3 things needed on a tropical island

Podcast: 1 year on a lonely island with Adrian Hoffmann

Many dream of being out once in a lifetime, on a lonely island, secluded from everything, to live a certain time: turquoise sea, white sandy beaches, coconuts and tropical fruits and complete tranquility. A real adventure! Such islands and dropouts do actually exist, namely in the South Pacific.

Adrian lived with his wife Nina for 1 year on a lonely island in Tongo and reports in this 25th episode of Off The Path podcast about his unbelievable experiences there. You will learn, among other things, how they came to this secluded island, why life there wasn't just lazy and why they were scared to death a few times.

Experience over 1 year on a desert island in this episode:

  • How Adrian and his wife Nina came to live on a lonely island for a year
  • How they got to the island
  • What luxury items they brought with them
  • How they fed
  • What her days on the island were like
  • Which were the worst and which were the most beautiful moments on the island
  • What it was like to live as a couple on this island

Show notes over a year on a lonely island:


Sebastian: Welcome to a new Off the Path Podcast episode. Today I am happy to have a very special guest with me who has seen quite a lot. Together with his wife Nina, Adrian lived on a lonely island in the South Pacific for a year and recently published a book about it. Let's talk a little more about that now, I've prepared a few questions. Adrian, welcome!

Adrian: Thank you for your interest, hello!

Sebastian: How did it come about that you ended up on a completely secluded island in the South Seas for a year?

Adrian: That was actually more or less a coincidence. We wanted to do that sometime in our mid-twenties, which many do after high school: To travel the world for a year and then we decided on Fiji and initially for a longer stay of a few months. At first we lived on a larger island with a few villages and at some point met an emigrant from South Africa who said there was an island that you might like. So we came to a lonely island for the first time and initially wanted to stay there for a few weeks, but it turned out to be a few months. After we set foot on the island, we actually fell for it. After our return to Germany in 2008, we dreamed of doing something like that for longer every day, and since we returned in 2008 we have only worked towards this goal. We only saved our money for this project and then we planned to go to Tonga, to an island for a year.

Sebastian: And when did you do that?

Adrian: In 2010/2011 we were on the island for a good year.

Sebastian: So you worked two years and saved money to take this break?

Adrian: Exactly to finance us, yes. The first time I had just taken a Sabbath time. I am the editor of a daily newspaper. The second time we went to Tonga, I quit my job. We really left everything behind us. Nina is a primary school teacher, but she only had a fixed-term contract at the time, so that worked out pretty well.

Sebastian: Okay, and this island that is in Tonga?

Adrian: Exactly. Tonga has around 180 islands, I think I'm not sure about that right now. We went there and looked for an island on site. It took us a few months to find the right one. We then made sure that she was as secluded as possible and asked around on the main island, went to some backyard offices and researched which island we might be able to go to. We were in the Ministry of Lands and then we finally got the decisive tip that there is a very distant island with a small hut. But then he couldn't tell us how to get the owners and that's why it took us another month to find the owners, who live in the USA. We then contacted them via email and they were delighted that someone volunteered to go to their island, want to spend time there and take care of the island and the hut that is there.

Sebastian: Incredible! So you then found these owners in the US who wrote them an email and said, “Hey, listen, Mr. XY, we'd like to go to your island where nobody's been for years anyway. Is this allowed?" And did you have to pay rent for it somehow or did he just say “Cool! Of course, of course, I don't notice that anyway and it's nice when someone is there and pays attention. "  

Adrian: Nope, that was just fine with them. We were then, so to speak, the island sitters, the island caretakers. We made sure that nothing was neglected. As a rule, they come once a year for a week and every time they come, everything is overgrown and it is also possible that something was stolen from the hut by some fisherman. They were just thrilled that someone wanted to be there permanently and had the chance that their island would be looked after after such a long time. They were really happy. It also took them a while to get in touch from the USA, another two weeks. And we thought it probably wouldn't work anyway. We were skeptical and all the more pleased that it worked and that they were so enthusiastic about it. We are still in contact today, we can go there at any time and have now joined the team. So if anyone is interested, feel free to contact us.

Sebastian: Very cool! So are you now, so to speak, island brokers, island housesitting brokers?

Adrian: So to speak, yes. We have the consideration that we want to keep that. We became a bit unsuitable for civilization afterwards and we always want to keep this exit plan so that we can go to the island two or three months a year to experience what we had back then. For us it would be nice now, as from the owner's point of view, if we could find someone who likes to spend a longer time there every now and then so that the island is kept in good shape. We have also found that this can be very useful.

Sebastian: Okay cool! So then let's talk about that experience you had there. You were in the ass in the world, on a lonely island, with a small hut and but you had your dog with you?

