Sign Up for Our Monthly Asia Newsletter
The instant he grabbed my hand to help me step from my South Sea Cruises shuttle boat onto the sugary-white sand lining Castaway Island Resort, Lingo Reece, deputy/sales manager, seemed like someone I had known for my entire life. As the day unfolded, that became the case with everyone I met at this 174-acre island paradise. Who thought that traveling 5,600 miles away from where I live would leave me feeling so at home?
Castaway developers had the pick of Fijian real estate some 40 years ago. They obviously chose wisely, tapping this pristine Mamanuca Islands spot with its lush interior rainforest, pair of beautiful beaches and coral-rich, translucent water where colorful fish perpetually play.
Since purchasing the Qalito Island resort in 1993, Aussie Geoffrey Shaw continually reinvests in upgrading the AAA Four-Diamond property. He is also instrumental in the Mamanuca Environmental Society (MES), an organization committed to sustaining community livelihood and tourism through environmental protection.
The MES mission is woven into Castaway’s operations, from responsible snorkeling instruction that preserves reefs to Chef Lance Seeto’s Discovery Tours, which cover sustainable cuisine.
“The fact that we’re a private island resort means we can appeal to all markets,” said Joan Marso, North American sales and marketing manager. “Fijians have an innate history of hospitality. But here, we feel we have a special brand of it.”
I have to agree. I noticed how Castaway’s congenial crew introduces themselves to each newcomer and greets all guests by name.
The resort itself embodies island chic with a casual barefoot feel. With 66 individual bures (huts) nestled amid lush tropical gardens and along the beach, there’s a definite sense of space. Thoughtful landscaping and design concealed the fact that the resort was at full capacity.
My beach bure had a fantasy feel, with a porch separating the thatched-roof structure from the sand and ocean just steps beyond. While exteriors are more traditional in style, the interiors feature a high vaulted tapa cloth-lined ceiling with overhead fans and air conditioning. It’s spacious and welcoming, blending natural timber and woven rattan furnishings with a cool color palette.
A sliding privacy screen separates the bedroom with a king-size bed from the living area decked with a pair of day beds. Further bolstering the appeal, oversized bathrooms are freshly upgraded with rolled stone flooring, a shower, a private toilet and a vanity area with distinctive Fijian trimmings.
I appreciated that the mini-refrigerator was restocked daily with fresh water. And I was nearly oblivious to the fact that my island home was television-free since I was more fixated on lounging in my hammock than channel surfing. No phone? No worries. My wake-up call came courtesy of a knock on the door.
Naturally, water activities rule here, and all non-motorized activities are inclusive. I made it my mission to kayak around the island, which proved a great way to explore Qalito offshore in about an hour. The island is also coveted among divers, with access to 30 dive sites within a 20-minute ride aboard the resort’s Sokia. Wannabes can wade into the aquatic action with various options from Castaway’s PADI-accredited Five Star Gold Palm dive facility.
For a resort to live up to expectations, regardless of how incredible the accommodations are, the cuisine has to be impressive. Castaway is no exception. Chef Lance is especially proud of the Water’s Edge Restaurant’s recently buffed up buffet staging area where modern Fijian fare resembles a smorgasbord in presentation.
I grazed through the offerings for breakfast and lunch, and then sank into a cozy chair for al fresco dining under a canopy of evening stars.
Wednesday’s popular themed buffet is Fijian to the core, with a traditional meke warrior dance and lavo earth-oven feast of roasted meat, fresh whole fish, crisp salads and sumptuous desserts. There’s also the Sundowner Bar that dishes out wood-fired pizzas overlooking neighboring islands and lagoons. And libations flow at the Pool Bar and Lali, with the latter shutting down when the last guest calls it a night.
As I cruised away on my final day, my only regret was that I failed to catch a few more Zs in my hammock.