The Kingdom of Tonga - Part 1

Archipelago of Tonga

 

 

The archipelago of Tonga, affectionately called the "Friendly Islands," consists of 171 islands, with only 45 inhabited. There are four island groups including the mostly low-lying Tongatapu group, the volcanic and coral Ha'apai group; the flat coral islands of the Vava'u group, and the volcanic Niuas group in the far north.

 

 

 

 

As divers and photographers, we love to share our vacation destination and this time was no exception. For several months, people have asked “Where’s Tonga?”  The map above gives you an overview of the islands within the Kingdom of Tonga. Now let’s begin with how we get there.

For this trip we took advantage of the TSA pre-check and global entry pass, which we hope, will come in handy upon our return home. The TSA pre-check was sweet. We kept our shoes on, belts on and computers in the bag. This was travel the way things used to be pre 911 and pre TSA hassle to go anywhere. If you don’t have it, check into getting it, it’s worth it.

Travel to Tonga, for us in Southern California, means a flight out of LAX to Auckland about 12 hours. Leaving on a red-eye flight, we decided to upgrade to Air New Zealand’s sky couch but it is not meant for two normal sized adults. Sky couch allows one to bring up a footrest and push back the seat backs to make a three-seat bed of sorts. This works if you spend big and buy the entire row for yourself, or if you travel with a small child. Friends of ours purchased a row for each person and slept like babies all night long so if this is your preference, pay up!

Auckland to Nukualofa takes two hours and 40 minutes. Auckland airport is quite nice, plenty of shopping, dining, and thanks to our Gold Member friends; we visited the VIP lounge upstairs. The lounge offers an array of breakfast foods, fresh fruit, juices, coffee, and a bar. It’s a small airport so transfers from plane-to-plane are simple. If you have an hour layover, you can easily make your transfer in 20-30 min so there’s time to spare. The next leg is Nakualofa to Vava’u about a one-hour flight time, more on this later.

One on ground in Nakualofa one takes ground transportation to the town or in our case to the harbor to catch a ride on a boat across the bay to Fafa Island. Our transfer from the airport to the harbor was by bus with a group of Australians who came to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of the women in their group. They bought their alcohol in duty free at the airport and had our bus driver stop at a local store for tonic, mix and limes. Because the group was so large the transfer from the harbor to the resort was by a very slow sailboat on power. It was a pleasant ride but after many hours of travel we just wanted to be there and a faster boat would have been appreciated.

Fafa Resort

Fafa Island resort was to be our home for a two-day stay in order to decompress and relax. The resort covers the entire island. There is a main restaurant, bar, kitchen and office area. The rooms are little houses scattered about the island accessed by a walk through the jungle or during low tide a walk along the water. Ours fale was located the farthest out and called the Sunset house for the beautiful west facing ocean view.

The sunset house has a little wooden porch with a table and chairs, two lounge chairs and a hammock right on the waters, beach edge. It is quiet, peaceful with the sound of wind in the trees and water lapping on the beach. Every morning around 6am a staff member walks out in the dark to deliver a pot of hot water to our little house for making hot tea and coffee. This we found was a small treat we looked forward to each morning. At dusk the staff brings a small gas lantern out to set on the patio table for a little outside light. It’s not much but when it’s dark it is a nice mood setting gesture.

Lights are few and when darkness falls, it is just dark. They do supply a little flashlight to use to move around in the dark within the house and to walk through the jungle to the main lodge. In our fale, there was one king size bed, firm but comfortable with various sized pillows. A mosquito net hangs over the bed but was not needed, thank goodness. There is one small light in the room and only one power outlet – in the bathroom. We wonder, why would the only outlet be in the bathroom next to a sink? Well, we plugged our power strip in and used this for laptop and camera battery charging station. The voltage is 240 the same as in Australia so an adapter plug is needed and a converter if your device does not take 240. There is no clock, no radio, no TV and no internet in the rooms. The main lodge area has internet and wifi available for a price per mg. The first 200mg is free and thereafter $6.00 paanga for another 200mg.

The resort food and drinks are a bit pricey and there are no other options. The good new is the food is pretty good. Meals are breakfast 8am to 10am, lunch from 12 noon to 2pm and dinner is from 6pm to 9pm.

The Tonga dollar is called Paanga and the exchange rate at the time of our visit was $1.00 U.S. to $ 1.72 Paanga. It is recommended you change money on arrival because they do not take US dollars. The resort will change money for you without a problem.

The Tongan staff is very friendly and helpful. There is a no tipping policy in Tonga a custom we found to be a relief from other destinations where everyone is helpful and everyone expects tips for being so helpful. So when you are extended a hand in Tonga it is to be of service and just helpful. They remind me of the Fijians, the friendliest people on the planet.

 

 

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