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How the luxurious Fiji resort survived and thrived throughout the pandemic

There would have been worse locations to be throughout the peak of the pandemic than remoted on a distant Fijian island that has 12 personal seashores.

However for many who lived and labored on luxurious resort Turtle Island, the 10-month lockdown meant no friends, no work and, worse, isolation from household on different islands. How they survived this and thrived afterwards is likely one of the most inspiring tales to emerge from a difficult second in historical past for the island nation.

The 200-hectare island within the far-flung Yasawa archipelago was as soon as inhabited solely by feral goats, the place the native Natukani individuals went for picnics. Within the Nineteen Seventies it was purchased by American millionaire Richard Evanson, an engineer who’d made his fortune investing in cable TV and who was looking for a brand new life after a divorce. He enlisted the assistance of neighbouring villages to clear the land and plant bushes, construct dams for irrigation and rudimentary lodging. His authentic hut nonetheless exists on the property, as a type of shrine.

Because the story is instructed, the producers of the 1980 Hollywood film Blue Lagoon, starring a younger Brooke Shields, had been scouting the South Pacific for an island appropriate for filming. They negotiated with Evanson to shoot on Turtle Island. The American poured again the situation price into creating his property. Lodging constructed for crew was become luxurious bures and the primary friends had been welcomed. Even now, Turtle Island is called “the mom resort” as a result of it was the primary resort within the Yasawas and among the many first in Fiji.

Richard Evanson died in 2021 however his giant and complicated character is indelibly stamped on the island in oft-repeated legends and wild tales. So are his genes – he’s survived by 9 youngsters, and two of them, son Richard, generally known as “Junior,” and daughter Racheli, are concerned within the everyday operating of the resort.

Since its beginnings as a resort, Turtle Island has all the time maintained an exclusivity. It’s the place Britney Spears honeymooned along with her first husband; the place numerous celebrities from Ringo Starr and John Cleese to world leaders reminiscent of Al Gore and, sure, Scott Morrison, holidayed (Morrison performed his ukele and drank kava late into the evening, workers members inform me). However the exclusivity the pandemic introduced with it wasn’t the sort anybody imagined.

When Fiji closed its ports and airports to the world on March 16, 2020, Richard Jnr was confronted with a dilemma. A lot of the 95 or so workers members got here from seven surrounding villages, however the lockdown meant they might both want to remain on Turtle Island (regionally generally known as Nanuya Levi) or go dwelling to their households for the period. With out friends, there was little for them to do, and no revenue stream.

Evanson proposed to the workers that they might keep or go dwelling. About 70 individuals determined to remain. Some had lived there for 20 years or extra and the island was “dwelling.” There are a number of married {couples} among the many workers, together with head chef Beni Betekoaka and his spouse, Sue, a sunny face within the restaurant.

The duty was to maintain everybody occupied for what would turn into an extended isolation interval (the ocean airplane providers between islands did not resume till late April, 2022). Evanson knew the resort needed to grow to be extra self-sufficient. That they had already established a photo voltaic plant, natural gardens and a mechanic workshop the place tools was fastened and repurposed. However there have been 14 empty visitor bures that wanted to be maintained and a neighborhood to be fed.

Evanson consulted You Tube. He learnt easy methods to elevate and slaughter pigs for bacon and meat, hold dairy cows to make cheese, yoghurt and butter and studied numerous movies on the rules of sustainable gardening. He introduced in 10 pigs, two cows and sufficient chickens to put 300-400 eggs a day. He arrange a cheese-making cool room and a slaughter room. After which he skilled the workers in animal husbandry and meals manufacturing.

The cooks had been re-employed to design and plant the prolonged vegetable gardens. The resort began making its personal sea salt and produced six litres of honey each two weeks from 120,000 honeybees. Kitchen workers dried, fermented and pickled extra produce to scale back waste. The backyard contributed hibiscus flowers, lemongrass and different leaves for tea making. Contemporary fish was plentiful within the lagoon. They bartered what they grew and caught with different islands.

There are two hectares of natural vegetable beds, fruit orchards producing guava, soursop, papaya and different tropical fruits, coconuts and watermelon, geese in addition to chickens, 89 pigs and 7 horses. It is really farm to desk – what’s homegrown accounts for 80 per cent of the resort’s meals. Constructing supplies come from rocks, fallen tree limbs, and timber from monkey pod bushes planted on the island. What will be repurposed is, together with some wonderful classic vehicles that also handle to rattle alongside regardless of trying like they’re barely held collectively.

