This Easter Sunday just gone would have been my mothers’ 70th birthday, and had her plans come to fruition she would be living her remaining retirement years, at least part time, on Taveuni, most likely saving dogs, tending gardens, making jam, forgetting half of what she’s said and getting the other half the wrong way around. However, those plans never materialised – she passed away in 2009 at the age of 62 after battling against cancer.
When I first told my mother of my plans to retire to Fiji, I’m pretty sure she thought I was totally bonkers.
“But Fiji’s so far away !! I know it’s nice, but why do you want to go so far away ?”
Mmmmm. Maybe because it’s nice and it’s so far away !!
Retiring to Fiji – Putting a Plan In Place
The seeds of that plan first came together in the New Year of 2005, and it was a conscious decision to aim for a very early retirement. The initial blueprints featured Australia and New Zealand as possible locations. Both were quickly discounted as property prices and general cost of living had rocketed since my first visits in 1997 and 1998. During that time I had also visited Fiji, the Cook Islands, Tahiti, Hawaii and California. Everywhere on that trip had something to tempt a potential expat, whether it be climate, lifestyle, entertainment, accessibility or scenery. The latter three however were also prohibitively expensive for someone looking to while away the days in modest comfort.
The real highlight of my sabbatical year during 1997/98 was Fiji, so my attention switched to this small group of islands that lay almost as far away as you could get from London, UK. I had spent 10 days on Taveuni whilst in Fiji, and looking back during that New Year of 2005 I remembered that this had been the most relaxing period, not just of the trip, but probably my whole life. Could Fiji – Taveuni itself – be the place to go ?
A little more research produced a couple of potential properties for sale at affordable prices. Both were located on Taveuni Estates – locally known as Soqulu. 24 hours later after some e-mail discussion with the owner and caretaker for both properties I was arranging a “try before you buy” trip to Taveuni to assess the properties, re-explore the island, and weigh up whether a small island in the South Pacific really was the lifestyle I was seeking. The property owner very kindly agreed to keep an option open for me since my “real estate research” trip could not begin until April.
Buying a Tropical Hideaway
On arrival in Fiji I spent a couple of days at Club Fiji Resort in Nadi to recover from the jetlag and re-acquaint myself with some old friends made on my previous trip in 1997, then shoehorned my butt into a seat on the domestic flight to Taveuni.
Suffice to say for now that the subsequent days and nights convinced me to take the option.
Within 24 hours of arriving home in the UK I double checked the finances and made an offer on one of the properties. The next day I received an acceptance, and the ball was rolling. The actual process of purchasing was extremely easy, it was just a case of waiting for that process to take its course. By the end of November 2005 I was the proud new owner of a tropical hideaway on the Garden Island of Fiji. A key piece of the early retirement plan was now in place. For a long term plan, things were moving pretty quickly.
In common with many mothers, mine had the extraordinary ability to drive me nuts. More than two consecutive days in her company would generally initiate episodes of hysterical disbelief, frustrated rage, and a general desire to be somewhere else. A research station in Antarctica, or The International Space Station for example. Or Fiji.
Despite her maddening qualities (which, even more maddeningly, many others found totally endearing) I invited her to come to Fiji with me on my next trip and check out the new pad. We had done a number of trips together in the past with my son Harry, including Disneyland Paris and Orlando, Florida.
“It’s a long way away isn’t it ? It would be nice though !”
And so, my mothers own love affair with Fiji began. I think she visited four times in total. She made some good friends here, loved the tropical gardens, got involved with local animal charity work, talked about “her house” to the point everyone assumed she had bought it rather than I, and even half a world away from home in one of the most relaxed places on earth still caused me to consider admitting one or both of us for psychiatric treatment.
During and in between those visits she arranged and shipped a 40-foot container from the UK to Taveuni filled with furniture, household items, and a car. She planned to have her own retiremnt home here and be my neighbour, so I guess it wasn’t that far after all.
During 2009 though she became sick and was diagnosed first with what would have been a terminal lung condition, and then a little later with an aggressive form of kidney cancer, also terminal, and ultimately much quicker.
Although she never realised her own dream of living here, her memory (and of her parents – my grandparents) is still present in our house here today. Pieces of furniture, photos and other personal items that came in the big red container. Also, a blue Suzuki Jimny that despite my advice not to send it, did get sent and subsequently took untold effort and expense to get through Customs and into the country. It survived the best part of 12 months in a shipping container, and has survived the daily battering dealt out by our local roads. My bank balance has just about survived the ongoing repair bills, and I still drive around in it today.
One of my enduring memories is of her first visit when she decided to put her green fingers to work in the gardens. Already suffering from mosquito bites and sunburn she donned a bright yellow full length plastic raincoat and large white sunhat covered in a mosquito net. With the temperature around 35 degrees centigrade in the shade and stifling humidity she slowly and contentedly poached herself in her own juices for the next hour. Another, after assisting a charitable veterinary clinic session, presenting one dog owner (a friend) with his pets testicles over a drink at Soqulu Club House.
She is also still remembered by others here – from time to time I get asked “Oh, so your Mum left you the house in her Will then ?”, and I politely explain she never owned it. Given more time I guess she would have found her own place here on Taveuni and fitted in well, adding a little more colour to the island.
As for being my neighbour ? Well – even on a small island you can find plenty of places to hide.
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