A man’s vision

Mr and Mrs Qereqeretabua at their home in Samabula. Picture: SIKELI QOUNADOVU

IT was a dream ignited by a passion, an idea fueled by a desire and a hope for a brighter future inspired by their remoteness and geographical location.

Radike Qereqeretabua has been one of the people behind it all – Kadavu’s growing popularity in the tourism industry and his island home Dravuni is now one of the sort after places for local and international cruise-liners.

A hotelier of about half a century, more than 40-years-ago Mr Qereqeretabua envisioned tourists flocking to his island home and in the process reversing the rural to urban migration trend.

Not only had he wanted something to benefit his people but also to give back to his island home.

“My plan is to bring back my own people to the village since we have almost everything here, but we needed the right investors in order to bring back our people to the village, to reverse the rural to urban migration and to improve rural development. This was the main idea behind it.

“Some time ago my elders came and told me, that they wanted a backpackers resort on Yaukuve Island and I told them no to backpackers because revenue is very little, so I told them to wait for me as I will bring somebody, who can develop our island,” said Mr Qereqeretabua.

In 1978 a retired Canadian pilot alongside three other friends were circumnavigating the globe sailing from Canada to the Caribbean, Hawaii and then to the Pacific looking for an ideal island.

“They said this is the island they were looking for, so when they spoke to the villagers, they were referred to me and we talked, so that’s when everything started, that’s how the Yaukuve Island Resort started. “But the coup in 1987 forced the investors to pull out.

“I tried to convince him and called him again at his home in Vancouver but he said he was too old, but the accountant and chef decided to try again and took it on,” added Mr Qereqeretabua. However, Fiji’s political situation since the turn of the millennium and third military take-over six years later was not favourable for the Yaukuve Island Resort, so everything went downhill.

“In June 2011, someone had told him how beautiful Yaukuve Island was, so he decided to come and see for himself. He came in his yacht Kokomo II. One of my relatives called me to say the Australian has been diving at the Solo reefs, in the last three days.

“On June 12 of 2011, he called me to say, that his name is Lang Walker and he has been surveying my island and he would like to talk to me with an opportunity to lease. So he traveled on his yacht, picked me at the Suva Yacht Club and on June 13, the first thing he told me was that he was a property developer and a diver and he used to dive for the Australian Navy and he wanted to build a deluxe resort on our island. There were discussions and after consultation with the Prime Minister and the Attorney-General, the island was deposited in the Land Bank which then negotiated and ensured the lease title was granted.”

Yaukuve Levu island was leased out to Australia’s 17th richest person and billionaire, Lang Walker who has an estimated personal wealth of $2.02 billion. Seven years on and Mr Qereqeretabua considers having Yaukuve Levu Island leased out to a magnate and ability to provide employment to villagers a great achievement.

“The benefits have been the signing of the lease. One of the things we achieved was the work rates, and we agreed to be sitting at $4 per hour and that’s what our people are being paid.

“So we have been, most of our people are back in the village now so we have managed to reverse the trend. Most of our people working there, some are graduates and that is a satisfaction for me.”

Not only does Kokomo Private Island Resort provide employment, but villagers of Dravuni have other income generating projects apart from relying on the sea alone.

The village known for its majestic waters and white sandy beach is now a stop-over for local and international cruise-liners.

It is several times a year, some to about 10 times, that cruise-liners anchor out at sea, with tourists disembarking, either to soak it out in the sun, snorkel the crystal clear waters, experience local Fijian culture, entertainment and cuisine or hike to a hilltop for a birds-eye-view of what many have termed, as a multi-million dollar view.

“All I am informing my fellow villagers is whatever money they earn, to make sure they invest and save.”

“But I am glad it has been going very well for my village and for that I am very grateful,” said Mr Qereqeretabua who turns 81 in January 2019.

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