Porschist Magazine 70 - Fiji

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Magazine for Porsche enthusiasts • year 18 • quarterly • May / June 2022 • 70




Castaway Island, Fiji

‘Ni sa bula vinaka’, welcome to Fiji! pon mentioning Fiji, most people begin daydreaming about bright blue skies and paradise beaches – the kind of place where life is sweet. But although everyone knows it by name, few can point out the country on a map. I travelled to the other side of the planet and discovered that the archipelago has so much more to offer than sun, sea and sand. For instance, one of Fiji’s islands was the set for the movie Cast Away with Tom Hanks. I went to a party and talked to the Minister of Tourism about the future of the country, and together with John Lal – who owns a stunning 911 – I visited historic Levuka. A journey with many highlights.

text: kathleen van bremdt - photos: kathleen van bremdt & sven hoyaux


TRAVEL PORSCHIST Me and my fellow passengers are holding our breath as we bounce around in the shuddering plane. Fiji is giving us a boisterous welcome. Perhaps even tempestuous. Producing wind speeds of 100 to 150 kilometres per hour, cyclone Cody is raging across the archipelago. We are flying over Nadi, Fiji's international airport, but the pilot is unable to land the aircraft. Already three times he has begun descent, three times he has had to go back to a safe altitude. But then suddenly, there is a small break in the dense cloud cover. The pilot seizes this opportunity and dives towards the landing strip in an all but straight line. With a loud thud, the wheels hit the tarmac. A good number of overhead compartments pop open. But it doesn’t matter, the plane has landed safely. Everyone breathes a sigh of relief. Waiting at the carousel to pick up by bags, I am standing next to the pilots. I commend them on the impressive landing and ask if there was a plan B. 'If we had had to abort for a fourth time, we would have flown to Auckland, about four hours away', they say. 'We knew that the weather conditions in Fiji were very bad and we had enough fuel to get us there.'



As soon as I step outside the airport building, I notice just how powerful the cyclone is. Rain is pouring down, people on the streets are up to their knees in water and lamp posts are swaying as if they were palm trees. Fiji is supposed to be an earthly paradise, but what I’m seeing is not the image I had in mind. The ghastly weather is making it impossible to get to my hotel, so I have to spend my first night in Fiji at the Nadi Nalagi hotel at the airport. Currently, this hotel is designated for passengers who tested positive for COVID and must spend a few days in quarantine. These unfortunate guests are not allowed to leave their rooms. Fortunately for me, I am, although the unusual silence in the corridors still makes the hotel feel a little like a prison without bars. But I don’t care, because I’m exhausted. Fiji isn’t exactly around the corner and I have just completed a 34-hour journey with stops in Helsinki and Los Angeles, covering a distance of 30,000 kilometres. I have flown across three continents, a myriad of countries and seas and have jumped 11 time zones. My body clock doesn’t know what’s what anymore and I have an epic jet lag.

Fiji is an archipelago of 333 islands in the Pacific Ocean, about a 4-hour flight from eastern Australia. The next day, cyclone Cody is starting to let down a smidge. Even though the weather is still absolutely horrible, we manage to traverse the flooded streets in a heavy pick-up truck. Fiji is located in the tropical cyclone belt and is no stranger to heavy storms, but Cody was a category 1 cyclone and that isn’t something that happens every day here either. My driver tells me how much damage the cyclone has caused: roads have been washed away, houses and crops have been destroyed and many places are temporarily without electricity because the power lines have been damaged. Nevertheless, my driver doesn’t seem phased. ‘The bad weather never lasts very long’, he says. ‘See? You can already see a bit of blue sky over there.’ The man’s optimism is contagious. I will soon learn that this is the general attitude among the islanders.

FIJI, WHERE ARE YOU? Fiji is an archipelago of 333 islands in the Pacific Ocean, about a 4-hour flight from eastern Australia. At New Year’s, the country is one of the first to get to count down and light the fireworks. Only about a third of the archipelago is inhabited. Just two islands have a significant surface area: Viti Levu at 10,390 km² and Vanua Levu at 5,538 km². As well as being the largest island, Viti Levu is the heart of Fiji. Here, you will find the capital Suva, the international airport Nadi and about 70% of the approximately 900,000 Fijian inhabitants. While Fiji's land surface may be limited, this is certainly not the case for its territorial waters. Fiji has an exclusive economic zone of a whopping 1.26 million km². The island country enjoys a tropical climate, but unlike other tropical islands such as the Maldives, the Fijian landscape is very diverse. In addition to postcard white beaches with turquoise lagoons and a spectacular underwater life, the mountainous islands offer verdant rainforests with hidden waterfalls and meandering rivers.

