Chinese Lunar New Year. Year of the Rabbit. Happy New Year everyone!
Tonga is easily distinguishable by its beautiful beaches, clear azure water, bountiful coral reefs and luscious landscape, much like the other Polynesian islands in the South Pacific. The Kingdom of Tonga, although protected by Western powers, has never been ruled by then. This is evident on the island as traditional Polynesian culture continues to be the way of life, even with the dawn of the modern era. Although Tonga is the poorest of all the Polynesian islands, its rich culture, history and beauty are sure to make up for its economic shortcomings.
Tongatapu, the largest of the 170 islands that make up Tonga (only 36 islands are inhabited) holds the capital city of Nuku’Alofa. The amount of dry land of all the Tongan islands combined is equivalent to less than the size of New York City. It is said that Tonga received its name because it lies south of Samoa (the first permanently settled Polynesian island); this is derived from the word “Tonga” which means “south” in a variety of Polynesian languages. In Tongan, however, the word “Tonga” means “garden” and Tongatapu” means “sacred garden”. The fertile soil of the island makes it a haven for the lush tropical species of the South Pacific. Foreign land ownership is generally prohibited, making the island relatively safe from western style overdevelopment. People here are very proud of their way of life.
The Royal Palace, was built in England’s Thames Valley – dismantled and shipped to Tongatapu and reconstructed in Nuku’alofa. The Royal Palace commands the Nuku’alofa seafront. Since it was built, the only addition was a second story veranda in 1882. Norfolk Pines surround the official royal residence. Behind the compound, visitors may peek over the fence to view the resident Royal geese, but the grounds are not open to the public. On any given day, you can view His Royal Highness boating in the water close to the town. He’s a man in his 50’s and unmarried. No immediate signs of an heir is apparent, unless he decides to soon marry and start a family. According to the locals HRH isn’t even dating at this time. Not far from the Palace, the Royal Tombs have been the official burial place for Tongan Royalty since 1893. King George I, King George II, Queen Salote and their spouses are all buried at the site.
The market is a great place to meet locals and chat. Local food is bountiful with banana’s (fried or baked) as the local breakfast. We purchased some local Mango juice and it was delicious.
Our tour today took us to Pangaimotu Island for a day for swimming and snorkelling. We boarded our bus for a 5 minute bus ride to the pier where our group was split in 2 for a 20 minute boat ride to the motu. The weather was amazing, 29 Celsius. The island offered some amazing snorkelling and we were even luckier to have a ship wreck to explore. The reefs here are really treacherous and if a local pilot isn’t on board your ship to guide you to port then then almost guaranteed that you’ll beach or sink. While we were there our local guides provided us with some amazing snacks – deep fried coconut, fried bread fruit, fried banana and a type of fried sweet potato. We were courteous and tried one of each – although the fried coconut and bread fruit were just delicious.
The underwater life in the water was just beautiful – we don’t as yet have an underwater digital camera – but it’s on the list to purchase. We saw lots of colourful fish, star fish, needle nose fish, manta rays and the list goes on.
Swimming in the water here is just amazing. It’s so incredibly warm that it just sweeps over your skin like satin. With the snorkel we find the salt water tasty on our lips when we come up from under the water. We had a wonderful time on the island – One of the ladies who operates the resort with her family makes and sells her jewellery, I was lucky enough to purchase a lovely black pearl necklace and earrings for NZ$30. She later told me that her son dives for the pearls!! Just an amazing experience.
Tonga is a very conservative island. We were requested to dress modestly, the only exception being on the motus where swim wear is acceptable. The are churches everywhere in the town areas.
Amongst other things to earn money, the several families living on this small island are now working to grow peanuts. Here you can see the peanut pods being laid out to dry before being planted. These pods were actually brought from another island. The plan is to string thread or vine upon a wooden structure and plant the peanuts. The plants will wrap their way across the vines and produce peanuts. The peanuts we tasted where very sweet and a slightly different texture to those we purchase in North America.
|The fish in this market is directly off the boat that morning. Locals line up to purchase, take home and cook. Just amazing.|