Tripologist Michael Gebicki conceives all that's perfect for the most relaxing, pampered, luxury getaway of your dreams.
As one who has sipped his nectar and been oiled and massaged like a slippery fish beneath the coconut palms, I sometimes fantasise about the ultimate tropical beach resort. Suppose you could take the scenery from this one, the service from that, the Bermudan barman from yet another and the Thai massage girl who just walked down your back? What would the perfect resort look like?
First, there needs to be separation from the workaday world, and therefore an island resort is the go. It must also be remote enough from mobile phone signals to eliminate the possibility that the gent in the next sun lounge will conduct a braying phone conversation with his broker.
Sand is a must, and strange as this might seem, sand is not a given at your standard tropical resort. Often you get nothing more than a slender strip of decomposed coral that shrinks to the width of a G-string when the tide is in. Sand - white, powder-fine and still there at high tide - is non-negotiable. Coconut palms are another essential ingredient, preferably bent over at a photogenic angle, with a hammock or two slung between them.
At intervals along the beach there must be reclining deckchairs in pairs, with tables and umbrellas.
Just as important is the view from the beach, and here, blue sky and a sea mottled with coral is barely the lowest common denominator. What's needed is other islands dappling the sea, with an occasional canoe or puttering fishing boat moving to and fro, and for all these reasons the absolute gold standard is the island of Bora Bora, in French Polynesia.
If the world has an erogenous zone it's French Polynesia, and Bora Bora is its beating heart. A witch's hat of leaping green peaks, Bora Bora is almost completely encircled by a necklace of motus, as coral atolls are known in this part of the world. Between the island and the motus is a shallow, sheltered lagoon, and it is in the waters of this lagoon that the sybarite's favourite marine species, the over-water bungalow, finds its feet.
While it has been transplanted to tropical hot spots around the globe, most notably in the Maldives, over-water bungalows flourish here like nowhere else. Once you've woken to a sunrise on Bora Bora from your over-water bungalow, you're spoilt for life. A day-bed, big enough for two and sited under a canopy on your private deck, is also a must for afternoon lounging. Vahine Island, Le Taha'a Island Resort and Spa and St Regis Bora Bora are names that conjure these dreams.
A suite swathed in rainforest, with a view framed by swooning palms, a roomy and bright bathroom and walk-in wardrobe is no hardship either. Aman Resorts set a high bar for sheer design brilliance, with Six Senses Resorts hot on its heels.
A freshwater pool is crucial (preferably a wet-edge design that mirrors the canopied cabanas and palm trees that surround it) big enough for lap swimming and with a cascade so that its watery noises invade your poolside slumber.
Aquatic activities are going to play a large part in the to-do list, and therefore islands with pristine coral reefs and abundant and exotic marine life are top of the list. This is a select category, and among the few locations that qualify are Great Astrolabe Reef, which flings a lasso around Fiji's Kadavu Island group, parts of Papua New Guinea and the Raja Ampat archipelago, a remote region of Indonesia's West Papua province. However, the remoteness that ensures the purity of their marine environment means that access is difficult and resorts are few. Only Matava in Fiji, Tufi Resort in Papua New Guinea and Misool Eco Resort in Indonesia provide resort-style accommodation in their respective regions. Not quite an island resort, although it's sufficiently remote to feel like one, the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort on the coastline of Fiji's Vanua Levu is a glorious location with five-star underwater credentials.
Simplicity is key in the food and beverage department. Whatever the local fishermen have brought in that day should underpin the menu, treated with a light hand by the chef to allow its natural flavours to shine through. Sashimi is never going to be a bad idea in these surroundings. Throw in tropical fruits, salads and Mediterranean-style vegetables and you're on a winner. Fruity cocktails, especially with lime in the mix, all get the big tick of approval.
Time will be invested on the massage table. Nobody does massages and spas quite like the Thais, and if there's a Banyan Tree Spa somewhere in the picture, you're on the highway to heaven.
You also want to inject some fun into your escape and nothing beats a crew of Polynesians. Rambunctious and warmly inclusive, Polynesians are the party people of the Pacific. Anything that involves boats and Polynesians is never going to be dull, and never quite what you expect.
So there you have it, nirvana in a nutshell. A Robinson Crusoe island with catwalk good looks in a pristine environment staffed by a relaxed and joyous crew who know how to whip up a perfect margarita. Should be easy, wouldn't you think?
Meet The Sun set
They have swum with whales, swung in hammocks and sipped margaritas by the shore. Here the Travel team relive their best beach moments.
My wife and I spent a week on the isolated chain of Ha'apai in the north of Tonga swimming and snorkelling with humpback whales and their calves by day, eating fresh lobster and pineapples pulled from the jungle in the evenings and sleeping only a few steps from the water in a simple bungalow with a hammock and an outdoor shower - no phones or alarm clocks in sight. We capped it off with a night spent Survivor-style on a beautiful deserted island 10 kilometres off the coast with nothing but a fire, a satellite phone and a fishing spear.
Staying there: The Sandy Beach Resort has a range of traditional "fale" bungalows on the beach and an attached restaurant. sandybeach-tonga.com. Matafonua Lodge is on the edge of Ha'apai and has 10 simple bungalows on the beach, whale swimming and a laid-back atmosphere. matafonua.com.
