Turtle Island, Fiji

In an article on GoNOMAD.com called Saving Grace:Turtle Island, Fiji, Norman Douglas writes, “Things have changed dramatically in tourist circles. There are now growing numbers of people who view with indifference, if not distaste, the tourism trends of the past few decades — high-rise resorts and sprawling complexes — and are willing to go just that little bit further, and perhaps spend that little bit more, if it means coming one step closer to an apparently uncorrupted “paradise.”

In Fiji, a small but significant number of resorts are catering to this wish. Importantly, they all display a concern for the natural environment.

The first, and the apparent inspiration for all the others, is Turtle Island Resort in the Yasawa group, on an island that in traditional times was called Nanuyalevu. It is one of only a few privately owned-islands in Fiji, in this case by Richard Evanson, an American, who about 20 years ago, began to set a standard for exclusive tourism that has obviously been the envy of a number of later comers.

It is part of Evanson’s publicized legend that he is a romantic, a reformed alcoholic, a visionary, and a millionaire, with just a touch of appropriate eccentricity and a fondness for kava, the mildly narcotic Fijian beverage.

He is also, as the human and spatial arrangement of Turtle Island displays, a brilliant businessman with a well-nourished talent for organization. As well he might be, with one degree in engineering and another in business. Evanson came to Fiji in the early 1970s after Tahiti failed to live up to its paradisical reputation for him.

A rare opportunity to buy a piece of his new found Eden presented itself. Fiji has a very limited amount of freehold land. Evanson owns 500 acres of it, having bought the unpopulated island outright in 1972 for US$300,000. If the price seems extraordinarily reasonable, the timing was unbelievably bad. Hurricane Bebe hit the Yasawas with exceptional fury only a few days after Evanson and his Fijian assistant had taken up residence.

Winds gusting up to 180mph swept away their tent and obliged them to seek temporary refuge among the roots of a large banyan tree. Other hurricanes since have caused considerable damage to the resort’s infrastructure, but Turtle Island invariably bounces back better than ever.

At first, Evanson intended Turtle Island for himself, a wholly private retreat from the rest of the world. “I bought it for excitement,” he says. For the first 3 years he lived “as a hermit,” entertaining a few friends occasionally. The idea of having guests on a paying basis grew from that. By January 1980, four Fijian-style bures (cottages) had been built. There are now 14, a comfortable distance apart from each other, and Evanson says there will be no more…”