Iteitei Drano is a farm estate on Fiji’s ‘Garden Island’ – Taveuni.
‘Iteitei’ means farm or garden, and ‘Drano’ means pond, in Fijian.
After buying the land in 2008, we got off to a slow start (thanks to the GFC😒), but work finally commenced on clearing the site in 2013.
The first phase was to build what we call – The Cottage.
This is a 2 bedroom, Australian-styled, Fijian bure.
Design of the buildings was the source of much debate in the early days.
But, after studying how things were done on the island, the project manager realised that traditional methods would be the most suitable, and that the design should reflect the simplicity of traditional Fijian architecture, but with a rural Australian ‘feel’.
So, armed with his design ideas, and building method arguments, he easily convinced me that this was the way forward.
So preparations were made during 2013 and 2014, and The Cottage was built in 2015.
I believe that The Cottage proved that he was right in his assessment, and that it successfully reflected his original concept, and I was very happy with the results!
Once the first structure was up though, nothing more could be done, until we had access to the first crucial service – water.
This was sourced from a spring further up the mountain, and required us to do ‘Sevusevu’, with the chief of Tavuki (our local village, and original owners of the land), to get his permission to divert part of the flow.
His conditions were that
- The water was not to be used for commercial purposes ie. Bottling and selling.
We have never had this intention, so this was easily agreed.
- A separate outlet to be installed so that, one day, water may be piped to the village.
This was always our intention, so easily agreed as well!
- Only local, village, labour was to be used.
We were already doing this (apart from a few specialist tradesmen), so this was effectively pre-agreed!
So, a small dam was built, and the two outlets were installed.
These did not affect the flow of water in any way, so the spring still flows freely.
Then 500m of piping had to be laid through the rainforest, down to the estate.
This was a HUGE task, particularly as it was all done by hand, and no clearing was done.
This was successfully completed in 2015.
At this point, we were supposed to start the next build, but Cyclone Winston decided to make its first landfall in early 2016 – on Taveuni!
Luckily, thanks to our project manager’s expertise, we lost only some of the roof of The Cottage.
But of course, the vegetation, and many of the island’s communities, had been devastated.
So, while repairing the roof, we took to cutting up all the trees that had fallen down, and transporting the timber (by hand) to Tavuki village.
Tavuki had been very badly hit, and many people had lost their homes.
As Taveuni is an island, the only practical way of getting goods to it, is via ship to the one dock large enough for freight ships.
This dock had, of course, been destroyed, so the island was cut off.
The only way we could help, was to provide wood (from naturally fallen trees), to the local people, to allow them to start rebuilding their lives.
So, a ‘sawmill’ was created, and the trees were turned into lumber on site, and then transported to the village by hand.
The work and effort put in by all the local gang was tremendous, and made a real difference to many of their neighbours and friends.
Once things had been cleared up, and life had returned to some degree of normality, we were finally ready to restart on the next building (which would eventually become part of the main house), that we call – The Bure.
This is a one bedroom bungalow, done in the same style.
The views from its massive deck are extraordinary.
This was built by late 2016.
While all this building was happening, we were also clearing parts of the site (while attempting to retain as many of the major trees as possible).
Where we did have to take trees down, they were always used as timber for the build, or furniture, etc. – over 60% of the building materials for all 3 structures, have now come from the site.
We were also, during this period, experimenting with the farm.
Initially we grew a lot of Dalo, and Kava.
These are both traditional cash crops in Fiji, and do particularly well on ‘The Garden Island’.
However, I was more interested in expanding the range of produce, so we also cleared a lot of these traditional crops, and general growth, and started an orchard instead, with many different varieties – lime, lemon, pineapple, watermelon, passionfruit, avocado, papaya, and mango.
We now have no Kava on the property, as non-Fijians are no longer allowed to have anything to do with its production or distribution.
We were happy to take it up though, and give it to the locals, so that we could focus on larger production of a wider varieties of fruit and vegetables.
We’re developing a number of smaller vegetable and herb gardens, to service each structure, but there will also be a main crop farm area, along the southern boundary of the property.
It’s all been a bit slow in getting going, but once you plant something (anything) on Taveuni, it grows like crazy!
So we’re hoping that things will speed up now that most of the building is done.
Anyway, back to the build!
After the Bure was up, we had some solar installed to service both buildings.
A little bit of gas for occasional hot water, and we were good to go!
2017 was also spent making improvements to both houses, and the grounds.
The next main structure to be built was The Bunker.
This is used to house anything that needs special protection (spare generator, tools, etc), and is built to survive the worst cyclone.
Having experienced Winston, the worst the South-Pacific had ever seen, we were not going to be caught out!
At the same time, a concrete driveway (a luxury on Taveuni), from the ‘main road’, was laid – by hand!
Then site preparations were attended to, for the next phase of construction.
Not long after this, we felt that it was time to help out the village again, so asked the chief, if we could supply the materials, whether they would like to run a water pipe from the spring dam to the village itself (from the second outlet that had been installed originally).
He of course, was in absolute agreement, as the only thing that had stopped this from happening previously, was the capital required for the materials – manpower was not an issue!
So, in early 2019, we arranged for the all the materials required, to be supplied directly to the village, and the villagers were able to run water to their community – for the first time!
So, by mid-2019, we were ready to start on ‘The Vale’ – which in Fijian means house/home.
The Vale is to be the hub of the estate, providing facilities for whomever was on the estate, to gather together.
It also adds an extra 2 bedrooms, to the one in The Bure.
We wanted it be spacious enough for very comfortable living for all those staying on the estate, so it had to be pretty big!
So, this was a MASSIVE task, and has taken some amazing work to have it now near completion.
Watching it ‘come out of the ground’ has been an amazing experience.
The structure of the house was completed, and the roof on, by late 2019.
An incredible effort by the builders.
It must be remembered, that we’re unable to work full time on the site (mainly due to the weather), so the project has had to be done in stages, over some years.
However, this year (2020), due to the restrictions, much more work than usual has been accomplished throughout the year.
So The Vale is now almost completely finished.
This last phase of building, from the time of creating the flat bed to its current state, has taken 2 years.
Which is quite an effort – particularly without a ladder!
Once The Vale is completely finished, the focus will shift to developing the Iteitei (farm), and creating the Drano (pond).
So that the estate can live up to its name!
Although the project has been mostly about building things, we’ve also always kept an active eye on ‘leaving’ things, as well.
We’ve tried our best to keep as many of the older trees as was possible, but have had to clear a few, and many more were downed by Winston.
So, while trying to preserve the rainforest, we’ve had to do clearing for building works, and nature has done the rest.
However, as mentioned previously, all wood from the estate is re-used, as building materials or furniture.
Also, Iteitei Drano is only the house and farm portion of the estate, built on a small part of a much bigger property.
The estate is still surrounded by 8 acres of rainforest on our land, and even more on neighbouring properties – most of which has grown back since ‘the storm’.
Our hope is that one day, the whole property will provide a natural, secluded, escape for people who enjoy rainforests and walking through them, provide opportunities for some unique bird watching, allow access to the nearby scuba diving and deep sea fishing, or just a haven for solitude.
There’s still more to be done, but I think that this video shows that we’re almost there.
You can use the galleries to see the progression of the project, and I’ll be updating the site once in a while, so you can keep up with our plans.