"While I was on my maternity leave we moved to Vanuatu to take some time out. While we were there things took an unexpected turn and we ended up adopting a beautiful baby too. With that Vanuatu became part of our lives forever," she explains.
"We knew that being able to go back and forth between Australia was important to keep in touch with our son's culture, his birth family and their customs and so we scraped together our savings and bought a small piece of land near the beach in Pango."
Being a small island, resources are limited when it comes to building a home, so Jonica decided to utilise a shipping container, which was fairly easy to source. The idea of reducing her eco-footprint and upcycling was also hugely appealing.
After purchasing the land it took around two months to settle and Jonica drew up plans "on a napkin at the gym". Her builder then converted them into a basic digital drawing and the build got underway.
"My workers dug our foundations with crowbars. I offered to hire machines but they wisely pointed out that this way they had a week's work and wages to feed their families," she explains. "If I hired an excavator then an international company would see that profit.
"Most gardeners in Vanuatu chop down anything that’s not useful, even trees. If they don’t provide fruit then what’s the point? They just call them a bush and they are gone. I used to go to the land every day and remind them that I wanted to keep as much as possible even if it was a 'bush'.
"I walked behind them yelling 'no' at everything they swung their machetes at. They thought I was a crazy woman wanting so much in the garden, but it was already a tropical oasis that we spend thousands of dollars and years trying to achieve at home. Packed with papaya trees, banana trees, lime trees, palms, Noni fruit and other amazing native plants. There is even a few mango seedlings coming through now."
Jonica's original budget was $30,000, but says after spending that amount the home still looked like an old shipping container - albeit one with a roof, plumbing and electricity. She began looking elsewhere for inspiration.
"That’s when I started following some amazing Instagram accounts, binge-watched Netflix shows on tiny houses and also signed up for the Three Birds Reno school and suddenly my ideas were a lot bigger," she says.
"We decided on an outdoor kitchen, a full, free-standing bath tub, a feature wall and a bar cart. No longer striving for essentials, I now wanted a beautiful space that had an authentic Tropicana feel. In total I would estimate it at around $80,000 by the time we were done. But it was 'Island time'. Many naps were taken and it took more than a year to complete."
Jonica chose not to insulate the container, instead she installed a huge natangura local roof made from weaving palms, to offer air flow and shade.
"My son's village made them for us so it has a very special meaning for us," she explains. "We added vents throughout and a reflective paint. That reflective paint is absolutely amazing. Even in the direct sunlight in the tropics it’s cool to touch."
"While it was a shipping container and a tiny house I realised it could still be amazing. And I was so excited by the idea of having that creative freedom."
Jonica now shares her beautiful home with guests through Airbnb for just $99 a night, and says visitor feedback has been really positive.
"Guests love the quirky element," she says. "It’s got a fun holiday feel - maybe not something you would want at home on a daily basis, but when it’s a week away it’s bright and bold and different.
"I had never renovated or decorated a single room prior to Coco Cabana. I had always been a renter. And it was such joy to do it from scratch with no reservations about being brave and taking risks.
"The home is footsteps to Honeymoon beach so it really feels like you are far far away from the stress of the daily grind on this beautiful tropical island. Guests can also pick fruit from the garden for breakfast. We have papaya and bananas all year and pineapples in season too."
When Coco Cabana is not booked out, Jonica loves to spend time there with her young family.
"Once we are there it just feels like a step back in time - a slower pace. The people are so friendly, the country is very safe and you can drink tap water! The sea is this sensational shade of bright blue and teeming with tropical fish.
"There is a reason that Vanuatu has been named the happiest place on earth. Twice. You will just have to go for yourself to find out why."
More info: Coco Cabana is available to rent on Airbnb for $99 AUD a night. The property sleeps up to five people and you can hire a double cabin ute for AUD $58 a day. A nanny is also available on request. The home is just footsteps from the white sandy shores of Honeymoon Beach and nestled in the village of Pango, a surfer-friendly village that offers Vanuatu’s best waves, coves for exploring and world-class snorkeling.
This story originally appeared on Home Beautiful