Tag Archives: Nuku’alofa

Nofo a, Tonga!

All good things have to come to an end. Bros broke up, Ship 2 Shore ended, and now my travels through the Pacific Islands are done and dusted. I woke up early to watch the sun rise over the waters of Vava’u, Tonga, then packed my bags and got out of there.

During the short taxi drive through the palm trees, I had time to think back on the weird and wonderful people I’ve met on this trip. Sleeping Beauty, who kept me up all night (for all the wrong reasons) in Apia. The Italian sheila in Lalomanu, who I would’ve liked to have kept me up all night. Ross and Maria, who took me into their home and fed me. Henry, the heavily-tattooed homo, who’s also one of the most fascinating men I’ve ever met. Jojo and the other boys in Fiji, who shared their kava with e and gave me a glimpse of what it’s like to live in extreme poverty. Captain Frabiatore, who invited me to his home and was hurt when I turned him down to spend the night in a roach-infested hell-hole (sorry, mate). Papiloa the renegade newspaper editor. The ladies from the Chinese restaurant, who took me on the town and got me so drunk I woke up on the floor. And the boys from last night, who welcomed me into their home and allowed me to watch the football with them.

Sure, the Pacific Islands are about beaches and snorkelling and sun and all that, but the true appeal is in the people, who are warm and wonderful, simple and quirky, honest and strong. If you’re going to come to Samoa or Tonga (or Fiji, really) and stay in a resort, you’re doing it wrong. There are so many lovely families here who would love to have you stay, and all for such a low price. It’s the hospitality that sets the Islands apart from anywhere else I’ve been.

As it turns out, Real Tonga did let me on the plane, and when I got back to Fuaʻamotu International Airport, I found that it was strangely empty. They only get about 15 flights in and out a week, and I was bit early, so I sat in the vacant airport, reading and listening to music. Eventually some other people rolled in, and before I knew it I was on the plane, ready to leave. I wish I had longer out here.

I was looking out the window at the swaying palm trees, preparing for takeoff, when the plane started to shake. I looked up to see a mountain of a man crashing down the aisle. He was at least 160kg, with rolls of fat slinging from side to side as he moved, and I closed my eyes and prayed that he wasn’t sitting next to me. God must’ve been in the toilet or something, because the big fella stopped next to me, checked his ticket, then gave me a huge smile. “Guess we’re plane buddies,” he chuckled, then squeezed in next to me.

VavaIMG_9735I was pushed up against the window as his blubber oozed into my seat, and I was about to hotfoot it over to the emergency door and escape back to paradise. How could I possibly sit next to this walking heart attack for the next five hours? I was getting crushed, like an abandoned baby in a garbage truck! And then the plane rattled and hummed, and we took to the air, and Tonga was nothing but a fading blotch in a big, blue sea.

And then everything got better.

“Hey, want some chicken?” asked the big fella, waving a delicious-looking drumstick in my face. “I’ve got plenty.” He opened up a bag and there was about 10kg of chicken in there, along with a variety of beautiful Tongan foods. I took a bite of the chicken and danced on my tongue, and we got stuck into it while guzzling beer and talking about football. Turns out Feleti is a great bloke and after a few hours, when the beer and chicken had worked its magic, I nestled into his fat rolls and went to sleep.

And that, my friends, is the story of my trip to Samoa, Fiji and Tonga.

Big Trouble in Little Tonga

My journey to the tropical island of Vava’u was supposed to be a quiet, relaxing end to my trip through Tonga – a few days on the beach, some beers, that sort of thing. Instead it became a nightmarish fight for survival that pushed me past my limits and almost cost me my life.

I’d flown out to the Pacific Islands two weeks earlier to escape another broken relationship and the depressing emptiness of my studio apartment. Hopping from Samoa to Fiji to Tonga, I’d slept on beaches, climbed trees and been attacked by wild dogs, but nothing could prepare me for what was to come.

I took a taxi through the blistering Nuku’alofa heat to a cottage made of sticks that the locals call the airport, and the heavy-set girl behind the counter gave me a smile and told me that I was too late for my flight. My watch didn’t agree with her – it said I was an hour early.

