Tonga: Perfect Beaches and Kava

Our last full day in Tonga! I’m gutted. 10 days sounds like a decent amount of time but it flies by so quickly!

Last time we were on Tongatapu we drove most of the west side, so today we’re going to hit everything east. One of our priorities is to visit the flying fox sanctuary, but our hostel host tells us that a recent cyclone caused all the bats to move and it’s now closed, which explains why we had so much trouble finding it last time. Conveniently though, there’s a family living in the tree across the street, fully visible from our balcony! Ches is almost as nerdy about the bats as he is about the fish.We rent a car for 60 pa’anga (40NZD, 25 USD) and drive out towards the east coast with no real itinerary for the day. I’m an easily distracted person, and a little confused about how this can possibly be legal, when the car turns on and music videos are playing on a screen where the normal radio controls would be. Cool feature but like….shouldn’t I be keeping my eyes on the road?

We forget to pick up a decent paper map like last time, and are using something that looks home printed with only a couple points of interest listed. It should be noted that the 3 headed coconut tree is the most prominent point of interest, with big bold text so it can’t be missed.

We make a spontaneous turn down a rocky side road that leads towards the coast, and discover what is now my favourite beach in the world. It has everything! Blow holes, water suitable for swimming, soft sand, shallow tidal pools for crab and fish spotting, and of course, no other people.

Over an hour goes by that we spend exploring and watching the ocean do it’s thing. The blow holes are so incredible, I swear if this was the view from my house it would never get old. I don’t understand why there’s no one here! Everyone should be here! …but I’m happy they’re not.

Some construction is going on on the cliff above the beach and I’m sure that means a resort will pop up here shortly. Sad but also fair, because the view will be epic.

Eventually we decide to move on and follow signs to the Anahulu Cave.

We park our little car in the empty lot where a man is slumped in a chair, sitting in the shade and smiling at us as we pull in. We change into our bathing suits and pay 15 pa’anga (9NZD, 7USD) each for entry, which is to pay for the generator to be turned on to light the inside. I think it’s rad that this is how it works. Back home I’m certain there would just be lights on in the cave all day, tourists or nah.

Another guy stands at the entrance to the cave and leads us in. I expect him to guide us the whole way but he just makes sure we watch our heads for the first few meters, then once inside the big chamber says see ya and leaves. We’re the only people in here! Are there even other tourists left in Tonga or are we the only ones?

A paved pathway has been made to bring people down to a mini lake at the back of the cave. Bats can be heard screeching, and seen hanging from the stalactites on the ceiling. These bats are just small though – no crazy big flying foxes like the ones we saw this morning.

We take a quick dip in the cool cave water, but I leave my phone’s flashlight on and face up by our bag just in case the generator fails and we’re suddenly swimming in the dark. That’s how horror films start.

By the time we’ve left the cave we’re both absolutely starving. After the tragic BBQ we had last night we feel like it needs to be redeemed. There’s no way it’s all old, warm, and pre lathered in ketchup. A sign on the side of the road advertises 5TOP (3NZD, 2USD) food so we pull over and walk below a leafy arch way and under a sign that says Chill & Grill, until we’re in someone’s front yard. There’s a guy wearing an apron and hanging out with his family in front of a big rusty BBQ grill. That sweet sweet smoked meat flavour wafts through the air. Feed meeeeeeee.

For our 10 pa’anga we get two giant pieces of chicken and four sausages, wrapped in tin foil with the standard bland vegetables, which we learn are called tapioca. I’m only familiar with tapioca as something that goes in my bubble tea so I’m confused as to how it can also look like a potato but ok.

We take it to go and drive a short distance over to Captain Cook’s landing point. The whole car smells like BBQ and I’m legit about to start drooling.

This meal has restored both of our faiths in fried chicken. The “sausages” are actually just little hot dogs but honestly, because of that smokey bbq thang, SO good. We drive back past and give the guy 5 bucks for as many “sausages” as he can spare. We get 8 and share them as a road snack. I’m not proud of it, but I don’t regret it either.

Randomly, Prince Harry and Megan Markle are on their way to Tonga. They’re doing a little tour of all the Pacific Islands and are touching down today. I’m not a big Royal Family fan, I don’t watch the weddings or collect the plates, but I also don’t have any issue with them. I guess I just don’t really understand the hype.