Adrian: Yes. That was important to us. This is a family member that we flew in from Germany. It was a bit complicated and not cheap, but it was worth it to us.

Sebastian: Yes. So, you had the contact, you were allowed to go to this island. How did you get there then? Have you chartered a boat then? Did you fly there with a seaplane or did you go there with a fishing boat?

Adrian: Unfortunately there is no seaplane in Tonga. Unfortunately there is no helicopter there either. We went with a larger fishing boat, a small ferry, for a maximum of one day, one night to an inhabited island from the main island. And from there we went with a fisherman to another inhabited island and from there on to the lonely island. So in total we were on the road again for a good two days. Of course you have to be lucky that the weather is right, otherwise it won't work. You have to be very flexible there. Two weeks on the island is almost impossible, because you have to expect that the weather is not right.

Sebastian: Yes, if the weather isn't right, you've been through a lot, we'll talk about that again in a moment, but did you take any luxury items with you?

Adrian: Nutella.

Sebastian: Nutella!?

Adrian: Nutella was the ultimate luxury, yes. And shrink-wrapped cheese. These were our luxuries, but otherwise we planned quite practically. We had a lot of canned food with us for the first time because nothing grew in the garden at first. And we brought bags of rice and books. We were very practical and took tools, machetes and seeds for the garden.

Sebastian: Cool! How did you eat there? Now you've said you took canned food and seeds. So you've grown a garden. It takes a while until such a garden grows sufficiently that one can live on it. How did that work there?

Adrian: Yes, it took a while. At first it was far from self-sufficient, but we had the goal of living a little more self-sufficient after a while. That is why we have taken a fairly large range of seeds with us so that we can also have a variety in the garden. What went very quickly were pumpkins and cucumbers and such. We also had tomatoes, Chinese cabbage, all sorts of things, eggplants. On the island itself there were endless papayas, bananas and coconuts and then also some roots, like taro. We were able to take care of ourselves well for the first time. The first time we had what was already growing on the island. But you always have to be quick because the fruit bats like to come first. You have to harvest the fruits relatively early.

Sebastian: Yes, because they just steal everything away, right? As soon as the fruits are ripe, do they have to be hung immediately?

Adrian: As cute and cute as they are, but yes, we didn't want to let the papayas be taken away from us.

Sebastian: They can also be little beasts. How were the days for you guys? I mean, for a year on a lonely island, you might imagine yourself chilling out on the hammock and looking out over the wide open sea. But I've read a few interviews from you - unfortunately I haven't read your book yet - where you said that this is and was far from reality. How were your days

Adrian: We have approached the matter very ambitiously. First of all, we wanted to allow ourselves a cozy everyday life on the island by doing a little work, namely building the garden. The garden was very important to us, and we spent the first few weeks with it. And of course we also had to cut paths first, which is also a lot of effort. I also wanted to fish, so there was a lot to do. Therefore, we allowed ourselves free time in the evening and maybe walked around the island every now and then, but we really worked a lot at the beginning and it was immediately wiped out again by the first cyclone. That's why we were able to start all over again.

Sebastian: So you had practically invested the first work in the island and in your hut and then the first cyclone came and then broke everything again, which is why you started over, or how was that?

Adrian: Yes, half the island was devastated afterwards.

Sebastian: How can you imagine such a cyclone? I mean, when you're in a cyclone like that, it's pretty pretty ... I don't know what kind of wind strength are those? How many km / h does that have?

Adrian: I just don't know.

Sebastian: But is it pretty awesome?

Adrian: Yes, the palm trees have bent and trees have simply bent over like matches before our eyes. And then waves came from the side and washed through under the house, carrying coral blocks inside. It was really scary in the high phase of the cyclone. At the beginning we thought it was exciting, but that soon went away. He really destroyed half the island.

Sebastian: But you’re almost a bit scared to death, right?

Adrian: Yes, I don't want to overuse it, but when the waves came so big from the side, we always feared that more waves could come and even higher ones and then the waves might have carried us away. At first we were less afraid of the wind, but when the trees fell, yes. Yes, we were scared to death. We had also considered tying ourselves up in the house with a rope. Because we simply had no idea what to do if the roof had blown our heads. Fortunately it was built quite well and they installed a cyclone protective metal there on the roof, which is why we were spared. But otherwise I could bet the roof would have been gone too.

Sebastian: Incredible! Is that the worst time on the island?

