Trip Start Oct 13, 2010
71Trip End Oct 12, 2011
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Where I stayed
Despite the bad weather, the flight was fine and we arrived on time in Tongatapu. The highlight of the flight for Mark was spotting a whale breaching from his window as we came into land. Needless to say, I missed it and just saw the foam left in its wake.
We immediately got a feel for "island time" as there was only one check in desk for all the foreigners arriving on two international flights. An hour and a half later, we picked up our bags and headed to Toni’s guesthouse just outside the capital of Nuku’alofa. En route we stopped for provisions and quickly realised we were not in the western world anymore. The shop was unlit, had no refrigeration and the only goods were tinned – bring on the corned beef!(M)
Our first full day consisted of an island tour. The highlights being the impressive blowholes and the dramatic cliffs. We also got to check out the beach that Mark was hoping to surf later in the trip. Of lesser interest was the seemingly endless array of mormon churches and our tour guide pointing out every local crop available.
That evening we headed into town and had a lovely dinner at a local café before heading to the Heilala festival – a major cultural event in Tonga. It runs for a week prior to the King’s birthday and involves beauty pageants, talent shows and tonight was “Tonga’s Got Talent”.
We’d heard that the Tongans could sing and dance and the first couple of acts really proved that. The first was a guy with a fab voice who had penned his own R&B ballad, the second a hip-hop dance troupe. But sadly later on a few people let the team down with some atrocious renditions of Celine Dion and Whitney Houston tracks. The funniest had to be last year’s winner of Miss Galaxy (i.e. a chunky very blokey ladyboy) vogueing to Lady Gaga! And we thought we had stepped into an episode of Glee when a few members of the audience tried to outdance a 9 year old on stage.
The following day we explored the town taking in the local market and other major sites including the palace (which looks like a giant cricket pavilion). That took up the first half hour of our day so we hit the Billfish pub having yet another delicious meal and a great chat with the waiter who filled us in on some of their more interesting culture i.e. drinking kava and tattooing.
That evening we spent a few fun hours with an American couple, George and Lisa, playing cards, drinking rum and playing Name That Tune.
The next few days were spent getting acclimatised to island time, sleeping late, reading, drinking Maka beer and generally chilling out.
On Thursday evening, we decided to head into town to check out the nightlife. We had another gorgeous meal at the Billfish pub and I enjoyed watching the practice run for the Mr Maka beauty competition due to be held the following week. To even things out, we then checked out a bit of the Miss Heilala beauty pageant before heading to a nearby bar for a nightcap. Just as we were thinking about leaving, a Kiwi regular came over and asked if we could vacate our table as the Princes’ daughters were coming in (the Tongan security guard was too shy to ask us and was getting a bit stressed). We were asked if we wanted to meet them but politely declined, though one of them thanked Mark apologetically as we headed outside. The manager at our guesthouse was very impressed by our brush with royalty!