Thursday, December 4, 2014

Tonga Time!

Many people who are close to me know that I've wanted to go to Tonga for a long time. Many people have also never heard of Tonga. The island kingdom of Tonga is a nation made of lots of tiny islands in the South Pacific. It is similar in make-up to places like the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, etc. It is actually the only island nation to maintain its independence forver - never being owned by another country. Their royalty has always been Tongan, and they have their own currency, language, and have a richly-maintained island culture. They still have a Tongan Royal Family in power, and, as you'll soon discover, is just a beautiful place. So on my way home from NZ, I decided I was going to spend a week in paradise, and cram a summer into a week. I left NZ in early Spring, and was going directly into Autumn in Missouri.

So why Tonga?  Well, I caught Tonga Fever back when I was in college. I was camping with a friend at the Barr Camp on Pike's Peak. There was an 80-year old man there that had also hiked up, and he was fascinating to me. As we sat around the campfire, he talked about his life, and his adventures, and Tonga was among them. He spoke so fondly of this place, that i decided then and there that I would visit Tonga one day. I have tried several times to set up medical rotations there, and have tried to study abroad there, but it would never pan out. So this was a perfect opportunity. A lot of people encouraged me to have a detour on the way home. It is helpful to do it so you can completely close the chapter of leaving NZ, and you can recharge a bit before the whirlwind of re-entry to the States.

So let's go!
Is that a South Pacific island I see down there??? The excitement Builds! (which was good, because there was a whole lot of sadness as I left NZ)

I have arrived.
There are two terminals to the Nuku'Alofa airport, and you almost need a taxi to go in between them. I say almost because it is technically walkable, but there are no signs, and when you ask people how to get there, they make it seem really far. No thanks. Taxi me. The fare was super cheap. and it was WAY hotter than anything I'd felt in a long time, so i wasn't trying to collapse from heat exhaustion.

Safely to the domestic terminal, nothing is happening. 
There are people there, but no one will check you in or tell you what's going on. They just smile politely and tell you to have a seat and rest.  They do speak English. There is a Tongan language (more on that another time!)
I was supposed to connect to a flight to take me to another island group called Vava'u. It is hailed as one of the most protected natural ports in the world, and you can swim with whales there. so yea, I'm headed there.  So after I sat for quite a while, and everyone started getting nervous that we had all missed the flight and that something was cancelled and we didn't know it, they just asked anyone going to Vava'u to come check in, and within 10 minutes, the 20-or-so passengers were all loaded up and whisking away to Vava'u.

Made it!

So that was a pretty full day of travel. I got picked up my my hotel owners, and was told the lay of the land. It turns out the place I was staying at was about an hour walk or 15 minute bike ride from town. I decided I would walk in to town and check things out and grab some supper.

Here's one of my first shots from the town, which is called Neiafu. I'll put more picture from around the town and island up soon.
The rest of this post will be devoted to this sunset, because all the readers are pretty aware by now that I love a good beach sunset picture! I at at a little beachside place and watched this sunset start, then I hoovered my food really fast so I could leave and take some pictures of it!

Yea, I'm gonna like this place.

This is that protected port I had mentioned. The island makes almost a spiral around this so it's really calm, but very very deep.

Because of this port, this is a very popular stop for people who are sailing the South Pacific. Lots of boats anchor out there and just come ashore to play during the day or to stock up on supplies before going on to their next stop. Because all these people are cruising through on their boats (or megayachts), there is an interesting mix of super-wealthy and super-budget people visiting this place. It's also a fairly small place, so I found myself bumping into the same people all the time, which makes it fun. I had never traveled like this alone before, and it wasn't really that bad! Most meals, someone would ask me to join them. and I don't really mind spending time by myself, so I kind of enjoyed being able to go at my own pace and just do anything I wanted whenever I wanted to do it!

Ok, last sunset pic.  The good news is that they looked like this every single night, so they are done and out of the way now, so I promise to have other material for your viewing pleasure instead of just tons of sunset pictures!

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