Turtle Tales
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by Sally Hammond

The small six-seater seaplane noisily circles the coral-edged sands, spiraling down to those predictably peacock coloured waters. Yet even as we splash down, perfect South Seas harmonies are audible. As the plane's door opens there they are: a dozen staff, bright leis in their arms, wading out to us, their smiles as wide and white and sparkling as the beach.

Welcome to Turtle Island!

As we are helped into calf-deep water, warm as a baby's bath, one dark Fijian hand drapes me in flowers, another passes a tall glass of punch, garnished just as much as I am it seems, and we wade ashore. Sipping it, we are gently propelled along the beach, sandals in hand, to our bure overlooking those same waters.

Take note. You can jettison that footgear right now, as you'll scarcely need it again for the next however-many days you are booked in for. Ditto your keys. Ditto your purse or wallet and credit cards.

For this is serious laid-back luxury land. You won't need to move a muscle to plan anything – except maybe where you would like to have your next meal. But more of that later. For now, just relax on the wide white bed flanked by massive poles, or curl up outside on the daybed on the verandah overlooking the water. Or in the hammock at the water's edge. If you're reclusive, all your meals can be brought to you right here, or set up on the sand in front of your bure, a few tottering steps away. If you've snared a bure with a jacuzzi, that can wait. For now just soak up the atmosphere of this magic place.

It would be a shame though to neglect the rest of this tiny island. Your hibiscus-screened bure is simply an island on an island. There's room for just fourteen couples on this glistening gem, and it's no coincidence that there are fourteen secluded beaches, any of which can be booked for the day – picnic provided, double hammock on site. Their names include Honeymoon Beach, so where else did we choose to spend our wedding anniversary?

We returned later in the day to find that big white bed in our cool bure, decorated with red hibiscus spelling out our names and wishing us well. The poles were wrapped in woven matting and hung with more hibiscus. Feeling thoroughly spoiled, we chose to dine that evening at the end of the jetty, alone in the silky darkness, the lights of our fellow diners dimly discernible on the beach, their laughter pinpricks of sound across the water.

It seems your whim is Turtle Island's chance to perform. Would you fancy biscuits to go with your afternoon coffee? Or fresh lemonade delivered to your bure daily? It happens. Accompanied by a broad Fijian smile. Dinner on the mountaintop? On the pontoon? In the special honeymoon cottage? The sensuous lapping of the waves is perfect background music for, well, anything you like.

Romance is the theme of this place. Almost all the guests are couples, some marry right on the island, and many others are celebrating love's milestones: honeymoons and anniversaries. Yet there is a serious side to the place too.

Each year, the island is closed for a month so local people from neighbouring islands can come for medical attention. Doctors and dentists fill the bures and a clinic is set up in the main hall. The same neighbours come across to Turtle every Sunday to sing hymns and sell shell ornaments too, and guests on Turtle Island can visit their tiny islands across the water for church services if they wish.

Many have wondered why this stunning island has such an unromantic name. It's shape is only vaguely turtle-ish, so most believe it has to be that the waters are home to large and (now) endangered turtles. Sadly the world trade in turtleshell has hardly diminished and every day the small enclosure at the end of the jetty is a temporary home to one or two sea turtles bought, they say from local fishing people who aim to sell them at local markets.

True or not, these lumbering brown creatures cause a lot of interest amongst the guests and each evening during the communal dinner on the beach, an auction is held. Hundreds of dollars are bid and the new owners have a responsibility the next day.

Armed with paint and brush, they write their own message on the turtle's shiny shell. 'Love from Peter and Maree, Go Free!', 'Honeymoon 1999, Geoff and Sherree' – that sort of thing. Then, supporting the huge creature carefully by its shell and flailing flippers they wade out to release it where the water becomes deep enough. Freedom! The turtle's lumbering land speed is gone as it streaks off into the ocean, back amongst the hordes of brilliantly striped and spotted reef fish.

We spent a week on Turtle Island. Well, six nights, actually.

It was not enough, of course. But a dose of relaxation and romance certainly goes a long way to recharging those emotional batteries. Of course we felt we had to buy the cassette of Fijian songs that the girl left playing for us each day after she had finished cleaning our bure.

 Now when I listen to it, I feel the cool floorboards under my bare feet again, and smell coconut oil. And sometimes, too, I swear I can hear the splash of waves on a deserted beach.

FACTFILE

WHERE IS IT? Turtle Island is situated north-west of Viti Levu, in the Yasawa Group of islands.

HOW DO I GET THERE? Air Pacific to Nadi, Fiji, then Turtle Air seaplane to the island. Many other airlines also fly to Nadi (pronounced Nandy).

WHAT IS THERE TO DO? Apart from simply relaxing, there is swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, sea kayaking and water sports, walking across the island or along the kilometres of white beaches. Catch a fish or catch up on your sleep.

FOR INFORMATION ON PACKAGES AND BOOKINGS: Daily rates are all inclusive of meals, accommodation, drinks and laundry. The Turtle Island Website: www.turtlefiji.com has full details including toll-free numbers to contact throughout the world.

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