- - Friday, December 12, 2014

One man’s purgatory can be another man’s paradise. At least this is what you might find on the island used as the island of survival in the 2000 Robert Zemeckis-directed hit film “Castaway,” starring Tom Hanks. You will find that island, deep in the Mamanuca archipelago in the outer reaches of the Fiji Islands. But to call it anything other than paradise would be stretch. Rather, champagne will pour, a picnic will commence and warm clear waters will beckon with every reason to jump in.

Fiji is a splattering of some 332 volcanic islands arcing away from New Zealand into the Pacific toward Tuvalu and Tonga. More than 110 of these islands are uninhabited and Monuriki – now casually called Castaway — the mini landmass of movie fame, is one of them.

While there is not much to do on this remote movie set, it is easy to imagine Mr. Hanks managing his internal ghosts while fighting for survival amid the sand, grasses and rocks. A few drifts lead up to some craggy lookouts but there is mostly beach here, and, no doubt, a Wilson volleyball, bloody handprint and all, to kick around. And, oh yes, a compelling “Help Me” message in large rock print is semi-permanently fixed in the sand.

Getting to this Castaway outcropping, however, is all the fun of it. The journey starts in Nadi, the country’s corner of commerce and location of its international airport. There, South Sea Cruises catamaran ferries depart from Denarau port three times a day and take just shy of two hours to reach the Outrigger Castaway Island Resort for $68 one-way. The pleasant journey is smooth even for vertigo sufferers and stops at around a dozen islands for easy hop-on-hop off day trips. But Outrigger’s Castaway Island may be the place to stay and play if you really want to have all of what Fiji can offer.

From the resort island it’s a 20-minute speed boat ride to the Castaway island of film repute and the crew dispatched from the Outrigger resort do this trip right, with champagne, snacks or picnic fare, the requisite Wilson ball and the proper snorkel equipment for making it a perfect day. What they don’t tell you is following these faultless moments, they will take you on a swift cruise over to the Namotu Wall, possibly one of the best spots in the world for snorkeling.

Perched on the edge of a 3,000-foot plunge, the fish life is incomparable for snorkelers and divers and visibility often runs beyond 150 feet with reef sharks, turtles, eels, barracuda and all manner of parrotfish in abundance.

The five-hour sojourn from the Outrigger resort usually costs around $250 per person but includes just about every reason one comes all this way.

Back at the resort, guests find even more reasons to celebrate their vacation destination decisions. Outrigger Castaway Island Resort is its own island and own reward. The island’s 147 acres seem to be quite ample for the 66 freestanding thatched bures dotting the beach.

Each luxury hut has its own porch, a day-bed area separated from the king bed by a bamboo wall, a spacious bathroom with private commode, two sinks and a tile shower room big enough for two. The air-conditioning and high ceiling fans come in handy for use at night. No televisions here — just the sights and sounds of the waves and stars that burst from a sky vacant of light pollution. Each bure has a front area hammock and access to plastic lounge chairs on the beach. The sand is white and soft here (many beaches in Fiji are covered in rocks) and the ocean is calm enough for swimming in high tide. Guests can unplug completely or give into the plentiful and speedy Wi-Fi available in the public areas.

Kids get all the attention they want at the Castaway Kids Club, from doting Fijian moms and dads who are practiced in the art of play. Parents can use that time to take a guided excursion (there is a handy wall menu of activities and prices conveniently near the reception desk), or get their workout in by taking the 3.5-mile (round-trip) hike up the island’s mini mountain peak above the resort to two amazing lookout spots. Also, a small spa and two pools on the island invite more relaxation. Active guests can check out the tennis courts.

While the resort loves honeymooners and even offers weddings on a scenic point jutting into the ocean, families have a firm fitting on the island and make up 65 percent of Castaway’s guest profile.

Rates per night start at $575 for two, inclusive of snorkeling equipment throughout the stay, use of non-motorized water sports equipment (catamarans, kayaks, windsurfers, glass bottom boat, stand up paddleboards and spy boards), and use of tennis court with racquets and balls. For daily meal plans, add $54 per adult per day ($26 per child) or chose from a variety of meal/accommodations packages.

A five-night package for two runs around $3,000 for five nights, and includes all meals, whether from buffets or Sundowner Bar (dinner at swank 1808 is extra), arrival cocktails, use of snorkel equipment and other non-motorized accoutrement, and poolside cocktail party.

Contact: Castawayfiji.com

Lark Gould covers travel from Los Angeles and blogs on Larkslist.com and  Travel-Intel.com.

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