When Jim Jannard, the billionaire founder of Oakley and RED Digital Camera, first stayed on Kaibu, an island in Fiji's northern Lau Group, the owner was the American fiberglass mogul Jay Johnson, and his resort on the island, Kaimbu, was very simple. But Jannard was drawn to the setting--a remote South Pacific island with varying shades of turquoise water--as well as the privacy and the relaxed openness of the Fijian people. So he had scouts keep an eye out for any nearby islands that came up for sale. Then, in late 2009, artist Hiro Yamagata listed Kaibu and neighboring Vatuvara, so Jannard bought both with the plan to build another, more luxurious resort. Named Vatuvara--although technically situated on Kaibu--Jannard's dream property opened in mid-September.
Jannard could have just used the island as a private retreat, but like others who have rented their personal properties, he decided to open it to guests. The reason was simple: "He's a businessman," explains Rob Miller, Vatuvara's general manager. "He wants to see a return, and he's not sensitive about people renting his house."
Since Jannard will also use the property, the island's overhaul was very much to his specifications, particularly the design for the main villa, Delana, a thatched 5,220-square-foot behemoth constructed largely of Fijian timber and gray stone. "He would send drawings and was very involved in the concept," explains Miller, who was previously the general manager of Wakaya Club & Spa (a private island resort owned by Fiji Water cofounder David Gilmour), where he met Jannard, a frequent guest, who then hired him away.
Miller won't reveal how much it cost to buy Kaibu or build the Vatuvara Resort--just that it's less than the $75 million price when the island was listed as the world's most expensive in 2006. But given the amount of work required to transform it, it was obviously substantial. "Everything was rundown, overgrown. It had been neglected for years," Miller says. So they started from the ground up, ripping down the existing buildings and putting in a new infrastructure, from water mains to fiber optics, creating what must be the best high-speed Internet in the region. They also rebuilt a small airstrip that is the entry point via the resort's Twin Otter, which ferries guests in from the international airport in Nadi. The island's 800 acres were landscaped, and roads were built--although on a hilly island, those roads require a four-wheel-drive vehicle and steady nerves.
The one-bedroom Delana took about two years to build and looks as much like a command center as it does a vacation home: The office on one end is roughly the same size as the room with the twin massage tables and stone hot tub on the other. Everything is state of the art, from the professional kitchen to the Sonos Wi-Fi sound system to the indoor-outdoor Internet coverage. The interior, as Miller describes it, is a mix of "South Seas, Colonial, Tommy Bahama," along with local touches such as carved-wood and stone statues, woven baskets and tropical fabrics. Outdoors, the pool and deck have panoramic views of that crystalline water and a private beach just steps down the hill.
Delana is the star here, but there are two other one-bedroom villas built on a smaller scale with similar gray stone columns, polished timber floors and plunge pools with Delana's view. As a resort, Vatuvara is quite intimate. These are the only three villas, and they can be rented individually: Delana for $10,000 a night and the other two for $7,500 each, all inclusive. Or the island can be rented out completely, which makes the most sense given the number of villas.