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  • Writer's pictureKaren Bartlett

Bula Bula!

A Fijian Fantasy on Turtle Island

A joyful Bula welcome to Turtle Island


The End…

The sweet, hymn-like Fijian farewell song Isa Lei drifts across Blue Lagoon as our seaplane glides away from Turtle Island, scattering hundreds of blue and yellow tropical fish. The honeymooners departing with me are blinking back tears. Behind us on the dock, our two beloved Bure Mamas call out one last “Bula Bula.” Their extended arms seem to say, “Don’t leave; not yet.”

“Now toss your garlands into the water,” instructs the pilot. I don’t want to toss out this fragrant hibiscus lei laced with fresh basil that my Bure Mama had bestowed with a kiss on the cheek barely minutes ago. But by tradition, if it returns to the island, so will I.

As my lei floats shoreward, the late afternoon sun casts a golden glow on the few thatched roofs still visible through the treetops. It’s just as well that I can’t see my own beachfront bure (bungalow). At this very moment, some other Bure Mama is undoubtedly setting out tiny turtle-shaped soaps beside a fresh bottle of Pure Fiji lotion, filling my cookie jar with homemade tavola nut cookies, and spelling out Bula Bula in palmetto fronds on my four-poster bed. It’s just not right.

But I’m ahead of myself. First, you must know that Bula is the happiest word in the Fijian language. It means, roughly, “hello-welcome-what-a-fabulous-day-I-wish-you-good-health-and-a-joyful-life.”

The Beginning…

My seaplane is descending toward a lush green fantasy island, fringed with windswept coconut palms, floating in a shallow, coral-rich aquamarine sea. Below, Melanesian islanders wait on the beach to serenade me. When we swoosh to a soft landing in the ankle-deep water of Blue Lagoon, two Fijian warriors in grass skirts with red hibiscus blossoms tucked behind their ears make a seat of crossed hands and carry my royal self to shore. A coconut-infused beverage magically appears in my hand and a smiling island woman drapes a delicate seashell garland around my neck.

“Bula Bula, Karen. I’m Wainise, your Bure Mama. I’ll be taking care of you.”

If ever I needed an example of understatement, this was it.

My bure is pure Hollywood: hand-hewn mahogany furniture by native Fijians… bed draped in white netting… indoor hot tub…gauzy curtains billowing softly at jalousie windows. Besides excellent wines, a lavishly stocked fridge, and cookies just minutes out of the oven, there’s a Bose Bluetooth portable speaker for my fave music, snorkel gear, reef shoes, and other essentials for a fantasy island week. Should I desire breakfast in bed, afternoon tea, an audience with the island medicine man, or a four-hand lomi lomi massage (a fervent yes to all, thank you!), my Bure Mama/personal fairy godmother/concierge will make it happen. The giant Turtle Board at the dock tells me whether tonight’s candlelight dinner will be served on the mountaintop, in a sheltered cove, or on a floating dock. At dusk, serenaders stroll the beach singing traditional Fijian songs and hymns, signaling the approach of the dinner hour. In essence, I’m relieved of any obligation to think.

When Wilson is standing sentry it means, "Privacy, please."


Brooke Shields and Tom Hanks

In 1978, Columbia Pictures discovered a barren, goat-inhabited Fijian island and made the owner an intriguing proposal. All it took was a teenage ingenue named Brooke Shields, a blonde, curly-haired hottie named Christopher Atkins, and a script titled Blue Lagoon—and the island’s destiny was changed forever. Soon after the movie was released, the luscious Turtle Island Fiji Resort made its own debut. Hollywood returned twenty years later with Tom Hanks to film the survival blockbuster, Cast Away. This is why each bure comes with a soccer ball-shaped white coconut named Wilson. Guests desiring privacy simply place Wilson on his stand to block the path.

The legendary Devil's Rock, and Paddy's Island from the movie Blue Lagoon are in the distance.


Feasts, Spear Dances, and Spirits

Nightly meals and traditional ceremonies bring guests together. Lovo is a Fijian barbecue featuring palusami, a feast of fish, meats, yam, taro, and island produce, drenched in coconut milk, wrapped in taro leaves, and smoke-steamed in a stone pit. At meke, warriors in body paint and cornhusk adornments perform ancestral spear dances. And of course, there’s singing, storytelling, and that peace-inducing, narcotic mud concoction at the kava ceremony.

Among the island’s twelve beaches, remote Devil’s Beach has my name on it (literally) for a private lobster picnic. Some say its imposing black cliff is a diving board for evil spirits. Nearby, half buried in dense undergrowth lies the Stone God, a prop created for the Blue Lagoon scenes involving human sacrifices. Great. After Mama sets out my lunch and strings up my hammock with cushy pillows, she discreetly vanishes. The silence is complete except for the raucous scream of a gull — or something else? — atop Devil’s Rock. I decide to stick to the sparkling sand and turquoise water, skull-white driftwood, and cowrie shells, leaving the Stone God for another day. Or never.

2023 rates :: $2,400 - $3,500 /night or $39,500/night for the whole island.


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