A passion project of billionaire Australian property developer Lang Walker, Fiji’s newest luxury resort epitomises barefoot luxury. Susan Skelly dips a toe in the water…
Christopher Kenyon’s beachfront studio might be pumping with Prince’s Little Red Corvette but the canvasses surrounding him reflect every blue of a Derwent pencil set – ultramarine, teal, turquoise, aqua, indigo.
His is the dream commission – creating, in situ, the artwork for a newly-minted luxury resort, to hang alongside limited edition John Olsens and installations by Akosita Waqairawai that recalibrate driftwood and beachcomber bric-a-brac.
Originally on site for two to three months to create 65 artworks, when Excess All Areas visited a week ahead of the official opening this year, Kenyon was expecting to notch up a year and close to 250 mostly abstract works, hung in the resort’s 21 beachfront burés, six luxury residences and public spaces.
Kokomo (known as Yaukuve to the Fijians) is one of the islands in the Kadavu Group, just under an hour by seaplane south-east of Nadi airport.
The Kokomo canvases, whose motifs are chiefly the island’s flowers, fish, birds, butterflies and the Great Astrolabe Reef that encircles it (mostly represented by a thin, foamy white line), range from 500 sq mm in size to the colourful 7m x 2.5m Kokomo Dreaming that adorns the communal Beach Shack entrance. It took 38 layers of paint to reach fruition and 14 people to lift into position.
Kenyon designed the sets and costumes of the first two Mad Max movies, and has contributed art to numerous corporate collections, including The Walker Corporation whose Big Kahuna, billionaire property developer Lang Walker, owns Kokomo Island and is behind the enviable art commission.
Fiji is building quite the reputation for luxury accommodation. Kokomo joins Laucala, Vomo, Wadigi Island Resort, Dolphin Island, Vatuvara Islands, Wakaya Island and Kaibu Island in the five-star stakes. Six Senses opens soon on Malolo Island.
Kokomo is the tropical island destination from Central Casting. Alight the Twin Otter seaplane that brings you there and feel instantly wrapped in warm silk. Pebbled pathways are lined with lush greenery and the saturated colours of hibiscus, bromeliads and bougainvillaea.
If there’s a word to describe Walker’s $100m-plus project it’s “abundant”. It’s a generous place. The beachfront villas have their own gardens, pool, indoor and outdoor showers, ditto living spaces, several day bed options, a kitchen, big sunken bath, walk-in wardrobe, and his and her vanity stations. Champagne with that? Of course.
Guests can snorkel, dive, fish, picnic on remote beaches, kayak, paddle-board, swim with manta rays, visit a traditional Fijian village, join a coral planting program, visit the island’s plant nursery or the turtle sanctuary.
There’s pampering at Yaukuve Spa Sanctuary, a verdant village offering everything from yoga classes to spa cuisine, smoothies and juices, a medicinal herb garden, double treatment rooms, a wellness library – and a pond.
On the menu: exfoliation, body wraps and polishes, massage, and facials that use natural Sodashi products from Western Australia. The signature massage? Pacific Mastery (aka the Fijian Bombo), which uses deep tissue techniques and a choice of essential oil blends including frankincense and palmarosa.
Burn kilojoules on the tennis court, at the gym, or on the walking trails to the Kokomo lookout. Hike to spectacular waterfalls on a neighbouring island.
CHEF Anthony Healy, whose CV includes Lizard Island and Laucala, is aiming for food that’s as natural and local as it can be.
“Local” is essentially the mahi mahi, Spanish mackerel, coral trout and Fijian sweetlip that swim at the front door. There’s a seafood larder about an hour away with a bounty of yellow fin tuna and deep sea snapper. The kitchen garden is already producing herbs, tomatoes, lemon grass, eggplant, maize and zucchini. There are chickens and a bakery.
Healy is particularly excited about the delivery of his new beehives and a Josper charcoal oven.
“We’re not overcomplicating it,” he says. “We offer relaxed food based on what’s available. At the Beach Shack is a daily menu of three entrees, three mains, and two desserts. Or to order.
