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Thursday 01st December 2016 Kingdom of Tonga Holiday Page 11

TONGA ISLANDS from page 10

Tonga is divided into three major areas The Tongatapu Group includes Tongatapu island, the biggest and southernmost of the whole country. Home to the king in the capital Nuku’alofa as well as 70 % of the country’s population, it represents a centrum of Polynesian culture. The Ha’apai Group is ideal for beach lovers and adventurous souls off the beaten path, and combines colorful coral islands with soaring volcanoes alike. Untouched, uncrowded, unhurried, but rich in local hospitality. The Vava’u Group is world famous for its fjordlike, sheltered harbor and known as one of the best places for whale watching. Deserted beaches and azure lagoons attract divers, paddlers, fishers, sailors and explorers alike. The underwater life so diverse and rich in color, it makes the perfect role model for any western executive board.

Kiss the tourist hype goodbye Tonga is one of those countries that is unpolished and unfailingly authentic. Everybody who has been there will agree on that. But why, a curious explorer’s mind would wonder. Well, it is the only Pacific country that has never been colonised by a foreign power. This way they were able to keep their original culture and traditions to a great extent. Sure, western lifestyle has found its way in the past years, however numerous Tongas still wear the traditional valas, wraparound skirts. Still, when my boyfriend at the time suggested it… my mind was as blank as a new post draft in moments of deepest writer’s block. I imagined an exotic little getaway sitting at long white deserted beaches drinking fresh coconuts and working on that tan before returning to Europe. I actually wanted Fiji. And no doubious end of the world hole I’d never heard of. I was doubtful.

But his passionate wish to go there and my neverdying adventurelust eventually encouraged us to transfrom the shockingly close to last bit of our bank accounts into flight tickets to Tonga. One month of yet unknown suprises lay ahaed of us. A three hour flight from Auckland, a half-hour ride to Nuku’alofa. With a population of about 25.000, thecapital is one of the smallest metropolises of the world. And romantically translating into “abode of love”. We were welcomed by wailing children, dogs, chicken and a whole squeaking pig family. It was something to get used to at first. The local airline might fail to get you, power might suddenly turn off, water might suddenly stop when you were just shampooing your hair. And chickens and pigs have right-of-way. Actually, traffic in Tonga is a matter for itself. Not only once, our taxi had completely shattered windows, either  fixed with sellotape or resulting in the driver having to stick his head outside the door window to be able to see at all. But now look closer. And you’ll discover something truly unique. Culture doesn’t have to be seeked – it’s a vibrant, constantly available atmosphere all around you. You’ll find local women in their backyards next to your guest house, weaving baskets. You’ll find entire islands to yourself. And there’s nothing that can’t wait until tomorrow.

An affair with Tongan food The exotic kitchen is known for the use of regional ingredients. Our taste buds experienced a whole new world. Roots of unknown names and colors, fruits picked from the trees just before preparation, all cooked in fresh coconut milk, together with just caught marine fish. This is then being prepared over a fire at the beach or slowly cooked wrapped in palmtree leaves. While eating, we were watching the graceful dance of locals, intertwined movements to traditional cheerful music, complemented by beautiful decorations. Most dishes will to some

extent include yams, taro, coconut, bananas and seafood as the most typical ingredients. There are all time favorites such as Lú pulu (beef with coconut milk in taro leaves), ‘Ota ‘ika (raw fish in citrus and coconut cream) or Topai (fresh doughballs with syrup and coconut milk). And if you then wanna settle down a little, grab a cold Maka, the local beer, and watch another guaranteed marvellous sunset.

Cruising Tongatapu, the sacred South For our time in Nuku’alofa, we stayed at Nerima Lodge. A short walk out of town, it was a peaceful place with breakfast, wifi and tea & coffee included. And perfect base to let our endlessly curious souls explore the island. Local hotspot is the big two-story market hall offering all the regional agricultural products, art, souvenirs, kitsch. Always around are very common roots like taro, manioc, tapioca, in all variations of the local kitchen. Taro chips will definitely blow your mind. YUM! A famous place for expats, travellers and locals alike is Friends Café in the center of Nuku’alofa. The atmosphere light, the waitresses with big flowers in their hair, food and snacks of big variety, best place to relax, read books, book tours, whatever comes to your mind. Sightseeing highlights around the island are numerous. There’s the Royal Palace on the waterfront of Nuku’alofa. The flying foxes of Kolovai (18 km from Nuku’alofa), fruit bats with a wingspan of up to 1 meter. The Anahulu Cave, a flowstone cave whose path is lightened by hundreds of candles along cragged steps. It was completely dark, and we were dared to jump into the freshwater pool, a refreshing experience deep beneath the surface… Right behind a long stretch of white beach and one of the many, and quite common,burial places, with view over the turquoise sea. The blowholes at Houma, where

incoming waves shoot up to 18 meters high through the coral reef’s holes. The resulting whistling sounds

gave the place the nickname of Mapu ‘a Vaea, the chief’s whistle. Pangaimotu island, a dreamy daytrip just across

from Nuku’alofa, a place to forget time, to watch life as innocently as it is in its purest form.

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