By Richard Varr
Our charter boat rocks on steep Pacific Ocean swells as we approach Monuriki Island – rounded and rugged, covered with trees and with steep rocky ledges.
We approach the shoreline where I see a small palm tree-shaded beach and the nearby cave from one of the unforgettable scenes of the movie Cast Away, the waterside cave where actor Tom Hanks’ character would take shelter while stranded on the fictional uncharted island in the South Pacific.
“It was like Hollywood shifted to the island,” says Kini Saukuru, my tour guide on this adventure, recalling the film’s production in 2000. “Monuriki Island is pristine and isolated, untouched in a gorgeous setting. As we approach, you can see it’s lush and rich with vegetation.”
Seeing Monuriki Island was just one part of my half-day sightseeing excursion along Fiji’s Mamanuca Island group, off the western shores of Fiji’s main island of Viti Levu. We left just an hour or so earlier from Malolo Lailai Island’s Musket Cove Resort, where I am staying on this visit, then passing the adjacent and mountainous Malolo Island, smaller Qalito Island, and backpackers’ Mana Island on the way to Monuriki. Most of these islands have resorts with beachfront lodging.
Back on Malolo Lailai, I visit the actual raft used in Cast Away, the prop on which Hanks’ bearded and emaciated character escaped the island. Made to look like wood, parts are also made of steel and plastic-like tubing, all bolted together. Attached is “Wilson,” the volleyball that Hanks’ character made into a companion to ease his loneliness. It was on the raft where currents washed Wilson to sea – one of the movie’s most dramatic scenes.
The raft sits on Malolo Lailai’s Plantation Island Resort, where staff members will tell you it’s the original Wilson ball used in the movie. “We love this raft and we’re very proud to have it,” says resort staffer Miri Soqosoqo.
Once known as the notorious “Cannibal Isles,” Fiji is now a tropical paradise of 333 islands, with only 100 or so inhabited. Home to the foot-scorching fire walk traditions, the country’s population stands at about 900,000, with most residents living on Viti Levu.
There’s another way to island hop between Malolo Lailai and Malolo islands – you can almost walk on the water. During low tide, I see people wading knee deep as they walk the few hundred or so meters between the islands.
“It takes me 30 minutes to walk from Yaro,” one woman tells me, referring to a village on the northern end of Malolo, “and 15 minutes to cross the water.” Another woman I meet says she’s waiting for the tide to pull out altogether, so the path is just wet sand and puddles.
Although my island hopping adventure is one way of exploring Fiji, speeding between islands by boat over aquamarine seas is a way of life. “It’s a totally different feeling – the weight of the world just slips off your shoulders,” says Kini, who’s on staff with Musket Cove Resort. “It’s just you and the ocean – uninterrupted and peaceful.”
Musket Cove Resort
I awaken to the soothing sounds of rustling palm leaves as breezy South Pacific winds blow along the beachfront. The 55 rooms that make up this resort are actually a mixture of beachfront, garden and canal-front bungalows along a tranquil cove on the northeastern edge of Malolo Lailai Island.
The resort has a fine dining restaurant, lounge and bar, and offers a wide range of water activities including windsurfing, kayaking and snorkeling, to name a few. Day excursions, including scuba diving and fishing trips, leave from the Musket Cove Marina. It’s also a popular stopover for yachts and other vessels as the resort has a well-stocked grocery store, fuel pumps and laundry facilities.
For more information: www.musketcovefiji.com
Charter boat company: