Turtle Island, Fiji: Why this tropical island paradise is one of the world's most recognised

Turtle Island has been the location for several movies and television series, including the 1980 film Blue Lagoon and ...

Turtle Island has been the location for several movies and television series, including the 1980 film Blue Lagoon and three seasons of Survivor.

When the setting is the star of the movie, that's a locale worth visiting. Turtle Island, a private luxury resort island in Fiji's Yasawa chain of islands, is just such a place.

It is the location for one of the most recognised tropical island films, Blue Lagoon, released in 1980 and starring Brooke Shields, Christopher Atkins and the late great Leo McKern, and an imagined nirvana for the stressed and overwhelmed taken with the notion of a Robinson Crusoe life, away from care and woe.

Columbia Pictures looked at more than 1000 sites before choosing the pristine beauty of Turtle Island as the archetypical tropical island paradise. The movie drew the world's attention to Turtle Island, one of Fiji's first luxury resorts, whose opening was hastened by the filming.

Christopher Atkins and Brooke Shields in the Blue Lagoon.
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Christopher Atkins and Brooke Shields in the Blue Lagoon.

The island's owner, Richard Evanson snr, bought the 202-hectare island in 1972 and still lives there with his son, Richard Evanson jnr, who has taken over the reins. The film still screens with popcorn on Sunday nights at the resort.

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Evanson snr used the income from the movie to improve Turtle, later saying he should have asked for 1 per cent as Blue Lagoon was the ninth biggest box-office hit in 1980, grossing almost US$59 million in the United States and Canada.

Captivating scenes on Turtle Island.
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Captivating scenes on Turtle Island.

This is despite the fact that the film was a critical "dog of the year", Brooke Shields won worst actress in the first Golden Raspberry Awards, and the audience was conned – body doubles were used for her nude shots (understandable, mind you, as she was only 14 and closely supervised by her mother).

After the film's release, stars flocked there to experience the real-life nirvana.

The resort has 14 waterfront bures, 14 private beaches rotated between guest couples (some of which – Devil's, Shell, Paddy's and Honeymoon – featured in the movie) and private dine-out options from lagoon pontoons to cliff-point extravaganzas.

Blue Lagoon's blond star, Christopher Atkins, was reduced to tears when a recent visit to Honeymoon Beach on Turtle ...

Blue Lagoon's blond star, Christopher Atkins, was reduced to tears when a recent visit to Honeymoon Beach on Turtle Island stirred memories.

Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, and Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey honeymooned there, as did The Bachelorette's Trista and Ryan Sutter. John Travolta celebrated his 50th birthday there, with Oprah Winfrey a guest.

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John Cleese hoarded crab legs on his lap at communal dinners, resisting calls to goosestep around the table – he wanted peace. Eddie Van Halen enjoyed the family atmosphere, as did Pierce Brosnan, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, while Richard Starkey was recognised as Ringo Starr only on his departure when he gave an impromptu dock concert on the lali drums.

The Oprah Winfrey Show has featured Turtle Island as one of the world's outstanding honeymoon destinations, and in 2003 the island was named NBC's most romantic couples destination, pipping Fregate Island in the Seychelles, Lake Louise Resort in Banff, Canada, and a Mediterranean Silver Seas cruise.

Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, and Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey honeymooned there

Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, and Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey honeymooned there

From the sporting world, former Wallabies rugby captain George Gregan was married on Shell Beach, AFL star Nathan Buckley and his wife Tania honeymooned there, and former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh holidayed there with his family. Rupert Murdoch has also sought South Seas bliss on Turtle Island.

Guests at the resort can read more island anecdotes in the book Turtle Tales: An Exotic Island Paradise: – Richard Evanson's Fijian Dream Fulfilled by a return guest, Amelia Robson. The book is in every bure.

And they keep coming back; Blue Lagoon's blond star, Christopher Atkins, was reduced to tears when a recent visit to Honeymoon Beach on Turtle Island stirred memories.

The film was based on the 1908 romance novel by Irish writer Henry De Vere Stacpoole and it aroused such interest in tropical utopias that several Blue Lagoon movies eventuated.

