A Danish friend likes to gibe that I missed out big time on being the woman who captured the heart of Prince Frederik in that Sydney bar back in 2000.
“That could have been you!” she captions photographs of Princess Mary luxuriating in her palace. I answer back with multiple laughing-crying emojis.
Well, today, Mary has nothing on me. At Vomo island resort in Fiji, we’ve been upgraded to the royal pavilion and I suddenly understand what holidays are like for those who consider a diamond tiara to be a wardrobe staple.
I’m sitting on a day bed, between an absolute beachfront house and the ocean, watching a blacktip reef shark patrol the turquoise shallows.
Frigatebirds are wheeling high in the sky and two kingfishers are taking turns to swoop into the pool for a drink. A cumulonimbus lumbers into view and deposits a halo of rain shower in the distance. The tableau of sea, sky and nature has me transfixed.
The day before we’d been lodged in one of the beach villas which had already been a sublime experience. We were happy to be in a cosy beach villa, tastefully decorated in rattan and mother-of-pearl with crisp linen, and run down to the sand in the morning. But the royal pavilion was, let’s just say, easy to adapt to, perched as it is on the island’s tip, with sweeping views and a private pool.
The adults-only Rocks bar is a perfect place for a sunset cocktail. Photo: Supplied
In a country that boasts an embarrassment of beautiful islands, Vomo still stands out. And it’s impossible to describe without lapsing into clichés: yes, it really is a perfect sliver of coconut palms and golden sandy beaches ringed by turquoise water and black basalt. If you’ve seen the Disney film Moana, which is set in the South Pacific, the studio’s trademark hyper-realism is actually bang-on accurate.
Located between the Mamanuca and Yasawa groups, on the site of an extinct volcano, Vomo was used as a meeting place for chiefs and then as a retreat for the British royal family.
It now occupies the tourism niche of being both five-star luxury and childfriendly, which is a fiendishly tricky balance to strike.
But Vomo pulls it off, seamlessly – and I can say that with some authority, having road-tested it with my brood.
The kids’ village is sparkling clean, stocked with high-quality wooden toys and plenty of friendly staff, and each family is assigned an on-call nanny for their entire stay. You don’t hear any tantrums or see any chaos, and meal times in the restaurant are serene (I only wish the Vomo magic would continue at home).
Children meet Vomo warriors and get into the island’s traditions Photo: Supplied
The vibe is low-key, tasteful luxury, never flashy but five-star all the way.
Even our royal pavilion is simply furnished with a traditional thatched roof, but with the best-quality fittings. The restaurant menu changes daily and includes hotel staples such as duck confit, steak and light Asian fare but also local seafood, including lobster and mahi-mahi.
A highlight was the traditional lovo feast, where we had a spectacular whole Spanish mackerel cooked in coconut and banana leaves, accompanied by traditional taro and cassava and followed by dancing and a kava ceremony.
The resort appears to hum along effortlessly, but pull back the curtain and it’s clear it’s a huge effort to create this kind of laid-back luxury experience. There’s a generator, a desalination plant to ensure fresh water, and then there’s the gourmet produce which has to be sourced and shipped in from afar. Staff live on site for 10 days at a time, many leaving families behind on the mainland, and then return home for a break.
The resort is vulnerable to the forces of nature and was one of the worst-hit areas during last year’s Cyclone Winston. Everything was razed, including much of the vegetation, and had to be rebuilt and regrown.
The pool keeps little ones happy for hours. Photo: Supplied
It’s also located along the Ring of Fire – while we were on a snorkelling trip one morning we were called back to the boat because there’d been an earthquake 200 kilometres away and a tsunami warning (which turned out to be uneventful, thankfully) had been issued.
For all these reasons, a stay at Vomo is not cheap – but then again, neither is paradise. Where Vomo seems to really excel is in meeting everyone’s diverse needs: it welcomes extended family groups and simultaneously caters for couples and single. The small-scale of the resort always makes it feel like an intimate experience.
For our family, the pool and the kids’ village kept the little ones happy, while we loved spending the morning snorkelling on whichever side of the island was most calm. While paddleboarding one afternoon, we watched fish dart beneath us.
In the evening, minus the kids, we would wander over to the adults-only Rocks bar at the tip of the island, with its dramatic view of the smaller islet of Vomo Lailai, for a cocktail.
The service on the island is excellent and discretion is the byword – there was a television personality and a sporting legend enjoying family holidays when we stayed, and nobody batted an eyelid.
Rocks bar and eatery at the tip of the island. Photo: Supplied
We talked to people who were on their second or third trip to Vomo, greeting staff warmly by name. I was not surprised to learn later that a high percentage of guests are repeat visitors. Our days at Vomo were languid and peaceful, “trapped in the amber of this moment”, as Kurt Vonnegut wrote. We’d go back in a heartbeat.
When to go: The May to October dry season is a favourite time to visit as it provides an escape from the southern hemisphere’s winter. However, the rest of the year is still pleasantly warm and often fine. Just be prepared for the occasional tropical storm.
What to do: Get up early and do the Mt Vomo Sunrise Charity Run for heart-stopping island views and to raise money for Cure Kids.
More information: Go to vomofiji.com; Tourism Fiji, fiji.travel.
The writer was a guest of Vomo Island Resort