By Sera Tikotikovatu-Sefeti
When your parents are passionate about the environment and you are surrounded by unspoiled scenery, it is easy to appreciate what the land, the ocean, and its custodians have to offer.
Lara Meliki Vokai was born into the hospitality industry; her family’s business, Nukubati – Great Sea Reef off Vanua Levu, is a self-sustaining resort offering an authentic Fijian experience.
“Growing up in Vanua Levu was humbling, specifically where we grew up on the coast of Macuata. It was, and still is, an undeveloped part of Fiji, and not much has changed in the 32 years I have been around,” she shares.
Spread over 32 acres, Nukubati is completely off the grid; a perfect destination for visitors who want to relinquish control over their electronic devices and immerse themselves in the natural environment and the ocean.
“Watching my parents build a self-sufficient resort and, at the same time, protecting and improving the biodiversity of the environment on the island, was extremely educational,” Vokai says.
“I now look at everything in life with that same lens, having total respect and love for the natural environment.”
Vokai manages the resort with her husband, Leone, who also runs his own scuba diving and spearfishing business called the Great Sea Reef Divers. He takes guests snorkelling, diving and fishing at the reef that gives his business it’s name, ‘Cakaulevu’. It is the third longest barrier reef in the world and a place of biological significance.
Vokai recounts that when her parents first set up the resort, “There was no infrastructure on the island—no electricity, water, or phone signal towers. There was only one small wooden boat to transport goods and people across to the island and back; the Internet did not exist then, so there was no means of free marketing, no vehicle to take you to the jetty or up to town, and no shops to buy supplies from.”
Her parents realised that the only affordable way to set up their resort was to become as self-sufficient as possible.
Nukubati – Great Sea Reef is fully solar powered, and rainwater is harvested and UV filtered, so it is safe to drink. The resort also grows or sources all of its food locally, and the Vokais make it their aim to employ staff and management from their local communities.
“They built a bio-waste septic system, planted trees and gardens so they had more vegetation and food on the island, and hired staff from the local villages so that they could start forming close relationships with their community,” Vokai says of her parent’s early efforts.
From the resort, guests can snorkel off the beach, wade on the rock flats during low tide and learn about the local coastal mangrove ecosystem and all the food that can be gleaned there. Other attractions include massages and a locally-driven, delicious menu.
Guests are encouraged to take coastal nature walks, and can also visit villages, enjoy tatavu (traditional Fijian BBQs) beachside and go spearfishing.
The family has built a social, as well as a environmental legacy. Nukubati Community Foundation receives donations from a worldwide network of past guests, family and friends, with most projects assisting the local school.
The Nukubati team was also selected as facilitators in the Duavata Collective Conservation Youth Program during the Covid pandemic, which saw them work with 40 young people from five coastal Macuata villages to learn about sustainable agroforestry and marine management, with the aim that they would take that learning back to share with their communities.
This article first appeared in Fiji Traveller, April-June 2023.