As I argued the point, her story kept changing. The flight was overbooked, I had the wrong day – I’m surprised they didn’t try blaming space aliens. My ranting and raving continued until, in the distance, I heard the whomping of a propeller starting up. My three days in Vava’u had become two.

Perfect ambiance, with just a hint of cockroach turds and urine

The same taxi I’d taken to the airport took me back through the handful of faded cottages that make up Nuku’alofa and dumped me in a scabby guest house with rat droppings decorating the floor. The smell of Dettol almost covered the stink of urine.

“Well, I’m going to get drunk,” I muttered, before storming out in a foul mood. I was hungry and thirsty and pissed off, and Nuku’alofa was as quiet as a tongueless monk in a library. Turns out it was a public holiday, and almost everything was closed.

Some of the friendlier locals

I finally tracked down a rickety wooden pub that might’ve been nice once and the first bottle of Popao barely touched the sides, so I knocked back another, determined to drink away my anger. Happy Hour rolled around, and the drinks went down quicker. Sleazy 80s disco songs blared from speakers as the sun went down and neon lights flickered to life around me. As seven o’clock crept up I was wobbling around like a jellyfish at a rave party, and started chatting to a huge Tongan bloke called Terry. He told me he was a high-ranking cop and into cage fighting, and looked like he could snap me in half. He seemed nice enough and we shared a few beers, until I noticed he was creeping closer and kept making comments about what a good-looking bloke I was and how the girls must love me. I don’t hear that a lot, so it made me uncomfortable.

Then Terry introduced me to his mates, a couple of freaky-looking transvestites who were giggling away in the corner. Terry put an arm the size of a tree trunk around my shoulder, crushing me like a boa constrictor, and when I tried to move away he just pulled me in closer. His body odour made my stomach churn and I was no longer simply uncomfortable, I was scared.

“You’ll come back with us tonight,” he said. It wasn’t a question, it was a statement.

The toilet provided brief sanctuary, but when I returned Terry had another beer for me. It tasted sour as I downed it, and the big man told me about his work with the police, especially how he can track anyone down – including me. Things were turning bad. I was in big trouble in a foreign country, and very much alone.

I’ve met a lot of freaks over the years, but this was the first time I’ve genuinely felt in real danger, and I had to do something about it. Something brave and masculine and – forget about that, I just ran away like a little girl. Terry was blocking the door, but when he turned to talk to one of his friends I raced past his hulking frame and into the muggy night, then down the street to another bar. I slugged down a beer to settle my nerves, then the door slammed open and Terry was standing there with bad intentions written all over his face. I dived behind a fake palm tree, pulling the fronds closer as the monster looked around, then let out a sigh of relief when he trudged back outside. As soon as he was gone I darted outside and ran in the opposite direction, ending up in a deserted Chinese restaurant, being blasted by the freezing breeze of the air conditioner.

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Post almost-raped blues

I’m not too proud to admit that I almost broke down when I made it to safety and the enormity of the situation hit me. As my sweet and sour pork was served I had to hold back tears as I did my best to slow down my racing heart. I distracted myself by eating and drinking and chatting up the pretty waitresses, and my memory from that point is a bit hazy. The girls led me to a rundown bar, where I got as drunk as a politician and danced like an octopus at a Wiggles concert. I must’ve had a good time, because I spent all my pa’anga.

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Doing Australia proud

The next thing someone was kicking me in the ribs and saying, “Get up, get up, why you on the floor?”

I wiped a rancid rivulet of regurgitated rice from my mouth and sat up. I was on the floor of my room and my answer, for some reason, was “I’m an Australian,” as if we all regularly sleep on piles of cockroach turds.

With my head pounding and my vision blurred, I somehow made it back out to the airport, where I was told once again that I wouldn’t be flying. With enough alcohol in my system to keep Matthew Newton going for a month, I wasn’t going to take that and caused a scene – which obviously worked because they eventually let me get on.

