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Monday, February 6, 2012

Joe and Villa Mamana on Teleki'vavau

From this                Villa Mamana on Teleki'vavau Island in Tonga ...
... Hotel Pension Senta in Berlin                             to this!

I've just received this email from Joe (Jörg) in Berlin:

Hi Peter,
I lost Horst's email address - horstberger??@??. Do you have it? Do you know if he sometimes checks it?
Regards from a very chilly Berlin,
Joe & Lola (formerly residents of Telekivava'u Island, Ha'apai)
Hotel Pension Senta
Bundesallee 137, 12161 Berlin
Telefon: +49 (0)30 - 850 73 73
Fax: +49 (0)30 - 852 11 66
Email: info@hotel-senta.de

I first heard about Joe when I visited Tonga in 2006 and quite by chance met Horst Berger who had at one time been caretaker on Joe's property, Villa Mamana, on tiny Teleki'vavau Island.

Joe had come to Tonga in 1994 following a royal visit to Germany by the late King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV. during which the king had invited German citizens to come and live and invest in his tiny kingdom. Joe, a pilot, had been looking for the right place to start his seaplane business in an island country with many islands and sandy beaches with shallow lagoons. He thought the Maldives were too Islamic, the Bahamas too screwed up, Fiji too Indian, but Tonga just right: very authentic, relatively untouched, with nice people and beautiful weather, and foreign investment officially welcomed.

Teleki'vavau, second from left, from the air
Click here for a GOOGLE Map view of Telekivava'u

Joe and Lola at Villa MamanaHowever, with the Government delaying the issuing of an operating license for his seaplane, he and his by now Tongan wife Lola decided to wait and in the meantime build, as a support business to their original plans, Villa Mamana on the pristine 40-acre island of Telekivava'u. For more than six years he created, single-handedly with just the occasional help from some local fishermen, this most exquisite resort - for more photos, click here. It must've been a labour of love because the logistics and the costs to transport material and build on this tiny and remote island must have been quite daunting. Finally, he was able to welcome his first $500-a-day paying guests as well as Astrid and Martin, two non-paying "Weltenbummler", from whom he hoped to receive some much-needed publicity.

Eventually, with their two children needing schooling, Joe and Lola put Villa Mamana up for sale and moved to the main island Tongatapu, where there was little else to do but grow some vanilla and look after some cows and papaya plants.

The Villa Mamana is situated on deserted Telekivava'u Island in the South Seas last kingdom, the Kingdom of Tonga, 37 nautical miles south of Pangai with its regional airport. This almost untouched part of Polynesia offers all the lonely island cliche could suggest: crystal clear waters, rich marine life, lush tropical vegetation, an authentic culture, and absolute peace of mind. The Villa (built in 1999)is right at the white beach and the shallow lagoon which surrounds the island. 3000 sq/ft of villa hold 2 1/2 bedrooms with ensuite marble bathrooms, the great room, two huge decks (which become part of the great room with the french doors opened), and a porch. All facing west to ensure beautiful sunsets over the warm South Pacific Ocean. High ceilings, wooden floors, teak furniture, and the light reflecting from the lagoon give the colonial style building its special charm. Amenities include: TV, VCD, Stereo, Satellite Phone, Fans, Washer, Workshop, Fishing Gear, etc Further down the beach you will find the kitchen house of 700 sq/ft(fully equipped)with a studio, and a smaller house (500sq/ft)which is ideal as caretaker quarter. Included in sale are also a 40ft motor yacht, a 27ft gamefishing power boat, a runabout, and utilities like: Two diesel gensets. Two inverters Two battery banks Solar pannels Desalination system Watertank and much more.

A couple of Americans from Hawai'i , Kendall Struxness (who since passed away in April 2011) and Matt Muirhead, bought Villa Mamana from Joe. They continued to advertise the resort via their website www.villamamana.com which has since gone 'off the air'.

From Villa Mamana's original website

Roland SchwaraThis travel blog, written (in German) in April 2008 by Sandra and Thomas, two Swiss visitors to Ha'apai, mentions Loli (or Lolani, Roland Schwara) , a German who'd come out to Tonga in the mid-1990s, operated a diving school in Ha'apai and was then employed as caretaker at US$3,000 a month by Villa Mamana's new American owners who visited no more than two or three times a year for just a few days. Loli was making his once-a-month three-hour round-trip to Pangai, the administrative centre of Ha'apai, which, at 30 knots, cost 100 litres/hour of fuel, or US$600. At $1,500 a night, he only had three paying guests at Villa Mamana in the last 1-1/2 years and perhaps felt a bit lonely because he invited our Swiss travellers to stay on the island for a month for free and even offered them a few months' paid work as relieving caretakers!

According to a passing yachtie's blog dated 24 July 2010, "Telekivavau used to have a one guest house resort on it but the people have left and everything is boarded up, but we managed to tap into one of the water tanks and catch up on washing again. The front of the guest house looked lovely with all our washing strung between the coconut trees out front. There were green bananas and papayas, beans growing along the ground but nothing ripe yet."

And now Joe and Lola have returned to Germany and operate a 'Hotel-Pension' in the centre of Berlin! What I like to know is how somebody who's lived for over a decade in the South Seas can put up with the cold and crammed lifestyle in Germany? As he writes, "We all had the best time of our lives on the island, and will always miss it - unless we find another island and build a 'Villa Mamana Lite' just for us."

If home is where the heart is, where is Joe's heart and where is his home? The South Sea Islands are great cannibals; they have eaten the hearts of many of their visitors, who will never be wholly at home anywhere else again.

Steve Gates, with whom Joe is still in contact and whom he describes as "a nice man, doing what I wish I could do", arrived on Telekivava'u in November 2003 aboard his own Searunner 37 trimaran "Manu-O-Ku".

Steve's boat 'Manu-O-Ku'

Steve was the island's longest-serving caretaker, staying there for three years. As he explained on his own website: "I sailed to Tonga in 2003 for a unique job... being the caretaker of a very remote 40 acre private island in the already remote central group of Tonga, Ha’apai. It was rather idyllic, pristine island, Manu-O-Ku anchored in the lagoon ... spending weeks at a time totally alone on the island. I did that for 3 years ..."

Afterwards he ran a charter business for some 4-1/2 years in Vava'u and finally left Tonga in June 2011 for Fiji (July 2011), Vanuatu (September 2011), Solomons (November 2011), and Palau (February 2012). He arrived at Port Barton in the Philippines on New Year's Eve 2012 where he now lives and operates Manu-O-Ku Sailing Adventures.

P.S. The current owner of Villa Mamana, Matt Muirhead, asked me to resurrect the old website www.villamamana.com which I have done although I was not able to secure the old domain name.

P.P.S. Since then Matt's dream of paradise in the South Seas has turned to ashes - see here.

P.P.P.S. Joe lived his dream on Telekivava'u. Here is the story of Tom Neale who lived his dream on another island: An Island To Oneself.