COMO Laucala Island
Ultimate tropical island
Laucala Island Fiji www.comohotels.com
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At a Glance
Once the private-island retreat of Malcolm Forbes, Laucala (lah-aw-thah-lah) is a slice of paradise: the five-square-mile island located east of Taveuni, Fiji, has white-sand beaches amid a lush tropical landscape, and the 25 bungalow accommodations (in one-, two-, and three-bedroom combinations) sit along the beaches and coves or have ocean views from the hilltop; some are on stilts above the lagoons, so you can take an early-morning plunge right into the sea. Inside, rooms have wood-and-stone floors and chandeliers shaped like jellyfish. There’s an endless array of outdoor adventures for guests, ranging from night diving to exploring the organic farm—90 percent of the food is grown on the island. Laucala is now owned by Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz, who decided to turn it into a five-star South Pacific playground with mindful conservation practices. Unsurprisingly, the resort draws honeymooners and couples, but it is also great for families looking for an over-the-top adventure— and a true bucket list hotel experience. Plus: a great effort has been made to eliminate the hassle of international travel. At the airport in Nadi, for both private and commercial flights, check-in and checkout is taken care of by Laucala staff in the company-owned resort lounge.
The Standout: As stunning as the facilities are, the island (and its beaches and tropical landscape) steal the show
Don’t Miss: Trying out some of the island’s toys, which range from America’s Cup racing yachts to a mini-submarine
- The luxurious sense of space, and freedom, on an island that’s mostly your own
- The fabulous indoor and outdoor bathrooms
- The fact that you can always have any beach on the island to yourself
COMO Laucala Island Review
Laucala is pronounced softly, with all its vowels brought to slow fruition in the mouth, as in lah-aw-thah-lah. And in keeping with its name, the Fijian island itself—and the exciting new resort now nestled into its hills—is an environment brought into a slow and rich state of being. Formerly the private island of publishing magnate Malcolm Forbes, Laucala was home to Forbes’ surprisingly modest residence, little infrastructure, and a few simple standing buildings until a few years ago.
The island’s inhabitants were dependent on the production of coconut oil, or copra. But in the late 1990s, the island was bought by the founder of Red Bull, Dietrich Mateschitz, who spent a fortune to make it the ultimate fantasy island or a 21st-century Garden of Eden that blends uber luxury with mindful conservation. I cannot think of a place more likely to deliver wow to the pickiest of travelers. It is on par, in terms of design, service and memorable location with the Singita properties in Africa, but, in place of the African bush, offers the jaw-dropping tropical beauty of the South Pacific. It should be on everyone’s bucket list.
At roughly five square miles, Laucala Island, once a volcanic mass, is about one-fifth the size of Manhattan. The western portion of the island is home to thick, natural mangroves and bright white beaches; the eastern portion features the island’s vast organic farm, which guests are encouraged to visit—one of the many activities suitable for kids or merely curious adventurers who want to explore the island’s diverse topography on one of the golf-cart Jeeps provided to each residence.
There are 25 residences, ranging from hilltop positions to overwater placement, the latter of which allows you to dive right out of your front door. Some residences are a mile away from the others for maximum privacy. You enter your compound via a bamboo gate and a garden path. Separate thatched-roof buildings house each room with walkways linking them. A private pool is sited to make the most of the dramatic views, whether they drop into the sea from a hilltop or lead straight down to a white-sand private beach.
The décor is South Pacific-sexy with wood and stone floors, curvy couches, chandeliers in the shape of jellyfish and shag rugs. Spacious dressing areas lead to the bathrooms where tubs are carved out of giant hunks of granite and showers are tiled with hundreds of pebbles. It’s Flinstones gone fabulous with sinks carved out of boulders and bamboo towel racks. And as if one spectacular bathroom isn’t enough, there is a second one outdoors with the same mammoth rock bathtub, full shower and sink under a thatched pavilion in the open air. Stone paths lead to open-air lounge and dining areas as well.
Overall, Laucala is 90 percent self-sustainable, meaning that nearly all of what you order at one of the gourmet restaurants, stationed at various panoramic and beachfront points across the island, has been raised organically and free-range on the island. Cows, chickens and goats are cultivated by on-site Fijian staff; shrimp and fish are caught the day you eat it; fruits and vegetables are also island-grown, handpicked, and can be personally prepared for guests’ consumption whenever—and wherever—they choose to dine. Even when there are only four or six guests on the island, all of the five restaurants are open. The most formal is the Plantation House, the only structure left from the island’s days as a coconut plantation. Here, the talented French chef who worked for another one of Mateschitz’s passion projects in Austria, the gourmet restaurant Ikarus in Hangar 7, prepares seven-course dinners, which show off his virtuosity and the island’s bounty. A menu might include tuna with quinoa and coriander, sleepy lobster with citrus hollandaise, asparagus and fennel and farm chicken with mushroom risotto and corn followed by mascarpone with exotic fruits.
Though the island is beyond secluded—at 1,300 miles north of Auckland—the resort takes scattered integration rather than segregated clustering as its refreshing composition. You get a whole lot more active options than a typical beachside resort but many are tucked into their own island oases. There’s an 18-hole golf course designed by David McLay Kidd, with a pro who recently left the PGA circuit for Laucala. Trails around the island are ideal for hiking, mountain biking or horseback riding, and a spa that resembles a little village in the jungle draws every guest whose visit includes a welcome massage.
But with spectacular reefs ringing the island, it is no wonder that water sports are a favorite draw. There’s a PADI-accredited diving base with courses ranging from open-water certification to night dives, guided snorkeling trips, and wreck-diving. The water sports center has paddle boards, kayaks, surf boards, underwater scooters as well as equipment for scuba, snorkeling and kite-surfing and instructors who can coach beginners to experts. The boat fleet includes jet skis, motor boats, catamarans and large sailboats, including one that competed for Red Bull in international regattas. You can arrange night fishing trips for the reef’s offerings: blue and black Marlin, giant Trevally, Wahoo.
Even for the typical museum-hound who’s beginning to feel lost at sea, there’s a replica-traditional Fijian village erected by scholars, which includes a wedding chapel, a dance ground with a ceremonial hall, and bure kalou—the holy Fijian temple. But, for many, the biggest blessing of a visit here is the ratio of heart beats per square acre. With so few people on the island, city dwellers will find the sense of space and quiet lowers their heart rate and reconnects them with nature and serenity as few places can.
Who Should Stay
Laucala Island is accessible by private jet or commercial airline via the Nadi International Airport (NAN), where flights arrive daily. The resort recommends that guests traveling commercially from the United States fly to Nadi via Auckland (on Air New Zealand) or via Sydney (on Air Pacific). Air Pacific flies direct from L.A. into Nadi, but the business class seats are not flat-bed. (For more details, read Fiji: Getting there.)
With a 1,200-by-23 meter airstrip and three aviation hangars, only smaller jets may land on Laucala Island; larger private jets will use Nadi, where the resort keeps an exclusive hangar and trained technicians for round-the-clock arrivals and departures.
One of COMO Laucala Island’s finer details is the great effort it has made to eliminate the hassle of international travel. At Nadi, for both private and commercial flights, check-in and check-out is taken care of by Laucala staff in the company-owned resort lounge. For those who fly privately onto Laucala Island, international port of entry is possible upon approval by Air Laucala. Direct Customs and Immigration clearance can then be arranged upon request directly on the private island.