Laucala: Paradise Found in Fiji

Laucala, Fiji
Laucala, Fiji

Renowned for exceptional hospitality, Fiji is home to some of the world’s most sought-after resorts and on Laucala Island, a whole new level of luxury awaits

I’m trying my damnedest not to panic, but am finding it difficult to decide what to hold on to. In one hand is my phone, recording the precarious scenario that is unfolding. My other hand, meanwhile, fumbles with an expensive camera as I try to keep it from falling into the sea. Gripping my horse’s flank with all of my leg strength, I hope for the best. The ocean reaches my belly. I raise both arms and clench my legs tighter, letting out screams of laughter as my trusty steed, Grey, decides he is done frolicking in the water, and we head for shore.

I have only been on Laucala Island for 24 hours, but have already experienced: a high-speed jet-ski circumnavigation;
a close encounter with a black tip reef shark while snorkelling; and pure zen during a private yoga class just footsteps from the beach. So, I suppose an exhilarating horseback ride along –
and into – the ocean shouldn’t come as a surprise. It seems there is no shortage of activities on offer on Laucala, and I am planning to fill my three-day visit with as many as I can. Sleep when you’re dead, right? Plus, all activities, with the exception of those outside the reef, are included in the rate.

With a guest-to-staff ratio of one to 13, Laucala takes luxury
to a whole new level. From the moment I step off the Air Laucala private plane, service is not only flawless, but always accompanied by a big “bula” smile. One morning after breakfast, I am chatting to the pastry chef about his delicious homemade bread and minutes later I am in the kitchen as he shows me how to make a sourdough starter. It is this type of service that sets Laucala apart.

Located in the Northern Lau island group in Fiji’s northeast, Laucala is a pristine 12-square-kilometre sanctuary comprising volcanic mountains, tropical rainforest, and untouched beaches. The lush island is home to several of the area’s unique birds and animals, though I never catch sight of the elusive orange fruit dove, found only in this region of Fiji.

Laucala’s 25 one-, two- and three-bedroom villas occupy just
a small area on the north coast of the island. While most villas
are scattered along the beach, the four Plateau Villas, perched on Nawi Hill in the jungle, should not be overlooked as they provide incredible seclusion, and are just a short ride down to the beach in your private golf buggy.

Not that privacy is an issue here. The island has its own maritime and air exclusion zones, keeping unwanted paparazzi away. And while many celebrities have frolicked on Laucala’s white-sand beaches, you won’t be able to pry their names from staff. Discretion here is paramount. So, too, is loyalty. Staff are long-serving and everyone we meet has kind words for owner Dietrich Mateschitz, the Austrian co-founder of energy drink Red Bull. Staff contentment makes a difference, and really comes through in their attitude.

Villas are spacious with traditional Fijian materials and design carefully selected by the team at interior design studio Lynne Hunt London. Open timber rafters are wrapped in magimagi, a traditional rope made with coconut husk and then woven into intricate designs. This technique is practiced only by people from the Lau Islands.

The 3500 square metres of private space in my Plantation Villa, which sits smack on the beachfront, include tropical gardens, several sunbeds, sheltered day beds, a freeform infinity pool, yoga platform, an outdoor rain shower, and a large stone tub. The lounge room is a separate villa and has a bar and a variety of snacks, with a special delicacy from the pastry chef delivered every afternoon.

Several organic farms and gardens along with wagyu beef cattle, pigs, chickens, ducks, quail and the resort’s own abattoir ensure a sustainable approach to resort living, enabling Laucala to produce in-house more 80 per cent of what they use.

Chef took us on a behind-the-scenes farm tour, which included taste-testing in the herb garden, collecting warm
eggs from the Austrian gold wheaten chickens and getting up close to the animals, including some adorable new piglets. As expected, the livestock, barns and grazing areas are as spotless as the resort. While on our tour, chef got a phone call from one of the local fishermen offering to sell him 20 kilograms of just- caught tuna. He took the lot and we enjoyed some for dinner that night.

There are five restaurants ranging from fine-dining degustation at Plantation House, to cliffside teppanyaki, and authentic Thai fusion at Seagrass Restaurant overlooking the bay. Rock Lounge is the place for sunset cocktails and nibbles, and the pool and beach bars offer delicious fresh specialties like kokoda (Fijian raw fish salad, similar to ceviche) and grilled fish.

On our last night, we enjoy an incredible evening under the stars at a romantic table for two at the end of the pier. A couple of chefs set up a pop-up kitchen and treat us to fresh lobster, sushi, grilled beef, and a platter of desserts, as a local band gently serenade us. Known as ‘Destination Dining’, you can request to dine virtually anywhere a kitchen can be set up, and work with the chef to design your own menu.

For golf enthusiasts, the David McLay Kidd-designed, 18-hole championship golf course is a major draw. And though I’m a beginner, the sparkling tides of the Pacific Ocean were enough to persuade me to tag along. There is a golf pro on hand if you need a few tips and everything you need is available in the pro shop.

One of the best places to relax is high on the plateau at Laucala’s luxurious spa. Enter through the spa garden, where you can learn about the tropical flowers and other herbs and natural ingredients used in the spa products. I have a great time with the ladies in the spa kitchen mixing up body oils, soaps and bath bombs using native plants and locally harvested coconut oil (and finish with lovely gifts to bring home to friends). All guests receive a complimentary 60-minute massage, but that’s just a teaser. My favourite treatment? The three-hour spa journey including massage, wrap, steam, Vichy shower, scrub and fresh floral/citrus bath.

As we are serenaded with the traditional goodbye song, Isa Lei, on the tiny airstrip awaiting our private plane, I ponder that not all islands are created equal. And while I have visited 53 countries in 53 years, I’ve never been anywhere quite like Laucala.

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