The ship arrives 8 AM at the capital city of Tonga – Nuku’alofa – on the Island of Tongatapu. Our tour bus guide was born in Tonga, raised in Hawaii and after attending university in Hawaii returned to Tonga. He tells us he is related to royalty so he wears his mat skirt higher than most other Tonga men. Although he might be related to royalty, he works as a tour guide, a whale-watching/swimming-with-the-whales guide, a waiter at one of the hotels and he also mows grass. This island has a lot of traditions still in place – the oldest brother inherits all the land and can lease it out to family or others. The government gives every man 8 acres to grow crops which are to be used to feed your family and sell. Still a relatively tribal culture here, but it’s changing.
Many people have and continue to leave Tonga to live overseas and send their money home. This means that many homes are empty and run down and many acres of land lay fallow. The biggest tourism is humpback whale watching from July to October. These are the whales that migrate from the Arctic waters in the winter to the waters near Tonga to give birth and mate. Only 14 cruise ships come to Tonga a year and two couldn’t get in last week due to a storm.
Tonga has been ruled by kings; there still is a King but he doesn’t mingle with the local population since Tonga became a democratic society in 2010. He does live in a palace which we are able to take a picture of through the gates.
The burial ground of the more recent kings and queens is our next stop. This is a special cemetery only for the royalty. The regular cemeteries are sprinkled around the island in the local neighborhoods that the person lived in and are decorated with flowers. Then there are the Langi, terraced tombs, where the ancient Tongan chiefs of supposedly divine origin were buried. There are 47 Langi tombs scattered around the island.
We drive by many schools, open-air elementary and middle schools, funded by the government, and high schools funded by the churches. Methodist is the largest Christian denomination, followed by Catholic, Seven Day Adventists and the Tonga Freedom church (formed after a schism with the Methodists). There was tropical storm last year that has damaged buildings and churches scattered around the island.
Of course, there is a monument to where Captain Cook landed; difficult to get a picture without some of the other tour folks in it.
There is Ha’amonga where an 800 year old monument — two upright slabs of coral rock and a crosspiece – form the gateway. The stones are not from this island and are believed to have been brought here by the god Maui. In 1967 on June 21st, the king actually discovered that the sun rose at the exact spot indicated by lines etched in the stone. Thus, they concluded that this stone was used to determine when to plant and harvest crops basically the seasons.
A large stone further away from the arch also had a story about the blind King using it to sit and hide from his enemies. He was over 8 feet tall. Our guide had good stories.
Finally, let’s not forget about the fishing pigs. Here is a picture of a mother pig and baby rooting around the shoreline for their lunch.
The bus dropped us in the town (two blocks long) where we took pictures. We did not try any of the food – it’s better and cooler on the ship. This is definitely a good stop for a day and the people are friendly and speak English.
Sending my postcards at the only place in town that sells them!
And this sign caught my attention. Even in Tonga – drone rules.