December 8, 2022
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Taveuni Update–Roberta Davis reflects on the Covid Era in Fiji and reopening her property

Editors’ Note: I recently re-connected with Roberta Davis, who owns and operates a B&B-style property called Makaira on Taveuni, Fiji’s Garden Island. The property consists of four bures (cottages) perched on four acres of a hillside, once the site of an ancient village. Located a few miles from an old dirt airstrip, the resort on Taveuni is a 45 minute prop flight from the international airport in Nadi. Roberta who spent much of her adult life in Hawaii, has lived in Taveuni for the past 20 years and loves her lifestyle.

She has re-emerged from the Covid Era with a bounce to her step. In this interview Roberta shares her experiences over the last two years and offers us a Taveuni Update.

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Now that covid is in the rear-view mirror and visitors are coming back to Fiji what lessons have  you learned over the last several years?

The most important lesson I learned is that we don’t need as much as we think we do. We can live on a lot less. It also helped that I am of the generation that knows how to put in a (victory) vegetable garden.  It was very hard because we had a cyclone in December 2019 that led to a very real shortage of the usual roots and fruits. 

Every one of the four bungalows has a view
Every bungalow has a great view (Rob Kay)

The next lesson I learned naturally here was no one was hoarding supplies like toilet paper etc.  So we never had a severe shortage of anything, well except money. The people of Taveuni are resilient. They know about sharing.

Can you offer a Taveuni Update? How did the Garden Island weather the economic downturn? Have businesses and restaurants bounced back?

It is a miracle that we all survived especially resorts with bank loans. Luckily, the bank realized that they would be repossessing 80% of the resorts, so they waived payments. The locals were allowed to withdraw from their “FNPF fund” which is similar to Social security in the US. Towards the end of the pandemic the Govt started offering 2 year free interest loans that a lot of businesses took advantage of receiving. For the first two years businesses and resorts were on their own, there was no money like many other countries gave.

Being old school I don’t like owing money anywhere or to anyone. That made it easier to survive with a primarily subsistent lifestyle.   Most of the resorts let their staff go. Our staff is so great and they live on the property I couldn’t do that to them and I did not want to lose them. I kept them on part time and gave them half my veggie garden area so they could grow food. 

The vistas from the property are not too bad. (courtesy Makaira Resort)

Although I will admit I was tempted to take the Government loan, then after some thought realized we made it for two years I think we can go further. It didn’t take long for Government loan money to be gone. 

A little over a year into it I had to send my husband back to Hawaii because he could find employment there and it has everything he needs including staying in the family home. He would send money when he could to clear some of his debts and that helped pay wages. It was a big help. 

What kind of visitor traffic is Taveuni getting these days? 

It is like the good old days of the first 3 quarters of 2019. After over 2 years of no guests we all felt out of practice and almost had to relearn or refresh ourselves on everything. We are in full swing now, which is wonderful and we are all extremely grateful to have visitors again, no matter where they choose to stay.  Taveuni was isolated for all that time and for a great deal of that time even locals on other islands were not allowed on the island. It definitely kept us safe from COVID 19. 

The Grander Suite at Makaira has a master bedroom but can be converted into a 2 bedroom 2 bath accommodation
The Grander Suite has a master bedroom but can be converted into a 2 bedroom 2 bath accommodation that can accommodate 4. (Rob Kay photo)

What do you think makes a visitors experience on Taveuni different from other destinations in Fiji?

Speaking only for Taveuni, it is friendly and safe. There is so much to do on this garden island, it is beautiful. Gorgeous hikes, diving, sightseeing, fishing and snorkeling. For anyone who enjoys the outdoors and has the South Pacific dream, this is the place to visit.

Any thing new in the way of restaurants, attractions, etc. on the island?

Salt Water Dive is doing a lovo/Meke (Fijian style luau and hula) once a week that visitors enjoy having a taste of the culture. We are hoping to get electricity on this side of the island by April where many of the resorts are located. That will change our life, we can provide A/C , blow dryers and irons etc. It will also reduce our carbon footprint since we all have been forced to be on generator power and fuel here is extremely expensive. Having hydro- electric power will be amazing, especially since Fiji is striving to go green. Taveuni is the perfect island to go green. At the dateline they are offering a craft market a couple of times a week. 

What are your rates? 

Our rates remain the same despite suggestions to raise them. I am just so happy to get guests. I didn’t choose here to make a million dollars, I chose here for the lifestyle. As long as I can meet the monthly expenses I am happy.   

Restoring the reef after a cyclone is Roberta's hobby
Restoring the reef after a cyclone is a full time activity at Makaira and Roberta’s “lifetime hobby” (courtesy Makira Resort)

Is Coral restoration still am important activity at Makaira’s Beach?

Scott Putnam, an old from California, and some other friends were here earlier this year and they planted an artificial reef way in the deep where no one can see it. The reason being the last one we did in 28 ft of water got swept away so we needed a safe one as a coral bank account. But from what we have done mother nature and the reef are bouncing back quickly, it is really nice out there after the drop off. In fact it is amazing!!! In late 2019, most of the reef turned to dust. But there was enough that survived right in front of us and near My Bommie, a pinnacle a hundred meters or so from the beach, that it reseeded the area. I have been meaning to put a mini rope grid at the drop off so people can see how it is done. Coral restoration will be my lifetime hobby, some years after cyclones it is intense, but once it gets the nudge it goes gangbusters. 

Big smile from Roberta Davis, Taveuni, owner of Makaira Resort
Roberta Davis, Makaira owner (Rob Kay)

Any advice for travelers headed to Taveuni?

Yes, know that you are coming to paradise and a simpler lifestyle. Taveuni is not known for having big hotels or over the top pomp and circumstance and the only sky scrapers you will see are coconut trees.  There is not a lot of night life, the saying here is 9;00pm is Taveuni midnight. Don’t bring fancy clothes and high heels and expensive jewels. There is no one to impress, everyone is more impressed with a friendly Hello or Bula and having delighted visitors experiencing the way the world should be with all their troubles in the rear view mirror. It is the perfect location for outdoor adventures, romance or chilling out and de-stressing. Every single resort on the island will do their reasonable best to make sure their guests have all their basic needs met. Do bring some insect repellant, after all not only do we enjoy paradise.

Interested in finding out more about Makaira? Pay them a visit.           

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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