Tag Archives: Vava’u

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.

One Fine Day in Vava’u (or, That’s the most dangerous box I’ve encountered since my ex-girlfriend dumped me!)

After my terrifying near-death experience, I wanted to spend my last full day in Tonga in a more relaxed way. And that’s exactly what I did, by heading out to the beach and doing as little as possible. Sure, by the end of the day I would have cheated death once again, but… well, it’s been a good day.

There’s a lot to do in Vava’u, including whale watching and diving, but it’s the off-season, and most of those options aren’t open to me. Toss in the fact that I’ve had to book everything at short notice due to getting here late, and I didn’t have much choice. I booked a taxi and had him take me to a deserted beach near Tu’anuku, and that’s where I spent the day.

Apart from a few deserted shacks around, the joint was deserted. Well, as far as people go, at least – a gaggle of well-fed boar were strutting around like they owned the place. I was feeling pretty hungry and thought one of them would taste pretty good between some hamburger buns, with a squirt of BBQ sauce, but I couldn’t catch any of them. Add hunting to the list of things I’m not very good (along with building things out of LEGO and getting it up after 12 beers).

I pulled out my snorkel (no, I’m not talking about my penis) and went for a splash, and what I saw out there was spectacular. Schools of fish sparkled around me like multicoloured stars, weird sea creatures danced in front of my eyes, and caves and coral stretched in every direction. The crystal clear water lapped up against palm trees, with no buildings to ruin the view, and if there’s a place that better fits the description of paradise, I’m yet to find it.

As I was paddling, I spun around and felt my blood freeze. About half-a-metre in front of me was a deadly box jellyfish, its tentacles hanging long and hooked. A sting by one of those bastards is usually fatal, even if first aid is administered immediately, and here I was a kilometre from shore, in a place where the closest thing to a hospital is a medical box with two Band-Aids and a half-sucked Panadol. I’m normally as brave as a gay Jew in an ISIS meeting, but let’s face it, I pretty much shat my boardies. I carefully kicked away from the big bastard, but as I swam away, I swear it was following me. Every time I looked around, it was looming in the blue like an evil plastic bag.

Once back on shore, I climbed a tree and headed back to Neiafu. I took a walk around the place, which is tiny and lovely, like a midget stripper. There are only a handful of streets in the whole town, and I walked them all, marvelling at the simple houses and wild gardens.When I got hungry, I enjoyed a delightful dinner of fish and chips, washed down with half-a-dozen glasses Popao, while overlooking the harbour.

Tonight was the first State of Origin match, and I was worried I’d miss my first Origin since, well, as long as I can remember. But then something magical happened. I got chatting to the bloke who washes the dishes at the restaurant, and he invited me back to drink kava with him and his buddies, and we could watch the game at the same time. I was a bit concerned after the events of last night, but I hopped in his car (like most in Tonga, it was missing windows, and my seat was held in place with electrical tape) and rocked off to a hut full of blokes.

They made me feel so welcome as we watched the game and drank brown water, as we swapped stories of our different lives. So many times on my adventures have I been overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of strangers, who have gone out of their way to help me and make me feel comfortable. Being alone, without anyone to confide in, or anyone to have a simple conversation with, means that these interactions are so important. It was a wonderful way to end my time on the islands, and I was sad to say goodbye to my new friends. But, alas, I had to. I’ve got another date with Real Tonga tomorrow… and things promise to get ugly!

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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