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Updated: 10th February 2024
He was staring at me sternly. I couldn’t tell if he was confused, angry, or curious. But I did know it was stern. At a loss, I simply stared back. Frozen. Maybe if I did a quick prayer, these unrealistically silky, paper-white sands might just swallow me whole.
What do trespassing laws look like on a speck of land in the Pacific Ocean? I ponder, pushing downwards, subconsciously signalling the beach to swallow me whole.
He was still gazing sternly. But now, while walking towards me. I quickly quit the staring contest, averting my eyes to the absolutely-not-swaying palms and bath-like waters lapping the coral reefs. Nothing.
My fellow island invaders were nowhere to be seen.
“Are you lost?” he asks, extending his hand for a firm handshake. I was staring again, this time even more awkwardly than before. How do you answer a question like that when you’ve arrived at – what you’re quickly realising might well be – a private island? Oh yeah mate, sorry, I just took a wrong turn at that turtle back there, my bad.
The irony wasn’t lost on me that it was another firm handshake and a cheeky grin that had got me into this situation. A situation very much of my own making.
You see, a few hours earlier, my friends and I had paddled through the gentle ripples around Nadi’s expensive resorts towards our two new friends: a pair of local fishermen with broad grins and a penchant, it appeared, for helping out cost-cutting backpackers. We settled onto the canary yellow slats on their boat, the engine rumbling, and soon snaked away from the manicured palm trees of the luxury resorts.
Where were we going? No idea. I’d heard fisherman one – the younger chap, with a wicked grin and bucket hat – mention Qalito Island yesterday, and a quick Google had shown me a proper atoll utopia.
But the where wasn’t important – we were off to some incredible island I was sure. And I hadn’t spent a fortune. Happy days.
Our fishermen’s rendezvous had been planned out the night before. Under a crimson sky and a dreamy sunset – you know, the kind that tropical islands seem to have a monopoly on – we’d covertly met on the shoreline. Our secret mission had been fueled by the reception desk of my hotel on Denarau Island, a man-made, on-the-beaten-path luxury resort, where upon asking the friendly concierge about day and boat trips, I’d soon realised that my understanding of the exchange rate wasn’t the problem – my bank balance was.
Later, over a cracking meal of freshly grilled fish that the beaming Fijian waitress had upsold me – her laughter was so contagious I’d have likely said yes to a tin of tuna – I hatched a plan to find whoever had caught my lunch and ask if we could join them the next day. So there we were, under that sunset, agreeing on a price, a time and which palm tree to meet by. Our island hopping-come-fishing-support trip was set.
Fast forward to now, and our first port of call was starting to look like it might be our last. Apparently, the where was important.
Just as I was ready to say a sheepish yes, he adds with a firm, “I’ll be right back,” gesturing me towards a bar stool. His tone is very much sit-down and don’t move, rather than here, have a pina colada.
Mr Suit turns and bounds across the beach like the sands were a tropical trampoline. An incoming craft – obviously, much more luxurious than our commandeered vessel – was fast approaching. It looked awfully similar to the day trip tour I’d glossed over in the brochure the day before.
Scanning the waters for signs of my getaway fishing boat, I think I see our fishermen friends in the far distance, rods cast, hunting their haul. Where my actual friends were, I have no idea. Perhaps they were being held prisoner in an overwater bungalow.
As a singular guitar starts to serenade the new arrivals and meke dancers bounce onto the trampoline beach, I start to think how perfect this setting is. What an incredible private island resort getaway. Oops. (I would later learn that Qalito Island is also known as Castaway Island – and yes, it’s as luxurious, secluded and, perhaps most importantly, as private as it sounds).
I squint my eyes shut, letting the almost missable breeze and musical notes wash over me. In another world – where my wallet wasn’t as thin as these grains of sand – it could be me arriving on that boat. Me stepping out to a heartwarming Bula. Me enjoying a welcome cocktail on the veranda of the restaurant, which spills down to the ocean’s million cerulean shades.
Opening my eyes, I glance up and see a framed paddle above the bar. I think the small plaque says something about Tom Hanks. It starts to dawn on me where I could be.
As Mr Suit bounds back, I realise I need to get myself out of here with a little white lie.
“I’m a travel writer here to visit the resort,” I blurt, surprising even myself. I glance down at my bright blue palm tree-covered swim shorts as he scans my left hand, clutching a snorkel and towel. Just for a beat, I think he is going to arrest me there and then.
Somehow, Mr Suit seems to fight back the urge to ask all the sensible questions. But how did you get here? Why do you have fins rather than a pen? Or even, why are you lying to me?
Instead, he gives a genuine grin and a firm nod. “Well, I better give you the grand tour then.”
And that’s how I accidentally ended up on a one-man media visit to Castaway Island Resort, one of the most luxurious islands I’ve ever seen. (Subsequently, and not so accidentally, I did end up publishing an article about it in a popular Australian travel magazine – so I guess it’s not really a lie when you follow through.)
We flitted between manicured flower beds, dazzling private villas, sunset-facing cabanas and swimming pools soundtracked by trickling water features. Then we turned to the restaurants, the bars, the spa and the giant bures by the beach where I could happily spend the rest of my days.
I gawped, I gasped, and I ogled. And by the time I found my two friends – or rather ‘colleagues’ – I think Mr Suit had accepted I’d likely never seen a private island resort before, let alone was I going to write about one. (I’d have loved to see his face when he got the email about the magazine; disbelief, I’m sure).
Back at our pre-arranged meeting point – hidden from the resort’s reception and, as instructed, “wade in a bit away from the shore” – our fishermen friends haul us back aboard, and we sit giggling amongst tubs of freshly caught fish.
“That island,” says fisherman two, pointing to a tiny speck in the distance, “that’s the one where they filmed the Cast Away film.”
Perhaps it would have made far more sense for our fishermen friends to take us to that uninhabited, resort-free isle officially known as Modrik on our Fiji day trip. But how could I be mad?
As far as failed (and accidental, I must stress again) trespassing attempts go, I assume this one was about as gorgeous and welcoming as they get.