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Published: January 6th 2019
The island of Vava'u is situated in the north of Tonga, and is famed for beautiful beaches on it's Outer Islands. Many tourists visiting the Kingdom only stop off in Nuku'alofa, before catching an Air Tonga flight north to the resort mecca. However, I had the privilege of spending four enjoyable days in the capital prior to heading to the airport, for a direct one hour flight on a propellor plane out to Vava'u. There seemed to be quite the crowd milling around at the arrival area of the airport, but to my astonishment I wasn't pounced upon by a bevy of taxi drivers haggling for business. This was a first for me, literally no-one was paying me any mind. I couldn't believe it, and out of desperation approached a westerner for help. He got the ball rolling, and finally a cabbie presented himself for the drive in to town.
We had to stop off in the town centre for directions, and even a Kiwi expat had no idea about my accommodation. Finally we reached the owners of the homestay by phone, and to my astonishment the accommodation was in a village around 8 kilometres from the capital Neiafu, although
the address on booking.com
specifically stated it was in the capital. So here I was, dropped off in a village with one corner store, no restaurants, no way of getting around, and no beaches anywhere nearby. I was a little displeased, but the lovely family set my mind at ease and even knocked a little off the advertised price due to the misunderstanding. They promised to get the ball rolling on a rental car, and as I already had a local SIM card with plenty of data I figured everything would be fine. Due to the christmas holidays I was lucky to get the last available rental car in town, and with wheels at my disposal I was free as a bird, while settling in to the slow paced life of a Tongan village.
It turned out to be a blessing in disguise, as Peter and his family are beautiful and kind hosts. There's only one road in to town, so that was easy, nevertheless I was having a little trouble finding a beach. One day I headed out, obviously in the wrong direction, and stumbled across a deserted tiny beach which has been set up as a camping
ground. It was a great experience, and I was even able to take a skinny dip - while keeping my togs in hand just in case a car were to arrive and I needed to preserve my modesty! I had to get the assistance of my hosts the next day, who came along in the car to show me the beautiful Tongan Beach Resort, and introduce me to the staff. It's a gorgeous spot, and became my local beach for the duration of the stay. The resort features a jetty out over the sea, with deckchairs and plenty of shade. What a spot to watch the sun go down over the ocean and enjoy a local beer, I was in heaven!
There's a big jetty in Neiafu, where the boats set sail for the Outer Islands. It's also the primary meeting point for local kids, who use the jetty to hang out and put on a daily spectacle by diving and jumping in the water. There'll be groups of 5 or more boys, who sprint along the jetty at full speed and do elaborate dives in to the sea one after the other in very quick succession. There are
also groups of girls, who leap off the jetty while holding their noses, also in quick succession. These kids spend hours at the jetty, keeping cool, hanging out, and having fun - as well as putting on quite the spectacle for locals and tourists alike, who are dining at the restaurants by the water. It's all part of the unique experience of visiting beautiful Vava'u.
I made enquiries during the course of my visit about getting to the Outer Islands, but due to the christmas holiday period I was unable to make a booking on this occasion. Oh well, the beautiful beaches will have to wait until next time. Instead, I focussed on making the most of village life, everyone knows who I am of course, as I putter along in the rental car at local speeds through the village each day on the way to the resort, or in to town for a meal. As expected, the generosity and welcome of my hosts has been overwhelming at the homestay, they offered to cook for me on several occasions. My hosts whipped up a local stew dish for lunch one day, and it was a delicious meal. Always kind
and solicitous, they have graciously welcomed me in to their home, practically giving me the run of the upstairs area during the stay. To be honest this made me a little uncomfortable, and as the days went by I made a point of letting them know I would be in my room, which had a high powered fan and an ensuite. I felt like I was almost kicking them out of their home, which I could never be comfortable with.
The final day of a five day visit saw the heavens open up in spectacular fashion, which kept me pretty much housebound. Nevertheless I dropped the rental car off, and to my surprise found the owner a little intimidating on this occasion. He invited me in to his house, there was a growling dog that fortunately was tied up. He's also a big man, and seemed genuinely cross that I hadn't filled the tank prior to returning his car, and that the car seat cover was wet. I explained that I tried but hadn't realised the service station would be closed on sunday, in fact in Neiafu it's a complete ghost town on the holy day. I went on
to explain it was due to the torrential rain that his car seat was wet - just getting to the car was enough to leave me soaked. I piped up and said eventually "Are you upset with me sir?" but I believe it was just a ruse to relieve me of more of the bond. Anyways, I was glad to be out of there after what had become an unpleasant situation, and Peter was waiting for me to drive me back to the village.
I sat on the balcony relaxing on the final day, watching the rain pelting down and in awe of the hymns emanating from the church across the road. Tongans sing with a rare passion, in different tones and in perfect harmony. It's a special treat listening to these wonderfully gifted singers. The next morning Peter kindly offered to drive me to the airport for an early morning flight back to Nuku'alofa, at the conclusion of a wonderful visit to Tonga. The kind and gentle people, the culture, the hospitality, and the wonderful hymns are the memories I'll treasure most, basically all of you should be here now!
"Get busy living or get busy dying" Stephen King
As I continue my travels,
until next time it's signing off for now
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