Turtle Island has all the time had a powerful neighborhood outreach program. Richard Senior established a free dental clinic for surrounding villages that is run by visiting dentists each two years. The Evanson Studying Centre was constructed on the island in 2003 to offer education, together with board, for secondary faculty youngsters. As college students began to have a better curiosity in attending faculty on the mainland, it was determined to shut the varsity and switch it right into a scholarship program. It now pays for boarding charges, transportation and different prices and helps as much as 35 college students from the area people annually. Throughout the pandemic, Turtle Island workers had been among the many first to be vaccinated and travelled to the primary island to advertise the uptake of vaccines.

The sense of delight the islanders have of their achievements throughout the pandemic is palpable. When friends arrive, they grow to be instantly swept up within the “household.” A most of 28 friends at a time implies that all of the workers know friends by title. Every bure is managed by a Bure Mama (shout out to Mama Tokasa) who’re greater than butlers, however nurturing forces who organize schedules and convey friends as finest as attainable no matter they want.

In a convention established by Richard senior, new arrivals are requested to introduce themselves over drinks within the bar earlier than dinner. Visitors are also additionally invited to talk to the assembled workers about their expertise once they go away. This actually does eradicate any sense of “us” and “them” and friends quickly slip right into a heat familiarity with one another and the workers.

Meals are communal, taken at an extended desk set in sand in the primary bar/restaurant. Breakfast, lunch and dinner all contain a number of programs if you would like it, served household type at lunch. There are various personal eating choices on abandoned seashores or on a candlelit pontoon in the course of the lagoon.

The true luxurious is the standard and freshness of the meals, together with plentiful lobster, shellfish and reef fish. Chef Beni labored alongside Jacques Reymond and the meals is healthful, scrumptious and generally impressed, with an emphasis on conventional Fijian cooking and Indian-spiced dishes. As soon as every week there is a conventional hearth pit barbecue. A brand new teppanyaki-style restaurant, the Grill, is one other eating possibility.

At evening there are “household” video games, dancing competitions, and as soon as every week, a screening of Blue Lagoon, the film that made the island well-known. The workers drink kava and sing late into the evening and everyone seems to be welcome. I adore it. Even the brew of kava on the island appears much less muddy than I’ve tried elsewhere. In case you have an early evening, you are serenaded by their stunning voices as you go to sleep.

You possibly can, after all, be fully alone, however you would be lacking out on the enjoyable.

It is all delightfully retro. The beachfront bures are rustic however beneficiant of their appointments, from a bar fridge stacked with visitor’s selection of alcohol, drinks and snacks, to reef sneakers, snorkelling tools, solar cream and sarongs.

These hooked on their units ought to know that the one Wi-Fi is obtainable outdoors the reward store. Telephone reception is poor however every visitor has a walkie-talkie which can be answered by the “Dock Man” who sits on the lined jetty, its roof topped with nationwide flags of no matter friends are in residence. Each day actions, from snorkelling expeditions to sundown horse rides, are written on blackboards. At lunchtime, friends usually select a personal picnic on one of many seashores, each fairly distant from one other.

The island additionally has a mascot, Rosie, a stray canine who swam over from one other village throughout the pandemic. Every time the islanders attempt to return her dwelling, she swims again once more. Who might blame her?



A bure for 2 friends prices from $US2800 an evening and contains all food and drinks, experiences and actions (together with one 30-minute spa therapy and one scuba dive a day). Transfers are further. The resort is adults-only, besides for college vacation durations in July and at Christmas.

Lee Tulloch was a visitor of Turtle Island.



The resort has seven horses which roam free and will be saddled up for canters alongside the seashore at daybreak and nightfall.


Native fishermen deliver endangered inexperienced and hawksbill turtles to the island to be tagged and launched in a conservation program in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund.


Visitors can snorkel, stand-up paddle board and swim within the lagoon. Certified divers can take a ship journey additional afield to dive the spectacular, deep caves featured in Blue Lagoon.


The inhabitants of the Yasawas have relied on the medicinal qualities of crops for hundreds of years. Visitors can come alongside on a captivating stroll by the gardens to find the ability of crops and their conventional makes use of.


The Vonu Spa is small however the massages are glorious, a combination of lomi lomi and Swedish therapies, utilizing pure elements reminiscent of indigenous nut oils sourced from the Fiji islands.



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