The Kingdom of Tonga
Everywhere you look there are pigs, wild pigs and house pigs. There are so many adorable piglets, and every single one of them is terrified of humans. I think I know why. Pass by a home on Sunday afternoon and you're likely to see a pig roasting on a spit. So…if you're a smart little pig, you learn to run and run fast!
Fruit bats, aka Flying Foxes, hanging in the trees throughout Tonga. Unlike most bats, they're active during the day, and they have a wingspan that can reach 3 feet. Several were flying with babies clinging to their bodies. They're gorgeous, at least that's my opinion; others weren't as taken with them as I was.
Whales, humpbacks to be specific. Tonga is a calving ground for humpbacks from August through October. Mommas and babies swim and play in these waters in large numbers, or so everyone tells us. Most everyone we talked to said they saw them "everywhere." Unfortunately, our arrival to Tonga on September 30th was too late, because we didn't see any:(
Whale watching and swimming/snorkeling with whales is BIG business in Tonga. So much so that they've made it illegal for private yachts to approach whales any closer than 300 meters. Apparently, some boats have been harassed for being too close even when the whales approached them! The experience of snorkeling with a momma and calf will cost you, though, about $200-$250 USD per person. We opted out not just because of the expense but also because we questioned the ethics it. If boats continue to approach these parents and babies unloading guests into the water to swim, how long will it take to displace them? Perhaps I'm too sensitive; it's possible that these massive creatures barely sense our presence. I'm OK with the beauty of seeing them from a distance; if only!
Tonga is ruled by a king, and most of the people are poor, as those things typically go. They speak Tongan and some English. New Zealanders and Australians visit this area frequently, and their influence is undeniable. It goes the other way too, Tongans travel to New Zealand in search of education or work.
The people here seem healthier than other people of the South Pacific we've encountered, and obesity seems less of a problem anyway. Water sports are less popular and rugby more, we even saw school girls playing flag rugby one afternoon.
The people of Tonga are very religious. EVERYTHING is closed on Sunday, you can't even catch a flight. Dress is modest; men and women wear long skirts. Men often wear a decorative waist belt that looks like a straw mat wrapped and tied around their waist.
There are 170 islands in Tonga, divided into 3 main island groups. We visited only 2 of these groups, Vava'u and Ha'apai. Vava'u is hilly, and the islands are close together, conversely, Ha'apai is flat with an extensive reef.
Tonga is a literal hotbed of volcanic activity. During our time there, we saw the steam from small volcanic eruptions. Islands are continually coming and going, rising above water one year and sinking below the next.
We've enjoyed time with locals and friends in town and time on uninhabited islands, but the feeling that we need to sail south soon is in the wind. And so the plans for New Zealand begin.