Spending a week in paradise
We sent our reporter on a really difficult assignment: Spend a week in Fiji. She returned with a tale of a remarkably sustainable island.
Tue, Dec 03, 2013 at 04:32 PM
Think of the South Pacific islands of Fiji and images of a lush, green paradise come to mind. Truth in advertising: It is that and more. But the adjective green also applies in the environmental sense, both in the government’s commitment to sustainability and the tourism industry’s efforts to conserve resources, reduce waste and preserve the environment.
Officially, the government has programs in place such as the 3R Project to encourage reducing, reusing and recycling; there are several commercial recycling plants on the islands and some hotels have their own systems, points out Thomas Valentine of Tourism Fiji. But as I found out on a recent trip there, Fijian resorts, especially ones located on remote islands, have come up with some practical ways to implement eco-friendliness.
To get to Yasawa Island Resort, it’s a short flight by seaplane from the main island’s international airport in Nadi to the tiny dirt airstrip, and another mile on a rutted road, but there’s a beautiful beach with a dozen bures (or villas, Fijian for sanctuary) at the end of it. It’s the kind of place where you can have a massage on the spa deck right on the beach, take a boat ride to the sea caves where “The Blue Lagoon” was shot, or visit the nearby Bukama village, where the residents have a particularly symbiotic relationship with the resort.
As is common on the islands, the villagers actually own the land and lease it to the resort, which employs many of the people. Villagers supply root crops such as cassava and locally caught fish to the resort, which is adding a garden to the staff quarters to feed employees. According to Bridget Murphy, who manages it with her husband Aaron, they’re in the process of installing their own solar-powered water pump system that will free them from relying on the Yasawa’s desalinization plant. “We have a diesel powered generator now, but hope to eventually change to solar,” she adds.
Taveuni Island Resort is another small-plane ride to eastern garden isle of Taveuni that’s known for its breathtaking waterfalls. It started life as a dive operation 38 years ago but is now a beachfront luxury destination with 12 bures, staffed by 40 people from the nearby village and run by Ric Cammick and his son Matt, who notes, “We’re doing a lot to help the environment. Glass is sent to Suva for recycling. Plastic bottles are shipped to Suva to be shredded, and food waste goes to compost in the garden or buried. We’re trying to teach the younger villagers about not dumping cans and plastic, and we helped organize a concert to raise awareness.”
Supply ships dock twice a week, but the resort buys local fish and seafood and grows as much of its own vegetables and fruit as possible at its farm next door. “We have papaya, yams, avocado, banana, breadfruit, limes, pineapple, jackfruit, mango, tomato, cabbage, eggplant, squash, taro, orange, cucumber, lychee, passion fruit, lettuce, and 90 hens laying eggs.”
Power comes from the resort’s own generator, but Cammick says, “They’re building a hydrodam on the island so we won’t have to rely on the generator but will keep it as a backup. When it’s finished in a year, we’ll save $10,000-$20,000 a month.”
From Nadi, it takes an inter-island ferry and a small speedboat to reach ultra-private Tadrai Island Resort in the western Mamanuca island group, but well worth the journey for the spectacular setting, amenities, and service. Just two years old and accommodating only five couples at a time, it’s on land leased from the nearby village’s elders, who get a percentage of the revenue. The 14th season of “Survivor” was shot on the adjacent beach, a short walk away.
The aptly named Tadrai (“the dream”) powers its generator with fuel barged in from the mainland and its water is desalinated seawater. Guests are encouraged to conserve both electricity and water, points out Tim Grace, who manages the resort with his wife Vanessa, the restaurant’s superb chef. They grow whatever fruits and vegetables they can, and fish is locally caught. “If the guests catch a fish, we can cook that,” typically in a beach barbecue pit called a lovo, notes Grace.
Following similar electricity and water conservation practices, nearby (via motorboat) Castaway Island Resort has adopted the objectives of the Mamanuca Environment Society and its green guidelines. A family-oriented destination emphasizing water sports like diving, it has 66 bures and none containing TVs or telephones, firmly encouraging guests to disconnect. All decorative plants and some vegetables are grown on the premises and fish and shellfish are caught locally.
Photo courtesy Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa
On the main island of Viti Levu, about an hour from Nadi, is the sprawling Intercontinental Fiji Golf Resort & Spa, where the exclusive Club Intercontinental’s 55 hilltop suites offer a more private experience. In line with its parent company IHG’s Green Engage initiative, the resort is committed to eco-tourism and has applied for a Virtuoso Sustainable Leadership Award. Among its achievements: energy and water conservation have reduced consumption by 20% each thanks to energy efficient heating and cooling equipment, low-flow water devices in guest rooms, and replacing incandescent bulbs with LEDs.
The resort recycles 30% of its waste and purchases 80% of its food and beverages locally, and of its 520 staffers, 98% are local residents. It’s committed to community projects including upgrading a local primary school, a hospitality-training program, and disaster relief to help those impacted by the 2012 cyclones. Volunteers take part in a monthly Beach Clean program, and the resort also supports the replenishing of coral reefs (and educating guests about their conservation).
Providing an average of 3000 guest and staff meals a day is a challenge for the resort, which has three restaurants plus room service and banquet facilities for events like the many weddings it hosts. There’s sometimes not enough local produce to meet demand, and the resort’s adjacent farm “got taken out in the last cyclone,” says executive chef Ofir Yudilevich. “They’re trying to put it back together.” Chickens and fish are obtained locally, but meat is imported from Australia or New Zealand. “Luckily we have plenty of storage space.”
Getting to Fiji became more sustainable when Fiji Airways converted to all new fleet of Airbus A330s, featuring fuel-efficient engines that produce 40% less carbon dioxide than their 747 predecessors. The airline has partnered with the aforementioned Mamanuca Environment Society in funding conservation and awareness-raising activities, contributing $25,000 Fijian annually to its programs. It’s still a10-hour flight from Los Angeles to Fiji, a long trip to be sure, but one made considerably more comfortable by the fully reclining seats in business class, which you might want to consider if you want the luxury experience — or need the legroom.
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