Hotels & Resorts

These are 3 of the World’s Most Visionary Private-Island Resorts

In Fiji, French Polynesia and Madagascar, remote nature, conservation and luxury intersect to bring us back to what’s important. These resorts each have their own foundations dedicated to doing serious good.

Story and photographs by Jonathan Pozniak

Mar 23, 2021

WE AT T+L BELIEVE PRIORITIZING environmental protection, cultural heritage and local socioeconomic development is the future of luxury travel. This is a story about three eco-centric private-island resorts that embrace the middle path we seek.

A lot has been written in the past year about the absence of travel being good for the planet. While this has been a blessing in many respects – most notably in places that have suffered damage from over-tourism – it’s quite the contrary when it comes to conservation and community development. Without tourism revenue coming in, conservationists, scientists, and forest and wildlife rangers have all been underfunded.

This trickles down to local communities suffering financially as well. In Zambia for example, home of Time+Tide’s first resorts, one salary from tourism supports 10 people. This 1:10 ratio is mind blowing, and as Time+Tide employs 500 locals, that means 5,000 people are dependent on these jobs for financial stability, education and medical care.

And so, not only are we encouraging you to travel as soon as possible but, if you can, to go as far away as possible (just don’t forget those carbon offsets), to see the very real positive impact luxury tourism can have on the world. Because the direct financial influence of each guest arriving means the survival of local supply chains with fishermen and farmers, and that more conservation work continues.

Tree by tree, farmer by farmer, lemur by lemur, reef by reef, every piece fits into the greater whole of protecting what we have, and building that puzzle means strengthening a network of protection for more animals, education for more kids, and income for more locals.

These resorts have made a visionary commitment to do something good in corners of the world that need it most. We depart for these islands to come back to ourselves.

Vatuvara Private Islands

Where is it:

Fiji, the remote Northern Lau archipelago in the country’s eastern corner

Why it’s awesome:

Protected by outer reefs assuring utmost privacy for their guests, Vatuvara’s natural utopia is a showcase of ecological history and present-day design. The organically certified resort’s three villas stand firm atop native limestone, interspersed with tropical plants and eclectic pops of floral colors. Earthy interiors with masculine stonework and rich wood cathedral ceilings allow a darkly muted design palette to ground your senses into island time. The expanse of light and sea balance the first steps off your sun deck into the blue horizon.

But to call Vatuvara, created by South Pacific pioneers Rob and Lynda Miller, ‘a resort’ is to diminish its uniqueness. Visiting this little dot on the map is a travel experience that transforms the way you relate to your surroundings. Your mind holds the space for your relationship to nature to reflect itself back to you. 

Fijian food is considered among the best in the world, and Vatuvara’s organic garden takes it a big step further. The organic bananas, taro, cassava and yams they serve are part of a climate-resistant crop harvest, and the best quality seafood is caught locally. They also produce their own coconut oil, coconut-shell charcoal, and sea salt to top off each dish.

Fijians are truly genuine people, and eating food straight from the earth is an extension of this. They have an uncanny ability to remember names and faces, and even after a decade goes by, locals will still remember you with 100 percent accuracy. They live each day by the collective harmony, and each dish is a mirror of their “sharing is caring” way of being.  

How they do good:

The Vatuvara Foundation, directed by daughter Katy Miller, surveys and protects local endemic wildlife from shellfish to sea turtles. Partnering with the School of Marine Studies at the University of the South Pacific, they’ve reintroduced three species of giant clams back into the wild and created a thriving lagoon coral nursery to restore coral reefs. Endangered coconut crabs, whose pincher strength is greater than a lions jaw, have been given a natural island reserve to roam and reproduce freely, a much-needed safe haven from poachers – and the foundation’s recent three-week survey of the crabs was the first of its kind.

Finally, educational programs for local villagers alongside the Yacata Youth Group have been established to care for their islands, promote conservation and preventing problems like coral bleaching and plastic waste.

How to get there: An easy 80-minute flight from Nadi International Airport aboard the resort’s own aircraft takes you to the all-inclusive property. Prices upon request.

The Brando

Where is it:

French Polynesia, in Tetiaroa Atoll, 50 kilometers north of Tahiti

Why it’s awesome:

When talking about The Brando, the chic Tahitian private getaway favored by Hollywood royalty, even the local bees have earned a reputation. The bees are happy and gentle, they fear no predators and don’t sting. You might liken that to the celebrity guests, free in this far-flung atoll, of paparazzi predators – or of any guest lucky enough to make it here and shed the worries of the world.

You see, there’s a feeling of pure utopia, a place you can live your life in color. The Brando encompasses the full spectrum of luxury travel and conservation in the tropics: always learning, always researching new solutions, and always evolving.

Polynesian culture and nature become modernized at this resort. The 35 villas and one residence (with three more residences on the way) have a distinctly French touch, while the Varua spa was built with a now-iconic “birds nest” architecture. Les Mutines restaurant manages top-flight gastronomy, as well as a vegan menu that feels just as elegant.

