From the deck of a sailboat, you catch an arch of stunning nature on the horizon. Dark volcanic stone forms a window into the lush green of the island of Bequia in the Grenadines. A wave crashes on the shore and as the spray dissolves into the air, it draws your attention to something nestled in the arch. It’s called the Moonhole House on Bequia, and it’s in the Grenadines.
A dream house emerges from the stone, at one with nature and yet obviously made by man. If you’ve ever dreamed of life on an island paradise, you have found your low-impact fantasy home.
“To Get Away From It All”
The Moonhole House on Bequia was born of a fantasy just like yours, to “get away from it all” and live surrounded by nature. In the 1950s, Tom and Gladys Johnston quit their jobs in the US and came to Bequia (pronounced Bek-Way), an island in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The family that then owned the western tip of the island invited the Johnston’s for a picnic to check out a massive rock arch known as the Moonhole. Tom instantly started dreaming of having a campsite below the arch to enjoy picnics there. This dream slowly grew and transformed into a four-story home to live in.
A “People Preserve”
Tom built this epic home with driftwood, shipwrecks, rocks, shells, and abandoned whalebones that were scattered around the island. With no road leading to the Moonhole, this was truly a massive, labor of love.
Sticking to low-impact guidelines, Tom not only built his home with found and natural materials, but also decorated it with cast-offs from the village. It became a common saying on Bequia: “Don’t throw anything away. Sell it to Tom Johnston.”
No trees were cut in the making of this house. Instead, Tom built his home around the tall trees. They pop through the ceilings and floors of the home; you can find an ancient tree in your living room, bedroom, or through the deck.
Inspired in his architectural “hobby” by the renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright, Tom truly lived by his mentor’s wisdom: “I believe in God, only I spell it Nature.”
Tom and Gladys’s friends started to show up and ask for a home of their own. Tom agreed and decided to build a “People Preserve” for all those attracted by the lifestyle of simplicity. And so, they built sixteen more houses on the property with the same eco-friendly sensibility that created the Moonhole House on Bequia.
It’s About More Than The Environment
Sticking to true sustainability principles, the Johnstons’ took care not only of nature but also the human element of the environment. They reinvested in Bequia, providing healthcare and education for the community. They established a charity for the people of the island and it still serves them today.
There is an anecdote about a tax man who came to measure the Moonhole House on Bequia. He had trouble deciding where house started, nature ended and vice versa. He returned to the home and brought with him an official document.
As reward for their true effort to maintain nature, the Johnstons’ paid no taxes; “the work they had done at Moonhole was considered contribution enough.”
A Sustainable Hotel in Paradise
Tom and Gladys passed away and the state of their property fell into question for a few years. Their intention was to pass the land back to the community it had originally belonged to. However, Tom’s will was brought in to question. Over that time, the property fell back into the hands of nature. In fact, you can still find some of the houses listed if you search for “Grenadines Islands Real Estate For Sale.” Thankful for all the nature and people involved, the lawsuit settled and Tom’s portion of the property returned to Moonhole Limited.
This company now maintains and rents the properties that once created this idyllic “People Preserve.” Money from the rentals goes to maintaining wildlife protection:
The rental properties all maintain the same standards of sustainability that Tom and Gladys used to build it.
“Moonhole remains a bird, wildlife and marine sanctuary, providing habitat for many indigenous species, including several endangered bird species…. A Fishermen’s Path leads to the rocky promontory at the end of Bequia, overlooking the channel to the West Cays, two small islets protected by the St. Vincent National Trust.”
“An eco-friendly community, we rely primarily on solar and wind power. Stone paths connect the houses. There are no roads at Moonhole. We collect all our water from the sky.”
If you are looking to go to Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, you can stay at the Moonhole Property in one of six properties, although the original house can only be viewed from the sea. Contribute to nature and history.
Is There Scuba Diving in Bequia?
We all get inspiration from places, but what’s clear about ocean lovers is the more we see, the more we value what is in the ocean. Bequia and the Grenadines have abundant fish and coral to appreciate. Check out this video by Goats on the Road to see firsthand what the diving in Bequia looks like:
Marine Conservation and Ecotourism in Bequia
While on Bequia, don’t miss the Old Hegg Turtle Sanctuary run by Orton “Brother” King. King is a retired native skin-diving fisherman, an old salt who raises hawksbill hatchlings on Park Beach and releases them as three year olds when they have a better chance of surviving to adulthood. The Turtle Sanctuary is a one-man operation and relies solely on the contributions of visitors to keep running, so please make sure to pay this place a visit if you make it to the island.
For more inspiration about how to sustainably travel The Grenadines, visit this blog post on Laurel’s Compass.
So Why Did We Show You the Moonhole House on Bequia?
We share this space to inspire all of you out there who dream of living a life more connected to nature and to the ocean. We share the same desire as Tom Johnston, “to look outward and live outwardly, enjoying the world.” It all starts with small changes that happen everyday. This bleeds outward into an intention that can be fulfilled in stunning and inspiring ways, like what was created at the Moonhole House on Bequia.
As it was said of Tom: “He builds to the sun and sea and the wind,” she says. “He has a flair for making a house a part of the land. He succeeds with a natural, honest approach better than others because he is a very natural, honest and direct man.”
If you dream about how to combine lifestyle, business, and ocean conservation, join us at our Blue Ocean Summit to see how the stakeholders in marine tourism and coral restoration make it all happen.
by Caitlin Flannery, Blue Ocean Network
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