“Nostalgia is denial. Denial of the painful present. The name for this denial is Golden Age thinking – the erroneous notion that a different time period is better than the one ones living in – its a flaw in the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present.” – Midnight in Paris
The “Golden Age thinking” mentioned in the movie “Midnight in Paris” has intrigued me ever since I came across it. I am unsure if it is really denial of the painful present that makes people fantasize that a different time period is better – but many a times, I am guilty of having the notion that a time earlier than the one that I am in, might be better. And, this “Golden Age thinking” best explains my affections for Tonga. It has been a week since I returned from Tonga and its magic lingers, still.
Well, if you are considering/planning a trip to this kingdom, read on for some (hopefully useful) recommendations on areas/activities that you can explore. In no order of preference, here’re 08 Essentials Not To Be Missed In Tongatapu:
1. Touring the Island
Check out the local travel agency or hire a private local tour specialist (which I did!). I felt really comfortable with the driver who picked me up for my airport transfer, thus I engaged his services for a couple of days. No regrets! Rick is a local who used to live in Kiwi land. Besides his vast knowledge on this beautiful island, he is very reliable. I thoroughly enjoyed the witty conversations with him that allowed me to better understand Tonga and her people.
The island, Tongatapu, can be explored within ½ day. Some of the popular sights include the Blow Holes known as Mapu ‘a Vaea (Vaea’s Whistle), Captain Cook’s Landing Site, Ha’amonga ‘A Maui (an ancient stone trilithon) etc.
Some of the lesser-known wonders would be the sightings of snorkeling pigs and even the Tsunami Rock! To find out more, call Rick or any locals whom you feel comfortable with.
Rick is a freelance who operates the Reefcomber, providing island tours, shuttle service and airport transfers. In his spare time, he is a man who is great with his hands, making furnitures and building structures. PH: 8741186
2. Island Hopping
With over 170 islands in Tonga, one can either take a flight or ferry to visit other islands. You may either do an island-hopping tour (with local tour operators), take a day trip or even stay on one of the islands for a couple of nights. Beautiful white sand beaches, unspoilt corals, colourful fishes, crabs, and simply raw beauty and nature await you. Nearby islands that I visited during my stay are Pangaimotu and Atata (I’ll share more on these at another time).
Interesting Fact: Do you know the domestic flight from Tongatapu to ‘Eua is one of the shortest commercial flights in the world? It takes only 8 minutes!
3. Finding Treasures in Markets
There are not many interesting shops in Tonga but they do have several markets that are worth visiting. One might even find treasures, though you really need to scourge hard and learn how to haggle (something which I do not have the patience or skills for)!
The 2-storey Talamahu Market, located in Nuku’alofa, is the main market that offers a wide range of products from fresh produce to handicraft souvenirs and fashion wear. It is open everyday, except for Sunday and public holiday.
Also, don’t miss out on the Saturday Flea Market that is located at Queen Salote Wharf! Items on sale are mainly second-hand branded clothes (though there are new ones!), fresh produce from the locals’ own gardens, cooked food as well as other interesting stuff.
4. “Walks” to Remember
If you are staying near the villages, just walk. If not, you may consider taking the bus (also a great experience!) into the village and take a stroll. When I first arrived, Rick told me, ”Over here, day and night, people walk”.
So, I walked. And it has been a lovely experience. One afternoon, women sitting by the streets waved at me, asking where I was headed. I felt like Alice in the Wonderland (but with the knowledge that I might actually get somewhere) for I was actually walking aimlessly. Idle chats are common, and unwittingly, I was enveloped into the true Tongan hospitality. Eventually, a lovely local lady decided to walk with me. Heat rises from the graveled streets, as we made our way through the village. I was introduced to so many relatives that I eventually lose count.
Another magical morning, a new friend decided to catch the sunrise with me. At the crack of dawn, we power-walked down empty streets. Around us, life was just starting to stir. Somewhere out there, a rooster crowed. Birds chirped happily. I did not have mobile or wifi-access. I was disconnected from the world, but I felt connected to my companion. Somehow, strolling in Tonga without technology have forced allowed me to stay focused in my environment. Going back to the basics is not that bad after all.