“The world is full of a number of things,
I’m sure we should all be as happy as kings.” . . . Robert Louis Stevenson
Guess what? Tonga is a kingdom, and it has a real King! We got to see his palace, and we also saw the house he lives in (not the palace). After a couple of days sailing north from New Zealand, we arrived at the port of Nuku’ Alofa, the capital city of the kingdom. We are on the largest island of the 170 islands that make up the Kingdom of Tonga (only 30 are inhabited). Although Tonga is the poorest of all the Polynesian islands, it is endowed with a rich culture, history, and beauty. The rich fertile soil of this rather flat island has made it a haven for the lush tropical plant species of this South Pacific region. The entire island appears cultivated with crops of many types and varieties.
We signed on with some 22 Cruise Critic members to do an all day bus tour hitting all the pertinent sites on the island. This included a drive through downtown Nuku’Alofa, viewing all the various denominations of Christian churches and schools.
We drove by the King’s Palace, the King’s home where he actually lives, the original landing site of Captain Cook where he discovered Tonga (these peoples have lived here for centuries, and he gets the credit for discovering this place), the tombs of the kings, the Tonga Cultural Museum where we were treated to a cultural show (showing us how they make tapa cloth from pounding the underbark of the beechnut tree), and music and dance. They had a craft shop selling some handmade items at much more reasonable prices (without the hassle of bargaining at all the stands along every major road) than we had experienced back by the pier when we got off the ship. There are stands set up along the roads selling trinkets made of shell and bone, tapa cloth everything, from mats to postcards, to wall hangings, to ornaments, and tropical vegetables of all sorts (we saw a lot of taro, sweet potato, and coconuts). After the museum, we viewed what seemed to be endless farm land fields that had been cleared in between groves of coconut palms. The soil was a rich deep black-brown in color (volcanic origin we were told), and lots of taro being grown (“we love our taro,” our guide ‘Ofa told us). Education is mandatory up to age 18…we saw countless schools with kids all dressed neatly in uniforms. When we stopped at a stone antiquity, across the street was a school and all the kids came out to say hello to us. One of our tour members had brought along a bag of foil wrapped chocolates that we receive on our pillows each night. He distributed them to the kids and we had friends for life!
We stopped for lunch at the Liku’alofa Beach Resort on the western side of the island. Liku’alofa means “beach of love” in Tonganese. This was a Polynesian buffet and music and dance show with dances somewhat similar to those we had seen at the museum earlier. The meal was copious with a suckling pig, some of that corned beef thingy we had seen in Fiji a few weeks ago, taro, sweet potato, lettuce/ cucumber/ tomato salad, the Tonganese version of poisson cru (the ceviche’d fish with coconut milk), and a very large roasted fish that might have been some kind of snapper... a fine meal on a verandah overlooking the ocean on a raised beach plateau, all washed down with a local beer.
Then we were driven to another coastal spot to see the blowholes). We were up on a rocky outcropping looking out toward the reef with waves crashing on the rocky shore beneath us. There must have been hundreds of blowholes as far as we could see in either direction, all spouting like geysers as the waves cycled from weaker to stronger and back again. Spectacular…the pictures don’t do it justice.
A few more sights to see and then we were back to the ship (but first a stop for last minute shopping with the pier side vendors – “last chance-everything half price”).
The International Dateline is coming, maybe tonight…all I know is, tomorrow will be today. - RBM