Turtle Island, Fiji

People are constantly saying “I didn’t think people actually won those things!”  Well, they do.  I read D Magazine’s FrontBurner blog daily, and I saw a link to win a trip for two to Turtle Island, Fiji. I clicked on it and added all my contact info; six months later I got an email saying I won! Crazy!

Immediately, I googled “Turtle Island.” I pretty much read everything there was to read about this place. We would fly to a private island on a seaplane, stay 7 nights in a villa on the beach along with only 14 other couples.  All our food, drink, activities and even a Lomi Lomi massage would be included.  It was too good to be true. However, it was so much more.

Currently single, my mom/best friend was my lucky companion. We thought it may be a little strange to be with a bunch of couples and honeymooners, so we thought we would brave “Kids Week,” when families were allowed to stay at the resort. After a 10-hour flight from Los Angeles to Nadi, Fiji, we were greeted by Mary at the airport. She took our luggage and quickly showed us to the Turtle Island office. We were told our seaplane would depart in two hours, which was just enough time to get some breakfast on the main island. Our bus driver took us to a great place, and then we were off to catch our seaplane.

Neither of us had ever been on a seaplane; we were beyond excited! Our pilot, Christian, was as friendly as could be, and we felt comfortable about our journey.  The flight was loud but surprisingly smooth.  The views were amazing.  I have been to the Bahamas and Hawaii but I have never seen water so clear and aqua blue. We also flew over beautiful, vibrant, mountainous islands. The flight was about 40 minutes.

When we landed and pulled up to the beach, I was taken aback.  Even though I had seen a million photos of this place online, not one of them captured the true beauty of this island. It was incredible. Our welcome wagon was waiting for us on the beach, along with cocktails, song, hugs, and smiles. They welcome you home.

After meeting Alex, the general manager, we met our “mama.” Mama Ala would be taking care of us our entire stay. Not only would she be the one cleaning our private bureshe would make sure that we received anything and everything we needed. We stayed in Bure No. 5, literally 10 steps from our front door to the beach. It was a traditional Fijian bure with a thatched roof, wooden accents, and a hot tub.  There is an air conditioning unit above the bed, but it really only cools the bed area. Even with all the windows open, it got pretty hot during the day. However, I was always very comfortable at night.

We met some of our fellow travelers as soon as we got to the island: a newlywed couple from Houston, a family from Southern California, and another family from Washington. A few days later, a large family of 13 came in from Australia as well. We quickly became friends. It was family week on the island, however, you really don’t see the children much at all. Each one of them had a “Bula Buddy” that they got to hang out with all day, every day. The kids that were there with us were pretty great, but I imagine all kids would really enjoy this experience. They had an awesome time with their buddies and the other kids on the island. There were 4 kids around the same age who became great friends and still keep in touch!

Our typical day went as follows.  Wake up with the sun, get dressed, walk down to the beach to a large table with coffee, fresh fruit (grown on the island), pastries, and Boce waiting to take our order. Boce is the sweetest thing.  He has the most infectious smile, and he took care of the group at every meal. As the morning goes by, fellow guests join you.  You drink, eat, laugh, and discuss the incredible beauty of the island. After breakfast and a few mimosas, you go your separate ways. Maybe to a private beach for the day, a fishing trip, snorkeling, scuba diving, or maybe just sitting in front of your bure under a coconut tree with a book. Whatever you want to do or not do, they will make it happen!

Then, if you haven’t booked lunch on a private beach, you meet the group for an always refreshing lunch. Then after an hour or two of great conversation with your new friends, it is back to doing whatever you want. Maybe a swim, paddle boarding, horseback riding, or sitting with your mama on your porch learning about Fiji and the Fijian way of life (which was one of our favorite things). We were very lucky to have the group of guests we did on the island. We really enjoyed each other’s company so much that we would forgo our private pontoon dinner to sit with the group. We also tried to meet every afternoon for a cocktail and a dip in the water. Then we would all go get ready for dinner and the night’s activities. Each night there is an event planned. Bula Bingo, sports night, lavo and meke, and of course Kava (google it).

