Having a relatively clear social calendar, we stayed on in Nuku’alofa for the celebrations of the Tongan Queen Mother’s 90th birthday at Big Mamma’s yacht club. Extra furnishings and shade were put in place for the royal appointment. The Tongan Navy boat was commandeered to bring the guests to the island. Unfortunately the Queen Mum was exhausted from her week of celebrations and gave us the brush off.
Her daughter Princess Salote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tuita and her husband Lord Tuita were in attendance. I got a friendly ‘hello’ from the princess and her husband shook my hand and told me that it was nice to meet me. That comprised my entire brush with the Tongan royalty.
Floral arrangements and extra white table cloths and chair covers gave the impression that Big Mamma had drawn out the big guns. The food was lovingly prepared on over-sized plates and presented to the guests.
There was a roasted pig, hams, roasted yams and pele, the Tongan’s spinach type green. Entrée was the Tongan’s style of spiced raw fish in coconut milk and dessert was a coconut and tapioca fried ball soaked in syrup. Needless to say I didn’t eat there. Top ups of Big Mamma’s own rum punch were flowing freely. A Tongan girl-boy was flitting about with a parasol protecting distinguished guests from the harsh sun, looking as though she belonged in some southern plantation at an afternoon tea. Later, after the royal party had returned to the main island, the parasol was discarded as she danced seductively to some traditional tunes. Music, dance and laughter rippled through the club. Tongans know how to party.
On our first day in port a taxi driver had fed the crews of the waiting boats with fresh bananas and watermelons. It was his way of offering a Tongan welcome and drumming up business. His offer for an island tour was almost half the price of all the other taxi drivers. He wasn’t greedy. We decided to take him up on this offer and shared with a German couple off the boat Meerbear.
Tongatapu is a relatively small island but the majority of Tonga’s inhabitants resides there. Highlights of the island tour included the landing sites of both Abel Tasman and James Cook. Quite unspectacular after all these years as captains usually choose a quiet easily accessible point of landing. However, the natural features of the island were far more interesting and beautiful to behold. We stopped at a beach carpark and wandered inland about 200m to view a large piece of boulder-sized coral that stood unceremoniously in the middle of a field. Our guide informed us that it had been placed there during a tsunami dated 1200 years before. Once back at the beach, we could see in the reef where it had been broken away.
Rugged reef protects the south-west coast line and what looks like a natural cathedral organ of spectacular blow holes has been created. A symphony played before us as the swell crashed against the rocks. Further along caves near the coast had been created by underwater streams eroding the limestone away. We had the opportunity to enjoy a freshwater swim in the dark.
Most of the fresh produce is grown here on the main island. The countryside was dotted with small farms of cabbage, taro, bananas, watermelon and papaya. Animals were few and far between. Land is not owned in Tonga, only shared out by the chief of an area. The land is owned by the royal family.
Our guide described a peaceful and relaxed way of life. Unfortunately, many of the youth have to move away for careers in business, health or education. Demand is low on the island for the amount of talent that they are producing. Tongans are keen travellers and parents wouldn’t hesitate to visit the new country of their children. Family ties are very strong and most families have between 4-7 children. Most of the education is provided by different denominations of the church. Healthcare is free and the cost of living very low. Our guide told us that crime is so low because there is nowhere to hide.
More royal celebrations were planned for the opening of parliament on the Thursday but our wind for travelling north had arrived and we departed. That wasn’t before we did several loops of the bureaucratic circuit to check out of this island group and obtain paperwork to hand into the next main port.
More pics below