Best Islands to Live On: Vanua Levu, FIJI

Time to be laid-back and give back

Why Vanua Levu?

Here tropical rainforests caw with life; warm seas are filled with coral-reef kingdoms; and kind, generous local people know how to enjoy a good laugh. Vanua Levu is Fiji's second-largest island, and expats from across the globe have found haven here. Savusavu, a coastal town, sits on a bay so rich with marine life that Jean-Michel Cousteau built a resort there.

Life of an Expat "It was finding two ads -- a property for sale and a business for sale -- in the back of ISLANDS 10 years ago that led us to come here to Savusavu," says Susan Stone. "We found our dream property and eventually moved over here and are living the life we've always dreamed of." Susan, 52, lives 20 minutes outside of Savusavu on Vanua Levu with husband Jeff Mather, 50. The couple moved to the South Pacific island from dry and dusty Albuquerque, New Mexico. "In Fiji we drink up the greenery and the moisture," Susan says. The climate wasn't the only thing she wanted to leave behind in New Mexico. "We were working seven days a week," says Susan, who together with Jeff owned a designer lighting business. "Life's too short."

Now full-time Fijian residents, Susan and Jeff own a three-story house and a beachfront cottage, Tropic Splendor, which they rent out to travelers. "A lot of the people who have stayed at the cottage have moved here because they see the life that we live," says Susan. A large part of Susan's life on Vanua Levu involves helping others. She and Jeff, who are part of the local rotary club, have helped install clean running water into rural schools that may have otherwise closed due to unhealthy ground water conditions. "It's us giving back," says Susan. "We wanted to make a difference in people's lives. We were too busy with our business to do that in Albuquerque."

Susan also has time to enjoy the island's natural beauty during walks on the beach, boat trips into town, snorkeling, fishing and sitting on her deck, where she designs jewelry from freshly harvested black pearls. The mornings, though, are a real highlight. "We wake up to a chorus of chattering birds outside the window -- no traffic noise here," says Susan. "We go out on our deck for a breakfast of pineapple, bananas, passion fruit and papaya from our own gardens. How cool is that?"

Facts of Life

• Climate: Tropical
• Population of island: 130,607
• Percentage expats: 7 percent
• Population of main towns, Savusavu and Labasa: 3,372 and 7,550
• House starting price: Mid $100,000s
• Travel from US: Fly direct 10 hours from Los Angeles to Viti Levu, Fiji.
• Closest hospital: Savusavu or Labasa
• Price of local beer: $1.75 for a bottle of Fiji Bitter
• Languages: English, Fijian, Fiji-Hindi
• Ease of immigration: Medium
• Ease of buying a home: Medium

Best Islands to Live On: Vanua Levu, FIJI