5W1H That Travellers Should Know About Tongatapu
What is there?
While one is exploring Tongatapu, you are bound to come across endless rubbish, an irritating number of rodents as well as old buildings and houses that have seen better days. BUT you would have expected them and overlook these “minor disturbances” in the same laidback manner as the locals do. I know I did when I killed a palm-sized spider without hyperventilating. Being in Tonga has made me braver. Oh well, a little anyway. 🙂
That’s not all to this nice little island though. Think legends, myths and wonderful stories. Raw nature and interesting phenomenon await you. Have you seen a snorkeling pig? Apparently, pigs can’t fly but they can swim. Pretty beaches with clear water line the coast and during peak season, you can get up close and personal with whales. Call me a city bumpkin but I have never seen so many unspoiled, beautiful corals! Abundant fishes are available for (even) the most amateur fishing enthusiast and people still grow their own vegetables.
Coconut trees are everywhere and you can just pick that banana from the tree by the street (but please run fast if you encounter angry dogs!). If you love the sun as I do, then the tropical climate will also be a reason for you to visit. Last but not least, the people here remain the main attraction for me. Be it locals, migrants or passing visitors, they seem familiar despite our obvious differences. I like to think of our meetings as the embracing of open hearts.
Who is there?
Forward thinking in certain aspects, primitive in others – Tongans are perhaps the main “attraction” of this faraway land. Their interesting yet controversial culture will keep you wondering, but there is no doubt on their warm hospitality.
Palangi is the word used by Tongan, referring to white man or Caucasian. There are some migrants from other parts of the world, but more often than not, the palangi are tourists from nearby region such as New Zealand, Australia, America Samoa etc.
Asian (particularly the Chinese) would be happy to know that there’s a healthy population of Chinese immigrants here. Most are long-time business owners, generally operating minimarts or in the F&B industry. Growing up in Singapore, I have never give much thought to my Chinese ancestry (probably because it’s several generations back) but having interacted with the local Chinese, I felt humbled and wish I knew more.
Why Should You Visit?
The above “what” and “who” should be reason enough for you to visit. Otherwise, this somewhat isolated island is appealing for those of you who just wanna get away from the world. This place also calls to one who wants to get back to the basics. It is still raw and very real. Step back in time.
How do you get there?
The three airlines that fly to Tongatapu are Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and Fiji Airways. My religious following at grabaseat.co.nz allowed me to “grab” return tickets from Auckland to Tongatapu at NZD320 (it’s a steal, yea?)!
Visitors from most countries (Singaporeans included) do not need a visa to enter Tonga (for a period of no longer than 31 days). For more information on entry requirements, check out http://www.thekingdomoftonga.com/about/.
Upon arrival, one is required to complete the arrival form and it is necessary to declare food items. Should you declare to possess food items, the checking is verbal (at least for me).
PS: While travelling anywhere within this region, always carry a supply of small-denomination notes. Stay prepared!
When to go?
With their wonderful tropical climate, Tonga is a destination that one can travel to at anytime of the year.
The peak season is from May – October when the season is relatively drier. Whale watching season, which is from July – October, will create a spike in tourist arrival. December and January are also very busy months as this is when many Tongans return home from Australia, New Zealand and the US.
The off-peak are those months that were not mentioned above. I happen to visit from late October to early November, missing the whale-watching crowd. Weather was still good and there were fewer tourists, just the way I like it.
Where are you going to stay?
This is probably the most tricky of questions. Well, one must not have too high expectations for accommodation in Tongatapu. High costs do not guarantee good quality. There are generally four types of accommodation, namely (1)Local Lodges/Guesthouses, (2)Backpackers/Budget, (3)Beach/Offshore Resorts and (4)Hotels/Motels.
Here & There
For me, I have chosen to spilt my stay in Tongatapu; staying at an idyllic beach resort (for quiet times) and local guesthouse (near town) for easier navigation around the island. Here’s my reviews on the accommodation that I have stayed in: White Sands Beach Resort and Dayspring Lodge.
In fact, there are many guesthouses that are not published on web and there seem to be a monopoly in the industry on those that do. With that in mind, one would need to pre-book in advance for the more popular accommodation (especially during the peak season). Otherwise, one can simply decide upon arrival.
Getting the Best Deal
Note that it does help to do a Google search and check out prices prior to making reservations. For some resorts, it is actually cheaper to book from booking.com rather than direct reservations from the establishments.
Expensive doesn’t mean good
I heard from my driver that the International Dateline is the flagship hotel in Nuku’alofa and it is very, very old (as well as ill-maintained). One day, I was talking to a tourist who stayed there and he said his room was infested with termites! For once, I am glad that I cannot afford to stay in a “hotel”. To give it credit, the International Dateline Hotel is located in a convenient location near to the wharf (great for catching sunrise!).
I would not trade that for the local guesthouse where I stayed though. Located in a village near to the hospital and somewhat further from town, Dayspring Lodge is a 3C accommodation that delivers: Cleanliness, Cosiness and Charms.
~ To be continued. Stay tuned for more on my Tonga encounters. ~
The above information has been complied based on various sources, including my own experience and should only be used as a reference. Check out http://www.thekingdomoftonga.com or http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Culture_of_Tonga for more information on the Kingdom of Tonga.