Adrian: Yes. That was one of the bad experiences, but we had more. So what we remembered most is the arrival of 40 fishermen who wanted to set up camp with us. They were Tongans and Chinese - they suddenly appeared on the horizon one day, we first saw a spot, then they arrived, five or six boats fully manned and then announced to us that they wanted to stay here for a few months now, right next to us use the water at the house. You then started drinking alcohol relatively quickly, even in the midday sun. They weren't ready to talk at all and weren't really interested in the fact that we couldn't quite agree that. We then planned the departure. Nina was really scared because there were 40 men on the island and she was the only woman. That wasn't a nice feeling and they were quite curious. We then slept with the machete next to the bed. Fortunately, the dog was a little tense. Before that, the fishermen were a bit nervous. That was bad, we can't claim ownership there either. Well, these are still the islands of the Tongans and if they fish there, what do you want to make big there? But we then planned the departure because we saw quite realistically that it wouldn't work for us and we were ultimately lucky because we were able to reach the German consul general, who notified the Navy for us. He found out that these sea guerrilla camps, as it was intended and planned by them, were illegal and so it came to the most surreal moment in the island time, when suddenly the big military ship arrived at the ass of the world in the blue lagoon, Then 10 soldiers came to the beach from their small boats with Uzis in their hands. I can't forget that to this day, because normally I was used to mantas and dolphins and maybe a whale in front of the reef, but soldiers with Uzis, in the blazing sun of the blue lagoon - no, so an unbelievable picture.

Sebastian: And then they took them with them or what happened then?

Adrian: They ran away beforehand, of course they were warned. Tonga is small and everyone knows everyone.

Sebastian: But that's totally crazy. I mean, this is a totally awesome story. Besides the fact that you almost survived this cyclone. But I also find - as you said - 40 men and a woman who also come from very far away, so they are very exotic and if they all start drinking at noon, it can quickly become uncomfortable and dangerous. That's why I can understand very well that you have to take appropriate measures and then maybe decide to leave.

Adrian: I'm not saying they're bad guys or anything, but you can imagine what can happen when they get bored and after they have asked me if I want to try a Tongan girl who has Nina didn't like it much.

Sebastian: Yeah, crazy. Yes better safe than sorry. Ne? So ... better take precautionary measures. Awesome!

Adrian: We never really got it going, even though the GPS came, but we always lived in this uncertainty that maybe we could set up camp again. The local fishermen were always very hands-on when they came, because the GPS made an impression on them too.

Sebastian: Yes, did you have regular visits to the island?

Adrian: I wouldn't say regularly, but every few weeks a fisherman might come. There are other uninhabited islands around the island and on one they had a couple of pigs and they had to feed them. They don't have red meat on the islands and that's why they used such a lonely island to settle a few pigs there.

Sebastian: Awesome, okay, so now we've talked about the worst moments. What were the nicest ones?

Adrian: The most beautiful? I wouldn't pick out those exotic, rare moments, but it was easy for me and also for Nina, for us every evening was nice around the campfire when we could watch the fruit bats fly over our heads to the neighboring islands are. Or when we simply wandered through the island with the machete and checked our fruits.Those were the little things that were the most beautiful moments for us, that we remembered. Of course also the arrival of the whales or when a couple of sailors show up after months and after months you have a little company and fun talking, these are also great experiences. At some point, of course, you get to the point where you miss the friends and family at home. Every now and then we called them on the satellite phone, but we never really talked to each other for long. And especially on birthdays or at Christmas, it gets a bit lonely.

Sebastian: Yes, because of course you miss the familiar a bit. But you also had a satellite phone with you, as I have just heard. Of course you need that too. Is that how you probably reached the consul general and just called him?

Adrian: Yes exactly. It was very important for us to have the phone with us. Otherwise we would really have been cut off and ultimately the seafarers would not have been able to do anything.

Sebastian: Yes, you need that then. Despite all the seclusion that you want, a bit of connection, you need that.  

Adrian: Yes, even if we had an emergency now. I had another problem. I had such an inflammation of the pus and we didn't know if the antibiotics we had with us would be enough. If that hadn't subsided, then we would have been just as lost. Then somehow I should have had a way to call a fisherman so that I could somehow get to the ferry and then to the main island. That's why it was very important. Without it it would be irresponsible.

Sebastian: Did you have electricity on the island or how did you keep this phone alive, for example? That kind of needs a battery.

Adrian: We took a solar case with us. A solar panel and battery and really only hung the bare essentials on the electricity. We charged the phone with it and then I used the laptop because I wrote something every now and then. I wrote a column for the daily newspapers every few months.