Whether you want to explore the reef, hang out with world-renowned naturalists, or discover the atoll’s archaeology, it’ll all done in the name of sustainability.

How they do good:

Marlon Brando’s ultimate dream for Tetiaroa was to build an entirely self-sustaining zero-carbon eco resort with a non-profit scientific research and conservation station. Today the Tetiaroa Society serves as an ecological model of constantly evolving sustainability practices and wildlife preservation; their team of resident scientists and researchers restore archaeological sites, and monitor everything happening on land and underwater – it’s a testament to their success that as many as 25,000 baby sea turtles hatch each year.

Working hand-in-hand with the LEED Platinum-certified Brando, they’ve built the world’s deepest SWAC system (Sea Water Air Conditioning), installed 3,744 solar panels, developed a system for turning leftover cooking oil into biofuel, and installed a giant “food digestor” machine that turns all the resort’s food scraps into compost soil in just 24 hours. The high-nutrient soil is used in their garden and sent to Tahiti to be used as fertilizer.

They have water-desalination tanks and collect rainwater to use in toilets, laundry and pools.  Magnesium and calcium extracted from seashells infuses the desalinated water to replenish the mineral content. Everyone’s favorite project was the environmentally safe eradication of mosquitoes from the resort’s motu, a project led by the Institut Louis Malardé. (That’s right, The Brando is mosquito-free!)

The resort is constantly learning new methods of sustainability and, working alongside the Tetiaroa Society, is well on their way to achieving Brando’s goal. In November 2020, The Brando became a proud founding member of Beyond Green, a global portfolio of resorts that exemplify sustainable leadership, and serve as a benchmark for the entire global spectrum of tourism practices.

How to get there: A short hop by private helicopter or small aircraft from Faa’a International Airport in Papeete. From EUR3,200 a night.

Time + Tide Miavana

Where is it:

Madagascar, in the Nosy Ankao archipelago, part of a 15,000-hectare protected marine area in the country’s northeast

Why it’s awesome:

Soaring above by helicopter in the early morning light, the vantage point of exactly where you are makes you forget where you came from. Time + Tide Miavana is a private-island oasis in an ecologically rich yet little-explored corner of Madagascar. Conceptually designed to achieve what no other resort in Madagascar could, it’s a showcase of sustainability in a country where a shocking 90 percent of nature has been destroyed. The tiny island it calls home is Nosy Ankao, part of a wild and windswept archipelago surrounded by a reef. Divers, windsurfers and deep-sea fishermen call this place paradise, and back on land, lemurs, chameleons and sea birds all enjoy life in the slow lane. 

Each of the 14 eco-powered modern villas are made of limestone – providing for structural longevity – and blend with the long stretch of white-sand beach. Inside, you’ll find a vibrantly sophisticated design aesthetic, with cavernous stone showers open to the sky above, private pools, and all four sides exposed to the elements. Fast-growing ravinal wood walls, recycled ocean-plastic floors, and furniture handmade by locals means not a single element of its creation has depleted the true gems of Madagascar, including its people. This approach to sustainable tourism has created infrastructures and supply chains with more than 250 local farmers, fishermen and workers, making the farm-to-table experience that much more fruitful for everyone.

Cabinet des Curiosites, Miavana’s own natural history museum, is a place where you’ll want to spend some time. A skeleton of Madagascar’s extinct elephant bird and its giant egg sit alongside a breathtaking butterfly collection, letting your imagination travel into the great unknown. Black-magic amulets as protection from evil spirits, ancient armor from tribal kingdoms, and pages of a hand-written Koran from centuries ago are all the stuff of legends.  Their library of natural history books serves to identify all the strange creatures that may greet you beneath the ocean’s surface: blue spotted rays, whale sharks and sea turtles all live in the underwater metropolis just outside your villa.

How they do good:

The Time+Tide Foundation has done phenomenal work surveying and protecting marine and terrestrial wildlife, including the first two lemur translocations ever, over the last five years. A family of eight crowned lemurs was given a new home on the island with daily monitoring by local conservationists, and a third translocation is planned for next year.

A baobab nursery is being planned for the island as well, to save the endangered Perrier’s baobab tree, endemic to northern Madagascar. Local reforestation NGO Fanamby has done great work alongside Madigasikara Voakajy for new baobab tree planting across the Madagascar “mainland.” Deforestation across the country has spiked in 2020, much of it due to the illegal cultivation of marijuana, vanilla and rice for people living in remote regions close to forests. Partnerships with other local NGOs have taken top priority with reforestation programs, lemur conservation, ranger training, as well as female empowerment and healthcare.

Despite Covid lockdowns, they’ve been able to successfully continue medical outreach to local villages with the hiring of three regional nurses, provide food for vulnerable children and their caregivers, and brought onboard a dedicated conservation manager to restart conservation projects put on hold by the pandemic, ensuring these programs continue amid an uncertain future of tourism.

How to get there: A 30- to 60-minute private helicopter flight from Nosy Be or Diego Suarez.  From US$3,000 per person per night.

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