Laucala island Fiji-luxury escape peninsula villa

Paradise portfolio | Luxury escapes from Fiji to the Flinders Ranges

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

Overload in need of a forklift? There’s nothing more rejuvenating than the prospect of solitude, serenity and stepping back to nature. Here, some escape inspiration: from the South Australian outback, to Queensland’s Great Barrier Reef and a fabulous Fijian find.

Laucala, Fiji

Laucala is the island you buy if you are Dietrich Mateschitz looking for somewhere to invest all those billions of dollars an energy drink can make bubble and fizz. The 70-year-old Austrian entrepreneur, the co-founder of the Red Bull empire, bought the island, an hour’s flight from Nadi by small plane, from the family of publishing magnate Malcolm Forbes in 2003, and set about creating one of the most seductive holiday destinations imaginable.

But nature is .

Villas are a connecting series of bures (thatched bungalows) on steroids, each with its own pool, deck and private beach. There are 25 of them, mostly beachfront, but some in the hills and one over water. Spoilt for choice is the mantra. There’s a sense of having the place to yourself, such are the many secluded nooks on this 14sq km island. 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.

Fiji island Laucala restaurant art on a-plate luxury accommodation Pacific hideaway

The smallest morsel is a work of art at Laucala, one of Fiji’s most exquisite islands.

Some mental Instagrams: blue kingfishers; oversized bubble baths strewn with rose petals; wild hens in improbable rosella hues hurrying into the forest; white waterlilies opening and closing as if by remote control; scurrying land crabs; cute piglets; and gleeful Fijian boys performing for the guests.

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. The farm supplies food for the guests and 370 staff. There are Limousin cattle – “for the burgers, carpaccio and tartare,” says chef Anthony Healy – a nascent wagyu beef herd (for the more marbled cuts), sheep and pigs; dozens of vegetables, herbs and micro-herbs; beehives; and an orchid house. Healy is 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 is wanting green smoothies.” Can do.

Healy produces a seven-course degustation menu each night, whether there are two or 20 in to dine in the Plantation House, one of several dining options. No dish is ever quite the same. He inspects the farm daily to see what menu items it dictates. Celery turns up with apple in an intense sorbet; flavoursome tomatoes sing in ravioli; poached walu, caught that morning, is artfully arranged with slivers of freshwater prawns.

Breakfast: that would be a lobster omelette, and a cake stand of miniature croissants, muffins, scones and rolls warm from the oven. There are papaya and tamarind jams, farm butter in soft ovoid scoops, and tropical fruit juices to quench your thirst.

Celebrity chefs complete the sensory overload. Peter Gilmore, of Australia’s internationally celebrated restaurant Quay and now Bennelong at the Sydney Opera House, was cooking there a while ago, and this October Shannon Bennett of Melbourne’s trailblazing Vue de Monde weaves his culinary magic.

Laucala Island has an 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.


Laucala Island Fiji luxury Pacific paradise Plateau Villa

In one of Laucala’s Plateau Villas, a turquoise pool beckons.

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. Bedside lamps resemble birds’ nests. As Stephen Albert, associate vice president of WATG, the firm of architects that co-built the resort, says, “It’s amazing what you can do with sticks.” Indeed, they form decorative grids on windows, over air-conditioning units, around mirrors.

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 is the queen bee. Set over 11,000sq m, it has three private residences, endless oversized rooms and furnishings, bars, gardens, 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 $US40,000 ($42,508) a night. For mere mortals, rates, basically all-inclusive, start at $US4200 ($4463).


One&Only – Hayman Island

It’s not as if Hayman Island wasn’t a glam destination before, especially following its swishing-up after Cyclone Yasi several years ago. But its glamazon status has reached new heights, courtesy of an $80m revamp and a rebranding as One&Only Hayman Island, the new jewel in the crown of a portfolio that includes luxury properties in Cape Town, the Bahamas and Dubai.

One&Only Hayman Island is located in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef, on the closest Whitsunday island (there are 74 of them) to the outer reef and the Heart Reef that has graced many a postcard. It’s a chill-out launch ride from the airport on Hamilton Island or there’s a seaplane or helicopter.

hayman island resort pool beach villa accommodation one and only

The glamorous Beach Villa with its internal plunge pool and beach on the doorstep, literally, at One&Only Hayman Island

They always had it right with the Beach Villa concept – there are eight of them, designed by award-winning Perth architect Kerry Hill – with plunge pool right in the middle and the beach at the door. They are modern and minimalist, with a neutral colour palette, elegant pale furnishings and clever geometric accents with bursts of brightly hued accessories. However, it’s poolside where Haymanlovers will notice the biggest difference, the suites, many with direct access to the pool, have been transformed – rooms are twice the size. The lagoon suites, too, have had a makeover.

