Tonga is the only remaining Polynesian country to have a monarch – King George Tupou VI, They have a parliament also. Our guide, Crystal told us there are three levels, commoners (her), Nobles/Chiefs and the Royal family. Different dialects of Tongan are spoken, depending on who you are talking to. Crystal learned the formal dialect in high school but didn’t feel she knows it well. We heard that the King actually came onto the ship for a formal welcome to Tonga as this is the first time the Viking cruise line has come here and it one of the larger ships to visit. There was a formal procession and a dance ceremony as part of the visit.
We thought is was going to be a tender/shuttle stop, but they have a nice new pier, thanks to the Peoples Republic of China. We heard China has invested quite a bit in Tonga. We heard that on Bora Bora too. The Christian churches are the next heaviest investors with the Mormons supporting one of the high schools. Lots of churches and clothing is very modest. No swimming allowed on the main island on Sundays!
So they go to the other islands like Pangaimotu to swim, which is where we went for snorkeling. Our morning excursion was described as going to a beach resort with good snorkeling. The resort was “rustic” and the beaches beautiful. See the video for a resort overview. The whole trip was definitely on island time which started with our bus driver taking us to the wrong pier (it was the one we had passed, next door). The top level seating consisted of 2 old lounge chairs. We got started late as they were waiting for 4 people (not on our tour) to rent some scuba gear. After 15 mins and much complaining form some of out fellow passengers, the captain decided to go without them. We later saw the same people at the island in a different boat that got here ahead of us. When we made it to Pangaimotu, we had to transfer to a smaller boat to go the last 20 yards to the dock. It would have been easier to swim to shore if we could have kept our towels dry.
The island and beaches were beautiful and snorkeling fun around the two ship wrecks just off the dock. The resort had plenty of shade and picnic tables. The bar/restaurant was dirt floor and the people were very nice and helpful. Included was a non-alcoholic drink (Mel and I had mango) and a fruit platter. Local bananas, papaya, coconut, pineapple and watermelon were out on a big tray covered by banana leaves to keep the flies off. The local bananas were especially good but Mel refrained because of her allergy to them. We had a great time just hanging out, swimming and walking around the island. It was unclear when we needed to leave to be back at the ship (including bus ride) by 12:15. We started gathering around 11:45 near the dock, but the smaller transfer boat was nowhere to be seen. It showed up about 12:30 to start moving us back to the bigger boat and we ended up at the ship about 1:20 PM. Mel and I did not mind because hanging out at the beach was better than walking around the hot town.
After changing out of our swim gear, we headed out to do our own walking tour since we missed our 1 PM scheduled one. Wandered over to the market building to look for a tapa souvenir and a t-shirt for our quilt. Every stop has had a market building, open air, that contains vender stalls selling handicrafts, produce, clothing, food items and all types of things. Its like Eastern Market for the Michigan people, or downtown Central Market/flower mart in LA. I’ll try to get a picture in Fiji.
We eventually sat down on some benches under a huge Raintree and watched Tongan life flow around us. The tree was next to a bank and across from the government buildings. Dogs and kids with skate boards wandered by. Cars drive on the other side of the road and just seem to pull over or out into traffic… whenever. Several very business like looking people went in out of the bank and government buildings. Formal attire includes long skirts for both men and women and something around the waist. For men, it’s a piece of woven palm leaves cinched with a leather belt and for women, it’s what I would call a macramé belt with several macramé things hanging from it. Check out the pictures for examples. Sorry, I don’t know the names of these pieces of clothing, but everyone was wearing them.
We strolled back to the ship, bought t-shirts and shell necklaces from the vendors on the pier. Back at our room, we listened to the Nuku’alofa Police brass band and a traditional dance group entertain us from the pier as we sat on our veranda. It was a great day to be in Tonga.