Bates Family South Seas Sabbatical travel blog

Gully outside our fale (beach other side)

Kings hangs out with band after the show

Tongan Haka

Not quite lap-dancing

Returning to our stay on Atata island at the Royal Sunset resort:

The place was lovely and our fale (beach bungalow) was spacious and relatively mosquito-free. There was little to do except relax. This meant that Ness, Kings and I finished our books and Gully played a great deal of table football with the older boys. It felt strange staying at a resort with other people and I hope our desperation for adult company did not show too much. This was supposed to be high season but the Tongans have not got their heads around tourism yet so the hotel was half-full.

The international airlines arrive in the early hours which the cynics suggest is a move by the crown-prince to ensure people stay on the main island for at least a night. Westerners are regularly bumped off his domestic airline if there are more important Tongans who need the seats. A recent Tongan conference of the Wesleyan Church scuppered peoples travel for weeks. We lost our seats to a Tongan Olympic athlete. Fortunately there was space at the back of the plane.

Competition is frowned on and only last year the crown-prince had his brother, the prime minister, cancel the license of the more successful NZ company that shared the domestic routes. The Tongan people are friendly and uncomplaining, caught between the monarchy and the church. Kings has had lots of attention with his blond hair and cheeky smile and people have been happy to chat. There were protests last year when the crown prince unilaterally doubled the price of electricity (oh yes he owns that too). Quite what will happen when the current popular king dies (he celebrated his 87th birthday last week) is anyones guess.

The other insight we had into "fake tonga" (the Tongan way) was the dancing and the kava ceremonies. The dancing was a great spectacle: the war dances are more appealing than the female story-telling arm-waving ones. Kava is the drink of choice in the South Pacific and involves drinking a mud coloured local anaesthetic for many hours. It is an acquired taste but one that I did not acquire after 5 cups.

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