MARRIOTT MOMI BAY RESORT After about an hour’s drive, I arrive at the Marriott Momi Bay Resort. To my astonishment, the natural disaster that struck the other side of the island has left this side virtually unharmed. The sun is shining brightly and everything is peaceful and quiet. What a difference. When you say Marriott, you say 5-star quality and here in Fiji, it is no different. Standing in the breezy open lobby, I am treated to a view of the shimmering lagoon. Even though the Marriott Momi Bay Resort is quite large at 250 rooms, it feels like a boutique hotel. Life here is laid-back and the place has that lovely dolce far niente vibe that will instantly make you happy. Once I’m at my overwater bungalow, I unpack and open the floor-to-ceiling windows. I can dive straight into the water from here, but I decide to visit the Quan Spa first. I have yet to recover from my jet lag and am convinced that soft, skilful hands will be able to knead the fatigue out of my body. By the time that evening falls and I am standing with a cocktail in hand trying to decide in which of the three restaurants I am going to have dinner, I am already hooked on Fiji.

Marriott Momi Bay Resort





There are only three Porsches in Fiji and John Lal owns one of them. He lives in Suva, the capital of Fiji, about a three-hour drive from the Marriott Resort. John calls to tell me that I can expect him in the evening and that he will spend the weekend at the Marriott with his wife, so that we have all the time we need for the planned Porsche photo shoot. 'By the way, there's a car on its way to you,' says John. 'That way, you’ll be flexible to go wherever you want in the coming days.' I barely know the guy, what an unbelievably generous and thoughtful gesture. It’s no wonder that we hit it off right away when we meet. His silver 911 Turbo Cabriolet is gorgeous. It’s just begging for a spectacular setting. I once did a photo shoot on Vanuatu – an archipelago not too far away from Fiji – with a Porsche standing underneath the wings of a Vanuatu Airlines plane. I'm thinking I wouldn't mind a redo of that stunt. The question is, will we be able to arrange this with Fiji Airways? John, who has contacts everywhere, makes some calls and actually manages to get permission for a photo shoot. At the break of dawn the next morning, John and I are waiting at Nadi Airport. Christina, the Fiji Airways marketing manager, is stunned when she sees the Porsche. 'No roof! Wow, that’s so sexy!' John is beaming. ‘Where would you like to have the Airbus positioned?’ she asks. Surprised, John and I look at her. That is not a question we expected. I point at the empty airstrip in front of us and Christina gets on the phone. A pushback tows the impressive Airbus to the exact location I pointed at. John then drives his Porsche onto the tarmac and parks it underneath the cockpit of the enormous plane. It’s as if the two are set to start a race. A phenomenal sight!



8 A BARBECUE WITH SOME HIGH-PROFILE GUESTS To celebrate our success, John invites me to come to a barbecue at his place a couple of days later. I take the epic Queen’s Road to get to Suva. It’s a spectacular drive along pepper-coloured sand dunes, hidden bays, vast sugarcane fields and fragrant pine forests. I pass fancy resorts and friendly villages. Along the way, I make a stop at the coffee bar of Adriaan Rodenburg, a rugged, friendly Dutchman who has lived in Fiji for years and who serves the best coffee in the whole archipelago. When I arrive at John’s, the barbecue is already in full swing and everyone is in a festive mood.

Adriaan Rodenburg

A man with a guitar – who I’m told is a well-known Fijian musician but whose name I can’t remember – is playing cheerful tunes. Also at the party is Faiyaz Koya, Minister of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport. An amiable man and a good friend of John’s. ‘If you truly want to get to know Fiji, you should visit Levuka,’ he says. ‘That’s where you’ll find the origins of our country.’

Huidevettersstraat 46 - 2000 Antwerp +32 (0)3 231 98 98 - www.tensen.be



THE HARD WAY IS ALSO A WAY When a minister of Tourism gives you a recommendation, it’s only logical that you follow his advice. So, I decide to travel to Levuka the next day. ‘I’m coming with you,’ John says immediately. He just can’t get enough of driving his Porsche to places he would otherwise never visit. Levuka is located on the neighbouring island of Ovalau and can only be reached by ferry. When we arrive at the dock, the boatmen have a sceptical look on their faces when they see the Porsche. ‘You’ll never get onto the boat with that kind of car,’ they say. ‘It’s much too low for that.’ We look at the ferry and indeed, the ramp isn’t touching the dockside, there is a big gap between the two. That’s going to be difficult for the 911. However, where there is a will, there is a way and where there is a Porsche, there is willpower. So the men roll up their sleeves and create a sort of carpet out of thick ropes to fill up the space between the dock and the ramp. Without a hitch, the Porsche is able to drive onto the ferry. Mission accomplished.




