Turtle Island, a privately owned luxury island in the Yasawa Group, Fiji, re-opened to guests late last week after almost two years of closure to international travel, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 202-hectare island, purchased in the ‘70s by the late Richard Evanson (Snr), an American entrepreneur and eco-visionary, rose to fame as the location for the Blue Lagoon film and has now become regarded as the place to visit for a truly authentic Fijian experience.
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As the Fiji borders remained closed to travellers, the passionate Turtle Island family under the guidance of Managing Director, Richard Evanson Jnr., turned their focus to developing new food and beverage initiatives and guest activities to welcome back travellers while also providing critical support to local communities.
The last year has also seen the team conduct ongoing maintenance on the 14 bures (Fijian villas) which are dotted along the Island’s front beach to ensure peaceful privacy and sunset views. With the latest refurbishment in 2019, the low-rise environmentally designed accommodation which offers a king-size bed, spacious newly renovated bathrooms, expansive lounge area and generous verandas are ready for guests who will enjoy the fresh and breezy outlook.
Putting their best “food” forward
The dining experience has always been front and centre for Turtle Island with guests able to enjoy fresh farm- and sea-to-table shared dining in outstanding locations including the front beach, the garden and the mountain top. Private dining is also available on the pontoons where your meal is delivered by boat, at the end of the lantern-lit jetty, at Cliff Point with a saltwater plunge pool, and on the pristine private beaches.
During the closure, there has also been a focus on the expansion of the island farm to deliver a more sustainable guest experience – the vegetable and hydroponic garden on the Island supplies over 80% of the produce that is enjoyed by the guests.
The vegetable garden is now completely organic, using only natural growing and pest management methods. To reduce waste the staff are drying, fermenting and pickling produce – some island favourites include pickled green papaya, cucumber pickles and sundried tomatoes.
The island team has also started making flavour-infused sea salt using fresh herbs from the gardens such as parsley, dill, sweet basil, sage, fennel and lemongrass thyme – the perfect accompaniment to the local fish and seafood sourced daily from the surrounding waters.
The gardens are also contributing to tea-making using hibiscus flowers, soursop leaves and lemongrass.
Turtle Island is now home to dairy cows, pigs, ducks, over 500 hens and 120,000 honey bees, all which help to reduce carbon emission from food miles. The eggs and honey appear on the breakfast table while the fertiliser provided by the livestock is used on the vegetable garden, the fruit tree orchards and other parts of the island vegetation.
In addition to the popular daily schedule of snorkelling, stand-up paddleboarding, sailing and fishing, several fun new activities have been added to the all-inclusive offerings. These include archery, fly fishing, spearfishing and an upgrade to the subwing snorkelling equipment.
As a counterpoint, relaxation time on the island’s 12 white sand beaches will undoubtedly remain a popular pastime with guests as will the wellness treatments which are being offered in the bures as well as the Spa.
In addition to the new initiatives and maintenance projects undertaken during the closure, important new conservation programs have taken place that assist and give back to local community.
“Honouring and nurturing the land, respecting culture and looking after local community is our priority,” said Richard Evanson Jnr who is continuing the strong legacy built by his father. “Many people in our neighbouring island community (known as the Nacula Tikina) lost their primary source of income due to Covid. Due to this, we have been committed to retaining all our staff keeping them busy with developing and implementing initiatives to support the community.”
These community initiatives, which have supported over 520 families from the surrounding villages included food and supply relief, helping to reunite families by safely repatriating them back to their villages after being stranded on the mainland, donating school supplies so students could return to school and helping to drive vaccine awareness programs.
Health and Safety
The Turtle Island team has worked closely with the Government and the local tourism entities to support the safe return of guests.
All the Island’s team are fully vaccinated. Three staff members have been nominated as ambassadors to oversee and support all the wellness initiatives.
A dedicated lane has been established at Nadi airport for Turtle Island guests to smoothly transfer from their flight to private vehicles which will then transfer them to the Island’s seaplanes or speedboat service.
The Island has also been certified under the Care Fiji Commitment (CFC), a WHO-approved standard of best-practice health and safety measure for travel. In line with that commitment, Turtle Island has also made changes to their general operations and service practice. A dedicated housekeeping team will be assigned to cleaning bures. They will work separately and independently from other staff to ensure the highest health and safety protocols are followed.
Turtle Island will also partner with VanMed and have a certified medical practitioner onsite to provide PCR testing prior to guest departure back to the main island and their return home.
The island is open all year-round for couples and twice a year ‘welcomes home’ families with Family Time.