3 days in the Kingdom of Tonga (part 1)
Malolo e lelei - Hello in Tongan pronounced as it reads
Tonga is an archipelago of 176 islands scattered over 700,000 square kilometres of ocean in the South Pacific. Less than a 2 hour flight north of Auckland. They are 1 hour ahead of us. Temperatures range from a low of 17⁰C to a high of 28⁰C through the year, nice and warm.
I flew from Wellington, and was lucky enough to win tickets in Works Deluxe tickets with Air New Zealand, a wonderful product that takes the stress out of travelling - ask your favourite travel agent about it.
One advantage of flying in Works Deluxe is that you have access to the Koru Lounge. After check-in, we made our way to the lounge where we had a nice breakfast and coffee. Then found out our flight was being delayed due to fog at the Auckland airport. The flight ended up leaving almost an hour late and we had to run in Auckland to make our connection. Thanks to being seated in the Works Deluxe area, we were in front of the plane so disembarked very quickly. Unfortunately we didn't get to experience the lounge in the International Terminal in Auckland. It was certainly nice to wait the extra hour in the lounge in Wellington as it gave us time to fully enjoy all the lovely food, coffee and magazine selection. We had a 1 hour and a half connection in Auckland originally and would definitely recommend this as minimum, two hours even better.
The Tongan ruler King George V flew back to Tonga on our flight, so we received a real Royal welcome to the Kingdom of Tonga with a marching band. Tonga, although under the protection of Britain is the only Pacific nation that was never forced to give up its traditional monarchical government. The international airport of Nuku'Alofa is very small and going through Customs and Immigration is a very simple and quick process. Our bags were already out as you get a priority tag when you fly Works Deluxe! We got picked up by Pina from Keleti Resort and off we were towards the resort.
There are only 2 main roads in Tonga, the speed limit when in town is 40kms/h and 65kms/h out of towns. The main road between the airport and the King's residence is beautiful! Other bits have some pot holes but it's quite easy to avoid them!
We checked in at the resort and discovered our fale. We went for a swim at the little beach below the resort, a beautiful setting with a stretch of rocks with blow holes instead of the reef which you would usually have. Every wave is pure entertainment! A few fish could be seen when snorkelling.
Off to the capital for dinner, being dropped off by Pina after having a fresh Mata Maka beer, Tongan beer, at the resort's restaurant. We walked around town a bit at night and it felt very safe. We went to the Billfish a pub and restaurant for expats and locals, which had been recommended by a friend. We had sashimi and 'Ota Ika, a Tongan specialty and our favourite which is raw fish marinated in lemon juice and then served with coconut milk, onions and vegetables. It was delicious! And we had the Seafood basket with beautiful fish, everything was so fresh. After the meal we got a taxi back to the resort which was about 20 minutes from town. It cost TOP30 which is about NZ$21. When we arrived the resort's security guard was waiting for us and walked us back to our fale with his torch.
Woke up to a beautiful morning and after quick breakfast (fruit platter and omelette with cheese and karo leaves) we went off to explore the island of Tongatapu by car which we rented from the resort. Driving is on the left, the price of gas is a bit high at TOP3 per litre but it's not a very big island. We ended up spending TOP50 (NZ$35) on gas through the day. Getting the car for the day was TOP60 (NZ$42).