“The casual post-dive Walker d’Plank alcove is more Asian street food – lobster, crab, cooked over coals…”
LANG WALKER was tipped off to the existence of Yaukuve by a friend who anchored and came ashore to find an overgrown resort abandoned halfway through construction. “He said, ‘You’re good at fixing things, you should have a look,’” Walker told EAA during a pit-stop in The Beach Shack, which overlooks the West Beach and across to the islands of Qasi Bale, Namari and Dravuni. Its completion had been brought undone by a coup in 2006 and the GFC in 2008. Walker bought the island.
“I’ve spent 25 to 30 years diving in this part of the world,” he says. “There are only a few islands that have sandy beaches at low tide. Most have fringing reefs and you have to carry everything over the reef.”
Yaukuve was renamed Kokomo. It’s a name that pops up often in the Walker empire. Kokomo was the pseudonymous composer (in reality jazz musician Jimmy Wisner) of a piece of music called Asia Minor, music that the nine-year-old Lang was required to practise every day for an hour.
It’s the name he has given all his boats, about 20 in total, from the sailing dinghy he bought as a 10-year-old to his current 196-foot super yacht, SY Kokomo.
Walker, 71, regards Kokomo as a passion project – his children and their families have been coming for several years – but acknowledges that the residences have the potential to sell down the track for between $US12 million and $US15 million. There is room for more villas or residences on what is referred to as Beach 3, while a marina is under construction on Beach 4, to attract the super yacht crowd.
The Walkers see Kokomo as an intergenerational resort. A dedicated children’s playground located away from the villas is anything but a token kids’ club, with fountain, swimming pool, indoor and outdoor eating areas, and hillside play terrace. A sizeable underwater mural by Chris Kenyon is its heartbeat.
The kids’ centre is right near a café with a wood-fired pizza oven and the gym, so parents can drop by to check on their assets.
KOKOMO’S is one of barefoot luxury. Sydney interior designer Philip Garner had the task of conveying that in the furnishings – with no-nonsense tables you can put your feet on and chairs that don’t mind a wet swimsuit. Rehau and Vivo pieces dominate. The palettes are neutrals mostly, with pale blue accents that don’t fight with the views.
The residences have four to six bedrooms, quarters for a butler or nanny, multiple living spaces, media room, private pool and huge windows to frame the vistas. Kitchens feature fossilised marble bench tops, there are huge ceramic floor tiles throughout, mole grey walls, plush padded fabric bedheads, and customised rugs in wool and jute.
Says Garner, “I don’t think there is anything of this standard, anywhere.”
Kokomo is accessorised with wood and beachcomber treasures. Akosita “Ako” Waqairawai first came to Kokomo as a baby sitter, but soon revealed herself as a talented graphic artist, sculptor, painter and – having served in the Fijian army in Iraq – disciplined and organised.
In a workshop destined to become the chicken coop, Ako has been overseeing an impressive body of work that incorporates driftwood, shells, washed-up coral, building off-cuts and husks in the making of everything from signature shell wind chimes, to 6m tall installations and sculptures, to wall-width fish murals, lamp stands, occasional tables, signage, souvenirs, and serving platters.
Nothing is wasted. Fallen trees get a second life as sculpture. Some of the most arresting wood – like the hardwood cinnamon “sticks” put to work as elegant wind barriers – comes from Mel Gibson’s island of Mago.
Back at Villa 15, Chris Kenyon (whose home in Sydney’s Berowra Waters is also surrounded by water and accessible only by boat) is starting on a vertical triptych, to hang in the stairwell of Residence #3, inspired by Cy Twombly’s Three Studies from the Temeraire in the Art Gallery of NSW.
Prince will probably be joined during the day by Style Council, The Jam, or Tears for Fears, and maybe The Wombats or Chairlift.
“I can’t work with classical music,” says Kenyon. “I need rock music. I like rhythmical pieces. My art is rhythmical.”
Which is just as it should be on an island finding its own rhythm.
Prices range from $2640 a night for a one-bedroom beachfront villa to $17,079 for a six-bedroom residence.
This feature first appeared in the December 2017/January 2018 issue of Belle magazine.
All photos Susan Skelly