Tonga - Across the dateline

Trip Start Aug 03, 2004
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Trip End Jan 27, 2005


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Flag of Tonga  ,
Wednesday, September 1, 2004

The first day of September only actually lasted for four hours for us as we crossed the International Dateline on our way to Tonga, a 1.5 hour flight which actually landed 25.5 hours after it took off - weird!

We decided whilst we were in Tonga we would make the most of our time and visit each of the three groups of islands that make up the Kingdom. After making the mistake of not booking anywhere for our first night in Samoa we had learned our lesson and had picked out what sounded like the pick of the bunch of options in the capital Nuku'alofa. The owner said on the phone that we would be picked up from the airport and sure enough on our arrival at 5.30am a girl with a 'Moana Guesthouse' board guided us to a 'clapped out van' with a middle aged Tongan lady in the back. At first we were unsure who she was but it later became clear she was the owner of the guest house. She showed us to our room and the bathroom which was also used by other guests and the family! We decided to go to the Tongan Cultural Centre for a Tongan Evening - traditional dance, food and Kava ceremony. Ig thought it would be a good idea to join the Kava ceremony so off we both went to the stage to taste the drink and be involved in the traditions. It has to be said, Kava doesn't taste very nice, it is pungent and has a muddy taste making your lips go numb and cold after drinking. The food was then served, spit roast pig, seaweed (that pops in your mouth) and fish were amongst the delicacies, thank god there was watermelon and salad!

We then had a tour of Tongatapu Island with Toni, an ex-pat from Lancashire who runs a backpacker guesthouse in Tonga. He showed us the local fruit which is grown, beaches, blowholes and fresh water caves around the Island. Toni was a sight: grey haired ponytail, long socks with sandals, shorts, flat cap and a roll up fag. He went swimming in the fresh water cave in his underpants, and after getting out he put on his shorts and dried his underpants on the dashboard - class act!

We then flew (a new luxurious 37 passenger plane this time) to Vava'u, the most northerly of the islands where our main aim was to go whale watching. Vava'u is hillier than the other two islands and is more picturesque. We spent a couple of days relaxing and at the beach then out whale watching for the day. What a great day it was, we saw the whales blow from a distance then got close to them as they swam by the boat and breached (jumped) out of the water. This is one of the only places in the world where you can swim with the whales and Ig was all kitted out in his snorkel and ready to go in with the second group when we were told that it had become too dangerous (i.e the whales were too active). Ig was a bit disappointed but at east we saw them close up from the boat.

It was then onto Ha'apai, the middle island group, where we didn't do much as we had quite a lot of rain, but it was a quiet place anyway. We spent most of our time chilling in the Mariner's café.

It was back to Tongatapu (but not Moana's this time) before our flight to NZ. We satisfied our cravings for curry at a local restaurant with a few beers and some wine before we left - nice but not as good as the Bombay Tandoori back home.

If you decide to go to Tonga, go whale watching and for food/drink at Friends café in Nuku'alofa - it is the best café in Tonga and the staff will help you with information and bookings.

Observations

- The people are friendly, but not as friendly as Soamoans
- Budget accommodation is very basic an not as clean as the same standard in Samoa
- Great to place to go whale watching in Vava'u
- They have more sophisticated planes than Samoa but the service can be unreliable due to legal wranglings
- The money is called pa'anga - we liked saying this!
- Traditional dancing is very impressive but the feast wasn't to our taste
- Friends café in Nuku'alofa is a great place for food, information and internet - western standards of service.
- Toni from Toni's place is a real character - he dries his undies on the dashboard
- It rained a lot in Ha'apaii but there wasn't that much to do anyway
- The local beer is called Ikale and is ok but Samoa's Vailima is nicer.

Our Highlights

- Whale watching
- Tongan Beach Resort in Vav'au
- Cultural Evening and Kava drinking

Soundtrack to our trip

- Red Red wine by UB40, this was played constantly in Mariner's Café in Ha'apai whilst we watched the rain.
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