British family finds a haven in the “beautiful new planet” of Fofoa Island, Vava’u

An island in Vava’u has been described by a British family who moved there eight years ago as a “haven” and a “beautiful new planet”.

British architect and television presenter Kevin McCloud told the story of Boris and Karyn von Engelbrechten who moved to the island of Fofoa in Vava’u in the first episode of Escape to the Wild, which started screening recently in New Zealand on TV3.

The family and their three sons fulfilled their dreams of quitting city life in the UK to build a new life on the other side of the world.

They moved to Tonga in 2007 and built a home on the beach before operating a guesthouse business.

Karyn started the preschool, Utu Ha Loto Poto in the village of Hunga in 2009. The family donates two percent of their income from the guest house to support the teachers and children.

Fofoa three
The von Engelbrechtens  want to leave the Western World. They want their children to feel free in nature. Photo/Escape to the Wild Documentary

McCloud travelled for five days from the UK before he arrived on Fofoa Island to investigate why the family chose to live in an area that was prone to cyclones, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

After arriving in Neiafu, the main island of Vava’u, he was picked up by Boris and Karyn and their sons in their dinghy.

As the boat approached the beach of Fofoa, McCloud noticed the colour of the water change as it became shallower.

“Oh my Lord, the water changed colour,” a surprised McCloud said.

“That’s not real. It’s like looking at stained glass.”

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Boris and Karyn von Engelbrechten. Photo/Escape to the Wild Documentary

He was greeted at the beach with a kahoa kakala (Tongan necklace of fragrance flowers) in which Karyn said “Welcome to Fofoa.”

McCloud described the family’s beach house as “phenomenal.”

He was clearly impressed by the magnificence of what he saw and asked whether or not the building materials were imported from Europe.

“This is impressive this is beautiful. This one and the floor you made – where did you get these from, Germany? Denmark?” McCloud asked.

In response, Boris laughed and said they were made from the core wood of coconut trees in their garden.

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It is an isolated life they choose to live. Photo/Escape to the Wild Documentary

McCloud then commented on the materials he saw in the home which were made from the natural resources available to the family on the island.

“You made it from the stuff out there. You know what I mean – the wilderness,” McCloud said.

“Every timber post, every bit of floorboard, every screen, every bit of joinery, every bit of wall every detail and fish and fishing had to be made from stuff which is processed and refined from trees and rock,” he said.

“Very beautiful.”

Fofoa five

Isolation

McCloud said Karyn and Boris lived such an isolated life that their emotional resolve had to be unshakable.

“There is a lot of pressure on a marriage I think out here.” Karyn said.

“We rely on each other. Boris has to be my best friend, my husband. You know if you have an argument you have to deal with it.”

The family’s way of life depends on being able to meet the basic necessities.

“One of the interesting things in living on an island like this is to discover how people manage off grid. How easy is it?” McCloud asked.

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The von Engelbrechten having an evening picnic at the beach with Kevin McCloud. Photo/Escape to the Wild Documentary

The family’s electricity comes from solar panels that power lighting appliances and the VHF radio they use for contact with other islanders.

Most vital of all is the clean drinking water, which on an island like Fofoa is a precious resource.

The family house is supplied by a gravity-fed system that draws water from rain tanks through home made pipes.

Safety/Protection

Life in paradise comes at a price, however.

The family has also built a bunker where they can shelter from hurricanes and tsunamis.

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Karyn says she does not follow a certain curriculum when teaching their kids but she makes sure they achieve the level of skills they suppose to study according to their various ages. Photo/Escape to the Wild Documentary

During the making of the documentary, McCloud was persuaded to help erect a wind turbine to back up the solar panels as an electricity generator.

The children are home schooled, something Karyn said she found difficult.

Although they are part of the local network of fishermen and islanders, loneliness is a factor they have to cope with.

Karyn admitted she missed her family and also friends in the UK.

“I miss those special occasions, birthdays, those events that are really important and Christmas day is not really a good day out here, but it is the choices you make,” she said.

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The von Engelbrechten having dinner with Kevin McCloud. Photo/Escape to the Wild Documentary

Other members of the family have also found it difficult.

The von Engelbrechten’s oldest son Jack has found the isolation too much.

Karyn said Jack was not finding enough stimulation on the island and there were things he wanted to do that simply weren’t available in Tonga.

Regretfully, the family decided to enrol him in a boarding school in New Zealand.

You can watch this episode on the TV3 website on the site listed below.

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The beautiful beach house was built by Boris who has no formal building training and entirely selftaught. Photo/Escape to the Wild Documentary

The main points

  • An island in Vava’u has been described by a British family who moved there eight years ago as a “haven” and a “beautiful new planet.”
  • British architect and television presenter Kevin McCloud told the story of Boris and Karyn von Engelbrechten who moved to the island of Fofoa in Vava’u in the first episode of Escape to the Wild, which started screening recently on TV3 after premiering on Channel 4 in the UK.
  • The family and their three sons fulfilled their dreams of quitting city life in the UK to build a new life on the other side of the world.
  • They moved to Tonga in 2007 and built a home on the beach before operating a guesthouse business.

For more information

Watch Kevin McCloud’s Escape to the Wild (TV3)

Fancy quitting the rat race to live on a remote island? (The Telegraph)

Escape to the Wild episode guide (Channel 4)

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