This spring I spent 1.5 months on Nomuka Island, a very remote place in the Kingdom of Tonga. Most of my time there was spent documenting the lives of the island’s residents and taking their family portraits, all to be mailed back after returning to the U.S. But there is one non-Tongan family living on the island. The Sheens are from Australia originally and have lead quite an interesting life since leaving that continent many years ago, including taking two years to sail a catamaran from New York to the Pacific via the Panama Canal. They have now lived in Tonga for eight years, but only moved to Nomuka two years ago where they are building up a small resort to bring guests during whale season. Their company, Whale Discoveries, takes guests from all over the world on trips to watch and swim with whales.
Near the end of my time in Tonga we a full Day in the Life session, which was one of the most fun photographic experiences I’ve had as their lives are so unique and interesting! They own five horses, four dogs, a goat, many chickens, and occasionally they’ll help bottle feed a calf from the village that isn’t nursing its mother. They spend their days booking clients for this whale season (July-October) and trying to figure out how to get things they need from Australia, NZ, or the U.S. to Nomuka. While I was there they were having issues with their solar panels and in the afternoon they decided to move the large chicken coop to make room for a new garden plot. The kids have an in-person volunteer (“workaway”) teacher but also an online curriculum complete with live videos, but they were on their final days of a break during this shoot. The kids (Dior and Kai) climb coconut trees, cut open their own coconuts, harvest other fruit, love to cook the family’s meals, and go swimming nearly every day. Though they have struggles and special challenges of living in such a remote location, I think many of us would be quite envious of their lives.
Day in the Life Family Photography with the Sheens in Tonga