The island built by hand

20 Jan


When people ask Serah Kei how she managed to build her own island she tells them “it’s not an overnight thing, you have to work for many, many years, little bit by little bit”.

IMG_4509The place that is today known as Serah’s Hideaway, in Malaita Province in the Solomon Islands was nothing more than some mangroves growing up out of a lagoon 25 years ago.

Serah’s determination saw her build an island for her and her three children to live on and then go on to extend it day by day, so she had enough space to welcome tourists.

She began building her project as a young woman of about 21 years of age.

While her first husband helped with the initial planning stages, the pair went their separate ways not long after beginning work on the island.

At that point, some single mothers with three young children aged five years; three years and nine months might give up the project but not Serah.

While most Solomon Islanders live a subsistence lifestyle, Serah had seen the benefits of income generated through tourism as a child.

IMG_2506When she was growing up around the lagoon in the late 1960s and 70s, there were a couple of places that offered accommodation to tourists and she hoped one day she could do the same.

In the Solomons there are often issues over land ownership, so when Serah initially spoke with her father about where she could build, they discussed the option of her building her own island.

Her ancestors, the Walla people had built their own islands from coral, which people still lived on and added to but in the late 1980s when Serah set out to build her place she had never seen anyone build an island from scratch.

No new islands had been created in the area for years.

IMG_2396Serah said some people thought she was crazy when they saw what she was trying to do.

It was also strange for locals to see a strong independent woman working on such a project, making her own money and providing for her family.

“In the Solomons men dominate the country,” Serah said.

“It is rare for a woman to work so hard building an island.”

Serah made shell money; round carved beads made from shells that are a form of payment traditional to Malaitan culture, which she used to pay for materials to build her island and the structures on it.

“I have to travel to other provinces to get the materials,” she said.

“Back then things are not easy. Like transportation is very hard, so if I go to other islands I have to wait when the ship comes, I load the raw materials, put them on, give money to the local women in the village, they help me to make.”

IMG_2401Serah did not have the help of machines, or the aid of materials such as cement, she simply used existing corals as well as purchasing large coral bricks to create her island.

“Because the lagoon is made up of coral, as you can see there are lots of mangroves, there are lots of stones under the mangrove trees,” she said.

“So I’d go during low tide, break the corals, they have to clear the mangrove first and then dig underneath in the mud.”

Serah described the process of building an island in water as similar to that of a jigsaw puzzle.

She said each piece had to be carefully positioned in order to create a stable base.

“If you just put the rocks after one another, they fall out easy when there is an earthquake and when there is a rough sea,” Serah said.

IMG_2378“When you build, when you finish the height that you want the stone wall to stop then you have to do little corals, in between so they are stuck in between, and gravel from the corals in the sea, so we fill it up and put more gravel and it sort of holds it together.”

It is an ongoing process, with constant maintenance required to keep the base of the island stable.

“As years go by you have to put more and more,” Serah said.

Plants such as trees and flowers that she has planted help to hold the coral that makes up the island in place.

The tides have helped in the building process.

IMG_2374“I work with tides, when it’s low, I put the stone where the tide reaches, as the tide comes up- I lift it because it’s light to lift with the water.”

It took Serah three years to complete her initial home and the area under the house and another 22 to get to where she is today.

She opened to tourists in 2006.

The island now has two bungalows for tourists and is connected to a couple of smaller decorative islands joined by a floating bamboo bridge, perfect for snorkelers to set out from.

Serah’s tourism operation not only provides an income for her but for others in the area.

IMG_2417If visitors want to take a canoe around the nearby islands, they can rent them from locals and other activities such as shell money making can also be arranged with locals for a fee.

While Serah has done most of the work on the island by herself, she has had help in recent years.

One of her first guests, an international traveller, ended up staying longer than expected and the pair married in 2008.

Her now husband helped her build their new home on the island.

They are not the only ones that live there.

Serah has expanded the island to make space for her brothers and sisters and their families.

She enjoys the quiet life living on her own island has afforded her.

“I love to be with the nature, to dive with the fish and to be on the island,” Serah said.


Wanna stay at Serah’s? email her: Serah Kei

Melbourne street art

5 Jan


Starting near Flinders Street Station, we walked a jagged loop of Melbourne’s laneways exploring the designs, patterns, captivating images and quirky details that make what could otherwise be mundane cityscapes, a little more interesting.

One of the first places we came upon was Hosier Lane, which is connected to another couple of lanes, all of which seem to have layers of spray paint, with overlapping pieces in every direction.

As well as street art created with an aerosol can, there were also stencil pieces (well designed paper cut out- cut and paste onto walls) and others including a lane full of ordinary looking street signs with thought provoking statements.

I IMG_3358especially liked the small details in pieces that you might not see if simply walking past. A squashed soft drink can- presumably on the ground when the artist arrived, was incorporated as part of the canvas in a painting of Sonic the Hedgehog.

Our walk took us up through China Town and back down towards the train station again.




A burger worth lining up for

8 Dec

We’d checked out of our hotel, almost maxed out our credit cards and still had a few hours until we needed to be at the airport to fly out of the country so we thought what better way to spend our last morning in Queenstown but to wait in a line for a burger.

Our hotel wasn’t far from Fergburger and each day when we’d walked past mid-morning, the line was already back out the door and part of the way down the path.




This morning however was a little different, staff were buzzing about inside cleaning furiously and we were told they were hoping to open about 11am.

My husband and I came back just before 11am and a couple of groups of people were already milling about.

We jumped in line and watched people join the queue behind us, until at its peak the line snaked for a distance of about 20metres.

The few seats out the front of the store have filled up and I’ve been quick enough to snap one up.