One of my favorite days was leaving the island and going to a local village. It was great getting to see how Fijians truly live. I felt lucky to have experienced this. The Fijians we met were great and welcomed us with open arms.  We shared kava and a lunch of freshly caught fish. Another great day was when the children from the local village came to sing Sunday school songs for the guests. The kids were so cute. They sang with such passion that it gave me chills; it was quite emotional. After the singing, the resort gave all the kids ice cream. It was so great to see them so excited. One thing that all the guests noticed was how well behaved the village children were. Out of 30-plus kids, not one of them was a brat or threw a fit. It was refreshing. The best part of all was when the boys from the island played a game of rugby with the boys who came for Kids Week.   ven though they did not know each other, they all were true sportsmen and treated each other with respect. The boys from Kids Week even went back to the village to hang out with their new friends. It definitely was a highlight of my trip.

My mother and I really enjoyed our time on the private beaches. Long Beach was our favorite. They take you out, put up a hammock, set out your lobster lunch, and leave you with a cooler full of your favorite beverages. Then they ask when you would like to be picked up, and they are gone. My mom sat and read for hours as I combed the beach.  It was almost as if this was our private island.  The water was beautiful, and the beach was sandy white. It was exactly what you would picture the South Pacific to look like. Coconut trees bending over the beach and waves. Pure bliss.

The staff who work and live on the island are some of the friendliest people I have ever come across. They genuinely want you to enjoy your time. They laugh and sing and are so happy to be there. Nothing seemed fake or for show. It made our trip.

Our Mama Ala is someone we will never forget. She took care of us as if we were her family. On our first beach picnic, we ordered salads and healthy food, thinking we wanted a refreshing lunch. After running around and swimming for hours, I was starving. When we got back to our bure, she left us a plate of fruit and some pizza. It was perfect! She also knew my mom loved her fresh lemonade, so she had it in our refrigerator always full and fresh.  She and her fellow mamas picked fresh hibiscus flowers for the bures daily. My mom and I loved sitting with her on our front porch chatting as she put together flower arrangements. At the end of the trip, it was like we had known each other for years.

On Turtle Island, you really are out in the wilderness. Don’t get me wrong — it is definitely a 5-star resort, but it is almost like an exclusive, high-end, adult summer camp. It probably isn’t for everyone. It gets hot. There are bugs, lizards, and frogs that tend to show up from time to time, but then again you are out in the wild on a private island, 40 minutes away from the next large town.

I didn’t realize until I got home, but I never once blew my nose when I was there, and I never had to put lotion on my skin. It was so pure and clean. You don’t realize how much the effects of city life have on your body. Not only was I relaxed, but my body got a break from all the outside pollutants it sees every day.

Because everyone comes in on different days and stays for different lengths of time, every couple days we had to say goodbye to our new friends. When was the last time you were on vacation and you cried when another guest left the hotel? Well, this is another way Turtle Island is unique. I don’t know if we were just lucky and got some great fellow travelers or if the island just makes you so happy you can’t help but make friends with everyone… but we were the ones crying on the dock as the seaplane did a goodbye flyover.

This trip was like no other I have ever taken. Usually I’m at the end of my trip thinking “wow, that flew by,” but on Turtle Island, it was day three and I thought, wow, we still have five more days. It was just so easy and relaxing. I have never been more relaxed. Not having to worry about what we were going to do the next day, trying to crunch in as much as we could, or worrying about spending extra money or tipping. Everything is included. At the end of the trip, you have the opportunity to add to the staff fund, and from that fund they split it equally among the staff of about 60 people.

One morning we were sitting with all our new friends on the beach, eating breakfast, laughing and having great conversation, drinking champagne, and I thought “it really doesn’t get better than this.” How am I going to go back to the real world?  I’m not going to lie; it was a very hard transition coming back. I am pretty sure I was in depression mode for the following two weeks. I don’t think I have ever felt like that coming back from vacation.  Usually, I am so ready for my bed and Mexican food that the transition is seamless. I just think it was such an amazingly unusual experience that it changed my life. I will never forget the time I had with my mother, Mama Ala, and the friends we met.

Even though I won this trip, I have no doubt I will be going back.

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