Sebastian: Ah, very cool. So you were able to write and work a little bit, so to speak. Cool. Me and my girlfriend, we've been traveling the world for three years. We are together 24/7, i.e. every day, and there are probably, as in any relationship, mostly good moments, but there are also great moments. When you're together all the time, it's very intimate and also very exhausting at times. What phases did you go through as a couple? I mean, it was probably something new for you too, right? Before, you had your normal relationship in Germany, where you more or less saw each other in the evenings and on weekends. During the day they worked separately. You worked for the newspaper, it went to school. Suddenly you're together 24/7. How was that for you guys?

Adrian: Yes, we are a childhood sweetheart. We have been together for more than 15 years now and we knew each other very well and it was curiously enough that we got along better than ever on the island. We hardly had any arguments. And if so, then absolutely trifles. The island was small, but then again quite big, if you can't see each other, then you can go to the other end and spend the day there. But what I actually want to say is that there were so few external influences on the island and when we did, we had the same problems. So when the cyclone comes and destroys the garden or the sea boot camp or whatever. Due to the lack of external influences, we simply had a really good, relaxed time and hardly any arguments. It looks completely different at home. After our return, our idyllic marriage from before continued. We are actually more likely to find relaxation and peace on the island and our relationship only benefited from the island time. Although many have prophesied “You will not be together afterwards” or then asked us “What? Are you still together? " and so.

Sebastian: There is only one coming back from the island.

Adrian: Or many say “I wouldn't even be able to take my wife there for a week”. I always ask myself what does that say about your relationship?

Sebastian: I was just about to say that. So, if you can't even spend a week with your wife on a desert island, then maybe you should worry. Then what made you decide to fly back? Was it just because it was planned or did you have to go back?

Adrian: The visa expired, but we could easily have extended that. I would have liked to have stayed a little longer, but Nina once said the appropriate sentence on the island: “Adrian, we're going around in circles here”. She was right about that. We wanted a child. We have that now too. Our daughter is now three years old. And the desire to have children and a lonely island cannot be reconciled.

Sebastian: I believe that.

Adrian: But at the beginning of the year we were again with our daughter on the island and showed her everything and she is still enthusiastic about it and still reports how nice it was. So she likes it too and she's already addicted to it. Maybe a little early. We hope that we can continue to live on the island, as I said earlier. This is really important for us so that we have such an exit plan and not completely suffocate in the system here. The system can be just fine if we keep working like this and the little one goes to kindergarten, but we need our vanishing point.

Sebastian: Yes, and you have clearly found it. That all sounds great. When you were back on the island, did you take anything with you that you didn't think of the first time?

Adrian: Yes, we may have planned a little more foresight and really stocked up on food very well and generously. Also in advance that we have as wide a selection as possible. As I said, shrink-wrapped cheese and such, that was important. Otherwise, we took a lot of machetes and tools with us and made sure we had everything. We knew from experience that if you don't have something, then you have a problem and you won't get it delivered to the island so easily. After half a year we received another delivery. That was a boat that we ordered straight to the island and it was packed with boxes. Such a replenishment of food because we have never really managed to live completely self-sufficiently with our things. For the most part, but still we had reached the point where we needed supplies. New flour and such.

Sebastian: What did the island look like when you came back for the second time. Was there another cyclone and broke everything again, right?

Adrian: This year?

Sebastian: Yes.

Adrian: There was a long dry season there. We were pretty shocked that we couldn't find any more bananas and papaya at all. There were a few pigs on the island by now. The locals also settled pigs there and they ate away a lot of what was there. So there was hardly anything left of our time, except for a few signs that we attached to our thread “Banana Trail” and such “Bush Trail” and such. We had put up signs there back then. It was nice to see them again. We designed it a little bit German-Swabian. Nice with orientation and island paths.

Sebastian: Nice and neat.

Adrian: Unfortunately, it was no longer proper after such a long time. And as I said, very dry, that was a bit of a shame.

Sebastian: Okay, but nature doesn't know any difference. She just does her own thing and that's a good thing.

Adrian: I had a kayak with me. I had a lot of fun with it. I've caught bigger fish than ever before and paddled around between the islands. That was really great. And to look at my own island from a distance, I really enjoyed that.

Sebastian: Yes, and of course you always had a camera with you. These pictures look absolutely great. You can see a few of them in your book. And of course you wrote this whole story together in your book. Of course, that can't be summed up in 25 minutes, but I think it sounds great what you experienced there and I'm almost a little jealous of your time on this lonely island. I would probably like that very much too.

Adrian: Yes, make the next stop there.

Sebastian: Exactly, maybe next time we'll just come to Tonga.

Adrian, thank you very much for taking the time to share this story with us. That sounds really great and I wish you, Nina and your daughter all the best for the future!

Adrian: Many Thanks! Thank you for the interest.

Sebastian: See you, bye!

Adrian: See you soon, ciao!

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