Hayman is heaven on a stick for many other reasons: its private beaches (they can drop you at one for a picnic à deux, if you so desire), sailing, snorkelling, and myriad other water sports, rewarding walks, tennis, golf, fine dining (plenty of options) and a great island boutique.

One&Only Hayman Island, Queensland. From $593.

Ikara Safari Camp – Flinders Ranges, South Australia

Yes, South Australia has wine, festivals and international sporting events, but they pale in comparison, says tour guide veteran Michael Hey-Cunningham, with the Flinders Ranges, the state’s “best kept secret”. Wilpena Pound, an amphitheatre within a quartzite and sandstone mountain range is, “our greatest single geographical feature: walls 3km thick, 17km long, 7km wide – more land than Manhattan. Uluru would fit inside the Pound eight times.”

Early this year, Ikara Safari Camp was added to the Wilpena Pound Resort portfolio, with 15 safari-style tents (two for families with up to four children) and a community enclave offering a “glamping” option. Spacious tents with king-sized bed, air-conditioning and heating, zip-out picture windows, a deck and full-length tiled bathroom make getting back to nature a comfortable exercise.

Time out at Ikara (an Aboriginal word for meeting place) is spent bushwalking (there are some 70km of walking tracks), mountain biking, joining a 4WD excursion or getting a bird’s-eye view of the region from a small plane. There are caves, gorges, wildlife, spectacular sunrises and sunsets, wildflowers in spring and rock art further afield.

Ikara Safari Camp Flinders Ranges sacred canyon South Australia

Visit the The Sacred Canyon while staying at the Ikara Safari Camp in the Flinders Ranges. Photo Ikara Safari Camp

The Pound is in the south-west corner of the 91,200ha Flinders National Park, which Hey-Cunningham calls “a corridor through time”. Indeed, the Brachina Gorge Geological Trail in the north-west of the park contains a 20km self-guided trail that claims to pass through 130 million years of Earth history.

As well as native pine and black oak, the bush around Ikara boasts several types of gum trees and more than 1000 yellow-footed rock wallabies, which have made a comeback from less than 50 thanks to a fox-eradication program.

Ikara is five to six hours’ drive from Adelaide, with Clare Valley a sensible pit stop along the way (then take the RM Williams Highway to Hawker). The Campsite also has an airstrip nearby, and shuttle buses.

From $230. Ikara Safari Camp, Wilpena Pound, South Australia.

Chiva-Som – Hua Hin, Thailand

Stress registering in the danger zone? Tolerance levels toxic? Workload needs a forklift? Wake up at Chiva-Som and feel it evaporate. The retreat, at Hua Hin in the Gulf of Siam, 187km south of Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi Airport, is a magnet for health and wellbeing seekers. They come for detox, weight loss, nutrition advice, alternative body work, yoga, physiotherapy, massage, beauty treatments, nutrition drill, and to catch some good old-fashioned rays poolside.

Chiva Som Hua Hin Thailand health retreat poolside

Prettiest poolside, at premium Thai heath retreat Chiva Som.

Arrive at night by limo to a fairyland of lights, lakes, waterfalls, bridges, picturesque pavilions and fragrant, manicured grounds. By day, the steamy air – studded with frangipani – is a caressing body wrap.

First task is a consultation to set goals and design a program for the stay, from three nights to three weeks. Guests are allocated a “retreat”, a bespoke package from a menu of 11, ranging from Optimal Performance to Fitness, Spa Pampering to Weight Management. Among the inclusions is a thrum of therapies – herbal, water, mind and body-shaping. There’s even jet-lag therapy. And massage, from herbal to the signature Chiva-Som, to Chi Nei Tsang (an abdominal kneading that seems to invite the liver to swap places with the kidneys); and Shirobhyanga (a scalp massage that communes with another galaxy).

Myriad daily options supplement the retreats: yoga, Thai boxing, tai chi, aqua aerobics, even golf biomechanics. As well as labyrinthine treatment rooms, spa and water therapy areas, this village of vitality has a gym, dance studio, Pilates studio, yoga pavilion, medi-spa, hairdresser and bathing pavilion.

The spa cuisine is fresh, light, varied and abundant. Your wish is pretty much their command, although everything comes with a specified kilojoule count. Expect to unfriend alcohol, coffee, salt and sugar with ease. From THB90,000 ($2943) for three nights.

Chiva-Som. 73/4 Petchkasem Road, Hua Hin, Prachuab Khirikhan, Thailand.

Source Qantas The Australian Way August 2014

 Your turn: What have we missed? Where are the special occasion hideaways?


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