An ‘Island Paradise’ was a destination that was never high on my agenda of places I was longing to visit. I honestly didn’t understand the hype of the beautiful islands that appeared to have nothing more to offer than crystal clear water, great weather, pools and cocktails. So why was I on my way to Tonga?
Tonga is probably one of the lesser visited islands in the pacific – especially in ‘off season’ – and the only knowledge I knew of this island was that a lot of medical students did there electives here, so what was drawing people here?
Then the flights went on sale.
We booked our flights two weeks before travelling and found a steal of a deal for our hotel online. It was happening, paradise was awaiting me and to be honest, I was excited to see what adventure an ‘island paradise’ would offer me but also praying that a week on a small island would not result in complete boredom, especially as we had planned nothing.
Arriving into Tonga I was instantly surprised. There was no fancy airport – it actually looked like a makeshift airport out of an old industrial warehouse – no offerings of duty-free, they still wrote on a board the arrivals/departures rather than electronic screens. This was a shock.
I already knew that Tonga was going to offer me something different and unexpected. It wasn’t going to be plain old cocktails and beach holiday.
An Island Paradise is not reserved for couples
I travelled to Tonga with my good friend Janine. We met when I was travelling the East Cape of New Zealand, we knew each other for about 4 days and on the last day we decided we would go to Tonga together.
A month later we were travelling to Tonga together and honestly I am so glad I didn’t go with a S/O – I think I may have killed them.
There’s no pressure when you travel as friends. Especially friends who met as solo travellers, we felt no need to entertain each other, make awkward conversation to fill the silence, we were happy to do our own thing when needed.
Plus if I were travelling with a S/O I probably wouldn’t have gone to the bar with our resort host Priscilla – in fact, I probably wouldn’t have gotten to know Priscilla at all – we wouldn’t have danced all night long while avoiding the handshakes, hugs and kisses on the cheek from the locals, we wouldn’t have met Pricilla’s family and friends, we wouldn’t (or maybe we would) have got up on stage and showed our appreciation of traditional dancers by stuffing money in their outfits – I promise, it was not a strip club, this is an actual thing. – We wouldn’t have set the camera to self timer and taken ridiculous ‘victoria’s secret’ styled photo shoots on the beach at sunset while jumping into the crashing waves and getting hit by dead pieces of coral while watching flying fish.
I could imagine that when Priscilla ‘accidentally’ forgot us in town for 3 hours, it may have been a bit more of a stressful situation – if we had even befriended Priscilla that well to begin with – but because I was with Janine and the two of us were slightly more amused by the chickens and lizards running around everywhere; we just thought she was running on ‘extreme island time’, until we finally gave in and called her.
But we got free breakfast the next morning. And oh god, the breakfast was good!
Travelling in ‘Off Season’ gave the same experience of travelling ‘off the beaten track’.
Our whole trip was a game of ‘spot the tourist’. I’m pretty sure we were the only tourists there.
It started in the queue for the airplane (the successful check in day) when the staff asked us if we were in the right queue –Yep, that actually happened – on finding out we were in fact going to Tonga – and apparently the only tourists on the plane – the staff member (who was Tongan) got very excited and was incredibly helpful, recommending islands for us to visit while we were there.
Our Resort became our own private resort – because literally, there was no one else booked in – we went to a ‘buffet dinner and show’ at another resort, expecting to arrive into a room full of tourists, everyone was local except us. The local dancing was beautiful to watch, elegant dancing as well as the fun stuff – there was even a 9-year-old fire dancer, Tongan’s are badass.
I don’t think I have ever been anywhere like this since Nepal, it gave off such an authentic experience and really let us into the local community living here. This show was not for us, it was for them and it was incredible to be a part of.
The hotel staff adopted us; they were so unbelievably thrilled to learn we had absolutely no plans while we were here. Between Janine and myself, we had done little to no research on Tonga. We just expected white sands and blue sea.
Instead we met the host’s family, friends and extended family. We were invited to her Nephews birthday party, we spoke with the older women at the show who were thrilled to see us having a good time at their ‘local’ and we politely declined marriage and boyfriend proposals from the locals – yes, this did happen, a lot.
Priscilla was like a crazy big sister while we were there, all our funny stories basically started and ended with her.
No WiFi, No Signal
Ok, our hotel was supposed to have wi-fi but it was broken – I’m not sure if they have any intention of fixing it – and it was a blessing in disguise.
Without the constant distraction my phone would normally bring, I saw and appreciated the true beauty of where I was. I went back to being a child, spending so much time out on the reef, taking pictures of the coral, watching the fish go about their lives, crab hunting and watching the crashing waves break against the rocks. My curiosity ignited, my mind became clearer and I enjoyed my trip the way I wanted to without the constant social pressure to be having a ‘good time’ or be ‘doing something’.
I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, I focused on myself; I gave my body rest and de-stressed my mind – I honestly don’t think I’ve slept so much, ever.
For the most part, I didn’t miss the lack of ‘connectivity’ exploring the island without interruption was awesome – I’m sure everyone on my Snapchat was happy to not be made jealous for a week as well.
Note to self: Next time you fly to an island paradise at least tell your friends and family that you are leaving the country and may have limited access to, well, life. Arriving back into Auckland we joked if our parents had sent out an amber alert for us, but were both met with multiple messages and missed calls from this side of the world and the other. Oops.
Being enchanted by White Sand and the unbelievable blues of the ocean is a real phenomenon.
Arriving at our resort, entering the room and looking back out across the ocean I’m pretty sure I actually gasped.
I had never seen sand so perfectly white, so many different colours of blue in one ocean. So used to deep dark blue, cold, uninviting waves and ocean; it was incredible to see the waves turn over the most beautiful turquoise colour, the open ocean an inviting shade of ‘warm’ blue and the reef water being completely crystal clear. I could see all the activity on the reef without having wear a mask under the ocean.
The downtime days relaxed on the beach, in the beautiful heat of the sun, my eyes were never bored staring at the colours of the ocean. Watching the waves crashing against the rocks or just being in a complete state of awe at my surroundings.
Now I truly understood the attraction. The beauty of the place is something we didn’t make, nature made this for us. The beauty of the place, the heat of the sun and the colours suck all your problems away, you are completely relaxed. I don’t think I have ever been so relaxed, de-stressed and well rested – with a tan on top of that! – in my life.