Bekana Island – a paradise hidden in plain sight

It’s “only a stone’s throw away from Lautoka’s Marine Drive … if you’re a good shot,” was how Fiji Plus publisher, Julian Moti directed me to discover what he and fellow Lautokans have protected as the Sugar City’s best kept secrets. He had pulled strings with his late godmother’s brother, Andrew Lum, to get me there for a well-deserved escape from my daily grind.

Along my journey there on the express bus from Suva, Julian called to share another open secret.

I hadn’t known that Bekana is the fabled “Ponderosa” – one of the Season 33 Fijian homes of the world’s longest-running original reality television show, Survivor USA.

The island’s brush with international fame has impacted positively on the employees of Belo Vula Resort – whose friendly disposition towards visitors is unlike anywhere else I’ve encountered in their observance of the perfect balance between professional courtesy and their guests’ desire for privacy. I almost forgot I wasn’t at my own home.

The reality show’s influence on the island’s infrastructure, amenities and service quality is readily apparent – carpet grass is the surface of the resort grounds because some of its itinerant celebrity guests need to be seen “roughing it” by sleeping under the open sky.

Relatively untouched until about 20 years ago, Bekana is the traditional resting place of the villagers from Namoli who live in the heart of Lautoka. The island had remained insulated from development until Andrew Lum, a descendant of Lautoka’s original Chinese merchants, was persuaded to return home from Sydney to embark on the tourism joint venture now operating as Belo Vula Resort.

The 15 villas comprising the 3 star resort complex are tended by 20 employees. How’s that for guest-to-staff ratio!

Situated a 5 – 8 minutes’ boat ride away from the mainland, Bekana’s private jetty is your entry point to Belo Vula. The garden isle is so close to the city that you can even hear the tune of the guitars as the welcome party practice to serenade you upon arrival!

Guests have been known to take advantage of Belo Vula’s 24 hour transfer service to hop across for a quick visit to the country’s biggest McDonalds restaurant, when the resort staff have gone home for the night.

Belo Vula Resort rises like an oasis – tropical and serene, yet so close to the bustling city one leaves behind. Adding to that surprise is the unmistakably international quality of accommodation that awaits you.

Nestled on the sandy beach, the 15 rooms include 4 thatched bures. Built by traditional craftsmen from nearby Rakiraki, they have withstood the onslaught of several tropical cyclones. Their interiors have been tastefully furnished with a blend of South Seas romance and sun-kissed Greek islands themed decor.

The accommodation is so affordably priced to make it silly staying at neighbouring local motels. You’d be forgiven if you’re surprised to find that each room has air-conditioning, hot and cold showers in bathrooms supplied with branded toiletries, a mini-bar as well as tea and coffee making facilities.

Stand up paddle boards and kayaks are the main mode of transportation here although the Lum family operate your choice of daily sunrise and sunset cruises around the island. This often includes hand-line fishing, but only if you promise to catch what you will eat! This accords with the Lums’ philosophy to only take from the land what you need.

The resort’s kitchen is operated on the same principle so only local ingredients are used here – and on Sundays, guests get to sample Fijian seafood dishes made from the catches of fisher-folk hailing from the Yasawa Islands nearby.

The Lums are serious about keeping the environment pristine. Its dense mangroves are protected to ensure no disturbance to its role as a critical breeding ground for fish stock which feed the area’s traditional resource owners. The island is renowned for its abundance of lairo (land crab).

The islanders pride themselves for their environmental conscience and sometimes lock horns with the authorities to hold them accountable to higher environmental standards. Environmental activists who had sojourned there recently prompted the Lums to begin a coral restoration programme to safeguard its marine habitat.

The proprietors’ attitude towards the island as both as their home as well as a business keeps in check both the quality of Bela Vula Resort’s amenities and the affordability of its room rates.

In recent months, those who have checked in and realised the affordability of what’s available on the island have become part of the steady stream of day-trip visitors who frequent Bekana on the weekend.

Cabanas built directly on the beach turn into overwater day accommodation if you’re on the island at high tide. For a $15 return fare, the island hosts guests all day long and many come also for Belo Vula Resort’s famous pizzas. Local staff boast about regular deliveries across the Mamanucas to nearby islands for its long term visitors!

Despite the celebrity status of their long term guests which the Lums refuse to discuss, they are adamant that locals are their main priorities:

“This is our island home … When people come to Belo Vula, it’s because we are welcoming them to our home and hearth. Everything we do here is to ensure people know they are coming to their island home.”

Foodie Night 1327x198 ad(1)
Top Stories