Malolo Island occupies a very special place in Fijian mythology.
Tiffany Carroll finally finds the island of sunsets is more than myth.
A couple of years ago I passed Malolo Island resort on a luxury cruise of the Mamanuca islands. From a distance I was struck by the different architecture and intrigued by what appeared to be a colonial village. The boat captain told me it was one of the Mamanuca’s oldest resorts, but originally a working plantation.
“It is 100 per cent Fijian owned and they decided to keep the plantation style, what do you think?” he asked.
I wanted to know more.
History and legend
The island of Malolo is steeped in history and legend. The early settlers, after working the rich land and bountiful seas, would cast their eyes to the west each afternoon as the sun would always set behind Malolo Island. From a distance, it appeared as if the sun was resting. The Fijians believe that Malolo was an island especially created by the gods where the sun would come and rest after a day of wandering. From that time, Fijians branched out from Viseisei to occupy over half of our 300 beautiful islands in the group. But every Fijian, irrespective of what island they hail from, knows that at the end of the day, wherever you are in Fiji, the sun will always come to rest on Malolo Island.
“Today, Malolo Island Resort continues in the spirit of this wonderful legend. The sun in our logo reminds us of the island’s special significance in Fijian mythology. A place of rest. A place of peaceful seclusion. And like the sun, we hope that you also will make our island a place where you too can come and rest and bask in total peace and serenity.”
Malolo Island is, as the crow flies, or in my case the Pacific Island Air aircraft does, a short 10-minute flight from Nadi airport. We departed in a seaplane with a barefoot captain who joked he’d only just started flying the day before. Of course he hadn’t and the laid back Aussie from Perth offered a running commentary of the islands below and told us we were staying in one of the best places in Fiji.
The water landing was gentle and the waiting boats below were in a kind of unmarked car park, collecting passengers for neighbouring resorts including Malolo’s sister property Likuliku Lagoon Resort.
Stepping down in to the boat I realised why the captain was barefoot. Our luggage was handed across to the smiling Malolo staff and after a quick hello and ‘welcome home’, we were speeding across to the island.
Malolo Island resort has 46 bures, all of them colonial style with high ceilings, exposed timber beams and iron roofs. They are painted white inside and out and styled with elegant furniture. Malolo oozes elegance and colonial charm. Walking to our bure each guest we pass says hello to our guide, operations manager Zack Vonotabua.
“Great night last night Zack.”
“Just hanging in the hammock today Zack.”
“Have you seen my kids?”
I’m not sure if there is any other staff at the island as Zack seems to know every guest by name. Over the next couple of days I’d meet plenty of staff, all the same as Zack with apparent photographic memories of every guest on the island.
Our beachfont bure is simply gorgeous. The 50sqm abode has a separate lounge and bedroom, huge bathroom, oceanfront deck and our own hammock out the front. There is a welcome fruit platter and bottle of champagne and a personal note from the general manager welcoming us home.
Malolo is one of those resorts where it’s almost impossible to plan any activities because the rooms are so lovely. The bures have been styled by British expat Vanessa Wood. Influenced by a blend of ‘old school’ England and the raw and unpretentious nature of Australia, Vanessa’s interiors are timeless. She is known to thrive on challenging briefs and takes pride in honouring budgets.
However there are plenty of activities on offer, from snorkelling and paddle boarding to island hopping, village tours, cooking demonstrations, windsurfing, diving, jet skis and bush walking. With three restaurants and three guest lounges, all with daily specials, guests can choose between adults-only fine dining or casual beachfront burgers with the kids.
Two swimming pools are located at the main house – a stunning plantation home designed by Fijian architect Adrian Sofield. This building reminds me of the summer camp Baby went to in Dirty Dancing. The large balconies offer open air dining and below, the chill out zones have sun lounges and day beds perfect for poolside cocktails.
Dining at Malolo is beyond expectations. The sophisticated a la carte Treetops restaurant has a well thought out menu with Fijian inspired dishes. I had beef carpaccio followed by baked eggplant with coconut and bani lolo. It was, without question, the best traditional Fijian lolo I have ever tasted.
Other offerings include pastas and curries, NZ steak, fresh tuna and mahi mahi. The wine list has an extensive range from Australia, New Zealand, South America and France.
The next day I am whisked away on an island hopping adventure with activities guide Jesse. Jesse is a bit like Zack – every guest says hello to him and he shares a laugh with them all.
Jesse is from inland Vitu Levu and tells me he could hardly speak English when he came to work at Malolo.
“But I’m good with people and I learned fast,” he winks.
Jesse takes me past other resorts in the Mamanuca group and impresses me with his knowledge of each one. I love that he doesn’t diss the other resorts and comment about his honesty.
“Why would I? Each resort is different but we know Malolo is the best,” he says proudly.
Eventually we arrive at Monuriki island, where the movie Castaway was filmed. I’m to be taken on a quick walk around the island and see filming locations where Tom Hanks was stranded. After watching Jesse scale a coconut tree we head for a snorkel in the warm blue water before returning to the boat for breakfast.
Monuriki is a popular tourist destination but this morning we are the only ones there.
“We make you get up early to avoid all the tourists from Denarau,” he explains. All of a sudden I’m no longer begrudging my early start.
Later that day, back at Malolo I’m taken on a guided medicine walk where I learn about traditional leaf medicine. Most of the staff at Malolo are from the island and share the owner’s passion for keeping Malolo tradition and custom alive. The walk ends at the resort spa which is carved in to the jungle. The massage treatment rooms open directly on to the jungle and many of the medicinal leaves I had just learned about are used in the Pure Fiji products in the spa.
Malolo has got the mix right; I can’t say it is suited to just couples as it’s also the perfect place for families. There is a kids club, but with so many dedicated staff wandering around, I didn’t see any kids use it. Instead they were out on kayaks with the likes of Jesse and others in the activities hut.
Rates at Malolo start from $FJD750.00 per night.