November 16, 2012
‘Blue Lagoon’ Honeymoon
Islands and honeymoons are a time-tested match made in heaven. Perhaps that’s why so many newlyweds flirt with Fiji, a gorgeous archipelago nation in the South Pacific.
This country is the embodiment of romance. One of its most recognizable islands is the Turtle Island resort, made famous as the backdrop for “The Blue Lagoon,” the 1980 classic movie featuring Brooke Shields and Christopher Atkins as shipwrecked children on a tropical island.
Overall, the nation of more than 330 islands is a luxurious expanse of flora, fauna, surf and sand, enlivened with a mix of British, Melanesian, Polynesian and Indian cultural influences. Most days, the skies are deep blue, and when rains do hit, the showers are short and mild. Its garden-by-the-sea feel trickles over into its towns.
Adventurous couples will discover that Nadi, on the main island of Viti Levu, has plenty to keep them busy. Architecture buffs can wander the grounds of the colorful Sri Siva Subramaniya Hindu temple, while botanists should not miss the Garden of the Sleeping Giant (home of actor Raymond Burr’s world-famous orchid collection). There are also local village tours, golfing and multi-island cruises.
Bargain hunters will be drawn to the bustling bazaar environment of Nadi’s central business district, which can be as intense as open-air markets in Thailand and India. Those with more upscale tastes can head to Port Denarau. It serves the local Sheraton and Westin outposts as well as well-to-do expats occupying nearby vacation homes.
A visit to the Fijian capital of Suva on the opposite end of Viti Levu is a must. It has a full complement of vibrant colonial government buildings, museums and public gardens. It also happens to be home to the nation’s small Jewish community. In 1881, 20-year-old Australian Henry Mark was the first Jew to settle in Fiji, where he was joined later by Jews from India, the Middle East and other Asian countries. Today’s community of about 60 individuals is just as eclectic.
Still, for many honeymooners seeking an isolated, self-sustaining paradise, it all comes back to “The Blue Lagoon.” The movie was filmed on Turtle Island, known as Nanuya Levu before cable television pioneer Richard Evanson purchased it in 1972.
More than an advertisement for Fiji, the film gave Evanson unexpected inspiration to transform his once private island dream into a resort devised almost exclusively for honeymoons and destination weddings.
Arrangements can be made for Jewish weddings, thanks to Turtle Island’s planners based in Washington, not far from where Evanson grew up. The “Richard’s Retreat” area where Evanson, who is not Jewish, married his current wife, has its own built-in chuppah. Devil’s Beach and Honeymoon Beach, meanwhile, are great for an informal exchange of vows or a private picnic.
Although the island has a long tradition of Christian weddings, as well as a beautiful chapel, planners will also assist Jewish couples with special arrangements and with their gourmet meals.
While Shields and Atkins had each other and a tricked-out tree house in “The Blue Lagoon,” they have nothing on what Turtle Island guests are able to enjoy. Expansive bures — wood-and-straw huts — come with hardwood interiors and their own hot tubs, top-shelf wines and spirits, dreamy bedding and delicious coconut-infused toiletries. Each couple has a “Bure Mama” or “Papa” who tends to their needs.
Activities available include scuba diving, snorkeling, mountain biking, horseback riding, hiking, kayaking or just enjoying one’s bure with a glass of Moët and a good book when the occasional rains come.
It’s little surprise, then, that a number of notables keep coming back to Turtle Island. Visitors who have made it their home-away-from-home include movie producer Andrew Tennenbaum (“The Bourne Ultimatum,” “Water for Elephants”), Sen. John McCain (14 stays and counting), Al Gore, Eddie Van Halen, John Cleese and Ringo Starr.
From the moment his first guests arrived on Jan. 1, 1980, Evanson was determined to create an internationally acclaimed honeymoon destination that was rooted in nature and true to the Fijian way of life, and it continues to be a work in progress. Ongoing improvements include the preservation of mangroves and coconut groves, the introduction of freshwater ponds to encourage bird life and the creation of a turtle release program designed to help save endangered green and hawksbill turtles.
Fruits and vegetables from Turtle Island’s hydroponic gardens are transformed, along with fish and meats from New Zealand and Australia, into a wide assortment of globally inspired dishes under the guidance of French-Australian chef Jacques Reymond. The menu theme changes on a daily basis, with the weekly Mongolian barbecue, Indian feast, American-style barbecue with a Polynesian spin standing as culinary highlights.
Nightly convivial group dinner begins with a nondenominational “grace” said in the Fijian language, and the staff does a choral performance every Sunday — a must for fans of world music. While the church vocals are stunning, more-religious Jewish couples can inform general manager Alex Weiss about their preferences if they are uncomfortable.
A handful of couples keep to themselves, but most visitors take advantage of these dinners, sometimes forming friendships that could last a lifetime. And so, while Evanson himself will insist the Turtle Island experience is a couple’s-only affair, it is the sort of thing that ideally should be shared. Isn’t that kind of warmth a big part of what romance is all about?