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Hanging with Wilson on Castaway Island, Fiji

I’ve been surprised to find myself on a tiny island in the middle of paradise with a celebrity a couple of times. As I shared in Escape, there was that time Leonardo DiCaprio turned up at Finolhu in the Maldives, and we ended up splashing around on the same tiny beach and then rubbing elbows on the dance floor.

But while I know Leo is an Oscar winning actor, I can genuinely say I was just as excited by a celebrity encounter I had with a volleyball in Fiji.

Well, it felt like a celebrity encounter to me because this was no ordinary volleyball. This was Wilson, and we met on Castaway Island.

Wilson the volleyball in a tote on Castaway Island Fiji

The Two Castaway Islands in Fiji

Now for all of you Castaway movie fans out there, the Castaway Island we met on is not the one from the film. But all it took was a short speedboat ride and we were on that island.

The Castaway Island you’ve seen on the film is actually called Monuriki. It’s only about one kilometre long and is surrounded by coral reef where we happily snorkelled before sitting on the edge of the water sipping champagne and having a very different experience to Tom Hanks’ character when he was on the same patch of sand.

The Castaway Island we were staying on is a beautiful barefoot luxury resort on a private island in the heart of Fiji’s Mamanuca Island group, which is about 30 kilometres off the main island Viti Levu.

The island is 70 hectares of tropical rainforest surrounded by white sandy beaches and coral reefs, and the most stunning crystal clear waters full of your new fishy friends. Rather than spreading out over the island, the resort is set up in one corner which means the rest of the island is free to be natural and relatively untouched.

Guests are free to do some exploring and bushwalking in the wilder parts of the island, and when the tide is down you can walk an entire lap of the island on the sand. It takes about two hours to do so that’s one to time right so you don’t get caught out by a rising tide, but the team at the resort will be able to tell you the best times to go.

Castaway Island Resort, Fiji

You can also go on guided snorkelling trips either on neighbouring islands or off Castaway Island itself, which includes a chance to see some of the Coral Planting that the resort has done as part of Outrigger’s Ozone conservation project.

Castaway Island has been around for just over 50 years and was rescued from insolvency and given a new lease of life when it was bought by Sydney businessman Geoffrey Shaw in 1992. Shaw rebuilt the resort, saw it devastated by cyclones and rebuilt it again, and in the process he created one of the best loved resorts in the South Pacific.

In 2014 he sold Castaway Island to Outrigger, and it continues to be a place that makes you feel like you’ve disappeared from the everyday world.

Deckchairs for two on Castaway Island Resort, Fiji

Getting to Castaway Island, Fiji

After taking the first step and getting yourself to Fiji, where you’ll be asked to fill out a rather unusual customs form that asks whether you’re carrying human remains or holy water, you have two main ways of getting to Castaway Island.

If you’re feeling like a bit of a rock star and have the budget to match, you can get a helicopter or seaplane from Fiji’s main island Viti Levu.

Or you can do what we did and get a transfer with South Sea Cruises, which is a lovely way to get there. With South Sea you check in your big luggage at the dock on the main island, and they make sure it gets offloaded into a luggage tender at the resort, so all you have to do is take yourself and your hand luggage onto the catamaran.

The best thing about the boat trip is all of the sightseeing you can do along the way. I was pinching myself at how beautiful it was as we moved through that incredible blue water dotted with tropical islands, and it all added to the anticipation of getting to our new island home.

There’s a whole lot of Wow going on as you stop at the different islands and people get off at their resorts, and then a whole lot more Wow when you arrive at Castaway.

Step straight into the water from the front of your bure at Castaway Island Fiji
Adult swimming pool on Castaway Island Resort, Fiji

Disconnecting and reconnecting with Island Life

As we stepped off our tender onto the sandy shore, members of staff were out with acoustic guitars singing a welcome song. The next thing I knew one of the other people arriving at the same time went running up to them as if seeing a long lost family member and there was lots of hugging as they called each other by name.

It turns out they were some of the island’s repeat guests and they’re far from alone. The resort’s General Manager, Steven Andrews, told me around 40% of guests are repeat guests, and some have been back 42 times or more. I loved hearing about the way some guests first visited the island when they had young children and now bring their grandchildren back with them. What a family tradition to have.

Apart from being beautiful Castaway Island is a wonderful place to disconnect from the outside world and reconnect with yourself and with nature.

There are no televisions, radios or even clocks in your bure, and the only WiFi is in public areas so you can’t get caught up working on your device or disappearing into Facebook or Instagram back in your room.

