by Kim Kavin
Fiji is the exotic place everybody somehow knows, that wide swath of islands in the distant South Pacific that permeates our pop culture when filmmakers want us to think “beyond remote,” such as the place it took Tom Hanks years to escape from on a homemade raft in Cast Away. Here’s the thing, though: Fiji is becoming less remote. It hasn't moved, of course, but in recent years it has developed, especially in terms of crewed yacht charter. More and more international-caliber yachts are traveling there, and the regular marketing is starting to make the place feel, well, a bit trendy.
In fact, some yacht owners—people with serious, top-notch boats—are beginning to set their courses farther afield in the South Pacific. One of them is the owner of Ethereal, the 190-foot Royal Huisman that launched from the Dutch shipyard in 2009. And this year, she’s available for charter not only in Fiji alongside similar-caliber builds, but also in Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands, where she’ll have little, if any, charter competition.
Vanuatu is west of Fiji, about a thousand miles from Australia. The official language is Bislama (I told you—remote) and the total population among the republic’s 82 islands is about equal to the number of people living in Reno, Nevada. The dry season is from June through November, making Vanuatu a great charter option for anyone seeking something different from the Bahamas or Mediterranean. And while tourism is up recently (darn those producers of the reality-TV show Survivor), Vanuatu still sees only about a third as many tourists as Fiji in a given year.
The Solomon Islands, too, are still accurately called exotic. They’re northwest of Vanuatu with similar weather patterns and a larger population, but even still, most of the residents are subsistence farmers or fishermen, and most people get their news by way of radio, since there are no local television stations that broadcast to the entirety of the islands. The place is not what you would consider highly developed, or, in some regions, developed at all. By some estimates, the number of tourists in the Solomon Islands each year is in the mere tens of thousands, not the hundreds of thousands that Fiji welcomes.
It’s these qualities that we think of when we imagine Fiji, but that, more and more often, we can find only a bit farther away. I've cruised in Fiji twice, I loved it both times, and I highly recommend it if you haven’t yet been there—but the captains who return from Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands describe something wholly different than I experienced. They describe more serenity. Less civilization. Fewer resorts. Empty bays. You know: the lower gear we’re all seeking to shift into when we cast off into the great beyond.
Ethereal is being offered in Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Fiji at a lowest weekly base rate of $225,000 for eight to 10 guests. YCO is the management company, and you can believe them when they tell you they are selling access to—at least for now—a slice of a truly remote paradise.