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Published: December 29th 2018
Back in 2015 I had my heart set on visiting Tonga, with flights and accommodation booked as part of a previous South Pacific adventure. Mother Nature, however, had different plans as a volcano burst out of the ocean just off the coast and started spewing volcanic ash in a major eruption. Bizarrely; I had gone through check in, customs, and immigration on multiple occasions, and the planes had taken off, only for the pilots to announce mid flight we had been ordered back to Auckland. This was my version of Groundhog Day, where every day is the same! After three days of trying I had no alternative but to abandon my dream of visiting this South Pacific paradise. Well, here we are at the tail end of 2018, and this time around an effortless commute from Sydney to Nuku'alofa with a stopover in Auckland has resulted in a safe arrival in Tonga for the first time. I guess it's better to arrive in the country late than never! After all the dramas of three years ago, I'm sure you can appreciate I'm thrilled to be here...
Specifically for followers of Rugby League, the Tongan national team Mate Ma'a Tonga played
out of their skin in this years' World Cup, being narrowly defeated by England in the closest of Semi Finals. Some of the world's best players hail from this tiny island nation, and chose to represent their homeland for this year's tournament instead of playing for Australia or New Zealand, where they live and play professionally. This was big news at the time, and the passion of the Tongan crowds during the games in New Zealand became the talk of the competition. There's a huge Tongan expat community in NZ and the fans were going completely off, even singing hymns as part of an incredible choir of 20,000 people! Basically everyone fell in love with the team, the Sipi Tau warrior challenge, and the passion of the crowds earlier this year. As soon as I arrived it's apparent the Tongan people have also fallen in love with the League team, who have quickly supplanted the Rugby Union team as the most popular one in Tonga. I love sport, as do the Tongans, so I think we'll get on like a house on fire. The taxi driver from the airport told me he's related to the world's best forward Jason Taumololo
who plays in Townsville in the National Rugby League, and we chatted like old friends.
Sport is all well and good, but nothing could prepare me for the kindness and generosity of my host Isi from Dayspring Lodge. Although I arrived around 10:00pm, he drove me in to town and got me sorted with a local SIM card, then showed me some of the sights of the city. I awoke next morning for a delicious breakfast with the other guests, in a friendly and helpful atmosphere. Isi drove me down to the wharf after breakfast before he headed out to Sunday church, and I paid for a day trip to Pangaimotu island, with the price including the ferry ride and lunch. It's a gorgeous little island, which can be circumnavigated in around 45 minutes. Life on the tiny island, as in Tongatapu, is slow and relaxed with the Tongans quick to greet visitors, and make them feel at home. I enjoyed fish and chips for lunch; a swim, a laze in the sun, and finally a few beers at the restaurant while enjoying the spectacle of a beautiful pacific island sunset. My sister in law sent a message to
advise my brother and herself enjoyed their honeymoon in Nuku'alofa way back in the 1980's. I didn't even know prior to my visit, and although the hotel has been renamed it's still operating. So I walked in to take a few shots to share back home, and also settled down for a wonderful dinner to celebrate their marriage. I discovered later that taxis don't run on Sundays, but Isi kindly offered to swing by after a quick phone call.
The generosity of my host is overwhelming, and we agreed on a price for a tour of the island the next day. Another couple tagged along for company, although they had previously seen most of the sights with Isi. We had a great day and checked out a lot of interesting places, including where Captain James Cook landed on the island. We pushed on to Ha'amonga which is like a smaller version of Stonehenge, but a lot closer to home; it's a very cool and tranquil spot. We then enjoyed the natural beauty of the Natural Land Bridge, and views from the clifftops. Later we went to the Blowholes on the coast which burst in to the air as the
waves crash against the rocks, but unfortunately it was low tide, yeah well, it seems we were out of luck this time around! The tour was great fun with pleasant company, and in the evening I pushed on to a restaurant in town still open on Christmas Eve, to enjoy a nice meal and a beer.
There was plenty of Christmas cheer on offer the next morning, where the guests enjoyed a communal breakfast to commence the big day. Isi offered to take us on a mini tour on Christmas Day, and it was a wonderful experience. We headed out to see the famous 3 headed coconut palm, then on to where Abel Tasman landed in Tongatapu many centuries ago, and finally out to the Viku'alofa resort where we relaxed and chatted over a beer. The couple had been invited to a Christmas feast with a local family, and the kind host was happy for me to tag along. What an experience to treasure; having the chance to be with a Tongan family and friends for traditional Tongan hospitality. We feasted on roast pig cooked on a spit, and other dishes too numerous to mention. A highlight of the
evening involved the Reverend visiting with his musically minded family, whereupon they began to sing beautiful hymns while the family and guests harmonised. It's beautiful to hear Tongans sing naturally with such exquisite tone, for a lover of music it was heaven!
We were driven back to the lodge at the end of a memorable evening, where I bid farewell to my new friends to cap off a memorable stay in the capital Nuku'alofa. My initial impression of the Tongan people brings to mind generosity, kindness, and hospitality. They have a gentle nature, and its easy to warm to these lovely South Sea Islanders. Of course I make a point of being polite, friendly, and offer a ready smile when interacting with the locals, which seems to be genuinely appreciated. Mind you the Tongans love Australians anyway, so I have an unfair advantage! I'ill be flying out to Vava'u on Boxing Day but what can I say about Tonga thus far, basically all of you should be here now!
"The general knowledge of time on the island depends, curiously enough, on the direction of the wind." John Millington Synge
As I continue my travels, until next time it's signing off for now
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