Tonga: Mate Ma’a Tonga

It’s finally clear enough to catch an amazing sunrise outside our bungalow. The weather forecast has been unreliable, but is looking up!

Ches goes for a long snorkel out to a nearby island surrounded by a Japanese coral garden (I don’t know what makes it Japanese. We are in Tonga) while I stay on the beach with a nice cup of tea.

When he gets back to shore he calmly tells me he’s been stung by a jellyfish. And points out multiple lashes on his body. I, personally, would be crying or screaming or already drowned, but he’s chillin’. We talk to the owner of the resort to see if it’s a serious sting and what to expect. Death? Paralysis? Rabies? Will he turn into some kind of superhero? He’d not warned us about any jellyfish but I guess they’re not normally in this area and have just blown in with the recent heavy winds. There are no deadly jellyfish in this part of the pacific so that’s comforting. Looks pretty gnarly though.

He’s in pain for about an hour and a half, followed by 5 brief minutes of “euphoria”, then he’s normal.

…Is jellyfish venom extractable for recreational purposes?

I’m intrigued.

(Kidding, Mom)

Everyone is checking out of the resort except for us. We’re the only couple left except for the cook’s parents, who have just arrived from Germany today. We get chatting to the owner for a LONG period of time. We spend well over an hour listening to crazy stories of high maintenance or famous (or both) guests, which he tries to be discreet about, but quickly offers up names, companies, and job titles without our asking. It’s kind of hilarious actually. We’ve both worked hospitality so we get it, but I’m like mate should you really be shit talking your guests to… your other guests? So much gossip.

He tells us that a woman who left this morning is an American pop star and. I. KNEW IT. I saw her walking around and thought she looked famous but I convinced myself otherwise. I was right! I won’t mention her name because she clearly likes her privacy and I’d hate for her cover to be blown because of me (or really, because of the owner), but I just stayed at a resort with a pop star. Class.

It’s still crazy windy on this side of the island but it’s better than it has been over the last couple days so we take the opportunity to try kayaking again. I don’t know how Chesney is still cool with getting in the water after being stung by a bunch of jellies but alright. We both share a glass bottom kayak and paddle against the wind out to the small island where he was stung, so he can show me all the cool stuff he saw while snorkelling. It’s so rad, there are tons of weird ass fish in the ocean my friends. Kinda creeps me out but some of them are cool. I’m into looking at them from the comfort of my little boat.

I think Tongans always rep their flag pretty hard but everyone has been buzzing about tonight’s Tonga vs Australia game since we arrived and flags are absolutely everywhere. We had already decided we’d make it a priority to watch the match but this island doesn’t have a TV anywhere on it! Not in any of the villages and not in any room of the resort. And we’re not really sports people so even if we had a TV in our room we wouldn’t be watching – the ideal situation is to go to a bar somewhere and catch all the good vibes. So we chatted to some of the guys who work here to see if they’re going to the main island to watch the game, and of course they are. We’re just looking to catch a ride in and back so we don’t impose, but we get invited to someone’s sisters house. This is rad. We get picked up at 5pm at the end of the resort dock, hopping into a boat full of people. We’re trying not to stick out like sore thumbs, but we’re currently two very burnt touristy-looking white people, so it’s hard. Neither of us has packed anything red or white to wear to the game, but our skin tones are Tongan flag themed at the moment anyway.

Once on the mainland the flags and decorations are everywhere. There are beats bumpin’ in every car (including ours) and everyone is wearing some form of red and white. Sometimes even the jersey of another sports team like Arsenal, The Red Sox, or The Bulls. As long as it’s red and white it counts! People can be seen getting their TVs set up outdoors for a crowd as we drive along through the town.

We’re early so the boys take us up Mount Talau, the highest mountain in Vava’u!

I’m mildly worried about it because I wanna be cool but my flip flops are trash and keep breaking when I’m walking along normally, and I don’t know what to expect from this hike. I don’t say anything and hope for the best.

The walk is really just steps. Dodgey, slanted, very very very steep steps. Many. Many steps. Huge.

While it’s tiring, it’s better for me than some rugged trail because I can do it barefoot. The view from the top is so nice!!! Vava’u is just lush green forest and beautiful bays as far as the eye can see. Even from up here, you can tell how crystal clear the water is, and spot bits of reef here and there.

We go to a cheap Chinese food place for dinner. How is Chinese always the go-to cheap meal everywhere the world? Amazing.

There’s actually a surprisingly large Chinese population here. I tried to google it and didn’t come up with much. But what I’ve noticed is that most of the convenience shops are owned by Chinese people and, according to Wikipedia so please don’t quote me on this, they’ve had several reports of racially motivated assault against the Chinese population in recent years. Anyway I won’t take this down a dark path, but I did find it both troubling and interesting.

Anyway back to our delightful meal. The food is cheap as! A dish averages about 8TOP (5NZD, 3.5USD) and is a delicious heaping portion. On our way to the house we ask to stop at a store so we can bring something to the host. On our little secluded island we didn’t have a lot of options….so we’ll have to grab something now. We ask what would be needed and they say nothing but we insist so they shrug and say “soft drinks?”. We stop at a convenience store and buy some chips and soda, then get on our way to watch all the sports.

We arrive at the local high school. Surely your sister doesn’t live here, so what is going on? Ah. We missed that bit. We’re not watching the game at the sisters house anymore. The school has organized to project the game up so anyone in the community can come to watch. We sit down on the concrete floor with our snacks, feeling silly to have brought them along. Now I see why they were so insistent that we wouldn’t need anything.

The game starts and everyone is hyped up. The “Mate Ma’a Tonga” song is playing and the slogan is written on t-shirts and banners all over. I ask what it means and it literally translates to “die for Tonga”. If you’re a sports fan you’ll already know this, but I was surprised to say the least. Seems a littttttttle intense, but that’s the name of the team. Whoa.

10 minutes in the speaker breaks and we’re watching the game in silence. Well, not really silence because there’s lots of chatter and laughter around us, but we’ve lost the official sports commentary. Just moments later, just before it seems like Australia is going to score, the screen glitches and chaos ensues. The video is back up a few minutes later, and thankfully, Australia hasn’t scored.

Everyone is shouting whether or not Tonga scores, though. If Australia scores, the crowd is stoked. It’s confusing for me because then I don’t know when to clap, but I guess I can now safely do whatever I want. I don’t understand rugby at all. It’s not a big thing in Canada.

In the end, Tonga loses, and I expect everyone to be bummed, or for riots to start as they do in most other places around the world after a big match.


The city goes wild anyway. Everyone is singing and dancing in the streets, people are hanging out of car windows with drinks in hand; it’s goin’ off. We drive back towards the boat to head home but we’re crawling due to all the party traffic. I’ve never seen a fan base so happy to have lost a game. It’s so uplifting and I’m so stoked that we met these guys to bring us into town for such an experience! This almost encourages me to watch more sports.

Once we all cram back onto the boat and make it across the water to the resort, we say our goodbyes for the night. They invite us to lunch at the village church tomorrow which I am very much looking forward to. Sundays are a big deal in Tonga as it’s such a religious country. Everything shuts down, and I mean everything. You can’t even exercise! This is my kinda country.

What a cool chance to try more Tongan food, meet more of the locals, and get immersed in the culture which makes this place so special!

3 thoughts on “Tonga: Mate Ma’a Tonga

  1. “THE Kangaroos’ team were humbled by the predominantly Tongan crowd singing the Australian national anthem out of respect”!


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