Our Tonga Tour
Having spent over a year on the island of Guam, which was also to be called our honeymoon, we seem to have a natural affinity for Pacific islands. That must be the reason we chose to take a short vacation on a small island in the Vava'u group of the Kingdom of Tonga. Here, in serialized form (because that's the only way it's going to fit), is the story of our adventure.
Episode One - Off we go, into the wild blue yonder…
3:00am (Dark-O-Clock) does anyone 'ever' get up at this time? The plane doesn't leave until 7:00am; I bet the pilot doesn't even get up until 6:30! Most civilised people haven't gone to bed yet. Surely the late news, including forty-five minutes of sport, half of which is Dutch and Spanish fooootball, isn't even over yet.
Ok, enough personal comment, now back to the story where Wilderness Junior, who is staying at the house to watch the dog, said he would get up to say goodbye, "sure". The dog got up to say goodbye but not the 'heir apparent' who wouldn't have felt an earthquake at that time of the morning.
The bags, for the most part, have been packed since last night (just a few minutes ago) and right on time, 4:00AM, here comes the shuttle for the airport. The driver says he has been up all night and this will be his last run. Now that sounds far more civilised than getting up when we did.
In very light traffic, we get to Auckland International airport right at 5:00AM. Like who else would be out on the streets at this time of the morning. Check-in is a breeze (for the first time ever) with Royal Tongan Airways (now there's a name to give you confidence). McDonald's just happens to open at 5:00AM also, so we are the first up for sausage McMuffins, hash browns and coffee. See, things are finally starting to make sense now that the sun is almost up!
We start boarding right on time but we immediately wonder if we are getting on the right airplane. It is a DC something covered in different logos! There's one that says "Fiji Air" on the tail, on the left side it says Pacific Airways and on the other side is says Royal Tonga Airways. This is where I start to wonder if all three airlines had to pitch in to buy this one plane!
The stewardess tells us that she's determined she's going to Tonga so I assume this must be the right plane or we're all going to be very disappointed. The truth is, I would rather have heard that from the pilot but he's nowhere in sight. Come to think of it, we never did see a pilot so I never knew which airline he worked for… if any of the three that owned the plane.
After take-off Mrs Wilderness gets a small shock when they announce we will be landing in Niue in three hours. She turns to me and says; "What is a Niue? I tell her that a Niue is a small island in the Pacific that we are going to try and find in about three hours. She says; "I thought we were going to Tonga? Are we on the wrong plane?" That last part seemed to get everyone's attention. Anyone within earshot, about a third of the passengers, stops what they are doing, looks at me and waits for my reply. I also get a sense of the engines throttling back as if the pilot heard what was being said as well. I suppose they figure; if we are on the wrong plane, they could be as well! Either that or, everything could get screwed up when the plane turns around and takes us back to Auckland because we don't have the right tickets! At the same time, I'm wondering why Mrs W didn't know we were going to land in Niue before we got to Tonga, I certainly did.
To everyone's relief I assure Mrs W that it has always been a part of the plan to land at Niue! Mrs W, about thirty other passengers and, I expect, the entire cabin crew, all breathe this audible sigh of relief and we continue on our merry way. I also hear the engines power up to their normal cruising speed so I assume the flight crew, including the pilot, heard my response as well.
The flight is very comfortable and they serve breakfast as well as showing us a movie, just like the big guys! Of course, we are a little late to arrive in Niue because of the pilot's indecision on whether we were going to continue or not.
The airport at Niue (pronounced "Nee-u-way") is typical of most on small islands in the South Pacific although the runway is 'paved'. The buildings are open wooden structures, very sparse. We are herded into a transit lounge with wooden bench type seats. A drop down opening in the wall reveals a counter opening into another small room where a man is selling soft drinks from a refrigerator. There is absolutely no indication of what kind of money they will take or even if they will sell to the transit passengers. The refreshments may be solely for just the natives who are standing in yet another room and who, I might add, are looking at the transit passengers like visitors to the zoo would view the animals. I get the feeling that nobody ever gets on or off the plane in Niue, the locals just come down to the airport to look at who is passing through.
After about an hour, during which nothing at all was done to the plane and the natives and we stared at each other, they tell us to re-board the plane and we're off for Tongatapu, the southern group of islands in the Kingdom of Tonga.
Officially named 'Pule'anga Tonga' (Kingdom of Tonga) it is also called the Friendly Islands and comprises an archipelago of more than 150 islands that are divided into three main groups, Vava'u, Ha'apai, and Tongatapu.
Our destination on this leg of our journey is the main village and capital of Tonga, Nuku'alofa and that is where we hit the runway in either a hard landing or, we are shot down, approximately one hour after leaving Niue.
As we taxi to the parking area the flight attendant announces that we have landed at the Fua'amotu Airport in Nuku'alofa and after the tire smoke has cleared they will open the cabin doors!
After we deplane we are checked through immigration and customs with no problems and this is where we immediately begin to experience the smiling nature of the Tongan people. After exchanging our money for Pa'anga (Money of Tonga) we carry our suitcases from one side of the building to the other side, about fifty feet and without knowing it have passed from the international to the domestic air terminal. You see, our reservations are at The Tongan Beach Resort on the island of Utungake in the Vava'u group, which is still an hour's flight away.
To Be Continued…
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