Calling Castaways

Vomo Island offers paradise for those looking to get lost

By: Jad Davenport

Richard Black, our pilot with Island Hoppers, banks the helicopter in a wide turn and keys his microphone. “It’s over there,” he says, pointing to the dark green silhouette of an island rising from the South Pacific like the spine of a sea serpent. “That’s the island Tom Hanks was marooned on.”

My fiancee, Karin, and I peer out at the cresting ridge on the horizon. It’s no wonder that when Hollywood scouts were scouring the South Pacific for a setting to the modern-day Robinson Crusoe film “Castaway,” they settled on Fiji. With 330 islands only a third are inhabited and another 500 sandy motus (small islands), the Melanesian nation east of Australia is custom-made for South Seas fantasies. English-speaking, and with an exchange rate that gives travelers an immediate 50 percent discount, these friendly islands are the stuff of daydreams, whether you’re a plane-wrecked FedEx employee, like Hanks played, or a couple enjoying a pre-honeymoon.

Our 20-minute flight from Nadi International Airport takes us past Monuriki, but it’s not our final destination. We are headed to Vomo Island Resort. As this jade gem in the southern Yasawa Islands rises toward us, I see that it is the perfect setting for our own version of “Castaway.” The 200 acres of coconut groves and frangipani-jeweled gardens rise to the 445-foot crown of an ancient volcano. All this green is fringed with white-sand beaches. We land on one of the few open areas of the island a nine-hole golf course.

Like many of the hideaways that dot this archipelago, Vomo is a one-resort island. Not long ago, the natural beauty and seclusion of the island attracted the French Accor Group, which acquired it in February. Accor updated the 640-square-foot villas, constructed a new poolside bar and erected a string of beach bures (Fijian bungalows). The resort is Accor’s first Fijian property; they are set to open their second, the Sofitel Denarau Island, in October.

Thirty spacious bures are scattered along the coast. They start at $870 per night, a rate that includes four-course meals, wine and spirits and most activities. Tucked among private gardens and rows of coconut palms, the villas are the epitome of Fiji’s barefoot lifestyle.

We slip off our sandals before exploring our air-conditioned villa. Inside, the decor is contemporary with a living room, bedroom, dressing room and a full Jacuzzi and separate shower. The polished wooden floor has the warm feel of a sailboat. There’s even a sundeck. But with the beach exactly 12 strides away, we doubt we’ll need it.

It’s not long before our appetites draw us to the center of the resort, a compound of low structures made with Fijian-style thick beams, thatched roofs and louvered windows. The resort has two restaurants Beyond the Reef, set beside a freshwater pool and The Rocks, an outdoor pavilion on a bluff at the westernmost end of the island. By the time we finish a gourmet lunch of crab in coconut milk, Karin has already caught Crusoe fever. She is eyeing a secluded beach on a neighboring islet.

“The locals call it Vomo Lailai,” says Pita, a resort waiter who helped us drag a tandem yellow kayak down to the waterline. “It means ‘Little Vomo’ in Fijian. But we call it Honeymoon Island.” He pats me on the back. “I’m sure you’ll figure out why.”

It doesn’t take us long to solve the riddle. While missionary culture has firmly taken root in Fiji, and women are expected to dress modestly in town, private islands like Vomo Lailai are all about getting back to nature. We take a dip in the gin-clear water and sunbathe on a velvet bench of warm sand.

Not surprising for an island, watersports are the main attraction at Vomo. The following morning, we grab fins, snorkels and masks from the small aquatics center and head out with a local dive guide to explore. The sea is clear and gentle, and we spend an hour floating above underwater canyons feathered with bright pumpkin- and plum-colored soft corals. Deeper down are gorgonians, rare sea fans as big as beach umbrellas and packed schools of fish glittering in the sun.

The island offers plenty of the standard Fijian excursions as well. For a fee, you can sip sundowners on a sunset cruise; visit the outer islands for a taste of village culture and the tingling muddy buzz of a kava ceremony; or test your mettle against a shark or tuna while deep-sea fishing. Vomo also offers coconut frond weaving, tree climbing, lei stringing and a tasty meal cooked using traditional fire-heated stones.

For the pure hedonist in us, the Senikai Spa offers a menu of traditional and European treatments, including Ulumu face and scalp treatments to relieve stress and an aromatherapy body massage.

If clients become overwhelmed by the romance, Fiji is one of the easiest places in the world to get hitched. Couples just need to take their passports and birth certificates to the Registrar’s office in Nadi any weekday, and they can tie the knot with Fijian flair. For weddings, the Vomo resort offers a warrior escort, island choir serenade and a three-course dinner with champagne.

Our days in Vomo pass as they should for castaways. Our tans deepen, we wake to the lull of the waves and time turns rubbery. We eat when we want and nap in the afternoons. There are other guests, but we never seem to bump into them. Vomo feels like it’s all ours. If Hanks had washed ashore on Vomo instead of Monuriki, he might have never wanted to go home.


Vomo Island Resort, Fiji

Getting there: Clients arriving at Nadi International Airport between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. can choose between a charter helicopter hop the pilot will meet clients at international arrivals or the classic seaplane approach, leaving from the adjacent domestic terminal. Both take 20 minutes to make the 20-mile journey west from the airport. Pack light, air travelers to Vomo Island Resort are limited to 33 pounds. Much slower launch service is also available on request.
Commission: 10 percent. No commission on transfers to the island.