The bloke who brought Hawaii to Noosa

Jim and Sam Tatton on site in Noosaville. Photo Rob Maccoll.

By Phil Jarratt

In March 1999, as Noosa’s first big budget surf festival was about to get underway, two mini-buses with surfboard-laden trailers pulled into the car park of the newly-opened South Pacific Resort, and a couple of dozen of surfing’s living legends climbed out.

Among them were Hawaiian royalty Buffalo Keaulana and his sons Rusty and Brian, pioneer big wave riders Greg Noll from California and Titus Kinimaka from Kauai and surfer musicians Reno Abellira and Melvyn Pu’u. Fetching his boards from the trailer, Rusty Keaulana yelled, “Where’s the beach, bra?” On being told it was a five-minute drive away, his jaw dropped. The organisers sensed trouble.

But when the Hawaiians entered the magnificent, high-ceiling reception hall, their jaws dropped for an entirely different reason. Buffalo Keaulana was almost in tears as he said: “We’ve come home.” South Pacific became a home away from home for the Hawaiians for more than a decade.

It’s 22 years this month since New Zealand-born builder/developer Jim Tatton realised his dream of bringing traditional Hawaiian style to Noosa, and South Pacific is still enchanting guests who love its polished floors, ceiling fans and Hawaiian print fabrics, and although he’s pretty much passed the mantle to son Sam, Jim, now 72, is still pulling on the boots and the hard hat and helping out on site at Hale Lau Hala (home of the pandanus) in William Street, Noosaville, the latest in a long line of the family’s Hawaii-influenced luxury developments.

Jim Tatton, wife Delwyn and one-year-old Sam arrived in Noosa in August 1978, surfed and lounged around with an old university mate for six weeks, then went home and sold up. After building up a lucrative surfboard business to pay his way through uni, Jim had tried his hand at the development game with a few small townhouses, and he liked the way Noosa seemed to be broken up into small holdings rather than monopolised by the big developers. It turned out to be a good punt and by that Christmas he’d sold his first house on the Cooloola Estate.

Over the next two decades he was to build many of Noosa’s landmark tourist and residential accommodations, including Las Rias, Noosa Quays, Coco Bay, Coral Beach, Skipper’s Cove and Noosa Outrigger, but on his first trip to Hawaii with Noosa realtor Peter Dowling in 1985, his eyes locked onto a whole new world of possibilities. He recalls: “When I first arrived in Noosa, I built a house for a guy who told me I needed to go to Hawaii. As soon as I got there and saw the Halekulani in Waikiki, I understood what he meant.” Although the fabled beachfront hotel has been through many incarnations over more than a century, the bones of the original colonial mansion were what appealed to Tatton.

But when he visited the neighbouring garden island of Kaua’i he had another awakening, and in a strange set of circumstances he was able to capitalise on the island’s worst disaster. When Hurricane Iniki devastated Kaua’i in 1992, causing more than $3 billion damages, Jim had a contract on a house in Princeville, but now he was released from that and found another damaged property for sale in nearby Hanalei Bay.

“It was a pole house on beachfront Weke Road,” he recalls. “Solid red cedar with verandas all around, and not too hard to fix up, with some good local help.” It was to be the building that inspired the concept of South Pacific.

Jim bought up the caravan park on Weyba Road and as many houses around it as he could, and started planning a concept resort on a five-acre footprint. That local help in Hanalei, Californian surfer and builder Derek Poag, was hired to mastermind the authentic entry statement, and ended up staying for two years. Hawaiian-style bamboo furniture was made in Malaysia and Jim and Delwyn sourced Hawaiian fabrics and art prints on Oahu, while local designer Kim Walker worked on the colour co-ordination of what would ultimately be 104 fully-furnished apartments set in landscaped gardens planted from the Tattons’ Boreen Point nursery.

Then they took it to market. In one frantic weekend Jim and sales guru the late Arne Smith put on their Hawaiian shirts and flew to Adelaide where they sold 45 apartments.

Although it’s had its ups and downs in the years since, South Pacific has lost none of that “romantic imagery of the South Seas” that Delwyn Tatton conjured up, and it remains a favourite with visiting families and locals looking for a poolside chill in a beautiful setting. Now manager Simone Weatherall is offering a “locals only” special pre-Christmas deal of 12 percent off a minimum two-night stay valid to December 17, 2020.

Simone says: “If you stay three or more nights, excluding school holidays, we will include one free night. You just need to use the promo code ’LOCALS’ to receive the discount when booking at . Book direct and save is our motto!”