At Levuka, it’s as if we drove the DeLorean instead of the Porsche and travelled back to the past. Levuka, once the capital of the Fijian archipelago, is a place frozen in time. The city was founded in 1820 by European settlers as the first permanent European settlement in the Pacific. It was an important port and a bustling trading post that attracted people from all walks of life: businessmen, shipbuilders, missionaries, speculators, vagabonds… It was very difficult for the local chiefs to control the sprawling city and in 1874, they handed it over to the British. That is how Levuka became the first capital of Fiji. A few years later, the increasing lack of space began to hinder the city’s further economic growth. It was decided that Suva on Viti Levu would become the new capital. People left Levuka in droves and the city was left in the hands of the few who remained. On Beach Street – the town's only shopping street – the buildings still look as they did over a century ago: the post office, the school, the church, a Morris Hedstrom supermarket and even the office of the Fiji Times, Fiji's first newspaper. I walk around in a 19th-century décor. Being a rare example of a late-colonial port town, Levuka was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2013.

Levuka, once the capital of the Fijian archipelago, is a place frozen in time.


Sacred Heart Church, Levuka


14 Gestrande ferry Sinu-i-Wasa-Tolu

In the harbour, a rusty, half-sunken ferry is a grim reminder of the havoc that cyclone Winston wreaked in 2016. I can now understand why people weren't that worried about the cyclone that was raging when I arrived. Cody was a category 1 cyclone and nowhere near as severe as Winston. This category 5 cyclone with wind speeds of 260 to 300 kilometres per hour mercilessly wiped entire villages off the map. Winston will forever be remembered by the islanders as ‘the monster’.

NATURE'S VIOLENCE CONTINUES For some reason, I seem to have displeased the weather gods this trip. On the ferry ride back from Levuka to Suva, the skies go dark even though it’s midday. Is it a storm? The sea is calm and I feel only a gentle breeze. Even the captain doesn’t know what’s going on. Back in my hotel, the Grand Pacific, I hear there was a heavy underground volcanic eruption 65 kilometres off the coast of Tonga. Tonga is about 800 kilometres south of Fiji. My hotel is on the beach. ‘Should I be worried?’ I ask the receptionist. ‘If there is a tsunami alarm, we will let you know right away,’ the man says. ‘But your room is on the third floor.' Is that supposed to make me feel better? When I turn on CNN, I see the first satellite images. A gigantic explosion firing a kilometre-high cloud of ash and gas into the air. So that’s what we saw on the ferry. Later, I learn that the eruption was hundreds of times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb and that the entire Pacific was under a tsunami threat. The resulting pressure waves could even be measured back home in Uccle. Unbelievable. Fortunately, Fiji was spared the disaster of a tsunami, but Tonga itself wasn’t so lucky. On top of that, the archipelago with about 100,000 inhabitants was covered by toxic ash, which has polluted the drinking water and destroyed crops.


Beach Street





Exclusieve SLAETS-creatie met een prachtige groene toermalijn en natuurlijke diamanten, handgemaakt in 18kt goud.



COMO Laucala Island

LAUCALA: GETAWAY FOR THE SUPER-RICH A new day, a new beginning, a new island. I’m hoping to have left any weather-related issues behind me, because I want to be able to enjoy the ultra-exclusive Laucala under the best possible conditions. A private jet flies me to one of the most beautiful (and also most expensive) resorts in the world. The island of Laucala is located in the far east of the Fiji archipelago and has a surface area of 12 km². It consists of green mountains with exotic jungle forests and is bordered by pristine white beaches and colourful coral reefs. This gem belongs to Red Bull tycoon Dietrich Mateschitz. He bought it in 2003 and decided to turn it into a retreat for himself and his celebrity friends. Obviously, this is not going to be a tree hut, hammock and wood fire kind of place. No expense was spared to turn it into a spectacular tropical retreat. In 2009, Laucala Island Resort welcomed its first guests and immediately made it onto the renowned list of Leading Hotels of the World. Since then, management of the resort has passed to the COMO Hotel Group. And now I am here. A little shrimp from Belgium. The icing on the cake is that I am the only guest. The recent cyclone and volcanic eruption have led the other visitors to move their stay to a later date.

COMO Laucala Island is a popular destination for the international jet-set seeking exclusivity, exorbitant luxury and absolute privacy.



PORSCHIST TRAVEL It doesn’t impact the enthusiasm with which I am greeted. ‘Bula, bula, we are honoured to welcome you on our island’, a traditional choir sings. As the resort is meant for the happy few, it has been kept small-scale. It has only 25 exclusive villas which are similar in style, but vary in size and location. There are one-, two- and three-bedroom configurations and guests can choose from locations on a pristine private beach among the palm trees, up high in the lush tropical gardens with panoramic ocean views, or floating above the clear blue waters of the lagoon. The resort covers only 20% of the island. The other 80% consists of unspoilt nature, waiting to be discovered. I can go for hikes, mountain bike rides, horse rides on the beach, diving, snorkelling and do any kind of water sports you can imagine. I can even go golfing. None other than David McLay-Kidd himself has designed an 18-hole course for enthusiasts to enjoy. Off the coast lies a wooden two-master called Rere Ahi (Fijian for firefly). I would love to sail around the island on this beautiful clipper. ‘Consider it arranged,’ is the prompt reply. I’m handed the key to Bure 3 (Fijian for house) and wander around what will be my abode for the next two days. The villa doesn't consist of just one building, but of several insanely beautiful pavilions housing a bedroom, an in- and outdoor bathroom, an elegant lounge and a bar room. In the bar fridge, I discover a little homage to the owner of the resort. Stacked next to expensive champagne and exquisite wines is a row of colourful Red Bull energy drinks. The other amenities I find in my villa: a private swimming pool, a spacious sundeck, a Jacuzzi and, yes, a private beach.


