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The best of Nukubati

Matilda Simmons
Monday, February 05, 2018

LOCATED in the North-Eastern coastline of Fiji is a private island that has been providing many tourists the best of Fijian culture for more than two decades.

Nukubati Island Resort, owned by Australian Peter Bourke and his Fijian wife Jenny, is one of the top rated resorts in Fiji and the region.

So much so, that it has been awarded top excellence in Trip Advisor's Hall of Fame.

To be in the Hall of Fame you have to have 10 consecutive years of excellence awards. With 1.1 million hotels listed on the popular travel website, it was quite a feat for the couple to have their resort listed in the top 16.

Nukubati Island Resort was the only one from Fiji and the Pacific region to be listed.

"We've been here for a long time — 28 years," said Mr Bourke .

"There weren't so many resorts in Fiji. Back then there were like not more than 30 resorts and that's not counting Denarau, or Coral Coast. Now there are more than 200 resorts today.

"I only came into the hotel business after I found the island was on sale. Because my wife is from here, she grew up here and we kept hearing from family that Nukubati was on sale so we came over and had a look and here we are," he said smiling.

Listening to the couple's story, its evident the journey wasn't easy in the beginning.

First off, the island was devoid of life, the soil was poor and they had to begin from scratch.

During a conversation over dinner, Jenny (nee Leewai) mentioned how she had to water the front of the island for two years to be able to plant grass on it.

"My family thought I was crazy," laughs Jenny.

"Back then we had to buy our flowers and vegetables. I was really determined to get the land fertile. Imagine my excitement when I dug up the soil one day and I found an earthworm!"

That determination paid off for them.

Nukubati is a top of the range private island resort and caters only for couples. It prides itself in an atmosphere of total seclusion. It also sits near one of Fiji's best scuba diving sights on the Great Sea Reef, reputed to be the third largest barrier reef in the world.

Tourists can access this vast underwater treasure where manta rays, dolphins, turtles, whales and innumerable fish species parade around the corals.

"When I decided to buy the island, I was just going to make it a real estate investment, I had no intention of building a resort," said Mr Bourke .

"But after I bought it — all my wife's relatives — they all said when we all finish cutting the cane we'll all come down and clear the island for you. I thought oh I've got a workforce and not only a workforce but a workforce that I can trust because they're family.

"And within a few months I'm building a small resort and we started off. I thought okay if I'm going to build a resort….this is a very pristine area, no other resorts up here. So we built it along what you would call along environmentally sensitive eco lines.

"We put in a solar power plant 28 years ago. So we've been running on solar power for 28 years, it was the first solar powered plant in Fiji and of course being the first it was also the biggest and still the biggest in Fiji," he said proudly.

Mr Bourke said the resort was self sustainable; they grew all their vegetables including lettuces, chillies, eggplant, beans, and all sorts of vegetables and fruits including livestock such as pigs, goats, and chickens.

"We provide a five-star service to our guest. The guests who come here know they're coming to a very remote place. There's no TV, no mobile phone signal. The internet is very bad, so if you come here you're away from the world — forget your troubles and just have a go back in time and just relax."

When asked how the couple met, Mr Bourke gave a quiet smile.

"I met my wife, Jenny in Sydney, she's a Labasa girl," he said fondly.

"And she knows Nukubati very well. Her father used to own a shop at the jetty across from the island in the early 60s and 70s. She worked her way out of Labasa. She was in the second intake at USP when the university started then did her post graduate in Australia and that's where I met her there. We got married and when we had our third child we heard about Nukubati Island. But she didn't want to come back. She had worked her way — all the way to Australia. Then I brought her back," he chuckled.

For a five-star resort, Mr Bourke is proud to say that his staff are made up mostly of nearby villages.

"Our kitchen staff — they're not even chefs — they've never been to a chef school. And that's the quality. We're the only employer along this coast so people who work here they've never had a job in their life but we managed to pull off the work at the resort and get it where it is.

"You just have to check out our resort on Trip Advisor and see what the guests say about our service and the quality of our staff."

At the moment the resort is closed from the middle of January to February for renovations.

"It's very difficult to look after guests when its raining so normally every year that's our down time, we close the place for six weeks and do our maintenance during this period — there's a lot of maintenance to do because we're on an island and you have the wind blowing through and that wind is full of salt. The salt damages everything and so every year we have a big maintenance program in February."

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