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Rain Tree Lodge

Solomoni Biumaiono
Sunday, January 06, 2013

It was in early 1999, when Tom Davis was still in the process of building Raintree Lodge at Colo-i-Suva when two retired Australian navy officers approached him with a fascinating story about the lake that Davis was planning to turn into the centrepiece of his eco-friendly resort.

Davis was surprised that the two navy boys knew more about the lake than he did and when they proceeded with their story Davis found just how that lake came to be.

In 1985 the two naval officers came to Fiji to train Fiji navy divers in dark diving and the lake up at Colo-i-Suva was ideal for such exercise.

"Sure enough the divers' powerful underwater floodlights soon exposed two trucks and a bulldozer, until that moment unseen for years. Upon closer inspection all three vehicles proved to be in remarkably good shape. The water being fresh, rather than salt, very little erosion had taken place," Davis said.

The Raintree Lodge lake used to be a quarry and history has it that the original owner of the Colo-i-Suva quarry was the Public Works Department, which used the site for 10 years from 1948 onwards.

The quarry provided the rock for the road that runs from Suva to Nausori Town before it was shut down because it was thought that all rock had been recovered.

In 1957 while the PWD was winding up its operation at the Colo-i-Suva quarry, Serge Tetzner, a civil servant together with Bill Bygrave of Lautoka formed a company called Road Builders Limited and they got the quarry going again.

They hired New Zealander Ray Paton and local man Ning 'Bill' Sellars aboard, it continued to supply rock from about 1958 to 1962.

Rocks from the quarry were used on road improvements between the Suva Cemetery and Lami and after Road Builders Limited wound up its operations in 1962, Niederer Pacific, a subsidiary of Niederer Pacific Machinery New Zealand took over.

Niederer, after prematurely ending its three year contract at the Mau quarry in 1973, moved its staff to Colo-i-Suva.

The company also had the luxury of using the first ever hydraulic excavator, a Hymac Excavator, to be used in Fiji. This was brought in by Niederer for the Colo-i-Suva quarry.

A local trucker, Hasmukh Ali who had large 6 wheeler trucks, was contracted to cart the crush rocks to the road building site.

Unfortunately the venture only lasted for two years, after which the ownership of the quarry was passed on to Armstrong Ashfeld, and Jafir Ali in 1977.

Again the partnership did not last long as operation at the quarry was brought to an abrupt halt in 1978 after the single pump broke down and the pit was quickly filled with water from numerous underground springs.

This did not allow enough time for Ashfield or Ali to salvage all their equipment as the two trucks and the bulldozer the two Australian naval officers found at the bottom of the lake belonged to these two businessmen.

After the two Australian naval officers left, Davis was left wondering about the historical significance of the lake in the middle of his resort.

It was only later when he met Paul Stacey, a key man in the quarry's past, did Davis finally make up his mind that he needed to document the history behind the quarry.

"In 2006 I struck gold for the first time, thanks to a surprise visit from Paul Stacey, a key figure in the quarry's past. Over lunch Paul spoke of his involvement and promised to send me some pictures on his return home," Davis said.

All these facts were only made possible through the patronage of Davis who together with Gay Cottle-Maxwell and Kanito Vuicakau managed to do extensive research into the origins and beginnings of the Colo-i-Suva quarry.

"I immediately saw that here was a piece of local history that future guests might enjoy, and have since kept a constant ear out for more information on the famous old quarry. As well as speaking with a number of locals once employed there and others with cherished memories of its working days, more overseas visitors have stepped up to share their knowledge," Davis said.

The trio also found out that later in 1978, Niederer Pacific after giving up Colo-i-Suva, bought Marlow's Limited crusher and plant at the Laqere quarry in Nasinu and the New Zealand based company bought the bins from Colo-i-Suva down to Laqere.

The two bins are still in use at the Laqere quarry to this day which used to be owned by Pioneer/Standard Concrete Industries Limited and more recently Malaysian company, Naim Company Limited.

The quarry is now a lake, filled right up to the brim and its depth is said to be in excess of 30 metres and is now a welcoming sight for tourists and locals alike who frequent the place.

Davis has gone a step further and has planted numerous plants, ferns and flowers all around his hotel which surround the lake and called it a botanical ramble.


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