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Little did I know, my insurance was voided the moment I stepped onto this shitheap

The plane was tiny, old and held together by bits of tape, but I was so drunk that it didn’t bother me. My brain could barely register that I was off the ground and zooming over tiny tropical islands that looked like teardrops below me. Despite the rattling of the wings, I managed to pass out, and when I woke up we were landing on the delightful island of Vava’u.

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Tonga is stunning from the air… even with a hangover!

I was still blotto as I picked up my bag and stumbled into a banged-up taxi with a cute sheila from Norway. I did alright with her, too, despite looking and smelling like I’d just crawled out of a toilet. By that I mean she didn’t run off screaming.

The driver dropped her off in town (alright, Neiafu is more like a whisper of a village), but my place was a few kilometres out. And he’d never heard of it, which wasn’t a good sign in a place that has maybe a dozen guest houses. The driver dumped me in the middle of nowhere. It was scorchingly hot and I was dripping with sweat, and I staggered blindly down a dirt road through the jungle, with an old bloke who had a massive machete trundling behind me. Things were getting bad.

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I was pretty much ready to die at this point

After a few kilometres, the tracked ended. My phone had no reception, the locals didn’t speak English, and I was dangerously dehydrated. The steady hum of insects in the thick bush was maddening. I had no option but to walk back along the track, through the sweltering bush, with my heavy pack on my back. Nightmare creatures lurked at the edge of my vision, and weird thoughts crawled through my brain. I felt as if my body was shutting down, but I had no option but to keep walking – if I stopped, I wouldn’t get back up, and there was nobody to help me out.

As I was stumbling along, I heard a rumble behind me. It was a truck, and I flagged it down and begged to get in the back. A smiling Tongan pulled me into the tray and I sat on a big pile of bananas, then guzzled greedily from a bottle of water, slowly feeling life return to my body.

Bangin’ round on a banana truck

My saviours dropped me off in downtown Neiafu, and I checked into the first place I saw – a rundown backpackers overlooking the water. Hungover, dehydrated, hot, tired, pissed off, stuffed around and shaking, I collapsed onto a thin mattress and contemplated crying myself to sleep. It had all been too much.

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Stunning Neiafu

When I awoke, the sun was threatening to call it a day, so I grabbed my towel and headed out amongst the palm trees, not really sure of what I’d find. It took me a minute of two to reach the outskirts of Neiafu, which is a beautiful and peaceful village that clings to the cliffs above a sparkling harbour. I found an abandoned resort, climbed a fence into it, and found myself on the edge of the water. I lay out my towel and relaxed, enjoying the sunshine and happy to be alive.

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Sometimes I’m happy just to be alive

I like living on the edge, but this was stupid. In 24 hours I’d gone close to being raped, almost drunk myself to death, and come far too close to dying by the side of a lonely road in the middle of a remote island. So much for a few days bludging by the water.

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How the fuck do I get off this island?

IMG_9356They take their religion seriously in Tonga, so Nuku’alofa on a Sunday is emptier than the Cronulla Skarks’ trophy cabinet. All the shops are closed, there are barely any cars on the streets, and there’s not a lot to do in town. So I decided to head out to Pangaimotu, a tiny island about half-and-hour’s boatride from Nuku’alofa, that promised unspoilt beaches, great snorkelling, and a shipwreck to explore. But first, I had to go to church.

IMG_9297Yes, church, and I was sure the walls were going to fall in as soon as I walked in the front door. Papiloa wanted me to get a taste of Tongal culture and religion, so she offered to take me to her church, before dropping me off at the harbour for my ferry to the island. On the ride in, I told her I’m a writer and she warmed up to me, because it turns out she was formerly the editor of Tonga’s first national paper. I didn’t tell her my form of writing involves scribbling the word ‘tits’ over and over again.

Attending a church service is something you simply have to do if you ever make it out to Tonga. The service starts with people piling into the church from all directions, wearing flowing white gowns or traditional weaved skirts. As soon as they’re all inside, the singing starts, and it’s glorious. Hundreds of voices unite to form a wall of religious sound.

