Featured Member, Keith McWalter, shared details from his once-in-a-lifetime trip to Laucala Island in the Fijian Islands in the Traveler magazine. Click here to read the April, May, June edition of the Traveler.
What prompted your recent journey to the South Pacific?
My wife and I were accustomed to traveling to places either one or both of us had gone previously and loved. Neither of us had ever been to the South Pacific, and as a certified PADI diver and beach-lover, I’d had a long-standing dream to go there. With a milestone birthday approaching for me, we decided to make this the occasion for the proverbial “trip of a lifetime.”
What was your impression of Laucala Island?
It’s a big island and the resort property is enormous, far larger than we expected. Upon alighting on Laucala’s pristine landing strip, we were met by a troupe of amused and amusing, sarong-clad guys with guitars who greeted us with a lively bula song which, though sung in Fijian, could not have had a clearer message of welcome. That, and the huge milk-filled coconuts we were handed along with cold towels and leis, let us know we had entered a distinctly different world, where such corny gestures have reclaimed a modicum of sincerity we’d thought long lost.
We spent the first day or so of our stay on Laucala Island in a state of stunned disbelief, wandering around our “villa,” its huge bedroom suite with sunken living room, walk-through dressing area and enormous stone- and pebble-lined bathroom, across the breezeway to the “lounge,” out to the big plunge pool and the broad, sandy beach beyond. You think you’ve got a grip on the place until you turn a corner and find a second (or is it a third?) outdoor shower, or the outdoor tub on the separate massage lanai, on the other side of the pool from the patio and dining area. That all this is for just the two of you seems almost laughable, but the beauty of the setting—the soaring palms and mango trees, the hibiscus amidst the bougainvillea, the surf crashing a few yards away—somehow demand that you keep a straight face, act as though it’s all to be expected, and quietly gape in awe.
What were some of the most unexpected features?
For the first few days, we were “TOGOTI” (a word I made up, meaning The Only Guests On The Island). Yes, we had the entire billionaire’s paradise to ourselves, with the whole staff tracking our movements to anticipate our next whim.
Were any dining experiences especially memorable?
On our first evening, we had a wonderful teppanyaki (meat, fish or both fried with vegetables on a hot steel plate forming the center of the dining table) meal prepared for just the two of us on a platform in the trees above the Pacific by a young chef who seemingly materialized out of nowhere.
All our meals, ordered from extensive menus around the resort, were not just delicious, but superb. Wines and liquor were all top shelf. Service was of a high European standard. We struggled to find comparisons for the elegant breakfasts at the Plantation House, and could only come up with breakfast at Le Meurice in Paris or at Villa Feltrinelli on Lake Garda, but presented here with a minimum of fuss, abundant Fijian warmth, and a forest of palms spread before you in ordered rows stretching to the sea. Dinners at the Plantation House restaurant could not be equaled by most of the haute cuisine venues in Manhattan or San Francisco, and its bar epitomizes the perfect blend of sophistication and island insouciance that so often eludes tropical resorts.
What do you wish that you had packed?
A better camera so as to do justice to the astounding beauty of the place.
What part of this trip was worth every penny?
The private air charters to and from the island.
What souvenirs did you bring back?
A sheet of masi bark cloth adorned with traditional symbolic patterns, both cloth and art created by an artisan at Laucala’s extensive cultural center.
What moment from this trip will you never forget?
So many moments were memorable that it’s hard to single one out. Perhaps it was the moment of our arrival at the stunning central campus of the resort, a vast acreage of manicured lawns and towering palms, punctuated here with a huge pool and bar area, there with a stately plantation house, and yet over there with another pool and bar on the beach, all thatched and mahogany-timbered in traditional Fijian style. As we drove along a meandering cobblestone path among the palms toward our villa, we realized we had entered a truly unique world.
What would you advise someone to skip?
"To put such a plaything at the disposal of the random guest? That’s hospitality taken to a new level."
As much as all of us like to play at being James Bond, one could safely skip the two-man submarine, which as a diver I found more fun in concept than in actual experience. One finally gets into the water only to discover that the glass bowl over your head distorts your field of vision, making me long for the simplicity of a mask, regulator and tank. It’s strictly for snorkelers, and non-claustrophobic ones at that. But still, to put such a plaything at the disposal of the random guest? That’s hospitality taken to a new level.
Is there anything you wish you had more time for?
More scuba diving. We had too much rain to do as much diving as I would have liked, though we did some. Likewise, I would have loved to have the honor of playing the magnificent golf course, but again, conditions did not permit it. Nothing could diminish the natural beauty of this place, and the weather heightened the jungle ambience.
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