Turtle Island

The high life just gets better and better

Mar 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

   Photo: Illustration by Jorge Colombo

IN 1972, WHEN AMERICAN cable-TV mogul Richard Evanson bought Turtle Island, a 500-acre knob in the South Pacific's Yasawa Archipelago, it was a barren wasteland that had been overgrazed by wild goats. Using gear he'd brought in by boat and helicopter, the new owner survived on the beach alone for three years while working on the lodge, with help only from Joe Naisali, a Fijian from a nearby island who checked in from time to time on the modern-day Crusoe.
Since then, Evanson, now 68, has restored the island's ecosystem by overseeing the replanting of 300,000 trees, protecting the mangroves and coral reefs, and constructing new wetlands. The island's natural springs provide water; a four-acre organic garden keeps the kitchen stocked; and no more than seven couples are allowed to stay in the resort's bures (traditional thatch-roofed bungalows) at any given time. Which means a well-heeled few can have the saltwater fly-fishing, black volcanic cliff trails, and coral reefs of the Blue Lagoon (yes, the very same one where a teenage Brooke Shields frolicked in the buff) all to themselves.

But it's not all about eco-hedonism. Turtle Island, with an initial contribution from Evanson of $50,000, also established the Yasawa Community Foundation, which uses donations to support employment, education, and health care on neighboring islands. Every year, the resort shuts its doors for more than a week and invites doctors who conduct free medical clinics.
True to its name, the resort also protects endangered green and hawksbill turtles by "auctioning off" those caught by local fishermen, painting the names of the winning bidders on the turtles' backs, and releasing the reptiles back into the ocean. The indelible paint doesn't harm the turtles, but it does make their shells worthless to would-be poachers and evokes puzzled looks from snorkelers wondering just who the hell George is. Contact: Turtle Island, 877-288-7853, www.turtlefiji.com. Cost: $1,124 to $1,810 per couple per day; includes unlimited food and alcohol and all equipment use (except boats for fishing excursions).