For a real rockstar retreat, escape to exclusive-hire Dolphin Island boutique hotel, perched on a petite isle just north of Fiji's main island Viti Levu. With tropical-modern interiors by stylist Virginia Fisher, it boasts just four elegant rooms, a gorgeous entertaining bure, a romantic sleep-out boudoir and a 13-acre playground of gardens and beaches. Offshore, aquatic adventures beckon, including top-notch diving, snorkelling and sailing.
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A Fijian cultural evening of song and dance with a traditional feast on your last day
Four suites, sleeping eight, for exclusive-hire only.
Both check-out and check-in times are totally flexible, but daylight hours are recommended for safer boat transfers.
Double rooms from £2115.40 (NZ$4,360), including tax at 9 per cent.
Rates include full breakfast, all meals and a standard bar, return transfers by car and private boat from Nadi, and use of all island facilities, including kayaks, Hobie catamarans and snorkelling gear.
Spend a romantic night à deux 'glamping' in the Hilltop Sleep-out Bure, a short stroll away on the other side of the island. Partly open-air, but with enveloping mosquito nets, this lantern-lit, thatched boudoir comes with a floaty four-poster, cushion-strewn sofa and lounge chairs, and a shower. Is there a better way to wake up to ocean views?
At the hotel
Main Bure with living/dining area, music system, free WiFi and library with books, DVDs and board games, gardens, Hilltop Sleep-out Bure. In rooms: iPod dock, Pure Fiji toiletries. Bathrooms feature twin basins, a shower and bath, as well as a private outdoor shower.
Our favourite rooms
Perched in pairs on either side of the sociable Main Bure, the four Guest Bures are all equally seductive, stylish and serene. The high, palm-thatched bure roofs and wooden shutters are a nod to Pacific living, as are pretty hand-fans on walls and shell-encircled mirrors, but the style details are very 21st century. We love the indoor-outdoor bathrooms, with a white-shell chandelier above the sculptural, freestanding bath and courtyard shower. Huge beds, inviting armchairs and dreamy dressing rooms up the luxe factor, while the sky-blue and white palette picks up the sea views, visible through fold-back wall-to-wall glass doors.
Stone steps lead down from the elevated entertaining bure into the sleek, geometric infinity pool, which offers views out to the beach and sea. Compact and contemporary, it's flanked on both sides by chic outdoor lounging areas on a wooden deck, with come-hither day-beds, armchairs and tables shaded by parasols. Lanterns add a romantic touch come evening.
No need to bring reading material, as the Main Bure comes kitted out with coffee-table books galore, covering Fijian style and culture, as well as enticing Penguin tomes. Diving fans may want to pack their own snorkel and a rash shirt, and don't forget outsize sunglasses for that rockstar-on-vacation look.
Smoking is allowed in outdoor areas only; pets should be left at home. In-room spa and beauty treatments can be booked for an extra charge.
Welcome; free baby cots can be supplied, but not extra beds for older children. Babysitting can be arranged for a fee, given a day's notice.
Fresh, seasonal, local produce, including fish caught daily, adds an eco-friendly touch to Dolphin's cuisine.
Gather your party around a table at the edge of the Main Bure terrace. You're under cover here, but can command tantalising views out over the pool and sea.
Luxe linens, killer kaftans and sexy sunhats by day; chic islandwear by night.
At Dolphin Island all meals are tailored flexibly around you, so you can eat when, what and where you like. Convivial host Dawn Simpson cooks up a storm, making lipsmacking use of fresh fish, tropical veg, mangoes and pineapples to create impressive canapés, main meals and desserts. Dine formally at the eight-seater table at the back of the Main Bure or lounge on the sofas around the central coffee table if you'd rather graze. Both are top spots for admiring the glam Pacific interiors, which mix trad Fijian art, war clubs and graphic pillar and roof decorations with a bold orange, white and black palette, contemporary cushions and covetable shell and fish accessories. For airy dining, aim for the terrace or the smaller tables out by the pool.
Again, drinks come to you, with a fine selection of wines, spirits and beer from around the world. Sip them at the Main Bure counter bar, indoors or out on the terrace, as the mood takes you.
It's your own private island, so you make up the rules. The obliging staff team are on hand 24/7.
Order meals or snacks at any time, or pop to the kitchen at the back of the Main Bure to help yourself to anything. There's a small counter bar here for perching.
Tiny Dolphin (Yanuca) Island is just north of Fiji's main island Viti Levu, near Rakiraki, peched between larger islands Nananu-i-Ra and Nananu-i-Cake.
Fly into Fiji's Nadi International Airport (www.airportsfiji.com), on the west coast of Viti Levu. Fijian national carrier Fiji Airways (www.fijiairways.com), which code shares with Qantas (www.qantas.com), offers direct flights to Nadi from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Auckland, Christchurch, Hong Kong, Honolulu and Los Angeles, as well as connections via LA from major US cities and Vancouver. Other international carriers flying into Nadi include Air New Zealand (www.airnewzealand.co.nz), Virgin Australia (www.virginaustralia.com), Jetstar (www.jetstar.com), Pacific Blue (www.flypacificblue.com), Korean Air (www.koreanair.com), US Airways (www.usairways.com), United Airlines (www.united.com), Air Vanuatu (www.airvanuatu.com) and Air Caledonia (www.aircalin.com). Domestic flights with regional airline Pacific Sun (www.fijiairways.com) operate between Nadi, capital Suva and Fiji's offshore island airports.
Forget trains on the Fijian archipelago – car, boat or air are the way to go.
The hotel can organise private car transfers for the two-and-a-half-hour drive north-east from Nadi Airport to Wananavu Wharf, near Rakiraki; it's quite a bumpy ride along Kings Road, but you'll see lots of local village life along the way. From Wananavu, it's a 20-minute ride to Dolphin Island on the resort's private boat. Transfers are included in rates.
Contact the team for seaplane or helicopter transfers to Dolphin Island, which has its own helipad.
Worth getting out of bed for
You can swim or snorkel right off the beach opposite the hotel, with clear, shallow, warm water and coral reefs harbouring a mesmerising mix of sealife. Sporty types can commandeer a sea kayak and explore neighbouring islands, with a picnic on board, or race alongside dolphins on the resort's Hobie Catamaran. It's worth strolling to the Hillside Sleep-out Bure on the east side of the island even if you don't plan to kip there, as you can see ancient, circular Fijian fish traps offshore and get a feel for the local flora and fauna.
With poolside sunloungers aplenty and 13 acres of sandy shores to wander, it's hard to leave your exclusive Dolphin Island playground. Serious divers, though, may be tempted to stray, as staff can arrange world-class dives and snorkelling with specialised operators around pristine Bligh Water to the north, so named as Captain Bligh (of 'Mutiny on the Bounty' fame) was cut adrift near here. You'll find some of the best diving off Fiji's main island in these parts, with colourful tropical fish, vibrant soft coral and sea fans. If you fancy catching your own dinner, go on a two-hour hand-line fishing expedition to sheltered reefs nearby, where snapper, coral cod and sea trout are yours for the taking. Four-hour trawling trips to outer reefs for sport fishing can also be arranged, if hooking walu, mahimahi, tuna and trevally is more your speed. Adjacent island Nananu-i-Ra is also known for windsurfing, and offers a few trekking trails and scenic look-outs.
Culture vultures can take in the local mainland sights on Dolphin's Suncoast Tour, visiting a village, the famous Church of the Black Christ at Naiserelagi, Rakiraki township, a sugar mill and the tomb of the last cannibal chief Udreudre, or customise their own tour. You can also learn to make Fiji's black-and-rust patterned tapa bark cloth at a village craft class. If you'd prefer a spot of pampering, Dolphin Island's therapists can treat you to an in-room or alfresco massage (there's no spa, as such), including a Traditional Fijian Massage, with long, circular strokes, or a pep-you-up Papaya Facial.
En route to or from Dolphin Island, you can also swing by the coastal town of Lautoka, which has a regular food market and souvenir-shopping opportunities.
There are no other restaurants, cafés or bars on Dolphin Island, and given that drinks and dining are all-inclusive we doubt you'll want to forage further afield for food. If you're overnighting en route in Nadi, see our Fiji Islands guide for tips on the best places to go out in town.
As soon as our dinghy pulls up at Dolphin Island’s petite pier, our host Dawn Simpson hugs us and welcomes us ‘home’. This private-isle boutique hotel is more elegant beach home than typical Fijian holiday resort. We realise this immediately, partly thanks to the coastal-luxe styling, and partly because Mr Smith and I are the only guests here (it’s an exclusive-hire getaway). Mostly, though, we know it’s going to be special thanks to the wonderful Dawn, who is island manager, cook and surrogate mum all rolled into one.