There was a silent film in 1923, a remake in 1949, starring Jean Simmons, the 1980 effort and a 1983 Indonesian film, Pengantin Pantai Biru, banned as pornographic in East Kalimantan.  A 1991 remake, Return to the Blue Lagoon, holds a rare 0 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus that "despite its lush tropical scenery and attractive leads, Return to the Blue Lagoon is as ridiculous as its predecessor, and lacks the prurience and unintentional laughs that might make it a guilty pleasure".

Finally, Blue Lagoon: The Awakening – a contemporary remake of Blue Lagoon – was made for television in 2012.

Only the 1949 and 1980 films were actually filmed on Turtle Island, whose beauty is enhanced by its still-pristine qualities. The waters surrounding Fiji's reefs, described by French undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau as "the clearest in the world", still don't disappoint.

Turtle Island's unspoiled beauty meant it was also chosen as the location for a 2011 Sports Illustrated photo shoot.

More recently, Fiji's most popular group of islands has played its part in the Survivor television series, with season 34, Survivor: Game Changers - Mamanuca,  filmed there, the third Survivor  season filmed in Fiji. Seasons 35 and 36 are also being filmed in Fiji. Season 35 is now in production. Look out for Turtle Island.

According to Turtle Airways seaplane pilot Mintesh Prasad, who flew the winning contestants from a Survivor challenge, he had to hang out of the window to breathe as they reeked so pungently.

The Survivor series first arrived in Fiji in 2007 for the 14th season of the show. It was filmed at Vunivutu in Vanua Levu, Fiji's second largest island. It returned to Fiji in 2016 for its 33rd season but Survivor: Millennials vs Gen X had to be evacuated temporarily due to Cyclone Zena.

It isn't only stars, however, who are drawn to the idea of a tropical island paradise. The Turtle Island "family", as they call themselves, wants everyone to feel at home, as the island operates on a highly inclusive basis.

In fact, it soon becomes clear to visitors that Turtle Island is not a place that promotes seclusion, unless you absolutely insist. Guests are encouraged to join in, become part of the family, get to know staff and other guests, to take part in kava ceremonies, communal meals and understand the island's workings.

Despite the island's star quality, guests, whoever they are, receive the same enthusiastic, warm-hearted treatment.

 OTHER MOVIES SET IN FIJI 
 CAST AWAY 

This 2000 epic survival drama was filmed on Monuriki, one of the Mamanuca Islands off Viti Levu, Fiji's largest island. Monuriki became a tourist attraction after the film's release. Tom Hanks, who played the marooned Chuck Noland, was nominated for a Best Actor Oscar. His companion, Wilson the volleyball, won Best Inanimate Object at the Critics' Choice awards and Hanks and movie love interest Helen Hunt won Best Kiss at the 2001 MTV movie awards.

HIS MAJESTY O'KEEFE

​​A 1954 adventure film starring Burt Lancaster and filmed in Suva and Pacific Harbour, just outside Suva, this is the story of a shipwrecked sailor who ripped off native Fijians in the 1870s by trading worthless stone disks for copra and coconut oil.

SAVAGE ISLANDS

A 1983 swashbuckling pirate adventure film starring Tommy Lee Jones and filmed in Pacific Harbour.

 SWISS FAMILY ROBINSON

This was remade in 1995-1996 as a TV series with scenes shot on Nanuya  Lai Lai or Little Turtle Island, across from Turtle Island.

CONTACT

A 1997 film starring Jodi Foster had its tropical beach "heaven" scene shot in the Yasawa Islands, Fiji.

 ANACONDAS: THE HUNT FOR THE BLOOD ORCHID

This scary 2004 adventure horror movie was filmed in Pacific Harbour and starred Johnny Messner.

TRIP NOTES
MORE 

fiji.travel/ 

FLY

Multiple airlines including Qantas/Fiji Airways, Jetstar and Virgin fly from Sydney,

Melbourne and Brisbane to Nadi, and Turtle Airways connects you to the island.

STAY

Turtle Island costs from US$2499 a night, per couple, all-inclusive. See turtlefiji.com/

Alison Stewart was a guest of Turtle Island

Traveller.com.au

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