Picture paradise. Rows of palm trees rise to a bright blue sky. Quiet, private beaches stretch to the clear turquoise water of the South Pacific Ocean. A blanket of lush jungle greenery covers the surrounding hills. A peaceful meditative spa for relaxing, and an endless array of activities at your fingertips.
First things first, in Fiji, they pronounce the C in Laucala as TH, so when you arrive in Nadi International Airport on the main island of Viti Levu, the person whisking you to the front of the customs line on behalf of “Lauthala” is taking you to the right place. From there, you board one of Laucala’s private planes for a 45-minute flight to a private landing strip.
Laucala is the pet project of Dietrich Mateschitz, the Austrian billionaire who co-founded Red Bull. He acquired it from the Forbes family in 2005 and transformed it into an exclusive island escape for those who want to experience the ultimate in private island luxury living.
There are only 25 guest villas on the island. Each one offers a feeling of complete autonomy, your own stretch of beach, a private pool, and acres of privacy all underneath wooden beam ceilings wrapped in stunning patterns woven from coconut husk rope called magimagi. A private lounge offers a constantly restocked bar, and a small table where the staff delivers a new cake or tart every night when they turn-down the room.
There are two massive tubs carved out of Indonesian stone. One is indoor across from a beautiful tiled shower, the other is outside on a covered veranda set between an outdoor shower and a daybed platform, if you fancy a visit from an in-villa masseuse.
There are 11 plantation villas lining the beach next to the towering palm trees of the coconut plantation; seven seagrass villas that feel more screened in by the surrounding jungle foliage; and four plateau villas located away from the beach, with a higher perch for with a view of the neighboring islands.
The Peninsula Villa is the ultimate location for a private romantic getaway. It’s a multi-level structure that feels like a cross between a wooden lighthouse and a luxury tree house overlooking the ocean on the very edge of the island. Down the steps is the most private stretch of beach on Laucala and the villa is separated from the entrance by a long, winding, wooden trail bridge built into the hillside.
The Overwater Villa is the most glamorous room on Laucala. It was built on stilts and at high tide, there’s nothing but ocean underneath the entire structure. A large wrap-around deck leads out directly to the Pacific, but the site isn’t recommended for guests with children ages 11 and under, as there are no safety railings in place. The most alluring aspect, however, is the massive, infinity surface pool cut directly into the volcanic rock on the side of the villa with water trickling down the rough hewn wall.
Every guest gets a golf cart for moving about as they please. Even though there are 300 staff—the reported typical staff-to-guest ratio is 6 to 1—and Laucala can accommodate up to 80 guests, as soon as you leave your villa, it feels like you have the island to yourself.
There are five dining options. Plantation House is the most formal. The colonial building has an open-air, wraparound porch for the exquisite cuisine designed by Executive Chef Jean Luc Amann, with a tray of French pastries arriving at the beginning of every breakfast and the sleekest candlelit bar for after-dinner drinks.
Chef Amann draws many of his ingredients on his menu from the island and curious guests can see the Waygu beef cattle grazing near the spotless pigpens and chicken coops. Much of the organic produce is grown in vast gardens and hydroponic greenhouses on their farm. All of the juices are from fresh tropical fruits.
The Beach Bar is a grandiose version of casual beachside dining, where they offer a full menu of everything from grilled seafood to Duck Salad with prosciutto, to burgers and fries underneath a three-tiered thatched canopy. It’s also a great place to try some traditional Fijian dishes like kokoda, a raw fish salad in coconut milk and lemon—a zestier, chilled version of a ceviche soup.
The Seagrass Lounge has outstanding, authentic Thai food like their exquisite Shrimp Spring Rolls and Thai Yellow Curry with chicken. One of the experiences they recommend reserving before you arrive is a meal at the sizzling teppanyaki table overlooking the water on one of the lower levels.
The only other thing guests call ahead to schedule early is a trip in the DeepFlight Super Falcon submersible, also known as a two-seater personal submarine. It’s the latest model submarine by Graham Hawkes, the man who designed the submersible featured in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. With a driver in the front seat and room for one guest in the back, it’s the only way to see the vast amount of vibrantly colored aquatic life surrounding the island while staying dry.
For guests who don’t mind a little salt water, a quick boat ride takes you to a choice area for snorkeling. The water is unbelievably clear, with so many varieties and colors of fish, coral, and starfish. They also offer guided scuba dives and classes for those who want to get certified. There’s wind surfing, paddle boarding, sailing, and sunset cruises. The best though, are the jet skis. A guide takes groups of guests on jet ski tours all the way around the 3500-acre island. Or just hop on one by yourself, bury the throttle, and fly across the waves at 45 miles an hour.
Some guests come exclusively to play the championship 18-hole golf course every day, designed by David McLay Kidd. It’s hard not to be lulled into the stunning views of the ocean and surrounding mountains as you work your way through the course. Laucala has professionals on hand for both golf and tennis for those who’d like some instruction.
If riding is more your speed, there are excursions for every skill level, from a guided beach ride to cutting a trail through the island’s dense greenery.
After so much activity, you’re going to want to melt into the soothing environment of Laucala’s spa. Upon arrival, you are led to a private dressing room where you decide between a robe or the traditional wrap-around Fijian sulu. There are many massage options, but it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to try the Fijian bobo massage. Lying on a large mat on the floor, the masseuse uses hands, feet, forearms, and elbows to create a unique combination of Swedish and Thai massage technique. In addition to the massages and the oasis-like environment, they also have Vichy showers and a petite-but-powerful steam room.
When there are enough guests on the island, everyone receives an invitation to a cultural night. Behind the concierge center, they’ve built a representation of a traditional Fiji village with a big gathering house, a chief’s house, and a temple. Wrapped meat is covered in elephant ear leaves and kindling and left to cook for hours prior to the guest arrival. Everyone gathers in the chief’s house to observe a traditional kava ceremony, a cherished non-alcoholic drink with a calming, mild sedative effect. The ceremony is hypnotic, with stone-faced islanders in traditional garb mixing the muddy beverage and passing it around to guests who perform a single clap. Then the staff dons traditional clothing and performs several ceremonial dances before a variety of Fijian cuisine is served. Each stage of the night has its own transfixing narrative, and it’s wonderful to see a little historical context.
More than anything else, the people make Laucala the special place that it is. Staff members 30 yards away look up as you drive by and wave with friendly shouts of “Bula!”—which, as explained to me when I checked in, translates to “Hello, how are you, you look very nice today.” It’s the “Aloha” of Fiji.
After a long day of exploring the sand and sea or soaking up the tranquility of the spa before a five-star dinner, when you return to your villa and walk through the bamboo gate, the entire property flickers with the light of Tiki torches and fire pots. These line the paths and pools at the bars, as well, all triggered automatically around sunset, casting the entire island in an exotic lambent glow. It’s magic.
For more information, call 679-888-0077, or visit laucala.com.