“Fight For Democracy in Tonga!!”
Since: Sep 10
Pale sand and emerald water, the stuff of day dreams and screensavers. But Tonga's Ha'apai islands were even more alluring after too many days spent in Nuku'alofa, capital of the Kingdom of Tonga.
A rundown town of rubbishy lots, Nuku'alofa was dusty and potholed, its streets littered with instant-noodle wrappers and chip packets. What had once been park benches, a fountain and even whole buildings were rubble, a result of lack of maintenance and the riots of 2006.
We had been there for three nights on Tongatapu, Tonga's largest island, waiting for the ferry to Ha'apai. Each time we arrived at the wharf we were told the ferry was postponed. First it was the king's birthday, then weather and technical faults. Finally, we were allowed to board the MV Pulupaki and found ourselves crouching on the lower deck of a rusty boat as it chugged north.
Ten hours later, we near Ha'apai, and the islands begin to work their charm. The water becomes crystalline ... transparent. I'm looking out to the horizon trying to spot our destination when a man taps me on the shoulder and points to where a whale's fluke rises above the water. Its whole body emerges, rolls across the surface then sinks back into the ocean - glimpses of a real sea monster.
The ferry arrives at the town of Pangai on the island of Lifuka. Pangai is the big smoke of the Ha'apai Islands group, its roads busy with wandering pigs, dogs, strutting roosters and the odd van. The town boasts a bank, three shops and the royal family's Ha'apai residence, a time-worn white villa with exercise equipment in the front room. We hire bicycles and set off across the island. Bike hire is about $20 a day, and basic guesthouse accommodation around $50.
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