Turbulent Tonga — Part 2

George and Lisa Raj­na of We Said Go Trav­el con­tin­ue their trav­el series with the sec­ond install­ment of their trip to Ton­ga. You can read part one here. 

Tur­bu­lent Ton­ga Part II: “Toni’s Guest­house Tour”


The Ukran­ian Drac­u­la lady, had just fin­ished assault­ing Jack­ie when we arrived at 10:00am.  Drac­u­la had mis­took the poor Brit for my wife Lisa, who sim­ply “wouldn’t open the damn win­dow” of the van when we arrived last night.  The Ukrain­ian scowled at Lisa but did­n’t dare approach her while I was in the room.  Let’s just say it would not have been pretty.

We did­n’t know that when we awoke in Toni’s Guest­house, refreshed after the pre­vi­ous night’s deba­cle in the van.  After a Cup O’ Noo­dles for break­fast we wan­dered over to the Green House.  There we met the oth­er trav­el­ers who planned to join us for the day tour of Ton­gat­a­pu, the main island of the Ton­gan Archipelago.

Our tour was led by Toni, an expa­tri­ate from Liv­er­pool who had lived over twen­ty years in Ton­ga.  Oth­er com­pan­ions includ­ed Jack­ie, who’d quick­ly got over the unex­pect­ed attack, and Dal­las, not an Amer­i­can, but a lady from New Zealand enjoy­ing a one-week hol­i­day in the South Pacif­ic.  Lee, anoth­er solo female trav­el­er from the UK, who had lived on a sail­boat for the last sev­en years, also came along with her partner.

Tak­ing off, again swerv­ing to avoid a clus­ter of pot­holes, Toni switched on a micro­phone that was linked to a rear speak­er to make his dis­course more audi­ble.  We passed the opu­lent man­sion of the Ton­gan king and his sis­ters, head­ing north­west toward the local plan­ta­tions.  Tony stopped to point out the only three-head­ed coconut tree in the entire world, a must-stop pho­to op; a pic of it proves that you’ve been to Ton­ga.  He then stopped to point out a vari­ety of crops includ­ing coconuts: “No, nobody wants to touch that stuff. They are every­where!  Look around you for Christ’s sake!!” We saw papaya (“Em, the Ton­gans would eat this but they are all export­ed.”), taro, kumala, man­go, bananas, and pineap­ple.  We then halt­ed at the most north­ern spot of the island’s coast­line. Toni claimed it was a very good beach.  We exit­ed the van but were dis­ap­point­ed.  The weath­er was drea­ry and rain began to fall as we checked a surf­ing beach near the Ha’atafu Beach Reserve.  Its break looked weak, com­pared to the big-league waves of Samoa.

At this point Toni’s voice became slight­ly hoarse over the micro­phone and he began to cough up phlegm.  In response to Dal­las, who asked, “Why don’t you sell beer at the guest­house?” Toni said, “I gave up smok­ing about five years ago but I still have this cough. I don’t drink any more either.  So why would I want that stuff around?  Besides, the Ton­gan gov­ern­ment has harsh rules.  For exam­ple, if a tourist who stayed at my guest­house got out of hand while ine­bri­at­ed, it is me who would get fined by the police, even if I was home asleep.  It’s just not worth it.”  Lisa looked at me and said, “I think that he is the only per­son I have ever met who should have kept smok­ing,” ref­er­enc­ing his voice’s gut­tur­al quality.

We head­ed south and stopped at the famous Mapu’a a Vaca Blow­holes. Sheets of water poured down and I exit­ed the van only long enough to take a pho­to.  Toni claimed, “Today is not a good day to see the blow­holes because the tide is mov­ing at an angle and it is not hit­ting the rocks direct­ly.  You see how it hits?”  We left dis­ap­point­ed.  How­ev­er, we returned to these same blow­holes at the end of our trip and they proved amaz­ing­ly powerful.

We con­tin­ued in the rain and stopped for a decent “Chi­nese-type” lunch above Keleti Beach.  Even on this depress­ing day, while stand­ing in the rain under a veran­da in the cold, I could appre­ci­ate the view.  Blow­holes exhaled the ocean’s foam here as well but they were not as impres­sive as those at Mapu’a a Vaca.

After a brief lunch we con­tin­ued the tour north­east to see the “famous” Ha’amonga Trilithon Reserve, South Paci­fic’s Stone­henge.  I agree that the the ruins are sim­i­lar to those of famous Eng­lish site but only one struc­ture is con­struct­ed from coral stones, in the shape of a square gate.  This gate was sup­pos­ed­ly used to track the change in sea­sons.  We decid­ed to not to vis­it the Hina Cave, pos­si­bly a mis­take, since it is sit­u­at­ed right next to the Oholei Beach area, per­haps the nicest place to stay in Ton­gat­a­pu,  We did­n’t dis­cov­er this until we returned three weeks lat­er.  Oholei Beach is well known for its feast on Fri­day nights with a live band perched over a scenic beach.


At the end of the day we returned to Tofa after stop­ping at a love­ly over­look with an erod­ed hole fram­ing a love­ly ocean view. The tour end­ed and Toni drove us into Nuku’alofa.  We want­ed to see the infa­mous (men­tioned in 1,000 Places to See Before You Won’t See Any­thing Ever Again) Heilala Fes­ti­val.  This is a mul­ti-week bash that involves a mix of cul­tur­al events includ­ing parades, live music, dance, art, as well as beau­ty and sports com­pe­ti­tions.  Yet we could not under­stand the Ton­gans enthu­si­asm, or I should say, lack of enthu­si­asm, regard­ing the fes­ti­val.  We stopped by the cul­tur­al cen­ter and asked where the Heilala Fes­ti­val events took place.  The lack­adaisi­cal response was, “Oh yeah, it will be on the field…I think.”  “Are you going?” I asked.  “No, I’ll just stay home and watch TV.”  I was stunned.  After see­ing Nuku’alofa, a depress­ing and gloomy town with very lit­tle action, you’d think that the locals would be thrilled to have a few weeks of spe­cial fun.  Worse for tourists, the fes­ti­val begins around 7:00–8:00pm and aside from the island tour, there is not much to do here.  Because of this small detail (and the poor weath­er) we decid­ed to pur­chase tick­ets to Vava’u (islands in the north­ern Ton­ga) the next day.

Still, a group of us from the guest­house that includ­ed our fel­low vet­er­ans from the van tour man­aged to see an evening event called, “Tonga’s Got Tal­ent”.  Here peo­ple of all ages, most­ly from six to their mid-twen­ties, per­formed a vari­ety of acts — either singing or engag­ing in “hip-hop,” where Ton­gans dance indi­vid­u­al­ly or in groups to hip-hop tunes.  The event was enter­tain­ing if at times painful.  What sur­prised me the most was that the emcee almost spoke entire­ly in Eng­lish.  The fol­low­ing night we returned to see the teen beau­ty con­test and we were giv­en prime seats right behind the beau­ty queens themselves.

We warmed up to Ton­gat­a­pu as we pre­pared to depart; per­haps our new feel­ings cor­re­spond­ed with the improved weath­er.  At any rate, our next stop in Ton­ga was Vava’u, where we planned to swim with the hump­back whales, one of Ton­ga’s prin­ci­pal attrac­tions an an excel­lent rea­son to vis­it the island country.

Stay tuned for the third and final install­ment of their Ton­gan adven­ture. All pho­tos cour­tesy of George and Lisa Rajna.