Inside the Private Island Where Celebrities and Socialites Mingle Over Rosé All Day
Kamalame’s isolated coast, charming owners, cool guests, and carefree style are turning the once off-radar Bahamian cay into the latest It-island escape.
The fire pit in front of the Tiki Bar glows bright at 3 a.m., a 15-foot inferno condensed into an oval of incandescent coal. A pair of gold, flower-embroidered Gucci sandals glints in the surrounding field of drained champagne bottles, their stylish mistress under the sheets somewhere. Maybe. Scanning the sand, bright under an almost full moon, I spot my clutch and wander up the shore to my beach house.
Fourth-of-July-level fireworks, spit-roasted pig, mountains of lobster. Gleeful tribes of sun-kissed children sprinting along the torch-lit paths, fueled by unfettered access to an overflowing sweets table. Dancing under the stars, a fire hose of champagne; men in white linen fetching flutes for ladies shimmying by the DJ. Grandma Nelly, island grand-matriarch in her sea blue Indian tunic, outlasting them all, save a spirited faction of booty-shaking young women.
I booked a bungalow on Kamalame, a 97-acre private island a mile off the world’s second longest barrier reef, in 2004 and left hoping the owners would adopt me. I’ve been returning ever since. Luxe villas and cozy bungalows with names like Roseapple and Starfish are scattered throughout a jungle of coconut palms and hibiscus, edged in miles of deserted beach.
The cay’s residences and boutique hotel wing, max 120 guests, are linked to a spa, tennis courts, a beach bar, and a dining room by white sand paths bordered in conch and coral. Bougainvillea-draped beach houses wrapped in tropical gardens buzzing with hummingbirds are spread out for privacy. They're pleasantly Wi-Fi free, unless you request a hotspot.
You could spend days here — even weeks — killing rosé in a seaside hammock, ordering crab claws with wasabi mayo from room service, reading books, topless and unplugged, never seeing a soul. Stress-detoxing isolationists will also be soothed by the island’s private shoreline and secluded coves, strewn with driftwood and seashells, the occasional Scarlet Ibis, along its wild, uninhabited north coast. Or hail a boat out to the surrounding islets and sandbars for lobster picnics and snorkeling.
For the more social holidaymaker, the Great House bustles during lunch and dinner: Ladies in Odabash tunics and Tory Burch sandals; bikinis and Cartier Love bracelets. Michael and David King-Hew, the island’s dashing second-generation proprietors, table-hopping between a Manhattan Prada exec and a French museum director who's sharing lunch with an architect from Santa Barbara.
At the poolside Tiki Bar, in full swing at high season, Jennifer Hew — who founded the island a quarter century ago with her husband, Brian — lounging on an Indonesian settee, giggling with a Guyanese lady in Gucci sandals who arranges international polo matches. On the beach out front, the Hunt clan, of the Dallas oil family who founded Rosewood Hotel Group, trailed by their trio of gamboling dogs.
Forty minutes by speedboat, KC, as it's known to habitués, is the de facto island outpost of The Albany, where homeowners run Justin Timberlake to Tiger Woods. Nassau’s ritzy, members-only club ferries guests over for snapper burgers and cases of Whispering Angel on an untrammeled shore where everyone’s too soigné to fuss over fame. Someone mentions that Kate Upton may be coming over for lunch while Albany founder Joe Lewis, Britain’s fifth wealthiest man is mooring his 250-foot yacht Aviva off the reef, lined in Picassos and Cezannes.
“I’ll have the grilled asparagus,” says Vanessa to my left, who works for Sotheby’s, “…and a Spicy Margarita, please — extra skinny,” handing the menus to Samson, Kamalame’s longtime, much loved barman. My companion drops his sunglasses in the sand, a passing David Gandy, supermodel face of D&G, leans down and hands them back. A perennial of GQ’s Best Dressed List, Mr. Gandy looks equally dandy in a tiny, black Speedo. Across the table, the splendidly handsome David King-Hew, barefoot in Tom Ford shades and a "Kamalame or Nowhere" t-shirt, flags down more rosé.
With a yen for decor, parties, food, cocktails, dogs, music, card games, laughter, and landscape design, it’s our good luck the Hews went into hospitality. Two generations of West Indies charmers of Euro and Chinese descent, whose ancestors settled in Jamaica in the 1600s, they know a thing or two about gracious island living. They're welcoming homeowners and hotel guests alongside an endless flow of friends and extended family, dropping in from nearby Miami, Jamaica, New York, Toronto, Nassau, and further afield. Everyone is well-fed and watered, blending into the island-wide social scene.
Invites for beach BBQs at the Tiki Hut, dinner at The Cove (Brian & Jennifer Hew), cocktails at Kapowai (Michael & David’s), all coming their way, in-the-know guests book stays over the monthly luncheons. These are multi-course, wine paired, DJ-enhanced affairs the King-Hews host with their pals from Young’s Fine Wine in Nassau. Lyford Cay swells boat in for the good times. It’s a fete that often runs well into the evening: lunch into afternoon cocktails, dinner through après drinks, possibly a moonlit bonfire. It's all in good fun, though the kaftan competition is fierce, extra points for most chic sandal. David King-Hew forever encourages his lady friends to pack a glam, yet sand-friendly high wedge.
Thanks to isolated tropical beauty, chic West Indies design, house-hopping socials, cool owners, and word of mouth, Kamalame has hosted everyone from Nicole Kidman and Javier Bardem to Mick Jagger since the Hews began taking reservations in 1995. More recently, Serena Williams hit the oceanfront courts during her honeymoon and Emma Watson was spotted kayaking through the mangroves. Model Karolina Kurkova, draped in a series of wow resort looks for ELLE Italia, posed for cameras around the island — standing on a daybed in The Great House, holding a lobster. In Lanvin. Click.
Guitar-strumming astronaut Chris Hadfield treated everyone to an impromptu round of Christmas carols capped by an encore of "Ground Control." The island’s new Rock House (one bedroom; $1.1 million) was built for David Rockefeller, the genial philanthropist whose billion-dollar art collection is the star of a current Vanity Fair feature. He spent his last few Christmas holidays here, among dozens of family members, before he passed away in 2017. The English wing of the Weston clan booked half the island for Easter, their children dunking eggs and seashells into bowls of colorful dye set out by the Tiki Bar. The Kardashians, forever sniffing out the latest luxury thing, supposedly had their production office's requests to shoot on the island denied.
“Hey, do you need a ride? Hop in!”
Strolling along the mangrove-edged road to the Great House for lunch, I turn to find a woman in a fluttering, floral maxi dress, sunglasses as huge as her red lipstick smile, sailing by on a white Schwinn tricycle with a generous rear basket.
“Thanks,” I say, “but I’m working off the champagne... “
Sophia Vergara laughs as she glides up the sugar sand path and disappears into the coconut palms.
Best to Book
Two-bedroom Blue Wing Teal, (from $1,505/night) and Indigo Palm (from $1,975 per night), which sleeps eight, are especially charming and nicely positioned. Simple, 300-square-foot Marina Rooms, just off the Great House and Tiki Bar, are a bargain, starting at $275. Strung together along a far-flung stretch of beach, the whitewashed Beach Bungalows start at $575.
Kamalame Cay is a 15-minute hopper from Nassau. Guests may arrive directly on the island via seaplane or helicopter. Alternatively, there are daily directs on Le Air, as well as charters into Andros Town Fresh Creek International Airport — a 20-minute taxi and five-minute private ferry from the Cay.