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“Please stand for my rendition of ‘Bitch Got No Arms.'”

When they were finished, I called out for them to sing Freebird, but they didn’t. In fact, they seemed to take great offence to that and became fairly angry and shouted at me, so I hotfooted it outside and hid under and upturned tinnie until Papiloa came back to take me to the ferry.

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Yeah, it’s not bad…

The ride out to Pangaimotu was brilliant, especially because the clouds cleared up to reveal a brilliant day. I landed and wandered off on my own, and spent the next few hours lying in the sun, chasing fish through the warm water and posing for sexy photos.

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Hello, ladies!

I dived off the wreck, and was amazed by the size of it (that’s something no woman has ever said about me!). The boat disappears into the deep, deep water, and thousands of neon fish swim around it. I was having  brilliant time until I came face-to-face with a huge eel (no, not Jon Mannah) and headed back to shore. I didn’t want to be bitten on the arse or anything.

It's rustier than Gillard's pubes
It’s rustier than Gillard’s pubes

It’s not a big island, so I decided to walk around it. I felt like I was shipwrecked on my own personal island I I crept through palm groves and splashed through swamps, with no sign of civilisation. I was swaggering along, singing my favourite Taylor Swift ditty (Fifteen, if you’re wondering, because it always makes me think about my teenage years), when I realised that the tide had come in, and I couldn’t make it any further. By sheer coincidence, the tide had also come in behind me, cutting off my escape. I was trapped!

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Drunk, jobless and stranded in paradise

Instead of panicking like some sort of dickhead, I lay down and had a nap, and when I woke up the tide was even higher and I was even trappeder. I climbed a tall palm tree to see where I could go, but there was only water on one side and jungle on the other. Shit, I hadn’t seen bush that thick since I banged that hooker in Taree.

I was just about to start crying (about being stranded, not about the Taree hooker not returning my calls, emails of post cards) when I heard someone calling from up the beach. I looked over and there was a massive Tongan guy sitting in a very small boat.

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I just need a beer and a big-titted babe

“You are stuck, my friend?” he called, and I nodded my head as if my neck was made of spaghetti. “Every day I come out here, every day some idiot get stuck. Climb in.” So I did, and this chap took me back to the south of the island, calling me an idiot at least five times before holding his hand out for a tip. He outweighed me by about 100kg and had some sort of ornate fishing spear by his feet, so I didn’t hesitate to cough up before popping into a kooky little bar for a drink.

The beer was cold and the view sensational, as the sun dipped below the horizon and the sky turned blood red. The whole bar was made of driftwood and other scavanged bits and pieces, and I had a lovely time just sitting there and looking out at the ocean and smashing half-a-dozen bottles of Maka. All too soon, it was time to leave.

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Unlike VB, Maka doesn’t taste like a Chinaman’s bunghole

For dinner, I rocked up to the only restaurant in town that wasn’t closed, a Chinese place. The food was good, but the waitresses were better – a couple of cute Tongan sheilas who were mega keen on the Row Show, and asked me come out with them for a drink tomorrow night. But, alas, I won’t be here, and I won’t be able to take them up on their kind offer. Definitely won’t be able to. I’ll be somewhere else. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

I vomited in front of the Tongan national squash champion

vlcsnap-2015-10-20-00h23m55s894More. Fucken. Rain. I couldn’t believe that the shit weather had infested yet another country. I sat around fuming, until eventually the sun peaked out from between the clouds around midday, and I decided to head off and explore the Kingdom of Tonga. With the weather improving by the minute, I had a pleasant swagger along the waterfront, waving to the locals and enjoying the relaxed feel of the island. I didn’t see another tourist the whole time, and it’s not surprising, because there’s barely a tourist industry here.

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The Royal Palace is actually quite lovely… especially compared to the shacks surrounding it!

Being a Saturday, I thought it would be a good idea to go to a rugby union game at the National Stadium, so I headed west into Nuku’alofa. There was a lot more action than yesterday, with Tongans wandering up and down both sides of the street, buying and selling vegetables or clothes from little stalls. There’s no doubt that this place is poor, even compared to Samoa. While I didn’t feel the desperation I’d experienced in Cambodia, the people here don’t have a whole lot.

