How the rich holiday
For three glorious days in Fiji recently I had taste of what life is like for the privileged - or at least the more privileged than me.
It was a life of private departure lounges, private travel, private dining by private beaches next to private pools in private villas. I will publicly admit that I liked it very much.
And now I want to live like that all the time...
The experience begins with a short and extremely spectacular helicopter ride, courtesy of Island Hoppers, from Nadi Airport to Vomo Island.
Swooping down over the lush ferns, fragrant frangipanis, hibiscus, orchids and other tropical plants, is an awe-inspiring experience. Half of the 90-hectare private island is dominated by an inactive volcano, surrounded by coconut palms, white sand and the south Pacific.
As we descend, I can see a small phalanx of staff lined up near the grass helipad, all waving in greeting. I feel important, even though I know I am not (well, not especially) and that this is the sort of warm, traditional Fijian greeting new arrivals receive whatever their mode of transport and personal status. It's hard not to want to be greeted like this whenever you arrive anywhere.
All rooms on the island are villas, with a choice of beachfront, hillside or garden view: all 27 are welcoming and spacious, sleeping three adults or two adults and two kids. A complimentary daily laundry service and L'Occitane amenities add to the distinct sense of luxury and seclusion.
Somewhere on this island there is a child named Ryder. I know this because Ryder's mother uses Ryder's name, loudly and often. "Ryder, put on your hat!""Sunscreen, Ryder. Sunscreen!""Put down that coconut, Ryder!"
We are shown to our quarters, a sprawling two-bedroom villa which, in addition to a large kitchen and dining area, two ensuite bathrooms and courtyard with an outdoor shower, has its own pool.
And a beautiful view of the beautiful beach. Our friendly and discreet butler, Joe, is everywhere, from the residence to the restaurant, serving us and making sure we are comfortable and happy and without unfulfilled needs and desires (at least earthly, material ones).
He's on duty and ever-present from 7am until whenever we're done at night. I decide that he will get a big tip.
There are no other resorts or villages on the island, so we guests have exclusive use of the entire property - including the hikeable volcano - as we would on our own private island. The sense of privacy, of privilege and exclusion, of blissful isolation from the rest of the world has already seduced me.
I quickly come to realise that this is how super-celebrities like Beyonce and Jay Z and little baby Blue Ivy Carter enjoy holidays. And then I realise how wrong I am; this is how they enjoy life. It further occurs to me that one of the best parts of such a cloistered life would be not having to hear other parents telling their kids named Ryder how good they are at listening or wearing hats.
Meals are included at Vomo, and the modern, Asian-influenced cuisine is exceptional, as is the poolside setting, which at night is beautifully lit.
My wife and I chat with some charming young Italians who are on their honeymoon: Francesco, an anaesthetist; and his wife of three weeks, Marie-Angela, a very funny lawyer who derived much amusement from teasing her husband - her very new husband - about how anaesthetists aren't real doctors and why would he pursue a PhD in putting people to sleep; what more could there be to learn?
The next morning my daughter, Sylvie, and I feed fish on the beach with a few other families. I'm ashamed to admit that when we're finished I desperately want the other guests to see me entering the grounds of the nearby private residence. I want them to see me and to envy me.
And I want that because in every moment of my "normal" life back in the world I am that other person - slyly, enviously observing the wealthy and privileged, thinking to myself, "Why them? Why not me?" So now it's me, and I can reliably report that it is far better to be me living this life than the other me living the other one.
Later, I feel the urge to snorkel and join a late-morning expedition. It is the bluest blue water I have ever been in, and in the blue, blue waters of the south Pacific that's really saying something.
I do that scuba-style, backwards-off-the-boat entry for the first time in my life, feeling both keenly professional and utterly foolish. I make a pretty big splash when my back hits the sea but at least I don't come up spewing out water, crabs attached to my fingers.
Later that day, or maybe it's the next - time has a way of dissolving on a tropical island - we have a picnic on the beach. Shaded by palms and re
d jacarandas, a long table on a wooden deck is laid with fresh seafood - oysters, prawns, lobster tails, and sushi. Sitting in a sweating ice bucket nearby is a crisp New Zealand riesling and chilled Fiji water. There is also a cheese and olive toasted sandwich for Sylvie, the same as she'd ordered on our first day.
It's a nice thoughtful touch, typical of the attention to detail here at Vomo. Above us is a clear blue sky, above calm, warm turquoise water. It is as close to the perfect tropical island moment I've ever experienced.
Except for this: drinking a mojito on the deck of the Rocks Bar, on the western tip of the island, as the sun sets behind Vomo Lailai, the spectacular vertical rock outcrop a few hundred metres across the water. It's almost impossible not to feel as though you're in a movie. Or you're a movie star in your actual life.
Too soon, and in decidedly non-movie star fashion, I must decline a second cocktail in order to take Sylvie back to our villa for her dinner. On the way she asks "Why don't animals wear clothes?" and, perhaps thanks to the cocktail, I have no good answer.
The next day is our last and after breakfast it's time to leave. As we wait for the helicopter to land and levitate us back into our normal lives, a few staff members sing a farewell song.
In between verses, I slip Joe an envelope containing his tip. I have no idea what he makes, but it's less than me for a lot more work. Still, he works on a tropical island and I sit at a desk in an open-plan office, remembering how sweet - and private - life can be.
The writer and his family were guests of Vomo Island Resort.
FIVE MORE LUXURIOUS THINGS TO DO IN FIJI
SPA TREATMENT At the Fiji Resort in Denarau, a range of relaxing, rejuvenating massages begin at NZ$118 for one hour.
A SUNSET CRUISE Most resorts offer cruises; wherever you are views will be reliably spectacular. Malolo offers a sunset cruise around the Mamanucas for AU$33 each.
SCENIC FLIGHT Fly over clear blue water, beautiful reefs, sweeping mountain ranges and stunning islands. From AU$160 each with Island Hoppers.
DAY TRIP TO CASTAWAY Enjoy gorgeous white sand beaches, great restaurants with great views, gorgeous tropical vegetation and more. AU$138 adult, AU$102 child (includes transfer from Denarau and lunch at Castaway).
DINNER ON THE BEACH At the Fiji Resort, private dining by torchlight comes with a beautiful ocean view. Set menus begin at AU$135 a person.
GETTING THERE Air New Zealand operates flights to Nadi every day from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. Island Hoppers flies helicopters from Nadi airport to Vomo. Adults $510, children two to 12 years, $305. South Sea Cruises operates a ferry from Denarau to Vomo, adults, $106 one way, children $53 one way.
STAYING THERE Villas begin at AU$1160 a night (including meals), see vomofiji.com.
MORE INFORMATION fiji.travel.
Sydney Morning Herald