Castaway Island is a family friend island paradise and part of Fiji's Mamanuca Islands. The island spans 70 hectares with lush tree lined sandy paths to walk barefoot on and all bure accommodation. The vibe is back to nature with a touch of luxury. But even those that visit may not know of Castaway Island's fascinating history.
Castaway's softly spoken General Manager Steven Andrews regales us with a tale of how this 50 year old resort came to be. In the mid 1800's Tui Lawa the paramount chief of the Mamanuca Islands used Castaway Island or Qalito Island as it was then known, as a plantation island and hunting grounds.
In July 1840 a United States expedition led by Charles Wilkes visited Malolo Island to negotiate for food. The negotiations turned ugly - chief Tui Lawa's son and sole heir was kidnapped and killed by Wilkes' men and in revenge two crew of Wilkes's crew including Wilkes' nephew were killed. In further retaliation the village of Solevu was bombed by Wilkes's men.
While the island was being rebuilt, chief Tui Lawa was forced to retreat and take refuge at Qalito or Castaway Island and it became his "saubatu", Fijian for refuge. And when approached 50 years ago his descendants agreed to lease the land for accommodation as long as the resort was used a retreat or a "sautabu" to honour its history. The current chief, a descendant of the original chief is in his mid 50's and lives in Solevu too. Now only 10% of the whole island is used for the resort. It has had several owners but in 2014 it came under the ownership of Outrigger Resorts.
To get here we take the South Sea Cruises boat transfer that takes around 2 hours stopping at various islands on the way. Guests can also arrive by helicopter, seaplane or water taxi. And what a welcome it is with almost two dozen staff and musicians singing welcome to the boat and greeting us with a "Welcome home!".
There are three types of bures the only differentiation being the location (the interiors of all bures are identical). There is a beach bure along the beachfront, an ocean view bure and an island bure which is set further back. My bure #19 is one of the island bures and the location right by the engineering/maintenance building isn't particularly aesthetically pleasing and it can be noisy as I hear hammering, the whirring of machines and clinking of cups and saucers (I would advise avoiding bures #18, 19 and 20 and 61 for this reason).
And if you're looking for a bure that is more private, #62 or #67 is perfect as they are the furthest away from others so that fewer people pass by the glass fronted bures. The beach villas although on the beach are right next to each other so there isn't as much privacy but it depends what you've arrived at Castaway for.
The self contained bures are beautiful and they're in the midst of refurbishing all of the bures after Cyclone Winston in early 2016. There are 65 bures in total all with thatched rooves and a high vaulted ceiling lined with a individually hand painted tapa cloth. There's a front room with two day beds (these also double as beds for kids) and a mini bar and a sliding door divides this front room and the bedroom.
The king size bed is very comfortable. There is plenty of closet space and comfortable robes. The bathroom sits behind the bed screen and there is a double sink and a shower on one side and a toilet on another. There isn't a bath in any of the bures, perhaps to conserve water on the island.
The amenities are lovely and basic: two bars of soap, a shampoo/conditioner two in one and body lotion. The bures don't have any television, phone or internet in any of them (there is internet in the main area around Sundowner bar but it can be spotty). Also I would have loved some water in the rooms perhaps with turndown or some fruit.
There are two pools, a shallow wading pool for kids with plenty of action. There is another more adult pool that is more for lounging - children are allowed here but they need to behave.
Lunch is at Sundowner bar just above the dive store. It's made up of salads and pizzas and there's a generous spread of food from a fantastic caprese salad with luscious mozzarella, basil and tomatoes to grilled vegetables, vinaigrette salad, olives and cheese. We also try a range range of their pizzas all bakedin the wood fired pizza oven. My favourite item is the caprese salad.
After lunch we have a cooking class with chef Markus Nufer. He is showing us how to make two things: green bamboo steamed fish and Fijian kokoda.
We start off by grating fresh coconut which requires strength and is a lot harder than it looks! Traditionally the task for more physical jobs like this falls to the men and women peel vegetables and weave baskets.
