Home sweet home in Fiji
We’ve been in Savusavu, Fiji now for about three weeks and we are really enjoying it here. In between rounds of editing on my new book, we had a serendipitous meet-up with friends of friends. When Wayne’s former colleague read that we were in Savusavu, he sent an email saying that in an amazing coincidence, he had friends who were housesitting in Savusavu. He introduced us via email.
It turned out that Eduardo and Helena were like our land-based counterparts in that they love traveling and now that their kids are grown, they are on the road full-time. One of the things that they enjoy doing is housesitting. It turns out that there are several websites like Trustedhousesitters.com that are essentially match makers for this. The owner might need someone to pet sit, take care of the garden or show the home to realtors, and the housesits get to live in the home and care for it.
Our new friends were housesitting in a place that is for sale here in Fiji, and after we invited them out to the boat one afternoon, they drove us up to see the place. Eduardo cooked us a fantastic curry dinner. We had a wonderful time making new friends and getting to go inside this beautiful home.
One of my biggest surprises here in Fiji s the number of homes owned and being built by foreigners from New Zealand, Australia and North America. I was similarly surprised when I returned to the Bahamas after an almost 20-year absence. I’m very happy I was privileged to visit these Fijian islands back in the 1970’s before there were so many resorts and ex-pat vacation homes. The islands and people here are much more affluent than back in the 1970’s. Sometimes when I see young Fijians chatting on their cell phones and wearing western clothing, I think it’s sad to see people losing their traditional village way of life, but I certainly understand the lure of modern amenities. I’m not about to give up my gadgets and why should others be denied the same luxuries? The influx of tourists and new home owners has changed the islands, but it has also raised the standard of living of many Fijians.
It turns out that there are three types of land here in Fiji: native trust land, crown land, and freehold. Crown land is owned by the government, and native trust land is owned by individual Fijian clans. Foreigners can build homes on native trust land by leasing it on a 99-year lease as many are familiar with in places like Mexico. However approximately 9% of the land in Fiji is freehold land, and foreigners can buy and own these properties free and clear.
The island of Vanua Levu where we are currently anchored, along with Taveuni and a few smaller islands have the majority of this freehold land because back when Fiji was a British government, the British designated it such and tried to get European farmers to come out and start plantations. We saw lots of homes when we drove out to the house with Eduardo and Helena, and there are also lots of fancy vacation homes on the hillside where we are anchored here just off the Jean Michel Cousteau Resort.
According to this article in the Wall Street Journal, vacation homes in Fiji are significantly less expensive than those in Tahiti or Hawaii. I think that must be the case because while we have been here in the Savusavu area, we have learned of three cruisers who have either just bought homes or are in the process of building homes.
It appears from the For Sale ($295,000 US) sign on this property, that unlike the prices mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, not all the homes are over a million bucks. In fact, it is our understanding that the house we visited for dinner is for sale for around half that.
While Savusavu is a small town, it is well supplied with a fantastic open market selling loads of fruits and veggies, and it has first world amenities such as Brie, a wine store and reasonably fast Internet. What more could you ask for? However, the major thing that makes people fall in love with Fiji is the people. Everyone here is so friendly and cheerful! I can understand why cruisers who are contemplating swallowing the anchor would choose homes here. I look at some of the homes, and I think how lovely it would be to live there, but when I get back to the boat, I realize there is no way I would trade our cruising life for a piece of land – no matter how awesome it is.