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Not the world’s most beautiful shopping centre

Nuku’alofa seemed even smaller than it was yesterday. I wandered down the main street, and it didn’t take long to notice something odd – every shop was run by Chinese people. Every single one. I guess the Tongans row over to China in their longboats, kidnap a bunch of Chinamen, and bring them up. And I thought I was desperate to get out of work!

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A typical Chinese shop. They sell good chips!

I finally made it to the stadium, which is about as impressive as Woy Woy Oval and not much better, and sat on the hill to watch whichever teams were playing. Again, I found the game as interesting as having dinner with Bernie Fraser. Rugby union’s just a shit sport to watch, and after an hour I was ready to stab myself in the face to break the monotony. The locals liked it, though, and they cheered and roared on the odd occasion that something vaguely interesting happened. Or maybe they were just overloaded on kava.

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The fans enjoy yet another penalty goal

Once I left the stadium, there wasn’t a whole lot else to do. The few shops that Nuku’alofa has were closed, there’s not really a beach around to sit on, and the streets quickly became quiet. This is a peaceful place, but as I wandered along, I could see reminders of the 2006 riots that tore this place apart. Burnt out buildings still stand as a reminder of the brutal battle for democracy that was waged on these streets. It’s hard to believe that such scenes were played out in on this peaceful island in the middle of the sea.

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Someone get a broom!

I picked up a carton of beer and a hamburger on the way home, dodged a handful of filthy beggars, and sat around the pool to relax after a long day of not doing much. I was getting through my fifth beer when a handsome gentleman sat down on the next banana lounge and introduced himself. He seemed like a nice chap and after a while he told me that he was Tonga’s national squash champion, and would I like to have a match against him? I obviously had enough liquid courage in me, because I said yes, despite never having played squash before. I mean, really, how often does a national champ ask you to compete against him?

I probably should’ve thought it out better. The bloke was quick on his toes, had perfect aim and a brilliant level of fitness, while I stomped around like a wombat, couldn’t hit a bloody thing, and felt like I was going to have a heart attack after the first 30 seconds. He was obviously taking it easy on me, and wasn’t taking the piss out of me or anything, but when I painted the wall of the court with beer and burger, he decided to call time on it. And that, sadly, looks like being the end of my squash career.

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To Tonga We Go!

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Like a cheap prostitute, Suva didn’t look any better in the morning. I wanted to check out the city before heading to Tonga, though, so I wandered out into the rain. It’s a typical third-world city with beggars, thieves and rubbish everywhere. There’s a decent market in the main street, so I rolled along and grabbed some food. I’m not one to let a bout of explosive diarrhea turn me off a meal, so I picked up another couple of curry wraps and scoffed them while walking along the waterfront. It was actually pretty nice, looking over the harbour at the boats and the mountains behind them, with storm clouds rolling across. It would’ve been even better if sketchy Fijians weren’t following me around the whole time.

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Alright, where are the pies?

My walk through Shitsville was a short one, and soon I was checking out of the hotel from hell (a man was pissing in the hallway outside my room when I did) and heading to the airport through a monumental downpour. You can shove those photos of sun-drenched Fijian beaches up your Jap’s eye as far as I’m concerned.

Suva’s airport is about as big as Kevin Rudd’s knob and just as popular with fat chicks, but soon I was strapping myself into a tiny, propeller-powered plane and getting the fuck out of the joint. Good riddance.

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A boat, some mountains, a bit of water… what do you expect me to write about this?

The flight was fairly run-of-the-mill, except for the Indian sheila in front of me who was blasting her curry into a sick bag. She must’ve had the same stuff as me for dinner.

It was really quite incredible flying into Tonga. The place is so small that I could see the entire main island of Tongatupo as we dropped to the ground. I could pick out every town and feature I’d seen on maps. The country is incredibly flat, too – completely different to the other islands I’ve been to – and was almost entirely rural.