But here in Tonga it’s a big deal. There are about 3 main roads on the island so it’s hard to avoid, but we happen to be on the airport road on our way back to town, just as Harry and Megan are due to also be driving down the same route. All of Tonga’s youth is lined up on both sides of the road in their school uniforms, waving Tongan and British flags. I’m talking kilometres of children. I don’t know how long they’ve been waiting but I’m sure some of them are pretty bored because they scream and wave at us as we go by. I feel like royalty!

Our curiosity is stronger than what’s good for us, and even though we’re still full to the brim with BBQ, we can’t help but stop at another road side stall selling some mystery items in tin foil cones. They’re all desserts; some doughy bread stuff and another tapioca snack that doesn’t look anything like a potato, nor a bubble tea pearl. What can’t this root vegetable do?!

We choose two of the doughy ones, which we assume come on their own but then one gets covered in custard and the other in sugar syrup. This is like a street food version of the dessert we had at church in Vava’u!

The sugar syrup thing is better than the custard one, but I’m also not a big dessert person in general. We had to squeeze in some other Tongan food before we left though!

Another Tongan classic that we’ve been wanting to try since we arrived is kava. It feels a little crazy yet that we haven’t had any because it seems to be everywhere, but tonight’s gotta be the night. Kava is a pacific island thing and I think it varies slightly depending on where you are, but basically it’s a dried and pulverized root that when mixed with water and consumed, makes your face numb and relaxes your body. Sounds a li’l like a drug to be honest but it’s legal so let’s see what’s up.

I don’t know how you’re supposed to get it or what to do with it once you have it, but we’re going to do our best. We ask the shop next door and get a very abrupt “no kava no beer”. They wave us down the street to the next shop, where we get the same response. A little confused, we ask our hostel manager who is a young half-Kiwi half-Tongan girl and also has no idea where to find it. We ask at the local barbershop where an elderly man that lives next door is keen to help and joins us on our quest. He asks at the first shop that we went to and all of a sudden the kava magically appears. Not sure you why you lied bro but cool.

They brown-grey powder comes in a small plastic bag and costs 10 pa’anaga (6NZD, 4USD). Kinda looks like a bag of dust.

Our helpful neighbour invites the three of us to the balcony of his home where he prepares the kava. I had no idea it was such a process. I was about to toss that powder in a water bottle and shake it up, but obviously this guy know what you’re actually meant to do.

He gets a big plastic washing bowl from inside then drapes a transparent white fabric over the top. The entire bag of powder is emptied in the centre, and a bowl of rain water is poured over top. He then gathers the fabric into a little bag and steeps the powder like tea, squeezing and twisting the fabric around in the water with his bare hands. By the end, the mixture actually looks exactly like tea with milk. I’ve heard that’s not at all how it tastes though. When he’s done we pour it into a wooden kava bowl, and he brings us a little coconut shell cup which is what you’re supposed to use to drink kava (unlike our bright bottle of water idea). He tells us the coconut cup is a gift, and also finds a Canadian flag in his home to give to me. We invite him to have it with us of course but he politely declines. We thank him and carry the bowl next door to our hostel where we sit on the patio to drink it.

The taste is not great but not as bad as everyone hyped it up to be. I was expecting it to burn or something, but it just tastes kind of earthy. The closer we get to the bottom of the bowl the more sediment there is, which definitely tastes worse.

Effect wise, the most that happens for me is that my tongue feels numb. I’ve heard people talk about drooling or getting a head rush, but I don’t feel anything like that. I also don’t feel relaxed but I’m always full of energy so I’m not sure even strong kava could calm me. Ches has the same experience, but believes he feels a little more relaxed than usual.

Would try it again, but it certainly did not change my life.

Mom tells me she tried after it became legal in Canada some years ago, and brought it home to try when we were kids. Which is hilarious, but I was a bit of a nightmare, so I can’t blame her.

* brought it home for herself. Not to give to us. Whoops.

2 thoughts on “Tonga: Perfect Beaches and Kava

  1. I did not give YOU kava, when you were children! Hello! Do you not know me at all? The woman who is always reminding you to be careful? I did not drug my children!
    I had it, it was an herbal drink and yes, relaxing.

    Other than that necessary correction, I loved this post!


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