Pigs squealing, dogs barking and roosters crowing.
These were the sounds of our first night at the Little Italy Hotel in Nuku’alofa.
The most predominant sound however, was of the rain pouring down, as the weather was stormy and the sky grey.
On our first day we headed into town to visit the Talamuhu Market. This is the main market on the island of Tongatapu, where all the local farmers bring their produce to trade.
Everything is available.
Fresh fruit and vegetables, handy crafts and a huge variety of clothes, both local and imported. Plus Father’s Day cakes, that were either in chocolate or banana and covered in a thick icing, then decorated with sprinkles and candles.
Father’s Day should be September but it has been decided to move it closer to Mother’s Day, just to make sure that the dads aren’t forgotten.
Mother’s Day was last Sunday.
The market isn’t restricted to the city centre but extends along the Vuna Road towards the port. Here the produce is cheaper and the customers stop by the roadside to haggle for the best price before buying.
On our second full day the rain gave way to wind and we ventured out on to the deserted streets of Nuku’alofa. It was Sunday and everything was shut except the churches and they were alive with gospel singing combined with choruses of amens and hallelujahs.
We joined the service at the Centennial Church, built in 1983 but looking centuries older. It’s the site of the main basilica of Nuku’alofa that was founded in 1885 by King George Tupou and originally the Free Wesleyan Church.
This is a grand but crumbling edifice, greatly in need of repair, much like at lot of what we have seen in the capital.
We were welcomed into the church with broad smiles and many questions as to our origins.
The choir and brass band were seated in the centre of the church. They were all dressed in white and the women wore hats that would do the Melbourne Cup proud.
The rain held off in the afternoon so we decided to walk across the peninsula to the Fanga’ Uta Lagoon. There were many church services in progress as we made our way south. Once at the lagoon we were befriended by a local boy who insisted on showing us “His Church”. He told us that is was a beautiful house and designed to look like a boat in full sail.
Unlike the basilica, the Constitutional Church was a contemporary design with stained glass windows that paid homage to Piet Mondrian, the Dutch modernist who was part of the non representational movement of the early 20th century.
As we arrived, with our newest best friend, we were joined by his friends who tagged along as we explored the church.
We then walked back into the town centre in search of a cup of coffee. Breakfast had been a lean affair, as the kitchen was closed, because it was Sunday and also Father’s day, so we were given a boxed meal, sans the usual caffeine hit.
We did find a café that was reluctantly open and there, together with the other tourists, got our morning stimulus. However by this time it was well into the afternoon.
Walking back to the hotel we passed the Royal Palace. This is about the only building in Nuka’alofa that is kept in a state of repair.
However the most recent Kings don’t live there, as they have large properties scattered over the island.
The wind was rising and the roar through the palm trees was punctuated by the rumble of the approaching thunder storm.
On Monday the sky cleared and we walked back along Vuna Road, skirting around the palace and down to the port.
The fish market was meant to be open daily, so we thought this would be a good place to get a feeling of local port life.
It was open but there was only a handful of vendors selling a very limited range, most of it frozen.
Dogs are everywhere in Nuku’alofa. We were told that the Tongans don’t like have their dogs inside so they have a free run outside. They pay scant regard to the cars that seem to skillfully avoid hitting them. The drivers are equally adept at avoiding the pigs and piglets that also scurry across the streets.
Surprisingly there is very little ‘road kill’ in Tonga.
Having brought the obligatory postcards we now went in search of the recently relocated post office.
It was way out of town and the walk there took us past the local girls high school. Thea was continually approached by groups of giggling girls wanting to have their photos taken.
It was getting late in the afternoon by the time we walked back to the hotel and the sun was low in the sky.
It was the magic hour for photography, so we went down onto the beach in front of the hotel. It was low tide and the water was sparkling. Even the wreck, that’s directly opposite the hotel, took on a special look. The locals were also there but they were busy fishing or repairing the large fish trap that’s also in front of the hotel.
We had booked a hire car and planned to tour around Tongatapu. It was a black VW Beetle, that on the outside looked very smart. However on closer inspection was a little worse for wear. It had only done 80,000 km but it looked like it had done a lot more.
We very quickly discovered why.
No sooner had we left the town centre, the roads deteriorated quickly and we found ourselves driving at 5 km/h, in some areas, to avoid the water filled pot holes. The roads, do however, dramatically improve when you approach a royal residence.
Our first stop was the blow holes on the southern coastline, near Houma. Here waves send the water spouting meters into the air, as it is forced through natural vents in the coral rock.
Ten minutes of photography was followed by ten more minutes of cleaning our camera lenses.
From there we headed west, along the Liku Road, toward Ha’atufu, the site of Abel Tasman’s landing in 1643.
Then it was back east along the Loto, Taufa’anau and Tuku’aho Roads to Captain Cook’s landing site. This is the place where Cook, in 1777, named Tonga ‘The Friendly Isles’ as the people there seemed very welcoming. Little did he know that they were planning to kill him, they just hadn’t worked out how to go about it.
This site was very dilapidated, much more so than Abel Tasman’s.
As we drove around the Island there appears to be little industry. That’s except for the telecommunications providers, which are all controlled by the royal family.
We continued our circumnavigation of Tongatupa, visiting the Ha’amonga Trilithon. Known as the Stonehenge of the South Pacific, these standing stones were erected in 1200AD. There are a number of theories as to their origin or purpose. The latest is that they are a form of solar calendar.
Driving down the east coast on the Liku Road we visited Anahulu Beach and ventured inside the stalactite caves. We didn’t get very far as the steps were wet, it was dark and we only had our iPhones to see by.
Next stop was the Hufangalupe or Pigeon’s Doorway. This is a large coral bridge where the sea rushes through a narrow opening many meters below. The coastline is spectacular in this part of the island but the road to get there had me wishing I had hired a 4WD, not the Beetle.
By our last day on Tongatapu we had just about seen all there was to see, so we had a slow walk into Nuka’alofa and wandered around the oldest part of town. Even though the buildings are run down they still have a Pacific charm about them.
Although this was a break full of different sounds, we had a very quiet time. We are now off to Fafa Island, where it’s bound to be even quieter.
The sounds of Nuku’alofa, Tonga.
Pigs squealing, dogs barking and roosters crowing.