Monday, August 21, 2017

Paradise is an island. So is hell.


The dream of an island paradise is often a myth. Rather than idyllic, they are frequently the settings for border conflict, prisons and broken dreams. The reality of island living is much more like hard work.

Living on an island does not measure up to what most people's expectation of living on an island is. People buy with the dream, the aspiration that they're going to sit on the front verandah drinking pina coladas at 4 o'clock in the afternoon when they realise, 'Hang on, I've got to go and turn the septic system on. Hang on, we've run out of milk.' Right? It's those sorts of things that people forget.

The kind of people who want to go to an island that is cut off, think they can escape convention, or they won't be so influenced by society's conventional mores, and they've got more freedom to do what they like. In reality on a small island everyone is on top of each other. And all those strong personalities have to get on together. It's a challenge.

That small town surveillance is what people love and hate about small island communities. People look for isolation, a refuge, but what they often find is the opposite. If you share a small island with other people, it's hard to avoid them.

Listen to Radio National's Background Briefing here (and read the whole transcript here).


Saturday, August 19, 2017

The end of an exquisite daydream

For an aerial view of Telekivava'u, click here


A blue sea sparkling under a blue sky, palm trees bending in a warm breeze. A picture of perfect paradise, virtually everybody's dream to escape. And yet, people here face the same pressures as elsewhere. Whether you're in a big city or in a tropical island paradise, the pressures of being alive are always there, always weighing you down. And for expatriate Europeans, it's loneliness and the narrowness of their isolated existence. Once you're educated, once your mind is expanded, subsistence on a remote little island is simply unacceptable.

And yet, Villa Mamana on the remote tropical island of Telekivava'u in the Kingdom of Tonga has been a most exquisite daydream for all involved: the original creator Joe Altenhein, the odd island-sitter (which included my friend Horst Berger who first told me about it), and the subsequent owner for the last dozen-or-so years, Matt Muirhead, who's just sent me this email:



Well old chap we have come to the end of the line with Villa Mamana. We tried for years to make a go on a very limited budget. We made some progress when there, but suffered when not there.

This past year our houses and property were ransacked. Locals stole everything they could fit in boats. We don't know who it was but have our suspicions. The loss is too much to overcome. The jungle and culture wins.

We are trying to dispose of what is left and will turn the page. Tonga is impossible to do business in. The culture sad to say is not trustworthy and without a trusted local no one can operate.

Someday we will visit Australia and hope to see you on the porch. Or if your travels take you to Hawaii or Santa Cruz let us know.

Thank you for your faithful friendship and support.

Aloha nui loa a ka Ko and Malo e lele.

Matt Muirhead



The domain name will soon expire but I will continue to look after its pages and blog here and here in memory of a wonderful dream which has run its course. As Joe Altenhein once wrote, "We all had the best time of our lives on the island, and will always miss it".

Villa Mamana after Cyclone Ian in January 2014

Feel free to visit the website, Joe and Matt, whenever you want to shed a quiet tear.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Soon to be available on


Dirk and Diana Menz have written a book about their experience(s) on Hunga Island. $29.95 pph on   ☺


Saturday, May 13, 2017

Tonga in Focus: Land Reform


Tonga's land tenure system is unique in the Pacific and probably the world. In 1862 Tonga's first king, George Tupou I, abolished a system of semi-serfdom and declared all land to be the property of the Crown. Thirty-three nobles were granted estates and commoner males were guaranteed a garden and town plot. It's a system that remains virtually unchanged to this day.

Early in 2009 the recently crowned King George Tupou V announced the establishment of a Royal Land Commission would spend the next two years reviewing the laws surrounding land tenure. Some people fear the changes will see Tongan land falling into the hands of foreigners for the first time in history.


Friday, April 28, 2017

Who copied from whom?

Ian Argus Stuart, one of's clients


Alvaro Cerezo of employs a very simple business model: deprive someone of a large part of their money in exchange for depriving them of all comforts of home on some God-forsaken island.

Come to think of it, that's exactly the business model employed by Cocomo Village and Seabreeze Community on remote Hunga Island.

So who copied from whom?


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Tonga's first funicular railway


The only access to Hunga Island is via this long and steep roadway which is only for the fit and young. To attract more elderly investors, the promoters of Cocomo Village and Seabreeze Community want to build a funicular railway - Tonga's first - to the top of the island.



