A cool morning breeze drifts from Fiji’s Koro Sea across the veranda, bringing with it scents of the cinnamon trees that grow around us. Shortly after breakfast we’ve gathered here at Plantation House, the primary dining spot on COMO Laucala Island.
It’s a fitting place from which to begin the day’s activity: a two-hour guided tour of the island’s very own 40-acre farm.
When it comes to upholding COMO’s culinary tradition — of fresh food, sourced locally — the most sustainable solution is for the island to grow its own ingredients. Today, an impressive 80 per cent of ingredients used in the resort’s kitchens are sourced from the island itself.
Leading us on our journey to understand how, is Sydney-born Executive Chef, Daniel Boller. For him, the farm is the cornerstone of his pasture-to-plate ethos, and it’s clear he delights in bringing guests into his world.
We bundle into a waiting 4x4 and leave the smooth cobblestones of the resort behind us, joining the ‘Jurassic Road’ — so called as the dense forests and rich wildlife that surround us bear a striking resemblance to those famous early scenes from Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.
This beautiful limestone avenue stretches five kilometres along the island’s western shore, and is lined with stately banyan and vesi trees. The road — carved from the rock in many places — hugs the water’s edge, passing mangroves and palms. Ahead is aptly named Long Beach, a kilometre of white sand marking the southern tip of the island. Set back from it is the farm, a patchwork of leafy paddocks and rolling vegetable gardens ringed by palm trees.
As we disembark we’re greeted by the island’s nine horses. These cross-breeds of Australian Thoroughbreds (bred for the Melbourne race track) and British Clydesdales (used for the plantations) are trained for guests to ride along Long Beach and the trails criss-crossing the island.
Up ahead are the farm’s most well-travelled inhabitants: prized Austrian Sulmtaler chickens with their distinctive crowns of white feathers, and whose small and perfectly pearl-white eggs produce the richest and most golden yolks. Next to them are the more understated Rhode Island Red hens and around 150 chirruping quails. And in a nearby purpose-built pond are more than 100 ducks. “Professional escape artists,” says Dan, with a rueful smile.
The farm’s animal residents are only half the story. Many of the island’s vegetables are grown here too, a good proportion using the science of hydroponics. It’s a process that involves growing crops in water enriched with mineral nutrients, saving precious space and soil when acreage is limited. The farm is home to three hydroponics sheds, one in particular standing out. “We call it the house of vines,” explains Dan. Peering into the tangle of ripe tomatoes, beans and okra growing within, it’s easy to see why.
Dan points to the hills around us, rich with papaya trees and groves of pineapples and dragon fruit that can be left to grow as nature intended. Coffee bushes grow here too, although the part they play is rather different than the one you might expect: they’re not for harvesting, but rather for driving away insects. Ploughed fields are few but vital, growing hearty, earthy vegetables like cabbage, kale and pumpkins. Meanwhile, beneath protective netted structures lie the fresh orchids used to adorn each of the island’s 25 residences.
As we pass through each garden and enclosure, Dan has been encouraging us to forage. So far I have vanilla pods and bananas, and with a little expert help a jar of honey from the farm’s own hives. Next up we pick the chillies that will be used to prepare Thai-inspired dishes at Seagrass Restaurant that evening. Before then Dan has promised a lesson in making kokoda, a type of Fijian ceviche, so we harvest the limes and coriander that will be used in the marinade.
Tottering back towards the cars, with a basket full of Laucala’s freshly-picked produce, I reflect on how rarely we have the opportunity to be so closely involved in what ends up on our plates. But that’s the magic of this island: a place to reconnect with nature, with each other and - ultimately - with yourself.
Our concierge at COMO Laucala Island can arrange the farm tour above at your convenience. Please get in touch for more information.