Tortuguero, Costa Rica
The black-sand beach was hostile. Thick jungle tore at its edge, flotsam cluttered the shore, and bull sharks often cruised the shallows. But for the two weeks I spent shepherding endangered baby turtles to the ocean, it felt like home. Scurrying to the water, and after being tumbled in the shorebreak, the magic would happen. Driven by instinct, the hatchlings would look back and take a visual imprint, so they could return to this beach to lay eggs one day. They reminded me to never forget this place.
Getting there: United Airlines flies from Sydney to San Jose, Costa Rica (via Los Angeles and Houston), from $1622. 13 17 77, united.com. The project is accessed via the village of Bataan, three hours from San Jose. The project is a 40-minute boat ride through thick jungle (transfers $US35 ($34) return).
Staying there: La Tortuga Feliz volunteer program costs from $US25-$US40 a day for all meals and board. latortugafeliz.com.
St Lawrence Gap, Barbados
The warm breeze was redolent with hibiscus and the occasional whiff of cannabis as I strolled along Saint Lawrence Gap on the south coast of Barbados after a day watching the Aussies whip the Windies. The 1.5-kilometre stretch of restaurants, shops and night spots is just a quick single from the white-powder-sand beachfront. Swivel-hipped waiters delivered overflowing plates of fresh seafood and spicy chicken to tables talking cricket. Cool bars and clubs pumped out calypso beats and heaved with sweaty dancers. Steel guitars and drums competed with karaoke Marleys and hip-hop DJs. My night at "The Gap" was a heady overload of Bajan sensuality and huge, white smiles.
Getting there: Qantas flies daily to Los Angeles from Sydney. Connecting flights to Bridgetown in Barbados daily from LA with American Airlines. Prices start from $2769 a person. 1300 939 414.
Staying there: Ocean Two is a four-star, beachfront resort in Saint Lawrence Gap. Rooms start at $300 a night. oceantwobarbados.com.
It must have been about midnight. A warm breeze ruffled the sides of my beachside thatched fale at Stevenson's in Savaii, pictured left. I should have been prone in starfish position, exhausted from days of waterfall jumping, jungle trekking, lagoon swimming, tossing coconuts into blow holes, unweaving the rich local culture. Instead, I padded the 20 paces to the lapping water and submerged myself before noticing my six companions in-situ. We'd all spontaneously had the same thought and sat in shallow, warm water, silent as we wallowed under the endless black sky studded with twinkling diamonds.
Getting there: Virgin Samoa, Fiji Airways and Air New Zealand fly to the capital, Apia. samoa.travel.
Staying there: Stevenson's at Manase is the ideal base for exploring. Stay in the fale bungalows for the traditional Samoa experience. www.stevensonsatmanase.com.
Isla Mujeres, Mexico
Christmas Day on Isla Mujeres, the easternmost island in Mexico. The beach beckons, a vision of perfection with white-powder sand and turquoise waters. After venturing through private property, we stumble upon what appears to be a ritzy resort, day beds under shady cabanas and a bar resembling a Spanish galleon. Pay dirt. Barman Pablo readily succumbs to flirtation and the promise of a large tip, mixing up icy margaritas. We settle in for the long haul - it's Christmas, after all ...
Getting there: United Airlines flies from Sydney to Cancun, via Los Angeles. united.com. Catch a ferry from Cancun to Isla Mujeres from the Gran Puerto terminal, 70 pesos ($5.60) one way.
Staying there: Villa La Bella offers bed and breakfast accommodation on the Caribbean side of the island from $US110 a night. villalabella.com.
Rangali Island, the Maldives
At the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island, pictured above, there's no floor in the lobby: it's a desk on white sand. The sand continues through the restaurant, and all the way down to the water's edge. There, a little 12-seater Japanese grill restaurant dug into the beach, beneath the stars. The first night, I watched as men arrived for dinner dressed in white linen and leather slides while the ladies were bedecked in glittering jewels and gowns that swished over the sand, revealing a flicker of perfectly manicured toes, not a shoe in sight. I also forgot about shoes for four days, reminded only as I hot-footed it along the jetty to the spa dangling over the Laccadive Sea. The fish were there again down in Ithaa, the resort's underwater restaurant. Set 4.9 metres below sea level, a glass semi-sphere holds the oceans back. Fish is on the menu and also on the other side of the glass.
Getting there: Singapore Airlines and Malaysian Airlines fly to the capital of the Maldives, Male. The resort is reached by a 30-minute seaplane journey.
Staying there: The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island comprises two islands (one is adults-only). 1800 446 667, tinyurl.com/835b2s3.
Song Saa, Cambodia
Adrift in the Gulf of Thailand off Cambodia's southern coastline, Song Saa , pictured below, is one of the country's only luxury waterfront resorts, and it casts a powerful spell. Calm is abundant. It is a private island, with barefoot as the prevailing dress code, chilled the ruling mindset. The community of farmers and fishermen who inhabit the neighbouring islands helped build the resort and they are intimately involved in its daily operation, and this provides guests at Song Saa with a sense of connection.
Getting there: Singapore Airlines (singaporeair.com) operates flights to Phnom Penh via Singapore. Return airfares from Sydney and Melbourne start from $1095. The transfer to Sihanoukville by private car takes about three hours, followed by a 45-minute ride to Song Saa aboard the resort's speedboat.
Staying there: The rate for two sharing a one-bedroom Jungle Villa starts from $US1336; from $US1415 for an over-water bungalow.
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