There are 64 bures, or bungalows, each with traditional Fijian style thatched roofs and inside the high ceilings are covered in individually designed and hand painted Tapa cloth. I adored mine and did this little walk around so you can see what it’s like inside too….

As someone who tries to avoid plastic waste I was happy to find that the island has its own desalination plant so I could drink the water out of the taps rather having to rely on bottled water.

And as someone who appreciates a good cocktail I was also happy to find that the bar does a very good one. Or more than one depending on your mood.

No matter where you are on the island everything feels so relaxed. Even their fine dining restaurant 1808 is under the stars and on the sand. Barefoot dining is encouraged and I loved feeling the sand between my toes and hearing the water gently lapping beside us as the chefs cooked in an open kitchen under the stars.

1808 restaurant on Castaway Island Fiji has won the best restaurant in Fiji award and encourages barefoot dining under the stars

1808 is named after the year the first Chinese arrived in Fiji over 200 years ago and the restaurant serves a delicious Chinese and Fijian fusion including masala prawns, coconut chicken and a three-day confit pork belly that spends three days being infused in seawater and spice brine before starting its final preparation for the dinner table. After a meal to remember I’m not surprised to discover 1808 has won the best restaurant in Fiji on more than one occasion.

Taking Wilson back to Castaway Island

When I heard we were going to be taking a speedboat over to Monuriki, the island where Castaway was filmed, I was excited enough. When Stephen appeared with a Wilson volleyball, complete with the handprint face on him, it took the whole day trip to another level.

As we zipped across that perfect azure blue water with the wind in our hair I was grinning from ear to ear and was almost pinching myself when that familiar island with its beautiful white beach and familiar rock face appeared in front of us.

The island the Castaway movie was filmed on, Monuriki island is close to the Castaway Island resort in Fiji
Wilson the volleyball back on Snorkelling off Monuriki island in Fiji, where the Tom Hanks movie Castaway was filmed

After settling ourselves on the island we were taken snorkelling by a pretty amazing man called Aku, a free diver who can hold his breath for around three and a half minutes. As i watched him go down down down into the depths until i could barely make out his long flippers I was acutely aware of my own breathing and just how many breaths I was taking in and out of my snorkel.

At one point I tried holding my breath to see how I’d go but then Aku lazily made his way back to the surface, stopping along the way to smile and point out different fish and the occasional turtle and I realised he was still in his sweet zone while I was feeling a panic in my lungs.

Snorkelling off Monuriki island in Fiji, where the Tom Hanks movie Castaway was filmed

Afterwards as we sat on the edge of the beach in the water, sipping champagne and talking about life I discovered Aku started to dive when he was just three years old and was known to the locals as Shark Boy because he used to hand feed sharks with his father when he was young.

On the way back to Castaway Island Aku stopped the speedboat over a reef so we could hop back in the water and snorkel some more, and while I was having a brilliant time looking at the fish I completely missed the fact that we were also swimming with sharks. Whenever I looked to where Aku was pointing they’d slipped already away, so the first time I swam with sharks I was quite oblivious. But at least I was with Shark Boy and swimming with the safe kind.

When we made it back to the resort I carried Wilson out of the speedboat and went to find a couple of sun lounges under a large thatched umbrella with a beautiful view out over the water. As we sat side by side I laughed as people walked by, stopped short and exclaimed ‘Wilson!!’  before asking if they could get a photo with him.

Hanging with Wilson the Castaway movie volleyball at the Castaway Island resort, Fiji

After my celebrity friend posed for photos we sat and watched the sun go down for a little while and then I took him back to his base and handed him back to Steven with one final Wilson hug.

The next morning I woke before dawn, popped my swimmers on and walked straight out of my Bure and into the water. As I floated looking up at the moon and the stars and watching the shape of palm trees come into view as the sun slowly lit the sky I felt full of wonder and love for this world of ours.

When the sun was in the sky it would be time for me to grab my bags and go back to real life but I promised myself – and Wilson – that one day I would be back for a longer stay. This may have been my first visit but I now dream of becoming one of Castaway Island’s many repeat guests. I wonder if i can make it to 42 visits someday?

Amanda Woods travelled as a guest of Castaway Island but as usual all opinions remain her own.

Heading to Fiji? You should also check out what it’s like at Castaway Island’s sister resort, Outrigger Fiji Beach Resort (hint, it’s gorgeous!)

Sunrise on Castaway Island Fiji

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