Roberta Davis never thought she’d end up living in Taveuni. The Honolulu-bornDavis and her husband, John Llanes, a Hawaii Island native, run a B&B style property called Makaira, just a few miles from an old dirt airstrip. The property consists of four bures (cottages) perched on four acres of a hillside, once the site of an ancient village.
It’s got an a 180 degree ocean view—essential back in the good old days when Fiji was known as the Cannibal Islands. When European settlers arrived, it morphed into a tranquil coconut plantation. Just down the hill is a white sand beach with better off shore snorkeling than you’ll find anywhere outside of Haunauma Bay.
Unlike Haunauma Bay there’s no Costco-sized parking lot, no tourists at your elbow and far more species of tropical corals.The property overlooks the Somosomo Straight, which has world-class diving and a fishery that includes Marlin, Sailfish, Wahoo, Mahi-mahi and Yellow fin. There are also a few other species not found in Hawaii such as Walu and Dogtooth Tuna and a host of reef fish. Roberta’s significant other, Captain John Llanes has released over 2,000 fish since he started charter fishing on Taveuni. (The average is about 9 releases a day).
The angling is so good that Hawaii Skin Diver made a pilgrimage to Makaira in May to film a show that aired last June on OC 16. (You can watch the Hawaii Skindiver show to see what I mean).
Known as the Garden Island, Taveuni is slightly larger than Lanai, and has about 12,000 inhabitants. A lush, rainy, formerly volcanic island, it boasts with waterfalls, parrots, giant fruit bats and a native boa constrictor. Locals (as in most of rural Fiji) are steeped in their indigenous culture, speak their own language, grow their own food and rely on the ocean for much of their sustenance.
Roberta Davis reckons she lives a lifestyle that harkens back to Hawaii of 50 or perhaps 100 years ago.Of course the good life in Fiji is not without it’s challenging side. The Fiji Islands reside in cyclone country and getting whacked by a mega storm every other year or so has become all too commonplace. Every cyclone is different. They can be mild or ferocious–short or long in duration.
Cyclone Tomas, which hit Taveuni in March of 2010, was both ferocious and long. Roberta described it simply as “terrifying.” Holed-up in a small concrete bunker, she feared for her life when the walls started to shake uncontrollably. “It was noisy,” she said. “The storm was like a freight train bearing down on us. In the distance we heard the trees firing coconut cannons and the cracking echo of shattering Monkeypod trees.”
Roberta described the the island going from “lush to desolate over night–like it was hit with Napalm.” Six months later it was back to lush again.
She went snorkeling with fear in her heart not long after the storm to assess the big surf damage. The beach is approximately a quarter mile long. From the shoreline to about 100 yards out and across the whole cove, the reef was completely desolated. Staghorn coral colonies lay shattered and uprooted with broken arms lying like so much rubble on the sea floor.
Despite the general devastation, some areas of the reef were leveled where as others were intact. The amount of damage correlated to the depth and the contour of the reef.
To her delight, Roberta discovered that her favorite underwater treasure had survived: a large rose bubble tip anemone colony with attending melanopus clownfish. Her second favorite prize, which she named the Aquarium, survived, perhaps because it lay inside a blow of reef.
Was it a was a sign from on high that things were going to be O.K? Maybe but she knew something had to be done to attempt to resurrect the once beautiful reef system.
Rob Kay is the author of Fijiguide.com. Stay tuned for part II of the story.