From my seat near the door I could see all the merchandise under the counter- $85 for a hoodie saying “Ferg loves you” and $10 for a sweatband- or you could buy a pair of ferg undies for $29.

With such merchandise you might think the hype of fergburgers must’ve been created with the help of a number of franchised stores- but that’s not the case,  there is only one Fergburger outlet and this is it.

It’s popularity has however seen an expansion, with the Fergbakery opening next door.




As we waited for the store to open we watch as staff came in and out from the bakery, bringing in stockpiles of receipt paper rolls, lots of napkins, heaps of sauces and handfuls of paper menus- as if preparing for a busy day.

Watching the many staff members in the kitchen and at the counter later, it was obvious with such a constant stream of orders coming in, there would be no time for mucking around getting more sauces from out the back when they ran out.




We found out that the reason there was so much cleaning going on inside the shop was because the staff had held their Christmas party in the store the night before and quite a bit of mess had been made.

It must’ve been one hell of a party because the team cleaned like crazy before opening about 11.30am.

The store usually operates 21 hours a day, only closing for three hours a day in the morning for cleaning but reopens each day at 8.30am.




By the time first orders were taken most of those in line had taken their selflies in line and selfie sticks had been put away.




The menu had been perused and burger choices made.

While some might opt for ‘The’ Fergburger with Prime New Zealand beef, lettuce, tomato, red onion, aioli and tomato relish, there are plenty of other options.

Among the names of the burgers on offer are the Tropical Swine, Sweet Bambi, Cock Cajun, Bun Laden, Godfather and the Chief Wiggum.




Those who like a challenge can give the Big Al a go.

With half a pound of prime New Zealand beef, bacon, cheese, two eggs, beetroot, lettuce, tomato, red onion, relish and aioli, those with a big appetite might consider it a value for money burger.

Once customers made it to the entrance of the store, they passed under the door way, over which hangs a large wooden plaque that reads “In Ferg we trust- since 2000″.




Watching the workers – organisation is a matter of precision and planning- each worker has a place to be in the kitchen and on the floor dealing with customer orders and they work with military organisation to ensure everything runs smoothly and customers get fed.




Dine in or takeaway it’s all the same, there’s no difference in prices and all burgers are served in a brown paper bag with the face of Ferg on it.




When ordering, customers are given a receipt with a number on it, which comes up on screen inside when orders are ready- there is also a staff member who brings out burgers to those waiting out on the street.

Many take their brown bags over the road where there is a small open space with benches for the public.




The burgers all come made with slightly toasted large white bread buns with sesame seeds on top and are made fresh when ordered with top quality produce.

The best thing about the burgers is while the buns are pretty huge, the fillings, including the ever-important sauces, are spread across the whole on the bun evenly, making every bite a good one.







Sri Lanka- 2008

6 Aug

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Since when was peeing so artistic?

24 Jul

One peeing statue is just not enough for the Belgian city of Brussels.


‘Manneken Pis’ is a famous statue of a little boy peeing which attracts thousands of visitors each year. The English translation for it is ‘little pee man’.

The statue, which is about 60 centimetres tall and located a short walk from the Grand Place, was made by local sculptor Hieronimus Duquesnoy back in 1619.

Sightseers are keen to squeeze in for a selfie in front of the tiny man even though it is not the original statue anymore- that one is now safely on display at a nearby museum.


In the name of sexual equality, there is fittingly a more modern, peeing statue.

Jeanneke Pis, a squatting female, is not far from her male counterpart and was created by sculptor Denis-Adrien Debouvrie in 1985.

This statue is about the same size as the original and also pretty popular.

She can be found down a little lane in the heart of the city.


Head a little further from the Grand Place and you’ll find Zinneke Pis.

On the corner of a trendy shopping street in Brussels is this statue of a dog peeing against a street post.

It was installed in 1998.

Strangely enough, this is the only of the three that is life size.


Click here to find out more about Brussels.

My one Prague regret

15 May

I only have one regret about my trip to the capital of the Czech Republic last year; not riding the paternoster.

You may not know what a paternoster is, that’s okay, either did I until we walked past it on a walking tour of Prague.

A paternoster is an old style elevator- this one was off to the side in a little arcade off Wenceslas Square.


It is a two sided, open lift that operates on a loop, with one side going up, while the other goes down.

A paternoster is continuously moving, so users have to be quick to step in at the right time and off again at the right floor as there are no buttons with floor numbers to be pressed.

This one was also pretty small, if you jumped on with a stranger you’d be getting pretty up-close and personal during the short ride.

I was so intrigued that we returned to take a look the next day.

Unfortunately there was a security coded door in our way and a sign warning that the entrance was for residents only.

When someone pressed in a code and went in, it was my curious side urging me to follow, grab that door and head on in but it was my partner’s less adventurous side that verbally warned me against doing so.

To this day, I’ve never been on a paternoster.

I don’t know if I’ll ever see another paternoster, there aren’t many left these days- apparently they don’t fulfil a lot of OHS standards.


Nana’s stories: Nuns and their questions

12 May

I’ve been helping my nana with musings from her childhood- here is a small glimpse into her childhood from about the last half of the 1930s…

One day while in the playground a nun came up to me and asked if I was going to be inoculated. Now this nun was in full habit, white wimple, with all the bells and whistles and chains and she seemed to be at least eight feet tall. I was frightened of her. Anyhow I said I was, not knowing what she was talking about, I thought it might be good, she gave me papers for mum to sign. When I gave the papers to mum, she said, “you’re going to have a needle”. “Oh no, I’m not, I’m going to be inoculated,” I said. I was only five, how was I supposed to know what it meant?


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