Day 1,735 of Traveling the World | Kingdom of Tonga | November 2, 2022

The Kingdom of Tonga. Approximately 5,300 miles from California. Remote – very remote. Tonga has had an absolute monarch since the early 900s AD. It is the only Pacific nation never to be colonized by a foreign power. Consisting of 171 islands (45 of which are inhabited), Tonga sprawls for 270,000 square miles across the Pacific Ocean. And…for us, we added Tonga to our list of countries visited, which now totals 106! So, those are the most salient facts about the place we visited for two days.

Surprisingly, for an island, we saw no scooters or motorcycles. We were told that motorcycles are considered too dangerous for the island. We went to the largest car rental agency, and cars were all that they rented, but every single one had already been rented for the both days we were in Nuku’alofa, the capital city. So we found a taxi willing to take us to five of the most popular sights for $50 US, and it took close to two hours. The roads are very bad – once you leave the city, they become a mix of paved and unpaved, but mostly unpaved with lots of potholes, and many are narrow, wide enough for just one vehicle. Of course, that doesn’t mean that we didn’t encounter many vehicles coming toward us on the narrowest of roads, just that either they, or we, had to pull over into high grasses on the sides of the road. Quite an adventure.

There is a photo below of one of the road signs put up by the Tonga Transportation Department – we provide this as proof that the “attractions” we visited are truly thought to be – ATTRACTIONS. See what you think! We went to (1) the Blowholes, (2) the 3-headed Coconut Tree, (3) Tsunami Rock, (4) the Flying Foxes, and (5) the Christian Landing – that is, where Captain Cook came ashore in 1773. The explorers did such a great job of getting Christian converts that in current times Sunday is a day when Tongans are forbidden to work, no stores are open, and the motto of the day is: church, eat, and rest.

The Tongan flag is primarily red with a white canton containing a red cross. The Royal Palace, sitting on the Pacific Ocean, uses these two colors, as do many homes and businesses. It makes for colorful sights! We also walked through the Talamahu Market, the largest in Tonga. It is a series of tables set up in an open-air structure, selling fruits, vegetables, and many handmade arts and crafts.

Overall, Tonga sounds exotic to visit, but it is rather poor, and the people live humbly. When cruise ships are in town, there are two menus in restaurants, one for tourists, and (much) lower prices for locals. There were lots of stray dogs walking on the roads, and we commented on them to our taxi driver, who appeared to be about 30. He said, “I tell my children not to befriend them, as they likely will be on the dinner table next week!”

Since our last post on Raiatea, we visited three ports before Tonga: Moorea, French Polynesia; Papeete, Tahiti; and Rarotonga, Cook Islands. In Moorea and Papeete, it was raining quite a bit, and tenders to Moorea were halted for part of the day due to the rain. Since we will be back to both of these ports for an extended time in March/April, and since we have visited both several times, we didn’t try to brave the rain. We would have loved to add the Cook Islands to the countries we have visited, but the ship didn’t even anchor that day. The swells were heavy, and the winds quite gusty, so it wasn’t deemed safe to tender to the island. In compensation, the captain slowly circumnavigated the island (but that doesn’t merit adding it to our country count!)

Very proud of their status as a Kingdom, every welcome sign called attention to “the Kingdom of Tonga.”
The famous blowholes along the southern coast. When it is exceedingly windy, the water can spew about 90 feet into the air!
Each of our “attractions” had industrious sellers who set up tables to sell their handmade wares. This woman, set up at the Blowholes, had the largest umbrella we saw all day!
The Royal Palace of Tonga. The Pacific Ocean is behind this view of the rear of the building.
A cute red and white home with a little gingerbread trim.
The Basilica of St. Anthony of Padua.
The famous (!) three-headed coconut tree. (The top limbs branch out in three directions. It is in the middle of nowhere, on a rural road, and every taxi and tour bus stops for photos!)
One of the local schools, also bedecked in the national colors. You can see two Tongan flags out in front.
We saw more of these than anything else as we drove around. Families create graveyards in their front yard, cover the grave with flowers, and often have banners like this, with their loved one’s photo and obituary.
Along the road just outside the capital was this rather forlorn collection of seven rides for children, but they weren’t part of a theme park, and didn’t have any food stands – just seven rides, lined up in a row on the side of the road.
Several coconut tree farms were being harvested as we passed by.
A residence out in the country, with the red-and-white motif.
Tsunami Rock, ripped from the ocean, is thought to have arrived on dry land after a tsunami event thousands of years ago. It is believed to be the largest tsunami rock in the world, and traveled 300 feet inland.
Captain Cook’s landing spot, the “Christian landing.” There is no beach here, so we can imagine Cook’s ship, the Endeavour, anchored in these gorgeous turquoise waters, with the crew rowing to the shore.
What are we looking at here, hanging from the upper branches of this tree, you ask??? Flying foxes!! The flying foxes (actually bats) are considered sacred, and are the personal property of the King; thus, they have proliferated on Tonga (and other Pacific islands).
We were able to capture one of the flying foxes soaring from one tree to the next. They have a pretty impressive wingspan.
Yep! We were serious – AND we saw the first five attractions on this official road sign.
Talamahu Market. It was a bit drearier and smaller than we had imagined, as we have been in markets all over the world. You can see all the T-shirts for sale on the upper level.
We are not sure what these are, exactly – but the flowers were fresh.
There were lots of stands with woven and crocheted goods.
More textiles.
An unusual way to present carrots for sale – the largest we have seen!
Late afternoon view of the reef and the capital city, taken from the back of our ship.

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