Private Islands – Fall/Winter 2010-2011

Katafanga Island

After well over a decade of development, Katafanga Island one of the most distinctive islands in Fiji, perhaps the world is finally on the verge of welcoming its very first guests.

The story behind the development arc of this unusual island is one that starts with an entrepreneur named John Miller, who fell for the 225-acre island in 1993 and started to create a staggeringly ambitious resort. The scale of these plans was such that Miller brought in an investor to back the project in 2000. And that's where Katafanga's story now rests more than a decade and a half and $20 million later with that investor, Christian Jagodzinski.

Jagodzinski is a man who knows about taking a project to completion; he wrote and sold his first software program while still in his early teens. In 1998, the software tycoon sold his online bookselling empire to Amazon. The same year, Verio bought his web hosting retailing company. Among his current projects, he lists Villazzo, one of the world's first villa hotel companies, and Katafanga.

Katafanga really is an unusual island. Before you even reach the island,' you realize that. Without detailed maps, it is near impossible to find the sole 250-foot break in the perfect circle of coral that rings the island and its 5,000-acre luminescent, blue lagoon. Known as a "crown jewel of Fiji," Katafanga is one of the only islands in the world to boast such a perfect coral circle. Thus shielded, the impossibly blue lagoon is home to a wealth of natural wonders rarely glimpsed elsewhere: dolphins and sea turtles retreat into the lagoon to have their young, and giant, fluorescent, 200-pound clams live out their lives on the lagoon's white sand bottom.

The shells of these bivalves are so desirable that the clams are practically extinct, and the Fijian government is attempting to repopulate their waters with them. But, in Katafanga's calm, clear waters they grow to their gargantuan dimensions undisturbed.

Dinoflagellate plankton the microscopic creatures responsible for the occurrence of bioluminescence also grow and multiply in the sheltered lagoon, making the waters a magical place to swim or boat at night. Diving and snorkeling off Katafanga is breathtaking; the breaker of the coral cliff that surrounds the lagoon gives the waters exceptional clarity and 200-foot visibility. The water remains at a near constant 80 degrees Fahrenheit, year-round. On the island, white sand beaches hem the shoreline, elevations reach 150 feet and stands of coconut palms sway in the trade winds a reminder of the island's 19thcentury coconut plantation past. The island's limestone is responsible for the nine caves and their bounty of stalagmites and stalactites.

Katafanga is situated in the exclusive Lau Islands a group of 57 sparsely populated islands in eastern Fiji an hour's flight from Nadi's international airport. The region is less developed than some areas of Fiji, but benefits from a drier climate than the rest of the country. Its name comes from the Tongan word for "smiling beach."

Development of this exceptional island is now solely in the hands of Jagodzinski. Upon taking over, the German entrepreneur engaged Christie's Great Estates and Coldwell Banker to potentially sell the freehold titled island (a rarity in Fiji), but Jagodzinski is exploring all options from a sale to a partnership to opening and overseeing the resort.

Jagodzinski has inherited a potentially spectacular world-class resort with the majority of the infrastructure complete. "We have all this infrastructure," says his Chief Investment Officer Bram Portnoy, "And the first of the 20 villas is only a couple of months away from completion." In addition to the twenty 3,000-square-foot villas, Katafanga's 40,000-square-foot master complex is substantially finished, and a quarried rock runway, nine-hole golf course, four miles of ring roads, 370,000-gallon water reservoir, 10.5 miles of underground fiber optic cables, two finished jetties and extensive employee housing is already in place on the sprawling one mile-long island. The width and 35-foot depth of that unusual breach in the atoll's coral wall allows yachts of more than 200 feet to glide through to harbor.

In addition to existing infrastructure and natural wonders, Katafanga has yet more winning feathers in its cap. It can be 100% self-sustaining. The first source of green power for Katafanga comes as a result of a Fijian government program to launch refineries to create biodiesel from coconuts on ten islands across the country. One of those ten happens to be Vanua Balavu, the island next door to Katafanga. This allows the resort a limitless supply of biodiesel from an entirely renewable source. Using a mix of 20% diesel and 80% hydrogenated coconut oil, it is a simple process to convert cars and generators to run on the fuel. Furthermore, the island's fortunate location, in the center of the trade winds, allowed the developers to put a large wind turbine on the island's highest point. Next on the list is a plan to put up a solar roof. The combination of these three energy sources will allow Katafanga to be entirely self-reliant and practically 100% carbon-free.

Miller's grand plans have been scaled down to better blend with their environment. "The new vision," says Portnoy, "is going to be a bit humbler and have a smaller imprint. Katafanga will be self-sustaining and kept in its pristine condition." A sign of this new approach is the resort's new construction schedule. Rather than finishing the entire development and then launching the resort with huge fanfare, Jagodzinski's team will finish the job, villa by villa, completing construction of the other villas during the downseason.

When the first villa is finished, Katafanga's first guests stand to be the island's only guests, with rental offered at just $3,000 a night. For those lucky guests, it's the chance of a lifetime.

After ten years in the making, Katafanga is targeted to open in early 2011. For information on Katafanga, contact Bram Portnoy, Fontus Capital, 720-989-4686, bportnoy@fontuscapital.com