An Australian property magnate’s first foray into resorts is proof that families and luxury islands can coexist at Kokomo Island Resort, as Cathy Wagstaff discovers.
Lang Walker wasn’t setting out to create a resort when he learned of a lush, overrun island in the Kadavu Group, the southernmost of Fiji’s isles. The property magnate had never ventured into resort management, but Kokomo Island, previously Yaukuve Levu proved too great a challenge to pass up.
The 56-hectare island was originally set to be an Aman-branded resort, but the project was abandoned when funding was pulled in the wake of the GFC.
The beginning of Kokomo
Walker was attracted to the island’s idyllic location on the edge of the Great Astrolabe Reef, the world’s fourth largest barrier reef. He first saw Yaukuve with his own eyes on one of his yachting journeys, and immediately saw potential. The villas Aman started were in disrepair, but amid the wilderness there was tranquillity.
The development that followed was a labour of love spanning five years. The jungle was tamed into tropical gardens, and the half-finished bures multiplied to include 21 Beachfront Villas, five Hilltop Residences and the owners’ six-bedroom Beachfront Residence. He rechristened the island Kokomo, the name given to every boat he has ever owned.
As our seaplane swoops in over Kokomo Private Island Resort, I can understand what inspired Walker’s passion project. Four white beaches fringe the dappled turquoise sea and the interior is dense with rainforest.
In our beachfront villa, beneath the thatched roof, the spacious Aman footprint remains. Walker had initially planned to bulldoze and start from scratch, but he was convinced to embrace the original vision.
Interior design that lets nature be the hero
Philip Garner opted for understated interiors in the villas. “My intention was to not use colour,” he tells me. “My direction was to go neutral and then let nature be the hero.” He points beyond the deck to pink bougainvillea, and the sea transitioning from navy to turquoise.
The only other colour in the villas comes from the vibrant abstract paintings by Australian artist-in-residence, Chris Kenyon. His commission has seen him paint more than 200 canvases for the resort. He’s still not finished, though; guests have made a habit of buying them, and Walker keeps building walls.
Wonders of the reef
The resort has a personal take on barefoot luxury. Our preferences for everything from activities to pillows are detailed in a pre-arrival survey, and activities manager Gina is always ahead of us in knowing what we’d like to do.
We’ve also come for the reef, the brilliant underwater world that makes Kokomo Island’s location so magical. It’s a PADI five-star dive resort, and exploring the luminescent coral gardens is a wondrous experience we won’t forget.
Families at Kokomo Island Resort
From the beginning, family was at the heart of the project, and Walker’s experience travelling with his grandchildren guided the resort’s design. “We want families,” he tells me, pointing to the rapidly growing intergenerational market as the inspiration behind his decision to offer residences with up to six bedrooms.
The children’s Kaji Club, for example, is part of a family enclave, set away from the villas, with a pool, the gym and casual dining. This solution ensures family fun never impedes on the tranquillity of other guests.
In fact, the villas and residences are so spread out that we forget, every now and again, that the island is home to 63 other guest bedrooms.
Up on the hillside, the residences are Walker’s own initiative, each a private oasis with 360-degree views. Their guests also enjoy the services of a butler and chef. There is private access to a boat for water sports and in-residence spa facilities that bring the treatments to you. Walker is even constructing a hangar at Nadi airport for those arriving by private jet.
Dining carte blanche
The restaurant and bar are the only places that we encounter other guests. At dinner, chef Anthony Healey proves he is a master of culinary experimentation. His degustation menu features sushi served on a bed of shells, and passionfruit sorbet enshrined in an ice dome.
Healey’s pedigree includes Hayman Island and Laucala Island, and his menus are built around the seafood bounty hauled in daily by the resort’s fishermen.
At shipwreck bar, Walker D’Plank, there’s no menu. Instead, we chat with the waiter, tell him what we’re in the mood for, and then watch as dishes keep coming until we cannot eat another bite.
The Walkers’ hospitality is woven into the resort, from the spacious accommodation to the laid-back approach to exquisite dining, from the kids’ enclave to the diving. Walker has made no secret of his desire to make Kokomo Island “the best”, and by pouring in his passion, and the love of his wife, children and grandchildren, he has made it a very special place indeed.
This article appeared in Volume 26 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.