Mike Lucas came to Fiji in 2010 with the idea that he would find a nice lot in a good location and build a holiday home for his family.
He found exactly what he wanted only to find out it was not for sale because the developer had decided to sell the whole development, rather than proceed.
So Mike, having fallen in love with the property had another idea. He contacted two friends in New Zealand and asked them if they wanted to get involved with him in taking the development over.
Andrew Griffiths and Anthony Marcotti saw the opportunity and counted themselves in.
They were later joined by Christian Burtscher and subsequently invited one member of the previous development team to join the consortium.
This made up the five people who were to become the new investment group for what is now the Vunabaka development.
Model and plan
They had a very simple business model. They wanted to build for people they would like to go on holiday with, they wanted to be proud of what they were doing and they didn’t want to lose their shirt along the way.
To do this, it was important that they managed the risk and to do so they decided that they should not try to maximise profit.
They also wanted to work with good talented people, ones who already had a strong reputation from work they had already done. So they bought the property.
They partnered with Fiji Development Bank, supporting the relationship initially with personal guarantees and later with a strong sales stream that gave the bank comfort.
They appointed a New Zealand architect, Richard Priest, the head of the design team which also included engineering firm Chester Consulting and architectural firm Wat Gun Low.
The team also have a Fiji-based architect and engineer whose task it was to make sure that all the construction in Fiji was true to both the plans and the concept behind the plans.
They undertook a great deal of planning before they started the work and developed a Master Plan that they believed would deliver the sort of project they envisaged.
Now, nearing the end of the project they have followed 90 per cent of the plan, deviating only where they could see that a change would add value to the whole or where it was necessary to increase the efficiency of the functions of the development.
Throughout the period of the development, there were three key people on site in Fiji to manage the operations.
None of these people had experience in property development but they were very well trained in processes and they applied this experience to the task of moving the work forward.
The company also had the funding to be a consistent timely payer and they gained a reputation for this, making it easy for them to contract the people they wanted to work with.
The project moved forward quickly. The team believes this was partly due to the fact that contractors were certain of their payments on time and could concentrate on getting the work done instead of spending time worrying about finances.
Stage one and two civil works were completed in October 2014 and Vunabaka now have the civil contractor Vuksich & Borich working on Stage three which is targeted to be completed at the end of November this year.
A 30-room five star hotel is scheduled for completion by mid-2016.
Products and popularity
The hotel also has the rights to manage the Vunabaka residences which are between four hundred and eight hundred square metres, all with their own private pools.
This type of product has proved very popular with the luxury traveler in other parts of the world and represents an exciting new development for Fiji tourism.
The construction of the hotel villas and private residences is steel modular frames with wide openings and many bi-fold doors, creating a very island feel and a very open design feeling. The whole design is sensitive to the tropical environment.
There are also 44 villa lots in the plan. These are for sale as a design, build and manage package and form part of the hotel inventory, with owner use for a limited time each year.
These have been very popular with investors and there are only 16 still available for sale. Styles vary, but all are finished to a high standard of quality and provide easy island living.
The company took the decision that they wanted all services to be provided in-house to ensure there were no disruptions in supply.
The electricity is reticulated on a development wide grid and generation is by solar panel technology, with diesel generation as a backup option.
The company partnered with Blue Gas to provide a full gas reticulation and communications is through optical fiber services from Vodafone.
The sewerage system is a state-of-the-art septic tank process that uses worms to break down the solid waste.
This system has proved very efficient and has the advantage that there is no odor from the tanks.
The process is branded Biolytix and is manufactured by a New Zealand company. Water is collected in two reservoirs in the hills behind the main construction area.
One reservoir has a capacity of 15,000 cubic metres and the other holds 6000 cubic metres.
These reservoirs serve as a silt trap, capturing water from the hills and holding the silt, preventing it from running into the marina.
The Stage One marina has an area of 9 acres and water depth at a mean low tide of 3.05m, sufficient to handle large craft.
In keeping with the policy of being self-sufficient, Vunabaka has purchased a lot in the Port Fantasy commercial marina.
There is a wide concrete slipway and facilities for the efficient handling of freight and building supplies.
The company now uses their own barge to transport goods to the development and this can be easily loaded by forklift from the slipway.
There is also a large warehouse building at the marina. In the past, there were issues with the availability of barges at the times the project required them and the new marina facility on the mainland has overcome this problem.
The original business model is still intact and the project is advancing rapidly to completion.
Within the tourism industry, it is recognised as a project that has been well-designed and well-run and one that has bought a number of new concepts to Fiji.
It has been done with a view to using and protecting the natural environment and using the natural beauty of the location to the maximum. And the partners have enjoyed the ride.
BY JOHN ROSS