Fiji: Island paradise

By Karen Walker

Fashion designer Karen Walker and partner Mikhail Gherman go undercover in Fiji for elite travel company Mr & Mrs Smith.

Fashion designer Karen Walker enjoyed fabulous food, swims, entertainment and relaxation during her time on Dolphin Island. Photo / Supplied
Fashion designer Karen Walker enjoyed fabulous food, swims, entertainment and relaxation during her time on Dolphin Island. Photo / Supplied

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 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 - not a tatty Dan Brown novel 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 in. 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 5.3ha, 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 food.

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, proving 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 glowing orange lanterns.

Further information: See mrandmrssmith.com, or phone the Mr & Mrs Smith Travel Team on 0800 896 671.

- NZ Herald

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