Koro Levu Village at Vanua Levu, the Fiji Islands - Set to Vanish
This article originally published in late 2007. In August, 2001, I had the privilege of staying at Lomalagi Resort, situated at the head of Natewa Bay, on Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Levu. The name “Lomalagi” means Heaven in the Fijian language. At 600 square miles and over 1000 meters depth at its center, Natewa Bay is the largest deep-water bay in the South Pacific.
Lomalagi is located 3km off the main island road, via the Salt Lake Road. Salt Lake, to my knowledge is one of only a handful of lakes in the world fed by a bidirectional river. As the tide ebbs in Natewa Bay, the Salt River flows from the lake to the sea. As the tide rises in Natewa Bay, the river reverses course and flows “uphill” into Salt Lake. For the first-time visitor, it can be a bit disconcerting to see a river flowing rapidly in one direction, then a few hours later to see the same river flowing rapidly in the opposite direction.
At the time of my 2001 visit, Lomalagi Resort was the only commercial development on Natewa Bay. With only six villas on twenty-five acres, my companion and I had “heaven” to ourselves for most of one week. At night, after the small generators in a few of the dozen local fishing villages were turned off, there was not a human made light to be seen anywhere on the bay. The only motor-driven watercraft on the entire bay were the two small boats owned by the resort.
One day, the proprietor of the resort took us to visit the native village of Koru Levu (Great Town, in Fijian), which he had “discovered” only the prior year, while exploring one of the many rivers that flow into the bay. If you conduct an internet search on "Koro Levu", you will find no direct links to this little version of paradise.
On our visit to Koro Levu, we found about seventy-five native Fijians living in what once was an English Christian missionary compound. Although no outside missionaries had visited the place in many decades, the village was still a Christian enclave, but with a native twist. The still-active church was one hundred years old.
As the native Fijian minister took us on a tour of the village, he stopped at a fresh looking concrete sarcophagus, which lay half buried, adjacent to the church. “Last New Year’s Eve,” (December 31, 2000) he said, “the whole village gathered here and buried our sins in this vault. Since that time we have lived without sin”. By the look in everyone’s eyes at the little village of Koro Levu, living without sin was a happy way to live.
On our last day in “heaven”, I noticed a sport fishing boat blasting across Natewa Bay. “Development is coming”, I was told by Lomalagi Resort's proprietor. “Homes are being built overlooking the bay and a large-scale resort is planned adjacent to Salt Lake.”
When I recently Googled “Natewa Bay” to research this article, I found that the Lomalagi Resort proprietor was correct. Until a year or two ago, anyone of us could have bought the URL, http://natewabay.com, but now it is owned by New World Group. Their planned 550 acre Natewa Bay Resort abuts the tidal river, “offering glimpses of the Hidden (Salt) Lake”. With its championship golf course, the five-star hotel will “tempt the most particular of guests. Residential lots are designed to ensure a view of Natewa Bay, the golf course, the Salt Lake or all three.”
According to New World Group and their architects, they plan to “transform over 550 acres on the southern shore of the idyllic Natewa Bay, creating a unique tropical experience for local and international markets by designing a sustainable integrated resort and residential development inspired by the traditional Fijian village”.
“Our chief intervention along this northern edge”, they say, “is the addition of a number of small islands encircling the sea around the proposed beachside central facility”.
“An Eco-hotel, drawing its inspiration from traditional Fijian and South Pacific architecture, will offer an environmentally sensitive luxury experience for visitors who wish to enjoy the rich natural beauty of Natewa Bay and its surrounds.”
I could go on, but I will not.
On April 17, 2007, the The Fiji Times Online reported that almost 9000 villagers living adjacent to Natewa Bay are at imminent risk of catching typhoid from contaminated water supplies.
According to the article, “Tests have confirmed that all water sources in the Natewa Bay and Buca Bay area carry the bacteria that cause the disease. Health authorities have banned all gatherings of people to try to minimize the spread of the disease which has already killed one man and infected 65 other people.
The Health Ministry has banned all functions traditional, church or private in the Natewa and Buca Bay areas. "We have put a stop to all functions because that is one of the major ways of spreading typhoid through food preparation”.
Tests on water samples from three sources and tanks in the twelve villages and forty-two settlements of Natewa Bay and other villages in Buca Bay confirmed the presence of the bacteria.
A great deal can change in our world in only a few short years. Six years ago tonight, the residents of Koro Levu Village met in celebration and buried their sins, unknowing that a waterborne bacterium would soon make such gatherings illegal. From their tiny village, which has no telephone, electrical or safe drinking water service, they will soon be able to gaze across the bay to Natewa Bay Resort.
In only a few more years, as night falls, they will see a dazzling array of electric lights that will dot the newly created land-fill islands where once lay nothing but unspoiled coral reefs. As if to mock them, the Koru Levu natives will see million dollar versions of their own coconut palm thatched homes.
And what will the “international investors” get for their money at Natewa Bay Resort? In addition to a safe-haven enclave, sequestered from their native neighbors, they will get a “seemingly natural harbour”, as well as a luxury-fake version of the quaint and friendly village of Koru Levu.
What is in a word? In the Master Plan section of their website, The Natewa Bay Resort proudly reports, “We consider the scheme a great success.” Where the “New World Group” resides, “schemes” are nothing more than “elaborate and systematic plans of action”. Where we come from they are a “dodge: a statement that evades the question by cleverness or trickery”.
Wouldn’t it be nice to go to http://natewabay.com sometime soon and see that the New World Group has scrapped its plans to destroy the unspoiled coral reefs of Natewa Bay? Better yet, wouldn’t it be nice to see that they have contributed some hard cash to the protection of the health and safety of Natewa Bay’s native residents and their life-giving water supply?
Author's Note, August 2012 - As of this date, the New World Group has taken their down their above mentioned website. All links to their planned "Eco-Hotel" are gone. Is their plan to landfill parts of Natewa Bay also gone, or just on hold?