TRAVEL PORSCHIST As if all this luxury weren’t enough, I can count on the service of a personal butler or Tau (Fijian for friend). I can turn to him for anything. Whether that is scheduling an activity, bringing me island food straight to my door or organising my diving gear. My Tau is one of no less than 400 staff members required to keep this 1400-hectare tropical paradise in optimal condition for up to 80 guests. Essentially, I don't have to leave my Bure for anything. But that would be a shame. In my very own golf cart – they even thought of that – I zoom along beautiful palm tree-lined avenues and past idyllic bays, back and forth between the five restaurants on the island, the COMO Shambhala Spa and the diving centre. Virtually all the food is grown on the island itself. There is a farm with cows, pigs and poultry, a large garden with vegetables, fruits and herbs and fish is caught locally. This means that just about everything I find on my plate is fresh and the quality surpasses any Michelin-starred restaurant.


Needless to say, Laucala is a place beyond imagination. It is a popular destination for the international jet-set seeking exclusivity, exorbitant luxury and absolute privacy. To ensure the latter, the island has its own air and maritime exclusion zones, keeping it off limits to prying paparazzi. The resort never divulges the names of its guests, unless they do it themselves. I am told that Elle Macpherson, Oprah Winfrey and George Clooney frequent the resort. Many celebrities like to post pictures on Instagram while lounging in the glass pool, one of the biggest eye-catchers of the resort. Funnily enough, the celebrities are usually reluctant to include where they are.

23 I probably don’t have to tell you that this ultra-exclusive resort comes with a spicy price tag, the kind that falls in the category ‘if you have to ask, you can’t afford it’. If you are curious, this will give you some indication: you can spend one night in the cheapest accommodation at $5,000 plus 25% local government tax. Quite the decadent treat, no?

Fiji time: In Fiji, time isn’t measured in minutes and seconds, but rather is a flexible concept. FIJI-TIME I am thoroughly enjoying my stay with my downstairs neighbours, as I like to call the Fijians in my mind. The people of Fiji are known for their unlimited hospitality and easy-going nature and my experience is no different. Here, at the International Date Line, a person is welcomed with open arms. Fijians are as sunny as the islands they live on. Epicurean by nature, they have a colourful culture and deeply rooted traditions. Everywhere I go, I’m greeted with a heartfelt bula (pronounced as boo-lah). Bula means more than just ‘good day’ or ‘hello’. Its literal meaning is 'life' and when used as a greeting, it implies you wish a person to have continued good health. The locals provide the perfect example of how relaxed life can be. It’s what coined the term Fiji time. In Fiji, time isn’t measured in minutes and seconds, but rather is a flexible concept. When will the bus arrive? Fiji time. When will the tour start? Fiji time. You won’t find the words 'hurry' and 'fast' in the Fijian dictionary. Take it easy, everything will be all right. A refreshing state of mind when you normally live in the merry go round that is the Western world.

TRAVEL PORSCHIST NAMALE RESORT & SPA I also experience that wonderful sense of calm at the Namale Resort. What started as a coconut plantation has grown into a luxury boutique resort that stretches over 525 acres - a true gem on Fiji's north coast. Over the past 25 years, Namale has grown from a single vacation home to an all-inclusive resort with 22 luxury bungalows, two restaurants and a 10,000-square-foot spa on the edge of the Koro Sea. That spa is the place to be at Namale. Awarded several times and praised by everyone who was pampered there. Fijians know what is good for the body and soul and have been using massage treatments for centuries, long before other cultures arrived on the Fiji Islands. The most traditional technique is the Bobo massage. I try that one out. Once I've been rubbed with an exotic oil mixture full of medicinal herbs, the therapist pulls herself up from a bar attached to the ceiling. To my surprise, the massage is not performed with hands, but with the feet. Skillfully they glide over my body and routinely press away the tension where necessary. Soon I find myself in a world of total relaxation.