Throughout our weekend escape the warm-hearted Dawn pre-empts our every wish, ably assisted by her trusty team. As we emerge from our villa on Saturday morning (after a mammoth 13-hour sleep!), someone is standing by with fresh tea. No sooner do we jump off the pontoon into the dazzling blue water for our pre-breakfast swim, than Dawn heads out to us with table, chairs and a perfect tropical breakfast. And, at lunch later that day, two of her crew waft fronds of foliage lest a bug comes near our food. Everyone is super-attentive, yet the service is never overbearing, always retaining a charming friendliness that fits perfectly with Dolphin’s barefoot luxury.
With a high, thatched roof and seductive spaces that embrace the outdoors, the main entertaining bure is just as inviting. Design details reference the fact that you’re in Fiji beautifully, with traditional carving, ropework and tapa (bark cloth) patterns smartly juxtaposed with comfy oversized sofas, cosy lighting and rows of orange Penguin classics that make you want to bury your head in a book. There’s not a tatty Dan Brown in sight! Interiors are by Kiwi decorator Virginia Fisher (of Huka Lodge fame), who has ensured the island’s stunning lounge is the go-to spot for relaxing if rains descend, with a homely, open kitchen for hanging out. The terrace extends into an alfresco dining area and on to a striking black plunge pool, flanked by graceful loungers, ideal for lazing under towering, age-old palms.
Two squat matching thatched bungalows, each containing a duo of double suites, are dotted on either side, with sliding glass doors that open out to the garden and sea. Both are dreamily designed, all cream and dark wood with oh-so-pretty coral fashioned into chandeliers, mirrors and lamps. Bathrooms are just as blissful, with crisp, white his and hers bathing and dressing areas, and airy outdoor showers.
Our island idyll is tiny, at just 13 acres, so you can walk from one side to the other in about five minutes, passing through bush lush with fragrant flowers. After an indulgent Sunday lunch, we wander around it and discover the most coolly-crafted of open-air sleep-outs on an incline facing out to the ocean. Boasting the chicness of the main villas but sans walls and electricity, this Hilltop Sleep-out Bure, complete with bed, couches, shower and loo, is very tempting for a nocturnal adventure but instead we settle in for a post-lunch power-nap, refreshed by sea breezes.
Time passes lounging on the pristine, palm-fringed beach, taking frequent dips in the crystal-clear sea and flipping through magazines. The water is warm and the sand has that coral-whiteness you associate with Fiji, massaging and super-clean. No cigarette butts or bottle tops on this slice of paradise.
Intimate Dolphin Island only accommodates eight, and as the only two guests during our stay, the sense of luxury and utter serenity is even more intense. The sole sounds are birds, crickets, rustling palms and the occasional chop-chop of meals being prepped. No chatter, no music and no-one’s kids (my own included) fighting over inflatable pool toys. Heaven.
With our multiple food no-nos, Mr Smith (gluten- and spice-free) and I (vegetarian) are tricky customers to host, but Dawn manages our meals with aplomb and the cooking is a real highlight. Mr Smith is treated to fresh, local fish caught effortlessly on a hand-line from the pontoon. A different variety is served each day, including salmon cod and coral trout (with dangerously sharp-looking chompers). Dawn grills them whole and arranges them lovingly on large leaves. I’m spoiled with delicious home-cooked meals, including Fijian-Indian delights, dished up with tasty okra or other local vegetables. Desserts are usually mouth-watering plates of seasonal fruit, in tune with Dolphin’s culinary mantra: simple, casual and stylishly presented, without being over the top.
Guitars and ukuleles are ever-present. Music is one of the things I love most about Fiji, and no evening is complete without a local band playing. While we’re getting ready to dine on the Saturday, a small group sits by the pool singing soothing folk songs. It’s quite magical, provid ing the soundtrack to our evening, and accompanies us even as we drift off to sleep.
An enormous bonfire on the beach heralds our last night, as Dawn has organised a group to sing and dance for us. A dozen men and women, dressed in Fijian costumes, first welcome us with kava (the narcotic national brew) and then perform, back-lit by the raging flames. We’re asked to join them and shimmy barefoot on the sand. After just a couple of numbers Mr Smith and I are exhausted and retire to the lodge, weaving through the enormous palm trees lit by a hundred orange, glowing lanterns.
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