By Samantha Magick

The Urata lookout just outside Savusavu has long been a favourite place for travellers on the Labasa-Savusavu highway to break their journey for a spectacular photo and some fresh air.

But its popularity meant that it had also become a place that was despoiled by the litter they left behind.

Now the location has a café that has a simple beauty that compliments, rather than competes with the view, and provides income and employment to the people of Urata village.

The Urata Lookout Café was built with funds provided by the U.S. Embassy to the Rotary Club of Savusavu during Covid-19.

Club President, Gene Calvert says once they won the grant, they contacted Caukin Studio, a UK-based firm that had undertaken other community projects in the area.

“Fiji is a place we hold very close to our hearts,” says the co-founder of Caukin Studio, Joshua Peasley.

He was very familiar with the Urata site, having travelled the Labasa-Savusavu highway many times on previous projects. The studio’s earlier builds in Fiji have included community halls, a kindergarten and a coconut oil processing centre on Batiki Island.

Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka and U.S. Ambassador Marie. C. Damour open the Urata Lookout Cafe
PM Sitiveni Rabuka and U.S Ambassador Damour open the Urata Lookout Cafe

“We’re working with networks of structural engineers globally, environmental design specialists, as well as local engineers and local architects to come up with solutions that can use natural materials like timber that a typical house or community might be built out of, but try to further their designs to strengthen them, but also hopefully make them lighter, airer, just nicer spaces to be in,” Peasley says.

After two years of consultation and logistics discussions on Zoom—borders were closed over this period—construction of the café commenced.

“The Urata cafe was built during an eight-week period, which is pretty quick turnaround,” Peasley says. The build involved both locals and international participants. “Alongside 50-plus members of the community, I think it was about 20 international participants. A lot of them are students of architecture or people that have an interest in or an understanding of built environment, and they’re looking to gain that kind of on-site construction experience. It’s also  quite a nice social, cultural exchange as well, which I think adds additional elements to the project aside from just working together on site.”

The café is powered by renewable energy and its menu is focused around healthy options.

“To be off-grid is a larger investment upfront but it relieves the Mataqali Urata of monthly bills. And it also gives consistent service, even when the power grid is offline,” says Rotary’s Calvert.

Urata Cafe staff
Urata Cafe staff

“We don’t offer fizzy drinks at the cafe, mostly healthy alternative drinks, like smoothies, energy drinks, freshly squeezed juices. And then there’s also coffee and tea, of course. Fresh produce for the cafe menu is harvested from the village, that is, vegetables as well as meat,” he adds.

While opening the café recently, Prime Minister Sitiveni Rabuka noted that Vanua Levu is known as the ‘friendly north’. He said the café is a testament to the friendliness, kindness and spirit of the Rotary Club of Savusavu and Rotarians all over the world.

”There is a lot of history behind this place. It sort of lies dormant at the moment, but there is a lot of potential. And when people see that potential and are willing to help, you have projects like this, the Urata Lookout Café, and you’ll have the ‘Blue Town’ of Savusavu, so a lot of people will benefit.” 

Calvert says while the future of the café is now in the hands of the Chief and Mataqali, “our primary interest is in bringing consistent, long-term income to the Mataqali. In terms of how they spend the income, we hope it’s wise and considerate of all the village.”

As for Joshua Peasley, “I’m just excited to get out there and enjoy my first coffee from the veranda, hopefully later this year.”

Urata Lookout Cafe on Facebook

This article first appeared in Fiji Traveller, April-June 2023.

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