Executive Indulgences Vomo Island – Deliciously different in Fiji

Vomo Island is tossed into the Pacific roughly halfway between the Mamanuca and Yasawa island groups to the north west of Fiji’s main island Viti Levu. Officially it is part of the Mamanuca group, but this geographical fact is of only passing interest to visitors. More relevant to indulgence seekers is the transition that’s taking place on this unusually shaped 32-hectare of flat tranquillity.
There’s been resort on Vomo for around nine years. But, after the Sheraton dropped its management contract to run the tiny 50-guest boutique resort three or so years ago, management reverted to the less-than-interested American developer who leased the island from its tribal owners and tired of tax dispute with the Fiji government.
Managerial and physical neglect choked off even the small number of families, honeymooners and incentive-driven corporates who traditionally booked the resort. Then, in August last year, consortium of well-heeled New Zealand investors led by Otago entrepreneur Howard Paterson moved in and new, well-conceived and professionally run Vomo Resort emerged.
This Pacific Island paradise is not just back to its former best, it’s surpassed it and headed for something even better.
Vomo’s dazzling bougainvillea hedgerows, its palms, crisp white sands and 28 hidden bures were, on the recommendation of fashion icon Karen Walker, recently the location for Style magazine fashion shoot. And now Walker, who fell for the spot after recent holiday there, has been commissioned to create dedicated range of “barefoot chic” fashions for resort guests. She’s also designing uniforms for the cheerfully attentive Fijian staff. I offer these tidbits of news simply to illustrate the top-shelf positioning of Vomo’s new marketing strategy.
The two room bure/villas with their mosquito-proof decking are being systematically and stylishly refurbished by Auckland-based and award-winning interior design architect Martin Hughes. That completed, the promoters plan to build small number of privately owned luxury villas on the southern side of the island. They will contract manage these and make them available when the owners aren’t on the island. “But we’re not planning to over-populate it,” says the Resort’s new general manager Justin Phillips. “We might add another 15 villas,” he adds. That would take the total population up to around 100 guests at any one time.
Visually Vomo is beautiful. Two hours’ walk at low tide is time enough to circumnavigate it. The island rises to high lava ridge at the eastern end, descending to an 80-acre flat, palm-covered plateau on which are strategically placed the bures, brand new international-standard tennis court, traditionally designed central dining bure and accompanying swimming pool, plus chip-and-putt golf course. Fine white sand (not coarse coral) beaches on either side of the plateau provide swimmers with wind-preference choice of beach. Guests can snorkel or dive direct from the beach, or boat to some more challenging but not-too-distant deep water.
The developers plan to spend around $2.5 million bringing the amenities up to five-star status. But large bite of the expenditure has already gone into, or been earmarked for, the focus of the resort’s new attraction strategy – fantastic food.
Fiji offers visitors fine collection of attractions – but fine food isn’t, I’m afraid, one of them. Vomo, says Phillips, “will be different”. It is already. When my family and I stayed there in July this year, former Huka Lodge, Millbrook Resort and now Vomo executive chef Richard Cross was weaving culinary magic with his new, personally designed $350,000 kitchen. “Richard is central to our [marketing] strategy and our success,” explains Phillips. “Outstanding cuisine in Fiji will differentiate us.”
Virtually every chef in the islands, and further afield, has told Cross he won’t be able to deliver on Vomo’s vision of boutique resort that specialises in creative cuisine. “They say it is impossible to get consistently good produce. But so far we have been very successful,” Cross says, while conceding that he must source most of the meat and many of the salad ingredients out of Australia and New Zealand. He is establishing his own garden for some essential herbs, vegetables and perhaps some fruit but, he then adds that, “Fiji is great for many fruits and fantastic for seafoods”. “I know we can do it. It might cost bit more to achieve what we want but we’ll make it happen.”
I have not, in goodly number of stays in Fiji, discovered comparable cuisine anywhere else in the islands.
The resort owners are so convinced by the underlying logic of their strategy that they are now developing The Rocks Restaurant, tantalisingly perched on lava outcrop at the northern tip of the island. The site, currently just an enlarged barbecue shelter with one of the most stunning Pacific Island sunset views in the world, will become both the island’s main restaurant and the venue for Richard Cross cooking classes. The view from The Rocks scans short stretch of water to small witch’s hat island behind which the sun sinks in mesmerising spectacle and from which fruit bats fly to Vomo in search of their own, quite specific ‘foodie’ satisfaction.
What is Cross’ cuisine style? “It is fusion – where east meets west but with an emphasis on using as much local produce as possible to achieve particular, and I hope different, style of food. My goal is simple. We are going to have the best food in Fiji.”
The limitation for the moment is the wine. Until new cellar is built “we have only temporary wine list”, says Phillips. He plans to build wine cellar as part of the current reconstruction work. It should be ready by the end of April next year, in time for the next peak season. “Then, we’ll link wine presentations to Richard’s cooking classes and offer the package to our guests.
“Food is huge,” explains Phillips. And that’s why he, Cross and their Kiwi investors believe they can create resort with difference at Vomo. Their clientele comes mainly from New Zealand, Australia, the United States and increasingly from Korea and Japan. And while Howard Paterson’s death earlier this year was “shattering to all of us, it has firmed our resolve to steam ahead and make this work”, Phillips adds.
Vomo breaks the mould. It is far from stuffy and formal. The promoters are as happy to accommodate kids as corporate executives. The staff are the friendliest and most professional I’ve ever encountered in Fiji and that’s saying something for cluster of islands that has built its international tourist reputation on the word “friendly”.
At around $1250 night for beachfront villa (bure), inclusive of three outstanding meals daily, Vomo is an indulgence seeker’s paradise. But to be sure of the rates, check the website at www.vomofiji.com or contact your travel agent.
Vomo is 15 to 20-minute seaplane or helicopter ride from Nandi. We caught Turtle Airways six-seater seaplane to the island, hit the beach in bare feet, climbed into the only motorised transport on the island, an aged but well-loved Land Rover, to accompany our bags the couple of hundred yards to the central bure. Launch trips from Denarau in Nandi take an hour.

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