The Sand Bar
So here we sit at Vava'u International Airport, near Neiafu the capital of the Vava'u island chain and the second largest city in the Kingdom of Tonga. Once again, how many people do you know that can say that with a straight face? The dust is still settling on the dirt runway we just hit at this 'International' airport as it is called and, to our amazement, we find our luggage arrived on the same plane!
We are supposed to be met by someone from the resort so we relax for the first time all day and soak up the sounds and smells of this beautiful south Pacific island. Yes, even at the edge of the International airport, the dense tropical undergrowth appears like a wall only a few steps away. The heavy fragrance of the damp bush fills the air and brings back memories of Guam so many years ago. It is all so beautiful that I almost forget that we are already starting 'Episode three', we have been on the go since 3:00am this morning and we aren't even at the resort yet! We don't have a clue as to what time it is but then again, I don't think they keep time here and that's why we came.
Before long a young Tongan named Matthew, or Matiew as they say locally, drives up in an aging four-door sedan and proves to be our welcoming party, taxi driver, and guide for the next week, all rolled into one. Matthew is a smiling, outgoing young man and immediately we are made to feel welcome. He puts our bags in the boot of his car and we set off on the next leg of our adventure… the roads of Tonga!
So many years ago, when we lived on Guam, we managed to visit other islands in the Pacific such as Saipan, Yap, Koror, and Babeldaob. Now, as we begin our drive across this island, feel the tropical sun beating down and pass the lush vegetation of coconut palms, fruit trees and taro plants, the fond memories of those days flood back.
Although Matthew manages to navigate around most of the deeper chasms, the road is typical of most islands, rough, winding and made of coral. We notice there are fewer chickens (the national bird of Guam) than some islands but many more pigs, running wild, than we have seen previously. Mrs Wilderness asks; "How can anyone keep track of their own pigs?" Matthew answers; "By colour, but most importantly of course, they come when called by name". Of course they do.
Many of the houses are made from concrete bricks, corrugated iron or a combination of the two. Some are open to the outside but most have proper doorways and windows although they may not be equipped with doors or glass. Typically, the most imposing, well-built and best-maintained buildings are all churches of various denominations. Everyone seems to know Matthew and waves as we go speeding by. We find out later that he owns the cab company on the island, his wife works at the bank and they are both respected and very popular.
As we enter Neiafu, the main village of Vava'u, overlooking the Port of Refuge Harbour we stop once or twice while Matthew performs some errand or other and then he asks if it's OK to stop by the local school and pick up his two girls to take them home. Some may think this is a bit odd but it is typical of island life and one of the more enjoyable aspects of it. Of course we think it's a great idea, all the more to see and experience.
The school the girls attend is near the waterfront and seems to have very little play area but we imagine the students spill out onto the surrounding town at will. Matthew says the kids will be off for Christmas holiday in a couple of weeks so things are already slowing to a dead crawl as far as education is concerned. His daughters Cata'u and Angie are very pretty and manage a shy "hello" as they get in the car with our carry-on luggage and us. It is a short drive to Matthew's home where we say goodbye to the girls and then continue our trek.
The resort we have booked is on the island of Utungake at the end of a coral track called a causeway. A New Zealand lady called "Sam", short for Samantha, is standing at the gate to greet us. Sam is half of a wife and husband team who manage and run the resort. Sam tells us to leave everything in the car, including our troubles, and leads us to the outdoor, palm frond covered, sand floored bar located not far from the water's edge. We sit down take off our shoes and socks, bury our feet in the warm sand and relax to a complimentary iced fruit drink that tastes delicious. Sam explains the meal times; transport to and from the resort and all the other amenities including an exotic drink, which is their specialty, called a "Tonga Sunset"! Yes, this is a holiday but that drink sounds like an absolute necessity to us.