Namale Resort & Spa



IN COUSTEAU'S FOOTSTEPS Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort: it has an excellent ring to it. Jean-Michel is the son of the late Jacques-Yves Cousteau, the famous French oceanographer and environmentalist who sailed the world's seas and whose underwater documentaries are world-famous. Jean-Michel shares his father's passion for the underwater world. As a film producer, he has made over 70 documentaries. In 1995, Jean-Michel opened the eponymous resort on a promontory of the island of Vanua Levu, the second main island in the Fijian archipelago. It was not a random location that Jean-Michel chose. This is where you can find the Namena Reef Marine Reserve. Whereas at the world's largest – the Great Barrier Reef near Australia – you will sometimes meet more divers and snorkellers than fish, the Namena Reef Marine Reserve is undiscovered and unspoilt. Diving here is an unforgettable experience. Diving instructor Johnny is my guide through the

The Namena Reef Marine Reserve is virtually undiscovered and unspoilt. Diving here is an unforgettable experience. wondrous world beneath the waves. Countless fish in all sizes and colours swim by. Doctor fish, butterfly fish, groupers, moon fish, parrot fish, you name it. Not that I know all the fish by name, but Johnny does and he shows me the names on his water-proof tablet as they pass by. An under-water biology class. The closer we get to the coral reef, the stronger the current becomes. Johnny lights up the reef with his flashlight and the colours come to life. Purple, neon green, pink, bright yellow, orange, blue… all in irregular, dynamic patterns. Abstract art, painted by a master. At a depth of three to four metres, I experience that other world that Jacques-Yves Cousteau so aptly called ‘Le Monde du Silence’. If you are looking for authenticity, you’ll surely find it here. On land, Laucala impresses with its immense luxury. Here, under the sea, it’s that touch of adventure that makes the resort irresistible.

©Brett Monroe Garner


©Brett Monroe Garner

©Brett Monroe Garner


Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort




Castaway Island

CAST AWAY From the easternmost point of the Fiji archipelago, I travel to Qalito, one of the westernmost islands. To get there, I first have to fly back to Nadi on the main island. If you want to visit multiple islands in Fiji – and you absolutely should, the diversity and beauty of this country is too great to miss out on – you will have to travel a bit. It certainly won’t be time wasted. From the air, you have the most amazing view of the countless islands that look like colourful jewels embedded in the vast ocean. From Nadi, it’s about an hour by boat to my new destination. Qalito is easily accessible from Nadi and therefore a popular choice to visit. It has a surface area of 70 hectares and Castaway Island is the only accommodation on

the island. Tucked away in the greenery of the lush tropical gardens or just a few steps away from the beach are 65 bungalows or Bures, because these too are built in that typical Fijian style with a high, pitched roof. I’m glad to see that all the resorts are staying true to the traditional island culture. It creates a nice uniformity. The resort was founded over half a century ago and the majority of the staff has worked here for years.


A man, a beach and a volleyball: that’s all it took to turn Cast Away into a beautiful movie, thanks to Tom Hanks’ impressive acting. It shows. Guests and staff have come to know each other, creating a familiar and – if that even is possible – even more welcoming vibe than in other resorts. Another commonly used name for Qalito is Castaway Island, leading one to think that the Tom Hanks movie of the same name was shot here. However, that is not the case. That island is called Monuriki. It’s located a little further down from Qalito and is commonly referred to as Tom Hanks Island. Are you still with me?



If you recognise this line, you’ve probably seen the movie. For those who haven’t, or for those whose memory of the movie has become a little vague, a small recap. In the movie, Tom Hanks plays Chuck Noland, a FedEx employee who becomes stranded on a deserted island after his plane crashes. When Chuck realises that no one is coming to rescue him, he has to start finding a way to survive. Some parcels from the plane wash ashore, but most of their content is useless to Chuck. Although, he is able to turn a pair of ice skates into axes, and video tape turns out to be good for tying branches together with. And then there’s a volleyball. After the umpteenth failed attempt at lighting a fire, Chuck furiously and with bloody hands throws the volleyball away. When he picks it up again, he sees the shape of a face in the bloody smudge that his hand left. He draws eyes and a mouth and names it Wilson, after the brand of the volleyball. Chuck starts talking to Wilson, who from then on becomes his companion and helps Chuck combat his loneliness. Years go by, and we see how Chuck transforms from a chubby workaholic into a skinny and muscular, almost feral man. When a piece of plastic washes ashore that he can use as a sail, Chuck finally has a chance to build a raft to get through the heavy surf along the reef. However, after Chuck gets caught in a storm, Wilson falls off the boat and floats away. Chuck cries out for Wilson and it pierces the soul. It’s the most heart-breaking moment of the movie. After a few days, Chuck is picked up by a freighter and returned to civilisation. A man, a beach and a volleyball: that’s all it took to turn Cast Away into a beautiful movie, thanks to Tom Hanks’ impressive acting.



