Inside floating pizza hub in the middle of the Pacific
Cloud 9 is the Fiji's two-level floating platform with an internationally stocked bar and Italian wood-fired pizzeria, surrounded by turquoise blue water and picturesque views. This unique venue has a cutting edge music policy and surround sound system throughout, sun decks, hanging chairs and day beds. Cloud 9 is built with precision and creativity, striving to give its visitors an experience like no other.
An Australian DJ, sailor and avid surfer, Wachtel dreamed up the remote bar with friends during a surfing trip in Fiji. "I'd always been from a marine background, my father is a yachtie and circumnavigator, and the sea has been my home for a very long time," recalls Wachtel. “Fiji is a really tricky place to surf, because the breaks are so isolated. You really need a boat to access everything. We thought it'd be amazing to have a meeting place, closer to the breaks.”
When scouting locations, Wachtel and his business partner chose the spot carefully. They finally settled on a crystal-clear lagoon, about nine miles southwest of Fiji's famous Cloudbreak swell. Thanks to surrounding islands, the relatively shallow water is generally protected from the strongest winds and waves. The restaurant has one mooring, so it sways gently in the breeze and, in case of a storm, a boat can tug it to safety in about one day.
Designed by Fiji-based architect Lisa Philp, the floating restaurant was constructed using three different types of local wood: mahogany, raintree and treated pine. The two-story structure sits atop two pontoons, while sun shades protect guests from the intense rays and solar panels power the entire operation. The most complicated part of the process was not in the restaurant's construction, but in the building of relationships with various local stakeholders.
The hardest part was about six months after opening. "We encountered a lot of hurdles," Wachtel adds. "I needed to move to Fiji and take over the operation, because my first business partner, who was the original manager, didn't get it right.” Cloud 9 was mostly a hangout for serious surfers when it first opened, but the guest list has expanded considerably over the years to include young couples, groups of friends, and even a few families.
With two daily sessions, Wachtel estimates that the place welcomes roughly 200 visitors a day during peak season. When guests disembark from the ferry, they tend to find their own little nook. Each level offers varied seating arrangements, including large day beds, shaded communal tables, bar seating and rows of sun-soaked reclining chairs.
Once settled, you can rent snorkel gear, jump from the top deck and swim around the reef, where you will find colourful coral and a smattering of fascinating fish. The floating paradise also lures music lovers from all over the world, thanks to a rotating roster of guest DJs, including international DJ Ant J. Steep, an Australian DJ and composer who fills the air with mellow, moody electronic beats. Following each guest DJ performance, Wachtel uploads the set to Cloud 9's Soundcloud account so visitors can tune in at home.
Served on thick wood butchers' boards, thin crust, wood-fired pizza is the order of the day. There are about six options available, including classic Margherita and Hawaiian (topped with ham and pineapple). It might not the best pizza you have ever had, but you will be impressed with the homemade dough, made fresh every morning, and crispy crusts.
Pizza was chosen as an elegant solution to the food challenge problem because of the environmental considerations. A full menu requires a full kitchen. Secondly, waste is obviously a very important logistical consideration since everything needs to be transported back to the mainland, while minimising waste.
At the bar, day drinkers can order tropical cocktails from every shade in the rainbow, a few local beers like Fiji Gold and Fiji Bitter, and a handful of wines and bubbly. “Obviously having a fully stocked bar was very important,” recalls Wachtel. “We wanted to have the raddest lounge bar in the world - a meeting place in the middle of the ocean”.