After a short wait (while the fruit is probably picked off the tree), a pretty island maiden named Fu'naki, who is to be our Tongan hostess, brings us our colourful drinks made of various liquors, colourful fruit juices, watermelon balls, and topped with Frangipani flowers. It is a rainbow garden in a glass and goes down so easily we must have another shortly. We also find the resort serves meals almost throughout the day and snacks can usually be prepared with short notice, so we have a bite to eat as well. These first couple of hours are to set the mood and the standard for our entire stay at this enchanted place. We already know, it was worth the trip.
While Sam looks after the couple's young baby and the business side of the venture, her husband Murray is the resort's chef and resident avid fisherman. The world shrinks a little more when we find that Murray used to live just down the street from us in New Zealand. We don't know it now but in the coming week we will marvel at his culinary expertise.
Soon the 3:00AM rising, constant travel and the delicious 'Tonga Sunsets' start to take their toll. The only thing that could top what we are doing now would be a soft bed and a little sleep. Our unit is half of a duplex cottage just 30 feet back from the golden sand beach. We are surprised to find our room has a king size bed, also we find two fans, a refrigerator, dressing room and bathroom with hot water available in the shower. The water is made hot by electric coils in the shower head heating the water as it passes through. It is designed to control the temperature by regulating the flow of the water... higher flow, cooler water. This doesn't work too well as there is no pressure behind the water (it is gravity fed). So as well as one pressure, there is also only one temperature. It's just as easy to turn the heater off with a switch on the edge of the shower (no Occupational Safety and Health department here) and take a mildly cool shower. It is so warm the year around that the hot water isn't really necessary and most of the time cold showers are very comfortable because they just aren't that cold.
The fresh water is from a large holding tank of rainwater and the toilet uses salt water for flushing. There are screens on the doors to keep the mosquitoes out and they seem to work because the 'mossies' never bothered us in our room the entire stay. We never found it necessary to close the glass sliding doors, which didn't appear to have been used by many guests, if ever. The screen door was held shut while we were out by pushing a piece of coral up against the bottom of it. When we are inside our unit, a piece of string tied to the screen door and wrapped around a screw on the window frame holds it in place. Outside the door there is a large stainless steel pan half filled with water designed to wash the sand off your feet before entering the room. Again, this all may sound strange to some but, this is a small island in the middle of the Pacific, amenities are hard to come by and everything does the job it is supposed to do, it's perfect.
We both take showers and lie down for a much-needed rest. The next thing we know, the sun has just set and we wonder if we slept through our first dinner in paradise. We put on our "Tonga suits" (shorts, light shirt and sandals) and wander out to the bar where we meet an American couple from California who have been at the resort for 14 days and a young Kiwi man taking a short break after a broken love affair back in New Zealand. Everyone sings the praises of the resort and especially Murray's cooking. Fu'naki keeps the drinks coming as we look over the beach surrounded by palms and frangipani trees to the bright blue water, surrounding islands and colourful evening sky.
Two new arrivals, Pauline and Janice, wander down to the bar to join our small band. They are from Adelaide in South Australia and have just arrived from a week or so in Samoa. Pauline has had a sore throat for a few days and isn't feeling too well. We find that the busy season has passed and we seven are the total compliment of guests in this faraway place.
After a short happy hour, Murray announces they have pushed the tables together in the dinning room (an open 'fale' covered with palm leaves) so we can all sit together. We have a choice of mains for dinner and I order the fresh Snapper and Mrs Wilderness opts for the Lamb chops. Both of us marvel at the food Murray prepares each evening but this first night is very much a surprise. We have seldom tasted anything better at a restaurant and all of us wonder at how he prepares these culinary masterpieces out here on this remote island. It all goes down well with a bottle of New Zealand wine and at the end a cup of fresh coffee along with dessert.
The others have been fishing, snorkelling or diving all day and we have been flight-testing air planes so it's an early night for us all. We sleep well under two fans and on top of the sheets in total silence except for the pigs out back rooting around for crabs to eat and a sick, hoarse rooster that doesn't know night from day. We have survived day one and all is well.
Input removed due to excessive SPAM. If you have comments to add to this page, please e-mail directly with the page and your name and comment.