Naturally, I want to visit Chuck’s island. I arrive there to I discover that it looks exactly like in the movie: a wide beach along a crystal-clear lagoon, a densely vegetated interior and a steep, rocky hill. I jump out of the boat and ask the skipper to pick me up again in a couple of hours. Now that I have the opportunity, I want to experience what it feels like to be utterly alone on an island. All I bring are a towel and a bottle of water. I go for a swim, walk around a bit, find the shade underneath some palm trees and contemplate. Could I do it? Survive on a deserted island? Left to the whims of Mother Nature and completely inexperienced when it comes to survival techniques? Would I be able to handle it mentally, living in complete isolation? It scares me, even though humans are capable of many things and the primal urge to survive can be very strong. When the evening falls, I see my taxi boat on the horizon. Lucky me! Nevertheless, I will remember those few hours on Monuriki forever.

My return to Qalito also marks the end of my journey. The next day, I board the plane for the long journey home. A couple of weeks later, I’m surprised when a package from Fiji arrives. In it, I find a replica of the Wilson ball from the movie. It makes me incredibly happy. The sender is Ben Johnson, PR manager at the Castaway Island. Thank you, John, I will treasure this ball for the rest of my life!


Special thanks to: - Jane West, Regional Director Tourism Fiji UK/Europe - Brent Hill, CEO Tourism Fiji - Christina Templin, Manager Global Marketing Fiji Airways - Silvano Dressino, General Manager Fiji Marriott Resort Momi Bay - Adriaan Rodenburg, Owner Café Planet - Jocelyn Whiteside, Director of Sales & Marketing COMO Hotels and Resorts - Bill Keefe, General Manager Namale Resort & Spa - Bartholomew Simpson, General Manager Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort - Meli Titoko, Sales & Marketing Manager Castaway Island Resort - Ben Johnson, Director of Sales and Marketing Fiji Islands - Michael Bell, Director of Sales and Marketing Sofitel Fiji - Gitte Meeussen, travel inspirator Remark: In the meantime quarantine is no longer necessary. Please consult www.fiji.travel.

Where horizons know no end….

Fiji: een tropisch paradijs met 333 droomeilanden. Op Fiji ben je geen bezoeker, maar een gast. De exotische archipel verwelkomt je met parelwitte stranden en turquoise lagunes, spectaculaire koraalriffen, weelderig regenwoud en een fascinerende cultuur. Fiji is de ideale plek voor een onvergetelijke reis.

Vera Van Steenvoort • Tel. 0475-36 00 27 • vera@advalorem.be Braziliëstraat 33 • 2000 Antwerpen • www.advalorem.be


Interview with John Lal.

ohn and I have been hanging out for a couple of days now and we’ve gotten to know each other a fair bit already. Nevertheless, I make time for a 'real' interview. As we enjoy our lunch on a sun-drenched patio with a view across lush tropical gardens, we talk about his work, his love for Fiji and his passion for Porsche.


Who is John Lal? First and foremost, a Fijian, with Indian roots – like many of my fellow islanders. Almost a third of the people of Fiji are Indo-Fijians. Our ancestors were Indian contract workers who came to work on the islands in the 19th century. I’m fourth generation. Growing up in Fiji is very special. You can barely find the archipelago on a map of the world, but it is a fantastic place. I lived in Australia for 16 years, but I’m glad to be back now. How did you end up in Australia? I went there for studies and after I graduated, I stayed for a long time to work. Initially, I wanted to become a pilot. However, I come from a large middle-class family and my father couldn’t afford the pilot training. So I decided to get a technical education and became an electrician. My first job was as a service technician at Xerox. I serviced and repaired their printers, copiers and scanners. It was a job that I quite enjoyed. So you’ve had to give up your dream of becoming a pilot. Unfortunately, yeah, although I did give it a try because I had a great passion for it. I took a couple of flying lessons when I was in Australia and instantly knew that flying was my thing. However, when I got my medical certificate renewed, I found out I had diabetes. I wasn’t even 21 yet. It meant the end of my piloting career before it had even begun. They don’t allow you to fly if you’re dependant on insulin. It’s a big regret of mine, but it is what it is.

'I found the Porsche that ticked all my boxes in Japan: a 2011 911 Turbo Cabriolet with four-wheel drive.' John Lal


You began working at Xerox and always continued to work in the same field? That's right, but I’ve come a long way. I started out as a technician and worked my way up from there. Via marketing and sales, I advanced to general management. Now, I have my own company: TeQwise, a full-service IT solutions firm with offices in Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne. I still work with Xerox and offer service for their devices all over the east coast of Australia, in Fiji, as well as on outlying islands such as Samoa and Tonga.