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What the hell, no rain?

The airport was basically one room, and once the other 10 or so people from my flight had pissed off, I was left alone. I was supposed to be flying straight to the volcanic island of ‘Eua for the night but, because of a scheduling change from the joke of an airline that is Real (Shit) Tonga, I was stuck on the main island for an extra night with no accommodation and a very persistent taxi driver trying to take me to his mate’s hotel. I thought that sounded as tempting as eating a battery, so I got him to take me to the place where I’d be spending the next two nights anyway – the Friendly Islander Hotel.

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Nuku’alofa’s historic Sant Anthony of Padua Church. Dunno who Saint Anthony is, but he sounds like a good bloke

The drive through Tonga was interesting. It’s not neat and beautifully landscaped like Samoa, the cars are rusted out and there aren’t many villages, just endless farms, with rubbish everywhere. I could barely pay attention to it, though, because my dickhead taxi driver wouldn’t shut his mouth.

“You like make dance? You like make fun?” he asked. “I best dancer in all of Tonga. Probably best in all of Pacific, except maybe man in Samoa named Gary, he very good dancer, maybe better. He has move where his foot goes behind head, he does little spin, like ballet person. I has girlfriend once who is ballet person. I no mean she wear ballet clothes all time, but she do the dance sometimes, when she not being lazy and lying around and no get job. I get job, I drive taxi, while she stay at home watching television and eating the lollies and getting fat. She keep saying, ‘My ballet clothes are shrinking’ and I say, ‘No, you just get fat! Stop eating lollies!’ But I must admit, these nice lollies. I not even like lollies, but I eat many of them, perhaps get a little fat, too. You think I fat? I run three kilometres every day. Well, not today, but most days. As long as not rain. It rain when my girlfriend leave me, so I not leave house to chase her. She move slowly, anyway, because so fat from lollies. Hey! Do you like Michael Jackson? My brother Sau not like Michael Jackson, he a idiot. Sau, I mean, not Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson have smooth moves and nice hair. One day I like to meet him and make dance. You like make dance? You like make fun?”

Bloody hell, save me!

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This is one of the most developed parts of Nuku’alofa. There’s a building in the background, see?

When we arrived in the capital of Nuku’alofa – which is basically one street with a few shops – we were swarmed by young people. It was weird, because while the rest of Tonga looked like something from the 60s, the throngs of kids looked like they were straight from the streets of western Sydney, wearing hoodies and with headphones wrapped around their ears. Again, totally different from Samoa.

“Children to day have no respect for me,” blabbered the driver. “Just this morning, young person stick tongue out as I drive by, and it reminded me of my girlfriend. She was horrible, when she not eating lollies, she is sticking her tongue out at me, calling me idiot, saying I stupid. I am not stupid! I am smart like coconut tree, strong like…” And then he ran us into a ditch. At that moment, I wouldn’t have minded if he drove us off a cliff.

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Watch out, it’s rush hour!

The Friendly Islander Hotel is a fair distance out of town, overlooking a little harbour. I liked it immediately, with a foyer full of Tongan artworks and artifacts. The owner, Papiloa – an elderly, sophisticated woman – handed me a key and one of the workers took me to my room, which is surprisingly big and has a nice view out over the garden. It was like stepping back in time, though, with old furniture and fittings. Still, it’s comfortable.

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See that seat? I sat on that seat!

The rest of the afternoon consisted of little more than lounging around by the pool, and a long walk along the waterfront, looking for something to eat. It wasn’t until I was out by myself that I realised just how quiet Tonga is, despite being only a few kilometres out of the capital. I noticed further differences between the locals and their Samoan counterparts, too. While everybody in Apia wanted to smile, wave and say hello, those in Nuku’alofa are more reserved and private. It took a bit of adjusting.

I found a bottle shop, and bought a couple of bags of chips from a roadside shop, and that was pretty much it for my first evening in the Kingdom of Tonga. Right now I’m sitting in my room, getting drunk and listening to music, writing and watching TV shows. It’s a quiet way to spend a night in one of the quietest countries on the planet.