When the setting is the star of the movie, that’s a locale worth visiting. Turtle Island, a private luxury resort island in Fiji’s Yasawa chain of islands, is just such a place.
It is the location for one of the most recognised tropical island films, Blue Lagoon, released in 1980 and starring Brooke Shields, Christopher Atkins and the late great Leo McKern , and an imagined nirvana for the stressed and overwhelmed taken with the notion of a Robinson Crusoe life, away from care and woe.
Columbia Pictures looked at more than 1000 sites before choosing the pristine beauty of Turtle Island as the archetypical tropical island paradise. The movie drew the world’s attention to Turtle Island, one of Fiji’s first luxury resorts, whose opening was hastened by the filming.
The island’s owner, Richard Evanson snr, bought the 202-hectare island in 1972 and still lives there with his son, Richard Evanson jnr, who has taken over the reins. The film still screens with popcorn on Sunday nights at the resort.
Evanson snr used the income from the movie to improve Turtle, later saying he should have asked for 1 percent as Blue Lagoon was the ninth biggest box-office hit in 1980, grossing almost $US59 million in the United States and Canada.
This is despite the fact that the film was a critical “dog of the year”, Brooke Shields won worst actress in the first Golden Raspberry Awards, and the audience was conned – body doubles were used for her nude shots (understandable, mind you, as she was only 14 and closely supervised by her mother).
After the film’s release, stars flocked there to experience the real-life nirvana.
The resort has 14 waterfront bures, 14 private beaches rotated between guest couples (some of which – Devil’s, Shell, Paddy’s and Honeymoon – featured in the movie) and private dine-out options from lagoon pontoons to cliff-point extravaganzas.
Britney Spears and Kevin Federline, and Jessica Simpson and Nick Lachey honeymooned there, as did The Bachelorette’s Trista and Ryan Sutter. John Travolta celebrated his 50th birthday there, with Oprah Winfrey a guest.
John Cleese hoarded crab legs on his lap at communal dinners, resisting calls to goosestep around the table – he wanted peace. Eddie Van Halen enjoyed the family atmosphere, as did Pierce Brosnan, Pamela Anderson and Tommy Lee, while Richard Starkey was recognised as Ringo Starr only on his departure when he gave an impromptu dock concert on the lali drums.
The Oprah Winfrey Show has featured Turtle Island as one of the world’s outstanding honeymoon destinations, and in 2003 the island was named NBC’s most romantic couples destination, pipping Fregate Island in the Seychelles, Lake Louise Resort in Banff, Canada, and a Mediterranean Silver Seas cruise.
From the sporting world, former Wallabies rugby captain George Gregan was married on Shell Beach, AFL star Nathan Buckley and his wife Tania honeymooned there, and former Australian cricket captain Steve Waugh holidayed there with his family. Rupert Murdoch has also sought South Seas bliss on Turtle Island.
Guests at the resort can read more island anecdotes in the book Turtle Tales: An Exotic Island Paradise: – Richard Evanson’s Fijian Dream Fulfilled by a return guest, Amelia Robson. The book is in every bure.
And they keep coming back! Blue Lagoon’s blond star, Christopher Atkins, was reduced to tears when a recent visit to Honeymoon Beach on Turtle Island stirred memories.
The film was based on the 1908 romance novel by Irish writer Henry De Vere Stacpoole and it aroused such interest in tropical utopias that several Blue Lagoon movies eventuated. There was a silent film in 1923, a remake in 1949, starring Jean Simmons, the 1980 effort and a 1983 Indonesian film, Pengantin Pantai Biru, banned as pornographic in East Kalimantan. A 1991 remake, Return to the Blue Lagoon, holds a rare 0 per cent rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus that “despite its lush tropical scenery and attractive leads, Return to the Blue Lagoon is as ridiculous as its predecessor, and lacks the prurience and unintentional laughs that might make it a guilty pleasure”.
Finally, Blue Lagoon: The Awakening – a contemporary remake of Blue Lagoon – was made for television in 2012.
Only the 1949 and 1980 films were actually filmed on Turtle Island, whose beauty is enhanced by its still-pristine qualities. The waters surrounding Fiji’s reefs, described by French undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau as “the clearest in the world”, still don’t disappoint.
Turtle Island’s unspoiled beauty meant it was also chosen as the location for a 2011 Sports Illustrated photo shoot.
More recently, Fiji’s most popular group of islands has played its part in the Survivor television series, with season 34, Survivor: Game Changers – Mamanuca, filmed there, the third Survivor season filmed in Fiji. Seasons 35 and 36 are also being filmed in Fiji. Season 35 is now in production. Look out for Turtle Island. According to Turtle Airways seaplane pilot Mintesh Prasad, who flew the winning contestants from a Survivor challenge, he had to hang out of the window to breathe as they reeked so pungently.
The Survivor series first arrived in Fiji in 2007 for the 14th season of the show. It was filmed at Vunivutu in Vanua Levu, Fiji’s second largest island. It returned to Fiji in 2016 for its 33rd season but Survivor: Millennials vs Gen X had to be evacuated temporarily due to Cyclone Zena.
It isn’t only stars, however, who are drawn to the idea of a tropical island paradise. The Turtle Island “family”, as they call themselves, wants everyone to feel at home, as the island operates on a highly inclusive basis.
In fact, it soon becomes clear to visitors that Turtle Island is not a place that promotes seclusion, unless you absolutely insist. Guests are encouraged to join in, become part of the family, get to know staff and other guests, to take part in kava ceremonies, communal meals and understand the island’s workings.
Despite the island’s star quality, guests, whoever they are, receive the same enthusiastic, warm-hearted treatment.
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