Fiji’s luxury private island: Turtle Island

by Beth Graham
the best Island in Fiji, Turtle Island

Fiji was always one of those destinations I had as a dream destination but the distance and the expense were a bit out of my reach. But when I was asked to go cover Turtle Island for Islands Magazine, my suitcase was packed before I could hang up the phone. And my husband was inviting along as well (a nice perk of being the spouse of a travel writer). It is by far the best beach resort in Fiji! 

I’ve written before about how much I hate long-haul flights but I can overlook my phobias for a destination like this! I’m not a great flyer but it’s a means to an end and for a wanderluster like me, it’s a necessity. Just having a ticket that said ‘Fiji Airways‘ on it made me all giddy! I did notice that my itinerary indicated that I would be taking a sea plane to the tiny private island but that was not going to stop me.

The sea plane was actually one of the most exhilarating things I’ve done. Five of us who would be visiting the island arrived on the same flight. But since the tiny seaplane can only carry so much weight, we were each weighed, along with our luggage and only four of us, sans luggage, could travel out on the first flight. I put on my headphones, strapped myself in to the tiny seat, and our barefoot pilot motored us out across the waves until the wind and waves gave us the momentum to get airborne. I was beyond excited to get to Turtle Island, the best beach resort in Fiji.

The 30-minute flight was breathtakingly beautiful, flying low over the Pacific dotted with tiny islands. As we coasted in to the dock at Turtle Island, we were met with music and singing from the island’s staff. Two of the island’s “warriors” scooped me up and carried me off the plane across the water, a long-standing tradition, while my husband waded in. Instantly, we were greeted with their traditional “Bula” welcome and warm, genuine happy-to-meet-you hugs. 

Sea plane to Turtle Island
getting carried off the seaplane by Turtle Island warriors

We were introduced to our Bure Mama for the week, Elle, our personal concierge who did everything from stock the room daily with fresh baked goods to intuitively bringing us cocktails as we hung out on our hammocks to packing our beach bag for daily excursions. Bures are the private villas – there are only 14 on the entire island so it truly is a private escape and the best beach resort in Fiji. 

Bure at Turtle Island, Fiji
Our bure
Our Bure mama Turtle Island
Elle, our bure mama

In 1972, U.S. cable TV exec Richard Evanson was looking to escape the frenzy of corporate life and a sour divorce. He wound up in a bar in Fiji and after a night of heavy drinking, found himself the proud (perhaps hungover) owner of a 500-acre barren and deserted island. Days later, he journeyed to the island with nothing but a generator, refrigerator, and tent with plans to live in seclusion. A villager from a neighboring island saw his helicopter land and, out of curiosity, made his way over by boat. They became fast friends and together, they, along with other villagers, planted over 500,000 trees and began transforming the island into Richard’s own private, tropical paradise. He loved the seclusion but in the late 1970s, Columbia Pictures took notice of the island while scouting for a destination to film a remake of Blue Lagoon. He was ambivalent, but soon found himself building wood and straw huts, or Fijian bures, for the film crew. He realized the potential of the island, and in 1980, welcomed his first guests to Turtle Island. With only 14 bures today, the island maintains its charm as a secluded, authentic and preserved destination. Richard still lives on the island (although he is in failing health). His son, Richard, Jr. runs the private island resort.

The best island in Fiji, Turtle Island
isn’t this magical?

There’s not much to daily life on Turtle Island. Any that’s perhaps the best thing about this place. This was by far the most relaxing trip I’ve ever taken. And my high-strung, type A husband fell into this groove as well. Mornings were all about me time. We’d join the other guests for a communal breakfast at a table on the beach then retreat to our own private beach to lounge in hammocks at the water’s edge. Periodically, Elle would show up and offer us fresh coconut water, in the coconut of course, or offer a snack or cocktail. Following a communal lunch of local delicacies, we’d retreat to the outdoor daybed on our bure’s front porch for a boozy nap.

hammock at Turtle Island, Fiji
that hammock!

This was pretty much my daily routine. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of activities if you choose. My husband went scuba diving several times, lots of guests snorkeled each morning, there are private beach excursions, horseback riding, hiking, and plenty of island life to explore. 

the outdoor day bed for naps

As I mentioned, there are only 14 bures on the island and with the exception of a couple of family weeks, it’s a couples-only resort. That means that there are only 28 guests on the island any given week. So privacy and solitude are the island’s attraction. We had one of the last bures on the island and I could seriously go hours without seeing another person. So if you’re looking for a place to get away from it all, this is it.

dining at Turtle Island, Fiji
communal dining on the beach

But part of the fun of traveling is meeting other couples, right? That’s where the communal dining comes in. It’s certainly not a requirement, but it’s kind of nice to share an evening meal on the beach and talk to others about what they did that day.

We celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary there and were surprised to return to our bure one afternoon to find it transformed as a place of celebration. I can’t imagine how much time, or how many flower petals, it took, but it was amazing. We were then whisked away to “Honeymoon Beach” for a solo afternoon on the beach and arrived to a dozen of the staff there to greet us and sing some really special songs. I cried. 

our bed decorated for our anniversary
Honeymoon beach Turtle Island
celebrating our anniversary at Honeymoon Beach

It’s this level of service that makes this resort so incredibly amazing. And I don’t say that lightly. I won’t say they go above and beyond to make you feel welcome, it’s simply part of their culture. It comes naturally for all of them. They genuinely want you to have the time of your life. Every staff member, there are over 100 to take care of the 28 guests (do the math), learns each guests name and you’re greeted throughout the day with “Bula, Beth,” or the occasional “Bula Bula!”

It’s just one of those special places where I truly left a piece of my heart. And I absolutely plan to return someday. Many of the guests we met are return visitors, some making their first trip there over a decade ago, but they return every few years, to the same staff, to the same bure. It’s like a home away from home, and by far the best beach resort in Fiji.

one of our rare couples’ photos

Being a luxury resort on a private island, it is on the pricey side but once you experience the level of service and sheer tranquility of the area, you’ll know it’s worth the price and a special place that stays with you forever.

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