Then we squeeze the coconut milk from the coconut flesh. To aid in this Markus adds some hot water to liquify and release the fats and he mixes this with garlic, ginger, lemon zest, lemon leaf, tomato, bele or Fijian greens and lemon juice.
This is all stuffed into green bamboo and cooked over hot coals. What results is a really tasty dish that is full of flavour and I particularly like the greens and tomato.
The kokoda (pronounced koh-konda) is a Fijian version of ceviche where fish is marinated in citrus juice for a few hours or overnight. While ceviche uses lime juice, kokoda uses lemon juice.
After marinating, the fish is then mixed with coconut milk, orange, spring onion, red onion and chilli. A trick that they use is to heat a river stone in a hot oven for a couple of hours and then to mix it with the grated coconut before squeezing the milk out and this gives the kokoda a lovely smoky flavour.
Around 5:30pm we make our way back to the Sundowner bar for Sundowners. The bhuja mix is served in a mini Kumete Kava bowl.
Dinner is at 1808, an award winning al fresco restaurant that seats 50 people. The cuisine is pan Asian with a focus on local ingredients with an Asian treatment.
The restaurant is named after the year that Chinese immigrants settled in Fiji. It is the resort's fine dining restaurant and if people are offered meal deals where they prepay for food packages on the island (usually during low season) it costs no more to eat here. We start with a cup of masala chai tea, a tannic black tea rich in spices. I do prefer it a bit sweeter and milkier.
The plating here is pretty and the masala prawns smell of rich Indian spices. There are two grilled masala prawn cutlets as well as a fried prawn wonton, prawn ceviche, eggplant puree and garlic aioli. Not one bit goes back to the kitchen with some of us threatening to lick the plate.
The coconut chicken comes as three adorable little drumettes. It is a local Tailevu chicken rubbed with a fragrant mix of lemongrass tea, basil and coconut chutney with a shaved carrot, cucumber and beetroot salad and crushed peanut sauce.
This is another one of my favourite courses comprised of local pork infused for three days in a sea water and spice brine. It is served with pieces of crunchy crackling atop soft meat with a cauliflower puree, hoisin sauce, plenty of sweet, soft caramelised onions and delicious leek rings.
The Fijians call the green drinking coconut a "Bu" coconut. The limes here are enormous and juicy and they hollow them out and fill them with a mixture of coconut water and lime juice. It's quite tart but refreshing.
The beef is a Yagara beef steak fillet that has been infused with a masala chai tea. They explain that Fijian beef isn't quite as tender as overseas beef so they tenderise it even more using green paw paw and fruit acid. The beef is served well done which is not the way I usually like it although I do like the spice flavours and the glaze made with plenty of black peppercorn and raw honey. It comes with kumala (kumara or sweet potato) crisps and a green bean parcel wrapped in cucumber.
The final savoury dish is the tamarind barbecued fish that is glazed and grilled in a sweet and sour sauce with fried kumara bonda aka crumbed egg shaped dumplings, coconut Fijian green and finely diced tomato and cucumber salsa. This is perhaps everyone's favourite dish. The mulloway fillet is well cooked but it is the balance of flavours that is key here.
For dessert is a dessert sampler. There's a masala tea pop made with pistachio and cardamom, a mango cheesecake with a chocolate cake base and a roasted pineapple flower, a rich chocolate beetroot cake with a white chocolate topping as well as a chocolate shot with a coconut truffle on top.
The next morning we wake up early for breakfast before our 10:50am transfer back to the main island. There is a spread of fresh fruit, pastries and yogurt and we can help ourselves to the hot selection including a freshly made omelette with cheese, onion, bacon, mushroom and tomato.
As we brunch the sun's rays are strong and transform the greys of yesterday into bright blues and greens. It shows that after dark times, sunshine follows.
Just another day in paradise.
So tell me Dear Reader, have you ever been to Castaway Island or Fiji? What sort of bure would you choose-one close to the beach or one more secluded?
South Sea Cruises has three return connections daily to Castaway Island.