Last year we had the opportunity to go to Tonga to visit two wonderful friends, Dave and Sally.

Three years ago Dave and Sally bought Matafonua Lodge on the tiny island of Foa, part of the Ha’apai Islands. This was their first entry into the cruel world of hospitality and a complete career change for them. Mind you it is the stuff of dreams – who hasn’t imagined them selves on an unspoiled Pacific Island?

view from the restaurant

See what I mean? Heaven on earth!  So here’s the story…Dave and Sally leave New Zealand to start their new life as owner operators of a beautiful resort in a beautiful place. First they had to build the resort from the ground up on a beach in one of the most remote places on earth, to some an impossible task but not so for our heroes. Next open the doors and find some customers or again the dream is over, but still our heroes soldier on and get the word out about their corner of paradise.

One of the beachside rooms

Setting up a new restaurant with accommodation is tough and Dave and Sally did what we all have had to do and that is work your butt off until it works.

Well three years later, with a long list of clients madly in love with the place, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel. They have bravely endured the birth of a new business, coped with the problems of its remoteness and are steadily building a wonderful business where their clients can leave their troubles behind in the outside world and  reconnect to their environment and each other while being pampered in paradise.

The guests are happy, the food is great, the restaurant is full and the rooms are occupied by returning guests, now’s the time that Dave and Sally can take a moment to smell the roses and, quite rightly, be proud that they have achieved what so many in our business cannot. They have tamed the beast and produced a successful restaurant and resort. Time to raise a glass as the sun goes down and take a moment to enjoy the job well done.


All sounds perfect doesn’t it? They’ve done the near impossible and through hard work and intelligence have managed to navigate the potholes on the road to success.

Now the business is entering the tricky next stage of its life…having survived the first three years the job now is to carry on and consolidate. Pay back the debts and drive the business into its maturity, not easy but after the start up it won’t be as hard again.

This all sounds like the perfect success story doesn’t it? Well I guess the answer to that is it should be. However life is full of curve balls and just when you think you’ve cracked it something will come along and kick you in the teeth and in this case the kicking is long and hard. You see a couple of days ago mother nature intervened and decided that paradise needed a bit of adjusting and Matafonua Lodge was slammed by a Cyclone and effectively ripped apart. The effect is massive, not only on Dave and Sally and their beautiful Tongan team, but on every facet of Tongan life. These beautiful Islands in the Pacific have been decimated by nature’s worst.

So what’s next? Well initially all our thoughts go to the entire island group and the beautiful people of Tonga.  Yet again they will have to pick themselves up off the floor and rebuild their lives, inevitably with very little help from the outside world, and carry on. As for Dave and Sally what can I say, except that I hope that you have the strength to carry on and rebuild your piece of paradise. You have proved to be that rare commodity, successful restaurateurs that are truly passionate about quallity, clients and team.

Finally on a personal note I wanted to add one last photo of Dave taking my children fishing at dawn one morning of our stay. This won’t be happening in Tonga for a while but it will again as the islands slowly rebuild and return to normality. I look forward to returning to Tonga and urge everyone to plan a visit to this magical place. After all Captain James Cook named them the Friendly Islands for a reason.

Heaven on Earth

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So what do a photographer and a chef do across the Christmas break. Well enjoy good food and good company of course!

What we have here is a leg of lamb on the BBQ at Simon’s bach in Waihi. Such a relaxed and beautiful day for everyone.

For years for us the Christmas celebrations were all about tradition and over-indulgence. However since moving to New Zealand we have been able to drop the whole traditional lunch with the table groaning with the weight of the food and replace it with the Kiwi long lunch interspersed with good old beach cricket and a spot of surfing.

Sometimes it’s just too easy to follow tradition and make a rod for our own backs. How often is the cook left in the kitchen with only a pile of food for company? Christmas is about family and friends and sharing food together is part of your expression of love, the important word here being sharing.

I hope you’ve all had a great break, put 2010 to bed and are ready to embrace the challenges of the new year.

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