Tonga: Tongatapu

I’m a heavy sleeper, and can sleep through dogs barking, roosters crowing, and bells ringing, but not all 3 at once. And not at 4:30am. But yes! That’s when the church opens, and the bells are to let the vastly religious population of Tonga know they are now welcome inside. This is only Wednesday… I wonder what Sunday will be like.

We walk downstairs to make tea and coffee, having totally forgotten that breakfast is included in our room, and find a whole morning feast is waiting for us. What. A. Fun. Surprise!

There’s slices of watermelon, cereal, toast, deep fried bread balls (which I personally have never seen before but Ches is comfortably spreading Marmite on them so I guess that’s normal) and even little sausage rolls. Such a win.

We start planning our day with a map of the island in front of us. A tour is offered through the hostel for 90TOP (58NZD, 40USD) per person, but we think we can get to the same spots on our own if we rent a car. We chat to our lovely hostel host who explains that we’ll need a temporary Tongan driver’s license, and brings us to the office to get one. We pay 40TOP (26NZD, 18USD) for a license that lasts 9 months. Only one of us needs to drive, and since Ches does all the driving back home, I get to drive here. Stoked on it.

Next up is finding some wheels. She brings us to an office that has 50TOP (32NZD, 22USD) cars advertised in spray paint on a wall, but once we’re inside it’s 70, and the cars have no license plates. We decide to hold out for plates.

Everything is very spread out and we have to drive again to the next rental office. I feel bad that our host is spending so much time taking us around. This morning she casually mentioned that she needs to bring her dog to the vet later today, because someone stabbed him. She waved her first in the air, laughed, and said “crazy Tongans”, and I’m like, girl….someone tried to murder your dog.

The second rental place hooks us up with a 50TOP car with plates, and we get going. We have lucked out HARD on weather, which has been looking rainy and grim in the last week or so that I’ve been checking online. I purchased travel insurance for the first time in my life because I was worried our flights would be cancelled, it looked so bad. But here we are, cruisin’ around with the windows down on a sunny day. Life is good.

We make our first stop the 3-headed coconut tree. This is the tourist gem of Tongatapu. Every local we’ve spoken to has brought it up, and the reviews on Trip Advisor are hilarious.

It is a must.

To be fair, a 3-headed coconut tree is pretty crazy. It’s also significantly taller than a regular one. It seems like they’ve chopped down all the surrounding trees and left this one here on its own. A true botanical mutant.

Chesney is so inspired, he writes a haiku:

“That three headed tree

One head plus two more makes three

What a fucking tree”

There is a small fruit stall on the side of the road selling coconuts for 2TOP (free) and we feel we need one for the occasion. Are they 3-headed coconut tree coconuts, you ask? Definitely not, but I’m going to pretend.

We then head towards the nearby blow holes, but are rerouted when we come upon another coconut tree that has fallen across the width of the road, and taken the power lines with it. Yikes.

Luckily for us it’s easy enough to find an alternative route, and we’re at the blow holes in no time.

These are maybe the coolest thing I’ve ever seen (except for the 3-headed coconut tree, but I think that goes without saying).

The sea is rough and dark, bringing impossibly vibrant blue waves rolling towards the coastal cliffs, flowing into caves and being ejected from small cavities on the surface. The waves can be seen crashing down all along the coast; the immensity and unforgiving nature of the ocean is imposing.

Now it’s time to take advantage of this fantastic weather and and find a nice beach…on a part of the coast that is less violent. Someone flashes their headlights at us on the street and I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with our car. We then spot a police officer hidden to our left, standing in uniform under a tree with his pals, pointing the speed gun at oncoming traffic. I don’t know how he’d plan to stop me if I were speeding though?

The dogs here are insane. They think it’s funny to freak you out and chase the car while you’re driving. While slowing down to make a turn, a wild dog comes running up to Chesney’s side of the car, barking and jumping so much that he has to roll up his window. I’m panicking and miss the turn entirely, and am them too afraid to go back. The dog is just smiling to himself in the rear view mirror. Sassy.

We follow some smaller roads down to a beach with coral sand, crystal clear blue water, a total of 0 other humans as far as the eye can see. It’s too rocky and windy for me to feel like swimming, but we go for a nice walk down the length of the beach and soak up how beautiful this is.

Our host packed our leftover breakfast (and some extras) as a lunch so we snack on some deep fried bread balls on our drive to the next stop – the flying fox sanctuary. We can’t find it, and get turned around a few times before giving up and driving down the path to a resort. We intend to ask for directions but instead end up staying for a drink and dip in the “pool”, which is a stone wall protected section of the beach with inlets to keep ocean water flowing in and out, but protected from strong currents. Pretty cool.

It’s now mid-afternoon and while we’d like to find the damn flying fox sanctuary, we need to book our tickets up to Vava’u, so we go back into town. It’s hard to know exactly where to go when I haven’t seen any tourist agencies or booking offices, and don’t have any wifi. We buy a coffee to acquire 150mbs of wifi from the same restaurant where we had dinner last night, quickly google the airline booking office, and walk 300ms to get there. We’re a little shocked when our one-way tickets come to 400TOP (260NZD, 180USD) each. Ummmm. That’s like what we paid to get here from Auckland, mate.

Hadn’t really planned for it to be thaaaat expensive but when Real Tonga is the only domestic flight operator in the country, we know there’s no haggling or getting a cheaper ticket elsewhere. What are we gonna do? NOT go to Vava’u? I don’t think so. We fork out and book a one way ticket.

We still have the car and some daylight left so we grab a quick burger in town and head east this time, where there are “fishing pigs” and stalactite caves. By using a combination of our paper map and google maps, we decide to take a little short cut but end up going verrrry far off road. Like, is this even still a road kind of off road. There is now a constant rattling sound coming from a mystery location within the vehicle and the map says we’re only halfway there….so we make a 12 point turn and go back to the main road. We tried. Google maps doesn’t differentiate between main roads and like, walking trails, apparently.

We follow signs along the coastal drive, and forget about finding pigs and caves. We are exhausted and the sun is going down. It’s been a full day as it is. We pick up a couple beers from the Heineken store, which doesn’t sell any Heineken, and bring them back to our empty little hostel.

The street shops are interesting here. There’s one every 300m, and sometimes even two directly across from each other, selling seemingly identical products, and still managing to stay in business. Additionally, all the shop keepers operate behind some pretty serious protective metal bars. It’s like visiting someone in a jail cell (the most set up jail cell of all time) every time you want to purchase a snack.

The big Tonga vs. Australia rugby game is on Saturday. Everyone is buzzing about it. There are Tongan flags everywhere. Some of the biggest I’ve ever seen. They out-do the Americans. One was draped down a 3 story building. They fly out the windows of every car, are hung outside every house, and on the walls of every shop and restaurant. I have to assume this is partially attributed to the upcoming match, but I also think they probably just really like their flag here. Wherever we are on Saturday, we can expect it to be crazy!

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