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In Fiji Sustainable Tourism is a Way of Life

Editor’s Note: A version of this story was published in the Honolulu Star Advertiser.

When Oahu natives Rachel Holderbaum and Kainoa Cundall decided to set up Dua na Cegu, a fishing and free-diving resort on Waisalima Bay on Kadavu, a remote island in Fiji, they knew it would be a challenge. Roughly the size of Molokai with a population of approximately 11,000, Kadavu has virtually no roads, no electrical grid and no water system.

Known primarily for its diving in the surrounding Astrolabe Reef, motorboat is the only mode of transportation.

Kainoa Cundall, owner of Dua na Cegu, a fishing and free-diving operation.

Holderbaum and Cundall never intended to be on the leading edge of sustainable tourism, but that’s exactly where their endeavor in rural Fiji took them.

Using local materials, such as Fiji-grown pine, mahogany and native hardwoods such as dilo and vau, they designed a sturdy “bure levu” (big house) — a kitchen, dining room and library along with two bungalows. EVERYTHING WAS built to withstand cyclones, which pummel the Fijian archipelago sporadically.

Given that the property is off the grid, a photovoltaic system with batteries (along with a backup generator) was installed. Complementing this was a redundant water system fed by a nearby spring and water catchment.

After arriving at Waisalima Bay, one of Holderbaum’s first tasks was to plant a garden. It now teems with papaya, lime, orange, bele (edible hibiscus), pineapple, kumala (sweet potato), pumpkin, green bean, chili, lilikoi, tavioka (cassava), dalo (taro), ginger, green onions, cilantro, lettuce, tomato and a host of other crops.

Bures can withstand Cyclones and are constructed with locally grown timber.

Her Fijian neighbors provided advice on how and where to plant. The local villagers also showed her indigenous medicinal plants such as totodro, a fan-shaped weed, which is used for diarrhea and stanching blood flow from open wounds.

Holderbaum said the garden usually provides enough veggies to feed themselves and guests, but some items, such as meat, onions and garlic, are brought in from the ferry boat or the Fiji Airways flight.

Weather permitting, Cundall, a veteran fisherman, harvests opakapaka, onaga, snapper and other species which provide fodder for half of the meals.

On Kadavu, Cundall says, one is “forced to be sustainable,” which means being a jack-of-all-trades — electrician, plumber, builder and backyard mechanic, to name just a few.

However, he said, “our garden, fishing boat and PV system are only part of the sustainability equation. The linchpin is the Fijian culture — the values that are practiced daily.” Could the sustainability lessons that Cundall and Holderbaum have witnessed on Kadavu be practiced in Hawaii?

Accommodations are comfortable but not fancy.

“You can put PV on your roof and add rain barrels in the yard. However, what we’ve learned,” said Cundall, “is that the secret is community.” Holderbaum added, “We may have our disagreements on Kadavu, but in times of adversity we cooperate.”

“For example,” said Cundall, “if a cyclone is coming,

we spend the day with neighbors, securing boats and getting random articles tied down.”

A sense of community isn’t always felt in Honolulu.

He related a childhood anecdote. “I was at Longs with my mother to purchase some items to prepare for Hurricane Iniki. Mom was reaching for some batteries on the shelf, and a man grabbed them away from her. In doing so, he knocked her to the floor.”

In Fiji communal cohesion is rooted deep in the culture. This is especially true in remote areas where services that Hawaii people take for granted may not be available.

“I’ve been to get-togethers on Kadavu,” said Holderbaum, “where a local woman with a newborn will breastfeed another woman’s baby without a second thought.”

“Fijians don’t shy away from responsibility,” she said. “If a task needs to be done, such as weeding an elderly neighbor’s garden or repairing a home in the aftermath of a storm, the job is done with no hesitation.”

“Practicing sustainability,” said Cundall, “is more than having the newest Tesla battery. In Fiji it’s a way of life.”

“As we say in Hawaii,” said Cundall, “we’re all in the same wa’a.” 

Rob Kay

Lowell Thomas Travel Journalism Award winner Rob Kay wrote the original Lonely Planet Fiji Travel Guide, and is Founder of Fijiguide.com.

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