Laucala fiji peninsula villa lounge sunset

Laucala island re-opens | Escape to paradise | Fiji on the fringe

Sexy and glamorous. Red carpet ready. Did someone say 'rescue fantasy'?

Laucala Island, Fiji’s most luxurious tropical island escape, is rolling out the red carpet in readiness for a re-opening, in the wake of Cyclone Winston.

If anyone needed an energy drink in recent months it was the glamorous South Pacific island of Laucala, the private paradise on the northern fringe of the Fijian archipelago, introduced to the world’s luxury travellers in 2008 by the now 72-year-old Dietrich Mateschitz, co-founder of the Red Bull empire.

In February this year Cyclone Winston tore through the region, stripping just about every leaf off the 14 sq km island’s trees.

Managing Director Christoph G. Ganster, a veteran resort boss (Egypt, Ukraine, the Seychelles and Dubai) who has weathered two hurricanes and two cyclones in his working life says he had never seen one quite as ferocious.

“Winds at 330 km/h! Luckily the major damage was the landscaping,” said Ganster who was still settling into his new job when the cyclone arrived with no reservation, re-writing history as the strongest tropical cyclone to make landfall in Fiji and the South Pacific Basin.

Spruiking the high net worth paradise’s re-opening in July over lunch at Chiswick restaurant in Sydney’s Woollahra (which, like Laucala, has a kitchen garden of abundant herbs, fruit, vegetables and exotic salad leaves), he reckoned some 600,000 palm fronds have been incorporated into 32,000 sqm of new thatched roofing. The greenhouses and orchid house are back on their feet, and Nature has been kind with the watering — the trees and shrubs are already bursting with new growth.

So it’s soon back to business for one of the priciest and most irresistible of tropical escapes, an hour’s flight from Nadi by private plane and an essential in any paradise portfolio.

Spoilt for choice

It’s pretty exclusive – 25 bures, each with its own pool, deck and private beach. Most are beachfront, but some hide in the hills and there’s one over water. The smallest is 600 sq m, the largest boasts 10,000 sq m of “private space” (count in the private beach and gardens).  Laucala is, not unexpectedly, part of the Leading Hotels of the World portfolio.

Spoilt for choice is the mantra. There’s a sense of having the place to yourself, which you pretty much do: aside from the discreet 400 staff, claimed to be one of the highest guest-to-staff ratios in the world.

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It’s the invisible army that sweeps sand from your buggy, turns said buggy in the direction of your next journey (and finds it when you lose it); rakes the beach; leaves a luscious orange cake under glass when you’re not looking; and knows exactly what your favourite Champagne is.

There’s a lot to love about Laucala: it’s lush, fragrant and full of surprising places to be, from the Rock Lounge for a sunset drink to a teppanyaki table under the stars, afloat on daybeds in the very blue lagoon or curled up in a hanging basket chair on the beach.

The days offer up a multitude of activities: fishing, golf, tennis, horseriding, sailing, snorkelling and some of the best scuba diving in the region. There’s also a library, high-tech gym and spa, and tours of the farm that keeps the island largely self-sufficient in food.

There is even a submarine for those who want to trade up on the snorkelling. The DeepFlight Winged submersibles, designed and built by Hawkes Ocean Technologies, are a cool outing in the company of whales, dolphins and other colourful sea creatures or an opportunity to explore shipwrecks.

Laucala’s golf course was designed by Scotsman David McLay Kidd, an impressive 18-hole layout backdropped by volcanic mountains and clinging to a sheer cliff dropping into the Pacific Ocean. The par-72 layout co-exists with the island’s old coconut plantation area. Its undulating fairways, challenging greens and strategic bunkers are designed to please both both experienced and novice golfers. The par-five 12th hole has a green extending to the beach; expect wet feet at high tide.

Laucala Fiji golf course David McLay Kidd Hole11

Laucala’s lush golf course designed by David McLay Kidd

Homegrown health

The resort occupies about 20 per cent of the island, the rest of which is mostly in its natural state. From the sea comes the fish of the day, crayfish, crabs, prawns. Christoph Ganster claims 85 per cent of produce used at Laucala is homegrown. Ninety-five per cent of staff are locals, mostly from a neighbouring island.

There are Limousin cattle – “for the burgers, carpaccio and tartare,” Australian chef Anthony Healy told us when Excess All Areas first visited; and a wagyu beef herd (for the more marbled cuts), along with sheep and pigs.

Healy has been, in recent years, experimenting with things that should not, in theory, grow there: baby carrots, beetroot and vanilla pods. From the hydroponic lettuce house, he selects light, curly kale to take back to the kitchen because, “everyone wants green smoothies.”

The resort blurs the boundaries between architecture, interiors and landscape. There is al fresco abundance wherever you look. But Lynne Hunt’s decor is the glue that pulls the look together. The shapes of everything are inspired by clamshells and jellyfish; the furniture oversized, and materials intrinsically Fijian – timber, stone, coconut ropes and twines, ground coral finishes, seagrass. The chandeliers are Hunt’s beautiful signature: jellyfish-like domes trailing pendants of tortoiseshell discs.

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While much is made of the fact that all villas are equally fabulous (no need to covet thy neighbour’s house), the boss’ hacienda on the hilltop, “Delana”, is the bee’s knees. Set over 11,000sq m, it has three private residences, oversized rooms, bars, gardens, a state-of-the-art telescope, and an intricate linkage of glamorous waterfalls, watercourses, pools and daybeds. And a 360-degree view to die for. Naturally. Live like a billionaire here for $US45,000 ($62,342) a night. For mere mortals, rates — basically all-inclusive — start at $US4,800 ($6,649).


Editor. Writer. Traveller. Keeping tabs on all things fab.

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Copyright © Susan Skelly 2020.