They are basing their design on the Penang Hill Railway and are even hopeful to acquire at a discounted price the old carriages from that particular railway.


Penang Hill Railway's decommissioned carriages GPL, Link


Who're you calling a bullshit artist? Look who started it:


What Life is Like In Cocomo Village

"Once you are settled in your new home in Cocomo, and still pinching yourself every time you gaze out of your bigger than big-screen, Imax view of the islands and sea below, you will wonder how long it will take you to believe it is really true. Guilt feelings may twinge you but “home-free” feelings will console you. There are 6-billion people on earth and just about all of them are not as lucky as you—fathom that platitude. Why me, you have to ask yourself? What latent and internal survival mechanism triggered you to find this haven? Whatever it was, welcome to the club, for you are one of very few on the planet to have this insight and foresight. Oddly, this was the answer even before we had need for the question. Yawning and stretching would be the first thing you might do to start your day in Cocomo, and even before the next thing, you will be curiously drawn to the veranda to assimilate that most incredible view, just to reconfirm you actually made it out from behind the office cubical and not still dreaming. How about breakfast on the awesome veranda? Always the choice since it is where we can consume nature’s most fulfilling gifts, her natural foods and the sight of her beautiful emerald islands set in vivid blue waters under azure skies. That combination can cure cancer, literally. This routine sets the stage for every new day. Breakfast is on; fresh eggs from down the lane or just fruit, maybe from your own trees, delicious. It all tastes better than the store bought and is so much healthier and cheaper too. Lemon grass tea for me please, or some fresh squeezed juice, all for free—whoopee, the billionaire has nothing on me ..." Go on; I know you want more.

So, who're you calling a bullshit artist now?


Friday, April 21, 2017

Is there life after Hunga?

Nico Neubauer BEFORE and AFTER Hunga


"Well, yes" (says I rather hesitatingly) "as long as you pull out before you have starved to death, been bitten to an itchy pulp by swarms of bloodsucking mosquitoes, or gone insane!" (to say nothing of the Zika virus, tropical ulcers, typhoid caused by lack of personal hygiene and proper sanitation, and the ever-present danger of personal injury).


Nico "der Waldmensch"


The nearest proper hospital is well over two-thousand kilometres away in Auckland, New Zealand, so pay close attention to what the previous "Waldmensch", Nico Neubauer, wrote about his life on Hunga Island in April 2016, "Während sich in Europa der Winter langsam ausdümpelt werden im Königreich die Tage wieder kürzer, die Hitze kombiniert sich jedoch mit feuchtem Regenwetter. Ein Wetter echt für harte Kerle. Wer da nicht widerstandsfähig genug ist, hängt in den Seilen. Menschenskind, wie die Zeit nun rennt. Nur das hier jeder Handschlag trotz dessen 3 Mal länger dauert! Gerade um diese schöne Jahreszeit, wenn die Südpazifische Natur in vollem Gange ist, lautet die Devise hier immer noch: 'MACH ES LANGSAM, sonst verbrennst du!' Der Herr im Himmel gebietet das. Nimm Dich in Acht vor Ihm. Willst du also länger leben hier, mach es langsam und wohl überlegt" (Translation :While Europe's winter is coming to an end, the days in Tonga are getting shorter and wetter.  It's hot and humid and to get anything done takes three times as long and requires a huge effort.  At times like these it's necessary to follow the motto, "Slow down before you burn out!"  If you want to live here and last, you have to pace yourself and take things easy.) - more here.


Nico (on right) after a year on Hunga
"You don't have to brush all your teeth, Nico, only the ones you want to keep."


While Nico was stuck on Hunga for want of a fare back to Germany, at least he never had to pay several thousand dollars for a few hundred square metres of wilderness.



He just paid tribute in the shape of a homegrown pawpaw (or two) to the Governor of Vava'u, Lord Fulivai, to be allowed to squat on some land at the end of the non-existing "Seabreeze Community".



Being on a 'Hunger'-diet on Hunga for most of the time, and given his lack of any real tools, it's quite amazing what he achieved there.


Nico's jungle hut, built with nothing more substantial than a hammer and a handsaw


Nico is now safely back in Germany and recovering from his South Sea island ordeal. For video clips of his life on Hunga Island, click here.

Is he ever going back to Hunga? I don't think so!