in the hands
of your bure mama who will anticipate your every need. Once you’ve settled
in and had something to eat you are taken on a tour of the island in a small
electric cart. It’s a fascinating journey. The island is beautiful, dark,
mysterious rainforest, black volcanic rocks, pristine white sandy beaches
and a couple of mountains with incredible views over the whole archipelago.
God was indeed smiling when he made this place.
The hardest thing to get used to is the fact that you have no option but
to relax. There are no mobile phone services, no internet access and no business
centre; only the gentle lapping of the waves, the creaking of the palm trees
in the wind and the alluring notes of the Fijians singing. Once you do relax,
however, it’s amazing just how much you let go. Suddenly nothing matters,
time becomes irrelevant as you float from ‘Bula’ to ‘Vinaka’ past an endless
sea of smiling faces. You may even forget your own name…
The daily routine can be as challenging as you want to make it, but most
guests will stroll down to the beach for breakfast then have a massage or
go snorkelling. Lunches generally become a picnic for two at one of the secluded
beaches (there is a private beach for each couple) where you can work on
your all-over tan whilst you drink Champagne and nibble on fresh lobster.
Then, after a well-deserved nap, you might just find the energy to go to
dinner. Dinners are themed and might take place on a mountaintop, on the
beach, on a pontoon or at the end of the wharf and every night, following
dinner, there is a kava ceremony with the locals, where they invite you to
share their mat and drink kava with them.
Kava is a drink made from the Piper Methysticum plant and is an age-old herbal
drink consumed in the South Pacific. Believed to originate from Melanesia,
kava grows abundantly in Polynesia. A member of the black pepper family,
kava’s active properties stem from the kavalactones found in the roots. The
roots are dried, then pounded to a powder, which is then put inside a muslin
bag, massaged in water (a bit like making tamarind water) until the drink
is ‘strong enough for the occasion’, then the concoction is drunk. There
is a strict ritual for the consumption, one clap when offered the kava, drink
in one gulp without stopping, then three claps to thank for the offering.
The effect is a slight numbing of the tongue and a prickling sensation on
the tip of the tongue and it relaxes you even more, as if you needed it!
Nevertheless, the fact that you are invited to share the culture of the locals
is an honour and very satisfying.
It is indeed the interaction with the Fijians, which makes a holiday on Turtle
Island so very special. They are a proud people with a wonderful sense of
hospitality without every being subservient. Fijians seem to always be happy,
coping with whatever the world throws at them, making their company almost
therapeutic. They’re intelligent, witty, enormously generous and happy to
share their life and culture, making you part of the ‘family’ and they’re
always in good voice. By the time I left the island, a mere four days after
arriving, I really felt that I’d learnt more about the people than I could
ever have imagined possible. They are truly wonderful.
One of the highlights of our stay was to witness the release of a turtle.
Local fishermen catch turtles, most of them many years old, for their shells.
Turtle Island buys any turtle from the local fishermen at the going rate
of $2 per kilo, and then auctions the animal off to the guests with the proceeds
going to the upkeep of the local school on the island. The successful bidder
is then invited to write and draw on the turtle’s shell, using a permanent
marine paint, which etches the shell making it commercially useless without
hurting the turtle, and then release the animal back into the surf.
When it’s time to say goodbye you don’t have to be ashamed to have a tear
in your eye, and a thirty percent return rate proves that it doesn’t have
to be a once in a lifetime experience. Bula!
For more information check out the Turtle Island website at http://www.turtlefiji.com/ or contact their Australian office at
38 - 40 Garden Street
South Yarra, VIC 3141
1300 887 287
(61) 3-9823 8300 Local
(61) 3-9823 8383 Fax