Fantasy Island: Being a Castaway on Red Bull Founder’s Laucala Island
This week, we take another vacation with New Orleans Bride Magazine travel editor Becca Hensley. While many couples have postponed or cancelled honeymoon or pre-wedding vacation plans due to the coronavirus pandemic shutting down the world for the past few months, Hensley’s vacation destination spotlights are geared to planning post-COVID and a look to the future. Some destinations are allowing visitors and others are either closed or have changed their protocols, so it’s important to do your research before booking a getaway. This week, Hensley is taking us to the islands of Fiji, specifically Laucala Island. Whether you’re planning away or just dreaming of vacations to come, bon voyage.
In most morality tales, there’s a price to pay for getting everything you want.
And, while it takes a certain dose of whimsey, an overarching suspicion that I don’t deserve any of this at all, and a thorough yielding to that dreamy notion called suspension of disbelief, I find my time at Laucala, instead, to be a blissful infinity of happy endings.
Developed with the unquashable gusto of an uncensored, creative child building a Lego village with endless tubs of diversely shaped blocks and other made-just-for-him toys, Laucala, a member of Leading Hotels of the World, is the brainchild of Red Bull Co-Founder Dietrich Mateschitz. A 3,500-acre private island in Fiji’s northern archipelago, with just 25 thatched-roof villas for guests, it isn’t the gaudy, overdone ode to opulence you might expect for an all-inclusive getaway for two.
Nor, is it the competitive, high octane setting for extreme sports you’d imagine from an owner who’s built his fortune on promoting perilous leaps and fast moving vehicles. Rather, Laucala, carpeted with coconut palms, pandanus, sandlewood and frangipani, anchored with volcanic peaks, is an hypnotic, quixotic foray into that under layer of consciousness we all crave to access occasionally.
Here, something (or nothing) happens. You hear the sea; you doze off in a hammock, you grab a bike and pedal among leaping frogs until your legs won’t go further. As Fijian employees smile widely at you, call out “bula” as you pass, and deliver guavas and mangos from their garden, you begin to find that tranquility that lies within, that part of you that we can’t quite capture in our (sometimes) beleaguered, exhausting, noxious and noisy lifestyles.
Here’s the thing – this ‘fantasy island” isn’t exactly a simple place. It brims with possibility and options. Across such a grand swathe of beach-edged land, a mind-boggling, alternative world unfolds. Villas, bedecked with local art and Fjian hand-carved furniture, open to sandy crescents, stand on sea-facing cliffs, or hover atop stilts in a lagoon. Each stand-alone suite lies just far enough from the other to make you feel Robison Crusoe-like in your seclusion. Five restaurants invite – including a Teppanyaki barbecue spot, poised on a lava-rock precipice; and, a more formal Oceanic eatery housed in a dignified plantation manor. Of course, bars abound. (Note: even if you happen to be the only guest on the island – which sometimes occurs – all the restaurants and bars stay open every night and all night, or at least until guests are soundly sleeping in their beds, their thirst and hunger sated for the day.) There’s a spa, a huge, meandering swimming pool (though each villa has its own, naturally), an 18-hole golf course, horses to ride, trails to hike, boats for sailing and fishing, water toys, yoga and a Fijian cultural center.
Again, there’s no hidden cost, so when you hanker a snorkel or a deep sea dive, the staff takes you for a boat ride to the best spot; when you want to visit a Fijian village, they whisk you a to sister isle (funded by Mateschitz) to visit the Laucala financed school and to drink kava with the affable chief. Perhaps you want to get out of the sun? Wunderkind chef Jean Luc Amann will teach you how to cook in his kitchen or lead you on a tour of the island’s 240-acre organic farm, which grows everything from lettuce to avocados. Watch for the Fijian sheep, fat hogs, Austrian chickens and Wagyu cattle, too. And, don’t miss the colossal greenhouse, chockfull of delicate orchids or the Cultural Center where you can pound out tapa cloth or help carve a canoe.
To arrive, you’ll fly to Fiji’s big city, Nadi, then board Laucala Air. That’s right. The island operates its own Lilliputian airline, which consists of two immaculate, leather and burled wood adorned aircraft. The nine-seater planes safely deliver you to Laucala’s modern air strip, where a choir meets you, bearing icy libations, before loading you into luxury cars. You check into your villa; astounded no matter what else you’ve seen in your life. But, also at ease, comfortable in this isle’s barefoot elegance, this embracing acknowledgement that you aren’t after bells and whistles at all. Instead you want something solid, authentic, maybe even ponderous—like kingfisher birds—as blue as the sea—pecking at seeds in that bit of lawn between your personal pool and your private beach.
Life could be worse, right? But you deserve it. And, I promise, this morality tale ends very, very well.
IF YOU GO:
Fly Fiji Airways from Los Angeles or San Francisco. fijiairways.com