Fiji’s ultimate ocean lovers’ paradise

5:00 AM Saturday May 16, 2015 Colin Taylor

Aerial view of the completed commercial and residential development at Vunabaka on Fiji’s Malolo Island – artist’s impression

Four New Zealand businessmen linked by a love of surfing are behind a spectacular new commercial and residential development taking shape on Fiji’s Malolo Island with a range of sections available for purchase in the 40ha beachfront resort.

Over two thirds of sites currently for sale in the Vunabaka development, in the Mamanuca group of islands about 35 minutes by boat or 10 minutes by helicopter from Nadi airport, have already sold. The 18 remaining available sections have frontage either onto the beach, ocean, a marina or are elevated with stunning views.

They are priced between US$600,000 and $1.4 million (about NZ$800,000 to $1.86 million) plus 15 per cent value added tax.

The development is being marketed by Chester Rendell of Bayleys Auckland who says the sections, ranging from 1666 sq m to 4108 sq m, are much bigger than on a number of other Fiji developments, providing owners with a greater degree of privacy.

Each site purchased comes with water rights for a marina berth for boats up to 10 metres, while the 57-berth marina also has five berths capable of handling up to a 25 metre vessel and another five  capable of accommodating a 15 metre vessel.

Rendell says the sections sold to date have mainly been by word of mouth to high net worth individuals in New Zealand, Australia, North and Central America and South Africa.

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View of the Vunabaka development as seen from beachfront – artist’s impression. 

“Before actively marketing the sections, the owners have waited until much of the infrastructure has been completed and titles have been issued, enabling purchasers to build on their properties straight away.

“The sections have pretty much sold themselves because of their pristine location on one of the most stunning coastlines in Fiji at the foot of an indigenous rainforest, the easy access to and from Nadi, the water sport attractions in the area and the high quality of the development.”

Once complete, the NZ$200 million Vunabaka project will feature a luxury five-star hotel called Island Grace with 24 bures (including six garden bures that are also for sale), 73 privately-owned residences, shops, restaurants, bars, a fitness centre, tennis courts, a spa plus two full service marinas.

The New Zealand  investors  involved in the development,  all of whom own properties at Vunabaka,  are: Michael Lucas, former managing director of market research company TNS Conversa; Christian Burtscher, former co-owner of Roundhill ski field in Tekapo; Andrew Griffiths, former CEO of the non-profit SurfAid programme; and Keith Gosling, founder of Auckland accounting firm Gosling Chapman, now WHK.

They have teamed up with an American investor and the local community as shareholders in the project’s development and management company.

Rendell says the owners are “looking to develop a community of like-minded others with a  love for island life who appreciate the luxury of a marina at their back door, white sand beach out front, world-class cuisine from a  boutique hotel and the ability to partake in all manner of water pursuits”.

Griffiths says Vunabaka is close to some of the world’s best surfing breaks, fishing spots, kite-surfing destinations and boating activities. “It’s the ultimate ocean lovers’ paradise. The likes of global surfing sensations Joel Parkinson and Kelly Slater have said the world-class surfing breaks – five of which are close to Vunabaka – are some of their all-time favourites.”

Construction on the project started in July 2013 after several years of feasibility assessments, planning and design. The development of the Stage One marina, coastal reclamation, beach beautification, power, water and gas reticulation was completed late last year with all of the section titles also issued.

“Vunabaka has been developed by a group of passionate owners, not traditional developers,” says Lucas. “Our motive has been to create a development we are proud of – the best in the Pacific – while carefully managing risk.

“We spent 16 months creating what we believe is the best marina in the Pacific Islands and have prepared the land to enable construction of the Island Grace Hotel to get underway over a  14 month period scheduled for completion May next year. We are working with individual section owners to design, plan and build their dream homes and those builds have also started now that all the utilities are in place. At the moment we have over 200 builders and workers erecting buildings and homes all around the site”.

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View of Vunabaka’s recently completed marina on Fiji’s Malolo Island.

New Zealand architect Richard Priest, who describes the site as the best he’s ever seen, is responsible for the overall design of the integrated development.

Rendell says section purchasers have two years to complete the construction of a villa that must be designed and built in accordance with specified criteria. “The vendors wish to create a strong sense of identity and consistency of design with Richard Priest the approved architect. However, buyers can use their own builders and architects subject to an approval process. Assistance can also be provided with interior design and furniture, fixtures and fittings packages, particularly for purchasers who are looking to rent their properties back to the hotel.

“There is an option for villas to be managed and included in the rental pool by the hotel when owners are not using them to help defray their costs. This arrangement is a flexible one and owners can use their villas as little or as much as they like and will also have access to all of the resort’s facilities.”

Lucas says Vunabaka has been financed through owner equity along with a development loan against pre-sales through the Fiji Development Bank. The site is on a 99-year lease from the local landholders, with a further 99-year right of renewal. “The local community receives 10 per cent of all land sales and has a 21 per cent stake in the ongoing entity that will run the development,” says Lucas.

He says a strong ecological focus has guided the project and the entire development will run on networked solar power, with diesel generators as back-up. It will also have a low energy, organic wastewater system. A reforestation and coral regeneration programme will restore and add to the native rainforest and reef around the resort, while holiday-makers will have the opportunity to offset the carbon footprint of their travel by planting trees.

“We intend to landscape extensively with indigenous plant species and maintain large scale garden areas to grow our own fruits and vegetables on-site,” Lucas says. “In conjunction with the local community, we also plan to undertake a reforestation programme of Fijian Kauri across as much of the island as feasible.  We want to leave Malolo and Fiji in a better state than when we arrived. If we can do this in this small corner of the world we hope it can serve as an inspiration and model for successful eco tourism.”

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Chester Rendell of Bayleys.