Top five best islands

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Top five best islands NBC By Joe Yogerst

Top five best islands Savusavu Fiji Islands South Pacific

Ditch the watch. Forward your mail. And don’t worry about the bank account. If moving to an exotic island has been one of those things that you have (big sigh) always dreamed about, here’s some good news: It’s not that hard to do. On these five islands, you can still buy a bit of paradise for less than it might cost for a summer rental in the Hamptons. Internet access is (fairly) reliable, the natives are friendly and the governments are stable. If you do get island fever, there are cities less than 60 minutes away. So what are you waiting for?

(The number one place to live)

VANUA LEVU FIJI

If you want to get off the tourist track but not stray too far from superb diving, cool waterfalls and friendly villages, Vanua Levu is the Fiji that you’ve always imagined.
Why move here?

If vanishing from the planet sits anywhere near the top of your to-do list, Vanua Levu may be the island for you. This second largest Fijian isle remains pleasantly undiscovered and thoroughly unpretentious.

The mountainous island is smothered in jungle and surrounded by a labyrinth of coral reefs and some of the world’s best diving. Much of the island is accessible only by foot or boat, and along vast stretches of shoreline you’ll never hear the din of traffic. Follow a trail up into the hills and you could end up at a waterfall with a clear cold pool or at a natural hot spring.

The island’s two main towns are a world apart. Located on the drier, northwestern side of the island, Labasa is a busy market town and home to the majority of the island’s Indian population. Sugarcane and pine forests cover the surrounding countryside and just offshore lies one of the world’s longest barrier reefs.

The south side is lush, palmriddled and spectacularly beautiful, with the occasional colonial manor house peeking out from a coconut plantation. Here, expat life centers around the town of Savusavu, set on the edge of one of the largest and most protected bays in the South Pacific. Between May and October, the bay is a regular stop on the transpacific yacht circuit. “My window to the world,” says Hans Boernke, a German who’s lived on Vanua Levu for nearly 15 years. The restored Copra Shed along the Savusavu waterfront is the hub of social life with open-air cafés where both the conversation and the draft Fiji Gold flow freely. Or slink into a British state of mind and master your snooker skills at the old Planter’s Club on the other side of town.

Meet the neighbors

As on the big island (Viti Levu), the population of Vanua Levu is about evenly split between native Fijians and Indians. The former tend to live in villages, the latter in Labasa and other towns. “The Fijians,” says Boernke, “like to talanoa” — which means talk a lot — mostly by enjoying their beloved bowl of kava and sharing legends. Don’t be fazed when your neighbors (both expat and locals) drop in at any hour of the day to borrow anything they darn well please. Fiji’s village life is founded on a communal culture where everything from meals to most property items are shared. “You may find,” says one expat, “the whole village will be in your house sharing the use of your possessions.” Consider this a sign that you’re now one of them; sit back, relax and enjoy it.

You know it’s an island when ...

You find yourself poaching yellowfin tuna over one of the steaming volcanic “hot spots” around Savusavu that many locals still use for cooking.

Escape clause

There are dozens of smaller islands around Vanua Levu that make excellent weekend escapes. Try surfing world-famous Taveuni or if you crave an urban experience, hop the puddle-jumper to Nadi (home to the international airport), just an hour’s flight away on Viti Levu.

Size: 2,140 square miles
Population: 130,000
Median Home Price: $150,000

As long as you don’t have a criminal record in your home country, moving to Fiji is fairly easy. Anyone who brings in $50,000 USD and show more or some income can obtain permanent residency. For listings, see www.southpacificrealestate.com.

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