Cara Wagstaff travels to one of the South Pacific’s most exclusive private islands and discovers an oasis of relaxation and true Fijian hospitality.
There’s nothing like a warm welcome after a day in transit, and it doesn’t get much warmer than on Dolphin Island Fiji. Somewhat weary after a flight and a three-hour road transfer, we arrive at a seemingly abandoned wharf with nothing but moonlight to guide our way.
We glide across open waters on a small boat before arriving at our destination. Our bags are whisked off and a team is on hand to help us out and onto the island. “Welcome home,” says resort manager Dawn Simpson, as she pulls me in for a warm hug. Welcome, indeed.
Dawn has been working on Dolphin Island Fiji for 14 years. A true local, she was recently named one of Fiji’s ‘bulanaires’, an initiative recognising the nation’s wealthiest citizens, where wealth is measured in happiness. Dawn is the resort manager, but also chef and activity organiser, and she soon becomes a friend.
Private and intimate
Mornings at Dolphin Island Fiji start slowly. I laze in the deep, free-form bath in my ocean-view bure, one of only four on the island, before making my way to the main pavilion for breakfast. Our hosts, Dawn and Adi, have prepared a feast on the outside deck, the table laden with sweet pineapple, bu (young coconut flesh) and passionfruit. I sip on fresh papaya and citrus juice before digging into an omelette that Dawn whips up on my request.
Exclusive design, exclusive use
The Relais & Châteaux private residence is owned by Alex van Heeren, who also owns Huka Lodge in New Zealand and Grande Provence in South Africa. In Fiji, Van Heeren’s goal was to create a holiday experience he personally would enjoy with his family and friends, and it shows. Dolphin Island offers its guests exclusive use of the resort, whether your party consists of one person or eight.
In line with Van Heeren’s design preferences at Huka Lodge and Grande Provence, he commissioned New Zealand-born interior designer Virginia Fisher again.
Fisher decorated the island’s guest rooms as well as the main bure. My room is spacious with wooden floorboards, a high ceiling and exposed beams. Fresh white linen adorns the king-size bed and large wooden doors lead to an oversized dressing room and bathroom, including an inviting tub. A nod to traditional Fijian culture incorporates woven floor mats, shell door handles and chandeliers.
Eager to explore, I set off on foot to take in the 5.6-hectare property. The island’s walking track is a maze of passionfruit vines, as well as papaya and noni fruit trees; the latter a native plant used to boost immune systems and cleanse the digestive tract.
The path opens up to a clearing with panoramic views of the ocean and the old-fashioned fish traps: a series of rocks stacked atop one another to catch fish as the tide goes out. The pièce de résistance of the island, however, is the open-air, sleep-out bure. A thatched roof covers the rustic oasis, lit only by lanterns and candles and ideal for a romantic overnight sleepover.
Back at base camp, my bure has been transformed into a spa. Elizabeth, a local from a neighbouring island, has arrived for my traditional Fijian massage and her gentle strokes whisk any worries away. Soon afterwards, aromas wafting over from the main bure coax me out of my post-massage bliss. Another buffet of food has been set out for us. We devour the whole-cooked sweetlips fish, grilled daruka (a white vegetable referred to as ‘Fijian asparagus’), and a fern salad soaked in coconut cream.
After lunch, I set myself up on one of the poolside lounges with a book and good intentions, but end up falling into an afternoon nap.
Culture on Dolphin Island
In the evening, Adi’s family and friends come to the island to perform the traditional kava ceremony, sing and dance with a bonfire flickering alongside. We barely notice the wind whipping across the island as Adi gently wraps blankets around us and ensures our glasses are topped up with wine.
Dawn and her team of highly attentive staff are always on hand. In fact, there are no compendiums or manuals in the rooms. Instead, we have Dawn, happy to organise our days.
On our last morning the ocean is as smooth as glass. I head down to the secluded beach and take one of the stand-up paddle boards out on the shallow azure waters. Snorkels, water shoes and sea kayaks are also set out for us each morning.
Adventurous guests can go deep-sea fishing, diving or water skiing, or visit local villages and waterfalls on a guided tour. I can’t resist the lure of another massage, however. In a state of nirvana, we enjoy a relaxed lunch on the main deck before our water taxi arrives.
The entire staff is on the wharf to see us off. Dawn, of course, is front and centre. “Be sure to come back home soon,” she says, and we nestle in for one last hug.
Qantas and Fiji Airways fly to Nadi International Airport. A complimentary private road transfer to Rakiraki/Wananavu is followed by a 20-minute private boat ride to the island. Helicopter or seaplane transfers are available on request.