How did your passion for Porsche come to be? I already had that passion when I was little. I was fascinated by fast cars and would always go through any car magazine I could get my hands on. Porsche was by far my most favourite car. Of course, there wasn’t a single Porsche in Fiji when I was young. In 1993, a Slovakian friend asked me if I would like to join his business. He owned a wood-processing company in his home country and the idea was that I would

INTERVIEW PORSCHIST export his veneer to Australia. I thought it was an interesting challenge and went with him to Slovakia. But it soon turned out to be a mistake, because it was truly impossible to do business in Slovakia. The mafia was everywhere: Slovakian mafia, Hungarian, Russian… you name it. After four months, I had already had enough. I didn’t feel like playing the political games, and on top of that it was all quite dangerous. My Slovakian jaunt was no success, but I did take something valuable away from it. During a trip to Munich, I had a chance meeting with a man who owned a gorgeous 1979 Targa SC. I was so blown away by the car that I convinced the owner to sell it to me right then and there. When I returned to Australia, I brought that beauty with me of course. I moved the steering system from the left to the right side with the help of some friends. I can assure you, that was quite the challenge. I also had the car repainted in the original colour: gold. You couldn't miss it.


Do you still have that Porsche? No, unfortunately not. I sold it when I returned to Fiji. It was a real pity, but to be honest, I didn't have the balls to take a Porsche to Fiji. You’ve seen the roads here, they are far from great. And who would repair my Porsche if it had a serious issue? My plan was therefore to work in Fiji for a couple more years, sell my business and retire in Australia. Then, I would buy a new Porsche.

'Hands down, I have the fastest car in Fiji.' John Lal

But it went a little differently... Indeed. Two years ago, a friend who is as crazy about Porsches as I am bought a Cayman. Due to circumstances, he had to park it in my garage. I was given the keys and as you can imagine, I drove it as often as I could. What a pleasure that was! The Cayman didn’t have a turbo engine, but the thing drove like a rocket. I got a taste for it again and started looking for a second-hand Porsche for myself. I found one that ticked all my boxes in Japan: a 2011 911 Turbo Cabriolet with four-wheel drive. It only had 50,000 km on the clock. The car was silver and had a dark grey roof. It was a 997.2. That was important, because the 997.1 had problems with the gearbox and the engine. All those issues had been solved in the second series. I finally had my dream car and I still have it. It has amazing acceleration, from 0 to 100 km/h in just three seconds. Hands down, I have the fastest car in Fiji. (laughs) Do people here know the brand Porsche? They do, or at least those who are interested in cars. Which doesn’t change the fact that my Porsche always draws a lot of attention and many people ask me if they can take it for a spin. In Fiji, you mostly see Japanese cars driving around. I jokingly call them 'rice runners'. They don't run on petrol, but on rice. (laughs)

What about tax? Well, of course, a glamorous car like a Porsche is always subject to a luxury tax. However, several taxes were abolished during the corona crisis, and I and many others were able to profit from that. There are now many more luxury cars on Fiji than there were two years ago. What did you think when you received our email inviting you to collaborate on an article? I’ll admit, I had a few doubts at first. I’m not one for the spotlights, I’d rather keep things low profile. I was also a bit concerned about my Porsche itself. I didn’t want to offend anyone. Fiji is not very big and new travels fast in small places like this. I wouldn’t want anyone to get jealous for some reason and scratch my Porsche or take a knife to the roof. When I learned that the magazine is only published in Belgium, I wasn’t an issue for me anymore. It's probably for the same reason that you didn't want the local press to get wind of our visit. Correct. Fiji is still a third world country and still quite poor. I don’t want to flaunt my car. I want to show it off, of course, but not because it’s a status symbol, but because it’s so beautiful. That’s an important difference. I am a car enthusiast in heart and soul. I love the speed, the technology, the wailing of the engine… When I drive the Porsche, it brings out the child in me. And that’s what’s important to me. Thank you for this talk, John.


Interview with Hon. Minister Faiyaz Sadiq Koya. aiyaz Koya is a prominent Fijian politician. This lawyer is the son of Sidiq Koya, the former chairman of the National Federation Party, who played a key role in the negotiations that led to Fiji's independence in 1970. Since 2014, Faiyaz Koya has been Minister of Commerce, Trade, Tourism and Transport. The perfect person to talk to about the ins and outs of Fiji.


Here in Fiji, the Minister of Tourism must have a busy schedule. That’s true, tourism is very important for Fiji and makes up 40% of our GDP. Fiji is widely known for its beautiful beaches and crystal-clear waters. Many newlyweds spend their honeymoon here. Our underwater world is one of the most beautiful in the world. If you like diving, you will never be bored in Fiji. Other beach destinations, such as the Maldives, don’t offer much beyond the beach and the sea, but that is not the case in Fiji. Our islands also offer a beautiful and interesting interior. Here, you can hike through dense, pristine jungle, visit breath-taking waterfalls, relax in hot springs, climb volcanoes, go on river excursions and much more. I can also highly recommend taking in the authentic Fijian culture in one of its many tiny villages. You will always be welcomed with open arms. It's no coincidence that our marketing slogan goes: Fiji – Where happiness finds you. It really nails it on the head. You have probably experienced this for yourself already.

