You sense it the moment your plane descends. There’s a pulse, you can feel. A heartbeat that exists in its landscape, its way of life, and its people. A beauty that hits you hard when you arrive. Even harder when you leave.
Of all the places I’ve been lucky enough to experience, Fiji has always held a special place. There’s a rare, honest beauty that pulls you back, again, and again. It’s in the way Fiji refuses to be anything but real, in a commercial world that bends to meet every need of paying tourists, and changes the magic that drew us there in the first place. Fiji will give you high end luxury to rival the most exquisite destinations in the world – but it will do it its own way. You’ll come lured by hypnotic azure seas and secluded beaches, but Fiji’s exterior beauty won’t scratch the surface of the deeper magic it will leave you with.
After a short 4 hour flight from Sydney, I found myself once again enveloped by its beauty. As we land, an abstract painting moves below – gradients of deep indigos melting through iridescent turquoise, interrupted with patches of reef blotched like ink. This is my seventh trip back to the Fijian Islands, and we’re headed to a part we hadn’t explored on the Northern tip of Vitu Levu – Dolphin Island (the sister property to Huka Lodge, New Zealand.)
Stepping out of the airport, the air is thick with humidity. We throw our overnight bags in the car packed with a few essentials – summer dresses, bikinis, sunscreen and books. We’re handed Fiji water and chilled face towels soaked in sweet floral scents, before driving through the island’s rustic villages at dusk. Outside our windows whirl a haze of pastel homes, lush palms and bold mountains. Our driver takes a call and then hands us his Motorola flip phone, “Dawn wants to speak to you.” he says. A loud, excited voice is on the other end. “Bula! Welcome to Fiji, Darlings! What do you want for dinner?” We forget for a moment that we’re heading to a secluded island with no other guests, no set menu or routine that mirrors the experience of any visitor before you.
Dawn and her team want to know if we prefer the fresh fish, or lobster, that they caught out front of the island this morning. Or both. We laugh at the absurdity of whether or not lobster will suffice. Dawn tells us she can’t wait until we’re “home”. We tell her we’re moving in – to which she erupts in deep, loud, unselfconscious laughter. And so concludes the check in process. Any preconceived expectations, or luxury hotel formalities stop right there. Fiji is easy luxury, without the pretentiousness.
We arrive, and step into a tiny wooden boat with our luggage. It’s night. Complete darkness surrounds us pierced by the most extraordinary canopy of stars above, and we sail toward the lights illuminating Dolphin Island infant of us. It’s pure magic. The simplicity. The silence. The calm serenity. Life in complete sync with nature.
Moving through the wildness of the sea under a night sky, throws your senses into overdrive. It forces a presence that we deprive ourselves of, glued to iPhone screens. This is real. Right here. The contrast of both worlds is jolting. It makes me think about the complexities that we choose to entangle ourselves in back home. They make no sense here, in this moment. The freedom of this, feels innate. It feels like coming home, somehow.
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We’re greeted at shore by Dawn, who places leis of perfumed frangipanis around our necks. Our luggage is taken to our ocean facing rooms in wheelbarrows, and we walk up to our private residence. Cascading stairs dotted with lanterns lead to an open plan, Fijian Bure – a wooden structure inked with Polynesian motifs, wrapped in braided palm leaves, a lounge room filled with piles of eclectic books, a wooden deck that opens onto an infinity edge pool that spills out to the sea. “Welcome home!” Dawn says. We look around, awestruck, and struggling to comprehend that we’re the only guests on this island. A line on repeat, at dinner every night until we left. It’s a rarity that’s confusing at first, because it doesn’t feel like a private home we’ve rented. It feels like we’ve extravagantly indulged in booking out an entire resort for two people. Intuitively aware of the same confusion every guest feels before you, Dawn reminds us incessantly to treat this as our own home.
Whether you want to fill your day with the myriad of activities Dolphin Island offers – snorkelling, sand bank picnics, surfing or like the rare leisurely days off we get to spend in our own homes, nothing at all – your experience here is completely shaped by how you feel, at any given moment. Anything goes. Dine at 6pm, or midnight, if you wish. Sleep in your garden bure one night, and move to an ocean front, thatched roof hut, perched on the peak of the island the next. Dolphin island is your blank canvas and the perfect location for languid vacations, romantic honeymoons or wedding anniversaries.
We’re shown to our rooms – beautiful all-white bures that beg for you to surrender to the pace of life here. Oversized walk in robes separate the ocean facing master bedrooms with a bathroom of equal size. In the centre, a deep, freestanding bath spills with coconut infused body products, and glass bi-fold doors reveal an open-aired outdoor shower and courtyard.
At the main bure, Dawn has set up a poolside feast of fresh freshly cooked lobster, whole baked fish, coconut marinated ceviche and chilled wine. The kind of fine dining experience you’d pay extravagantly for in any city, that makes most ocean/farm to table restaurants feel gimmicky. It’s simply a way of life here. Slow living. Home cooked meals, made with soul. Authentic luxury, in every sense of the word.
Days here melt into one another. Time somehow slips by and lingers at the same time. Poetry spills from the little things you we realise are the bigger things – skies stained in magenta pink, clusters of lanterns on a rustic trailer, wheeled around at dusk to dot throughout the property, beach bonfires under a crescent moon. Fiji is raw, wild beauty that feels unlike anywhere in the world. It changes you. And when we step back onto that boat again and wave goodbye, we realise we’re homesick for a place that resembles nothing about our familiar world.
Visit the Dolphin Island website for more information. Direct transfers are also offered via helicopter from Nadi airport.