It’s Tuesday – it must be Tonga!

This was our first trip to the South Pacific and being raised on Hollywood movies about the region I couldn’t wait. It promised to be something completely different to the other places we’d visited and we both look forward to experiencing something new.

We’d planned to have a three week ‘hoiday’ from the frantic travelling we’d done over the last five months and so were happy to try and find a good base for the duration where we could chill out on a beach and read trashy novels. Tonga, however did not have these sorts of places in abundance as we were to discover.

Our flight landed at 8pm so all was darkness and even though it’s only a three hour flight from New Zealand, it was a world apart.

We’d booked the first night at a small guesthouse on the main island, Tongatapu, and were met at the airport by the smiling-giant Tongan call Johnny. He was great and gave us a running commentary about the history, culture and religion of Tonga on the drive in to the capitol Nuku’alofa. As soon as we’d stepped off the plane we enjoyed the familiar feeling of being on a small island, in complete contrast to Australia & NZ.

The guesthouse ‘The Villa’ was run by two Kiwis from Christchurch who had only taken over the business a couple of weeks before. They were learning as they went but instantly made us feel welcome and at home.

The Villa is great. Located on the waterfront between the NZ and Chinese embassies and over looking the wharf and harbour. It has an enormous sitting room with wooden floors and shutters and a large shady verandah at the front of the house. With only four bedrooms you felt like were staying in a family home and not some faceless hotel.

Judy and Kim, the new owners,
were a delight. We ended up staying up late chatting as we broke out the duty free and got to know our hosts. With children now in university they had looked at a different way of life wanting to get away from the rat race. When the Tongan Villa came up for sale they had to look at a map to find out how far away from NZ it was. With a couple of recce trips they went for it and bravely moved lock, stock and barrel to The Friendly Islands and embarked on a business they’d never done before.

One legacy of the previous owners was a twice-weekly dinner club ran at the back of the property in a thatch covered fale. This catered mostly for ex-pats and foreign aid workers (of whom there are hundreds) and had become somewhat of an institution on Wednesdays and Fridays.

We were there for a couple of these evenings
and met a whole range of high-flying people from bank executives to diplomats working in the fouer embassies on the island (Australia, NZ, British & Chinese). We learnt a lot about the island’s infrastructure, politcal scene and traditional conflicts between culture and ‘progress’. It was fascinating hearing some of the stories about the Royal Family and people’s dogged allegiance to their church.

Over the next couple of days we set about trying to find our ideal holiday spot, looking first on the main island.

This was not a heartening experience. Each of the ‘resorts’ we visited was run down, dirty and frankly rather depressing. Some of this was due to the cyclone damage but mostly it was down to the management.

After encountering dead rats and sewage outlets we were beginning to despair so we decided to give one of the resorts located seven miles off shore a go in despairation.

We hauled our bags down to the wharf early the next day to find the tiny boat that would take us to ‘The Royal Sunset’ on the island of ‘Atata. We piled in and set off on a beautifully calm sea waiting with baited breath to see our home for the next week.

Thank God for ‘Atata. We pulled in to the lagoon that surrounds this tiny island and exhaled. It was perfect.

India, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Samoa