BOBBING and bouncing along the Vatukoula Rd, the trip to visit one of the most successful recording and touring music artists in Fiji history was taking longer than anticipated.
Assurances by Daniel Rae Costello that the journey to his Koro Naba Rua ranch was a short drive from Tavua Town were proving to be a ruse to simply get me there.
A year after Costello hosted the successful Toni Wille concert tour in 2010, he unstrapped his guitar, slipped on gumboots and literally took to the hills behind the gold mining centre to pursue a childhood dream.
The mega recording artist, with a total of 38 albums under his belt, is now a sheep farmer.
As a friend and former music colleague, I was intrigued but not surprised with Costello's move. During grog and music sessions at his Waiyavi home, he had expressed his desire to return to farm life, riding horses, rearing livestock and being one with nature.
Following his repeated instructions via cellphone, I wound my way through the lunar landscape-like Vatukoula Rd through Matanagata and Korowere.
The former, resembled a shanty-town with aged dwellings, while the latter offered glimpses of its colonial past with well-kept homes and yards.
Weaving over the pothole-riddled Nadelei Rd, I came across a guy riding a horse bareback and asked where the Costello homestead was located.
The sun was setting over the horizon and reflecting a deep ember on the Nakauvadra Range, providing a stunning backdrop to Costello's new home when I finally got there.
The Danny Costello that greeted me looked nothing of his 51 years. He was lean and there was a sparkle in his eye that bespoke enthusiasm and vitality.
"Eating fresh food and working hard on the farm has kept me in good shape.Sheep are by far, not the easiest of animals to rear but in the space of 10 months I can tell you that a lot has been learned and I am a bonafide sheep farmer now," he shared.
The music man-turned-farmer has set his sights on becoming one of the biggest sheep farmers in the country with a vision to turn his 250 head into 5000 over the next 5 years with the assistance of his two business partners.
"It's not impossible but there are quite a few challenges to achieving this," he lamented as we sat on the decking and patted his two prized horses - Legend, Fire and a 3 week old foal, that his daughter Alexia had christened Legacy.
The biggest challenge was the availability of land. Due to their voracious appetite for grass, the recommended standard was 5 sheep per acre of grazing land during a drought season and 10 sheep per acre in normal times.
With 250 sheep on his current 120 acres, Costello said he was pushing the envelope in terms of farm expansion.
"I applied 3 years ago for 700 acres of grazing land here in Koro Naba Rua and have not heard anything since. It's frustrating because I want to grow the business. There is a big demand for prime lamb, I literally have people knocking down the gate, making enquiries almost on a daily basis but my hands are tied unless we can find and secure more land."
Costello also revealed his "ideal" plans. To sub-lease a portion of the Yaqara Pastoral Company Limited land to raise sheep.
"There is a lot of prime grazing land at Yaqara and if I do get it, it would provide a wonderful opportunity to further increase the flock."
In the meantime, he has been scouring on-line advertisements and looking through the Investment Fiji website for parcels of land big enough to handle the volume of sheep that he intends to raise.
"Apart from the boost to the economy and reduction in lamb and mutton imports, once we get to 5000 head, there will be employment opportunities for up to 30 people as well, that's here at the farm."
Apart from his keen interest in sheep farming, Costello has plans to develop his horses Fire and Chief into becoming serious contenders at the Namosau races held every fortnight in Ba.
"Fire is a natural jumper and runner and Chief is a leader. Both are capable of making an impact and it would be good to see them have a go at the races."
The Costello holding also features waterways teeming with life and an abundance of freshwater prawns which Danny hopes to highlight along with the sheep and horses in a planned farm-stay for families.
"Can you imagine a group of city kids who have never been on a farm before coming out and spending a few days in the outdoors. This would especially be aimed at kids from urban centres who would otherwise never get an opportunity to experience life on a ranch. Riding horses and rounding up sheep, swimming in pristine rivers and enjoying meals around a campfire is something that all kids should experience at some point in their lives."
Costello confessed that being on the farm had transformed his life and the lives of his children. It has changed his whole outlook on family values and what was most important in life.
"This is where I want to be and if I get the right support from authorities then I have this great opportunity to give back to community and the country," the music man shared.
On average Fiji reportedly imports 8,452 tonnes of sheep meat and 12 tonnes of corned mutton annually valued at $29.1 million while Fiji produces 65 tonnes of sheep meat annually valued at $390,000 according to the Agriculture Department's Market Watch Issue 3 published in 2011. At the time there were reported to be 12,396 sheep scattered across the Northern, Western and Central Divisions.
There are four sheep breeding stations situated at Nawaicoba Research Station near Nadi, Seaqaqa Research Station near Savusavu, Batiri Agriculture Station and Mua in Taveuni.
Yaqara Pastoral Co Ltd has a flock of sheep that numbers 900.