How did Fiji make it through the pandemic? As in most countries, the pandemic has caused many problems in Fiji. For many Fijians, it comes down to: no tourists, no work, no income. Of course though, the economy and society as a whole has suffered under COVID. Although I must say that Fiji has been relatively fortunate. We might have had to do without tourists, but Fiji was able to remain fully COVID-free during the first year of the pandemic. Our first case of corona happened to be on the 365th day of the pandemic. At that point, we had to make some tough decisions, which included a complete lockdown and closing our borders, but it was necessary. Public health is the number one priority. Managing the COVID crisis has been a challenging exercise. By now, life is getting back to normal here, although we must recognise that COVID is something everyone will have to learn to live with. Almost the entire Fijian population has been vaccinated by now. We have been very strict about that: if you weren’t vaccinated, you weren’t allowed to return to work. Our borders have also reopened since 1 December 2021. Slowly but surely, tourism is starting to pick up again. What countries do the tourists come from? The majority are from Australia and New Zealand. The Fijian archipelago isn’t too long of a journey for them. We also have many visitors from the United States and some Europeans. They usually combine Fiji with a trip to Australia or New Zealand. In normal times, we will have some 900,000 tourists visiting our islands.


'As an archipelago, we are very much aware of the effects of climate change. We are not the cause of this climate change, but we are its victim.' Faiyaz Koya

You mentioned that tourism makes up 40% of your GDP. What are the other sources of revenue? For many years, sugar and textile exports were the engine of Fiji's economy. As for sugar, we have struggled for some time to remain competitive in globalised markets. Thanks to increased public investments and some reforms in 2010, we have been able to address this. Sugar represents about 20% of our exports and clothing a good 9%. Other important exports include coconuts, copra, tropical fruits and spices. Fiji also has extensive mahogany reserves to exploit. Of course, fishing is a very important sector too. And since 2000, the export of mineral water is growing. This is mainly exported to the United States. And we mine gold. On a small scale at the moment, so there is still potential for growth. The pandemic has taught us that we need to diversify even more, so that’s what we are working on. Through incentives and financial backing, we are also strongly committed to supporting young entrepreneurs. Many Fijians go abroad for their studies – to Canada, the US or New Zealand – and don’t return afterwards. As a result, the Fijian population is relatively old. We want to stop that trend. We want to encourage those highly educated young people to come back home. Fiji has a lot to offer, too.

INTERVIEW PORSCHIST Do you feel the effects of climate change in Fiji? Yes, absolutely. The earth is stirring. As an archipelago, we are very much aware of the effects of climate change. We are just a small country, but we try to attend as many international environmental conferences as possible to make our voice heard. We are not the cause of climate change, but we are its victim. Rising sea levels are a major concern for us, as are hurricanes. Normally, Fiji's hurricane season runs from December to February, but global warming has made the weather much more unpredictable. What worries us most is that the hurricanes are getting stronger and stronger. Last week, cyclone Codi swept across the country. You have seen the impact of that for yourself. And that was only a category 1 cyclone. On 20 February 2016, we were hit by cyclone Winston. Winston was a category 5 cyclone, which is the very heaviest there is. It produced wind speeds of 300 km per hour with gusts of up to 325 km per hour. It caused immense destruction. Entire villages were wiped from the map, 42 people died, there were floods and mudslides, we were without electricity… it was hell. It was one of the strongest cyclones the earth has ever known and the strongest ever recorded in the southern hemisphere.


The cyclone also followed a very unusual path. It did what weather experts call a loop-the-loop. It started west of Fiji, went all the way south, then turned north to hit Fiji hard again from the east. We are very much afraid of another super cyclone like that hitting us again. Yesterday, we had an underwater volcano erupt in Tonga which triggered a tsunami alarm in the entire Pacific and which also posed a threat to Fiji. Fortunately, we were spared any disaster. So yeah, climate change is very much on our minds. By the way, the effects of climate change are not just felt in Fiji, but all over the world. That is why it is so important that the world takes action now and tackles the problems at their core. Even though trying to get a conversation going about this sometimes feels like talking to a brick wall.

'Our marketing slogan goes: Fiji – Where happiness finds you. It really nails it on the head.' Faiyaz Koya

Fiji is an ideal place for electric cars. Generally, the cars’ limited range poses an issue. But Fiji doesn’t have any large distances. You can easily drive around the biggest island in one day. There are already people driving electric cars in Fiji, but they have a charging station at their home. The full switch to electric cars will be a slow process. That has to do with infrastructure budgets. Nevertheless, we are very focused on sustainable energy and want to drastically reduce the use of fossil fuels. There are projects on the go with solar panels, wind turbines and hydro-power. I have been told that you are a fan of motorbikes. It's true, I inherited my father's passion for motorcycles. I am currently driving a Ducati, which I love. There is nothing like tearing through the corners with it. When I’m on my motorbike, I can relax completely. That’s an important counterbalance to have with my demanding job. Thank you for having this conversation with me.

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