Spotlight: Laucala, Fiji

In a remote island in the South Pacific, surrounded by azure waters and preposterously tiny islets bedecked with lush vegetation, Laucala Island Resort is a fantastical destination combining the soul of Fiji with over-the-top hospitality.

The island, located in Fiji’s northern archipelago, was originally purchased in 1972 by publishing tycoon Malcolm Forbes. He lived in a relatively unassuming home on the island and built a church, a school and a shop for the area’s 200 residents. After he passed, his estate was acquired by the Austrian co-founder of Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz. The entrepreneur poured funds and creativity into the 3,000-acre island, ambitiously designing a dream destination that launched as an invitation-only property in 2010 and became a proper hotel in 2013. However, unlike perhaps any other hotel in the world, profitability doesn’t play a part in Laucala’s equation.

It is clear that, instead of basing decisions upon occupancy and value—typical benchmarks for success in the industry—Mateschitz is more focused on spoiling guests at his Fijian passion project. Though you may not be taking over the resort in full, the experience is designed to make you feel that you have free rein over your own private island. The resort is intentionally rarely at capacity, yet always ready to accommodate a full guest-load with a myriad of needs. For instance, each of the five restaurants was built and is perpetually staffed to accommodate the full tenancy of the property, irrespective of the number of guests on the island. But of course, visitors usually choose to dine across the options of outlets, and some prefer to stay exclusively within the cosseting privacy of their individual villas. The property is only sold out over the Christmas season and, to maintain this feeling of having the island all to oneself, the reservations team has actually rejected business in order to avoid back-to-back bookings. As such, one rarely encounters other guests during a stay.

Related: Member Postcard: Sydney and Fiji

One of the perks of staying in a barely-full property is the sweeping sense of privacy. The 25 villas, which are spread out across the island’s northern reaches, are infrequently booked with guests adjacent to one another. At a resort with an unlimited budget, one might be surprised by the understated style of the accommodations (keeping in mind that ‘understated’ is a relative term when speaking of, for instance, a 100,000 square-foot villa located directly on the sand with a private freshwater swimming pool). The aesthetic is glitz-free and befitting of the locale, featuring an abundance of wicker, natural wood and soga, an endemic Fijian palm. Rooms are decorated with free-form furniture, teak platform beds and shag rugs; oversized bathrooms boast sculptural tubs carved out of Indonesian rock and are matched with another set of bathing/showering facilities al fresco. The scene is no doubt a depiction of worldly excess, yet thanks to its design, feels unexpectedly effortless and organic. Here, luxury comes not in the form of blinged-out chandeliers or gilded furnishings, but in silence, space and seclusion.

The choices for activities are, naturally, also excessive. There are quite a few ways to explore the surrounding cerulean seas, including snorkeling, wake boarding, water skiing, kite surfing, paddle boarding and kayaking. Guests can take a cruise on one of the resort’s 14 boats, ranging from a classic two-masted sailboat to modern yachts ideal for fishing, or obtain their certification at the PADI dive center. (There is live soft coral everywhere, and more than 25 gorgeous dive sites to choose from.) Jet skiing around Laucala Island is a must, both for the adrenaline rush and the opportunity to take in the stunning natural landscape from at sea. There’s a $2 million toy purchased by Mateschitz, a two-person submarine, that should be taken out for a joy ride for the James Bond appeal alone. On land, tee off at the challenging 18-hole golf course, take a hike to the island’s summit for breath-taking views, ride a horse through the rows of coconut trees to the beach, learn to make traditional Fijian handicrafts or mountain bike through the property’s arduous hills. For a restorative experience, spend some time with Laucala’s wellness specialist. She can do everything from teeth-gritting sports massages to Hatha yoga and can design a comprehensive program of nutrition, meditation, personal training and guided hiking for fitness-minded guests.

Related: Living on Fijian Time

Of course, relaxation should not be forgotten. At the resort, there are innumerable nooks to lounge with a cocktail and a good book, such as next to the fantastical, lagoon-style pool (which at over 50,000 square feet is home to its own little islands, waterfalls and a glass-enclosed pool within a pool). At the spa, which is built of individual thatched bungalows inspired by a typical Fijian village, the treatment to indulge in is the traditional Bobo, a healing massage in which the therapist uses hands, forearms and feet to eradicate any tension.

Other earthly pleasures come in the form of Laucala’s food. Indeed, the property’s gastronomic offerings alone are worth flying across the world for. Drawing inspiration from the island’s history as a copra plantation, the resort’s hub is the colonial-style Plantation House, where breakfast of farm-fresh eggs, local fruit juice and sublime pastries rivaling those from the best bakery in Paris are served daily; at night, it morphs into a fine-dining outlet serving exquisite seven-course dinners. More casual restaurants include delicious Thai cuisine at Seagrass, catch-of-the-day at the Beach Bar, and outstanding cocktails alongside dreamy sunsets at the Rock Lounge. At the Pool Bar, whose architecture recalls an island version of the Sydney Opera House, guests can savor sweet grilled lobster, soft-shell crab and shrimp tempura, along with satisfying salads from the island’s hydroponic garden. But guests need not be limited by each restaurant’s offerings, as any dish (on- or off-menu) can be served in any locale—you just have to ask.

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If there’s anything unpalatable about all this exuberance, guests would be comforted to know that the island is 85% self-sustainable. There’s a 240-acre farm with hydroponic gardens; an orchid greenhouse with over 6,000 plants; a banana plantation; Austrian chickens personally selected by the owner, plus quail, pigs and cows, including Wagyu; and a banana plantation. They are growing their own coffee beans and will soon produce their own coffee. Soap, shampoo, conditioner and the oils used at the spa are all made on-site. Also on-island: a carpentry center, gas station, engineering department, sewage plant, garage with four mechanics and recycling facility. The staff (most of whom live in a nearby village that was built to accommodate them) are fed three meals a day on-site, which amounts to more than 1,000 meals daily. To personally witness this astonishing infrastructure, a farm tour is a must.

Between the impressive farm operation and the island’s starfruit, guava and breadfruit trees (among other tropical varieties), fruit is in no short supply, and smiling staff greet guests at each turn with chilled shot glasses of fresh juice—honeydew-apple here, papaya-pineapple there. It’s a reminder of how sweet life can be.

Contact Indagare for assistance planning a vacation to Laucala.

– Marley Lynch on June 23, 2017

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