Fiji Tourism reopens after two tough years–interview with Makaira Resort’s Roberta Davis

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I recently had a chance to connect with my old friend Roberta Davis, who has spent the last two years at her B&B-style property called Makaira on the Garden Island of Taveuni. Located in the north of the Fiji Archipelago, it’s far from civilization and remains unspoiled. The Honolulu-born Davis and her husband, John Llanes, a Hawaii Island native, enjoy life in Fiji which they liken to Hawaii generations ago. 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. In this interview Roberta shares her experiences of the last two years and happily offers news of Fiji’s reopening in December.

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1. Now that tourism is opening up in Fiji, how do I go about visiting Makaira? What are the protocols that must be followed to get to Taveuni?

The New Normal is here. Of course regulations will change as time goes by. Right now guests must have a PCR test within 72 hours of departure to Fiji. Travel Insurance is mandatory or you can’t board your flight. Arrivals must stay for the first 3 days in an Certified Fiji Care (CFC) facility. During those initial 3 days they can go anywhere within the CFC corridor like diving, fishing, snorkeling and CFC  stores.

After 48 hours they are required to take a “rapid test” at the resort. They can bring their own test or purchase one at the resort. 

They must have a staff member witness or administer the test and view the results. If guests test negative they can go where they please on day 3 but will be advised to avoid low vax areas as some resorts might not let them come back in.

Roberta Davis, owner of Makaira

If a guest tests positive some of the larger hotels on Viti Levu have reserved quarantine rooms. On the outer islands, with the smaller boutique resorts, no one will want to accommodate a guest who has tested positive at another resort. (So far there are no quarantine rooms designated on Taveuni).

Those who test positive will need to quarantine in their room. Incoming guests will need to find other accommodations, hence the need for travel insurance as the quarantine is 10 days. If some members of the group or family test positive and others test negative, the negative ones have a choice to return home or spend 10 days in quarantine with the ones that tested positive and hope they don’t contract Covid during that period. 

Restoration of the reefs by replanting coral is practiced at Makaira by guests and management.

During their stay the same public protocols are in place of mask wearing, social distancing and hand sanitizing and avoid low vax areas. Every conceivable precaution has been taken to insure everyone’s health and safety. There is not more that can be cone short of everyone becoming bubble people. 

2. How has Taveuni handled the pandemic and the vaccination process?

Fiji should be commended on how they have handled the vaccination process. I don’t think any place in the world has done better. By December 1st 97% of the target population, 18 and over will be double vaccinated mostly with AstraZeneca. Right now 90% are double jabbed. Although we might get a handful of cases a day, there have been no deaths for a while.

The bures at Makaira are spacious and offer privacy.

They are working on teenagers right now so they can open up the secondary schools.  16-18 year old are mainly vaccinated and back in class. Now  they are working on the 12-18 year olds, the policy is no jab no job, no school, no church, no travel. That just about hits everyone on one level or the other. Here are a couple of the aside funny stories. We got the first load of vax’s in April this was before the no jab no job mandate. 

Some of my staff was reluctant to take it but I had to tell them as much as I care about them, “no jab no job”. This is for their own and the guests safety. So I dragged them to the hospital. Some tried to hide in the hallway but I corralled them up. My Karma was I could have written the brochure on the side effects of the shot. Luckily Rosie, who runs the restaurant, got the last dose that they had. 

Views from the property are stellar.

When the death toll started to rise and we were all ahead of the vax game they were so happy to be part of the few percent that was double jabbed. One woman wanted to go to church and you have to show your vax card which she didn’t have went to the hospital and told the nurse since she needed both jabs to give her one in her right arm and one in her left. She was told it doesn’t quite work that way and everyone had a good giggle at her expense. 

3. How has Taveuni weathered the economic downturn? Have businesses and restaurants survived?

Taveuni is an interesting place and everyone here is resilient.  But this had to be the toughest economic time ever.  We had the cyclone before Christmas so there went all the bush food and farms. Then in January was the international lock down that has been for two years. Resorts had to lay the majority of their staff, this meant the locals had no money to buy food and no foods growing in the wild. I kept all of my staff on a part-time basis so they would have enough money to buy the basics and they all live in the staff quarters. 

Isoa and Rosie run Rosie’s Sea View Dining, the restaurant on the property.

Since I am on my own and have a huge area for a veggie garden, we shared  out sections to each staff member and myself as a victory garden. Finding seeds was nearly impossible. Luckily I had a stash of some seeds and we have a lot of second generation veggies from the first batch. Not ideal but okay, it is something. But it was in fits and starts because we had to wait for the first harvest to start all over again for the second batch to grow.

Only in the last couple of months has the island started to get papayas and bananas and watermelon. During that lean time all we were lacking were blood sucking zombies to add to the scene to make it a trifecta. For me it has been one heck of a diet plan haha. But really not fun juggling the finances to keep everyone going and surviving. There was no way I could completely lay off my staff in good conscience their loyalty deserves my loyalty.

They don’t call it Sea View Dining for nothing.

4. Anything you’d like to share about yourself and what you may have learned during this period?

Sure. One of the nice things since we were isolated Covid never really hit Taveuni thanks to the diligence of our Health inspector who did a great job. BUT we were completely isolated and had to rely on ourselves and the island. Luckily supply ships were still allowed in without passengers. We NEVER had a toilet paper shortage, people were more worried about where their next meal was coming from rather than the luxury of stocking up on toilet paper or anything for that matter. None of us could afford it and there were no stimulus checks either. You are on your own. 

The rooms are comfortable and cozy.

Citizens who live in countries of abundance have no idea how lucky they are where the government will support them and if no one got greedy they would never run out of toilet paper. 

One of the things I learned while looking after the Makaira family and myself is how little anyone needs to survive. A lot of people in civilization waste a lot and some are self-entitled. What really floors me is the percentage of anti-vaxxers and how gullible they are. According to them we should have all been dead by now from having taken the vax. 

Big Island native and Roberta’s significant other, John Llanes, doubles as a charter boat captain, at home in Taveuni.

Another nice thing is we had no communicable diseases on the island like colds, flus, pink eye etc. I would guess that during this two year period our immune systems had a chance to revitalize. That is a good thing since guests bring in all kinds of little contagious bugs.

5. Anything new with Makaira? 

Captain John Llanes, who runs the charters, should be starting his operation by the first of Feb. He needs to do some things to get the boat back in the water. Hopefully sometime during the first quarter or so we can finally take delivery of the 24’ center console boat for up to 2 anglers that are more budget minded. 

6. Anything else you’d like to add?

We can hardly wait to welcome guests back to Makaira and Fiji. I hope they are patient because after two years we might be a bit rusty as we dust off our businesses. This is why we aren’t opening until Jan 2 so we can get everything as near perfect as possible and see how the New Normal goes, hopefully without a hitch. 

For more information visit Makaira online email Roberta at makaira@connect.com.fj.

Top Photo: Beach below Makaira Resort.

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