South sea island community spirit

By | Category: Travel destinations

Manasa with cocktails

Which of us has not occasionally thought that it would be great to forget the cares of the world and go and live on a south Pacific island? An Australian, living in Canada called James McCann has almost done just that. He owns the Yasawa Island Resort and Spa in Fiji which is 30 minutes by air from the capital.
Yasawa might sound Japanese but is actually the local word for heaven. And heaven is what it is conjured up when you hear about this private retreat. It might have awesome views, wonderful beaches with pure white sands, picture-postcard blue seas to swim in and luxurious bungalows with privacy that celebrities crave but it also is important to the islanders as well.
Because they receive a share of the profits and turnover that Yasawa generates.
Over twenty years ago, a local called Manasa dreamed of a development. He lobbied, cajoled and eventually the resort came about. Today he is still there. He acts as head barman and story teller. He – like many other of the islanders who cosset you during your stay – mixes freely with the guests. You are just as likely to spot him having a drink with a guest as preparing drinks for others. The resort is almost a community rather than a resort. Islanders provide the staffing, the fish and fruit that the guests eat and act as guides as guests decide which of eleven private beaches they might prefer for the day!


It was this community spirit came to the fore late last year when a cyclone hit. The local – the only – school was flattened. It had to be rebuilt but who would pay? The resort itself as the biggest employer, indeed the only employer on the island, committed itself to help. But guests stepped up as well. Just two immediately wrote cheques totalling $100,000; many were out helping in the aftermath. Who spends their holiday clearing, getting dirty and doing back-breaking work by clearing up? The guests of Yasawa did, celebrities as well.
The new concrete built school – twice as big as the old one – now houses all 83 island children.
As benefits a quiet, private resort celebrities are rather fond of the place. Jennifer Love Hewitt and George Harrison are just two of many who have stayed there. Harrison stayed twice and, in the Martin Scorcese film about him, Olivia Harrison refers to the island and their enjoyment of it. Like others they became involved in this rather unique guest/islander relationship. He jammed with local musicians who had little idea who he was!
Doesn’t it seem a world away from those five start hotels where guests and hotel staff know their places and dare not cross the line?

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