Discover the Real Vanuatu

Growing up, I had always heard that Vanuatu was a resort paradise reserved for the ridiculously rich. I was sure that there had to be more to Vanuatu. Since no one I knew had ever been there and I was in the area, it was my duty to pop over and discover the real Vanuatu. I’ve got to say that what I found was pretty amazing.

A 1.5 hour flight on a small plane had taken me from the French territory of New Caledonia to one of the youngest independent nations in Melanesia; Vanuatu. The difference between the two places was immediately visible upon landing in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila. The airport in the New Caledonian capital of Noumea was a modern, multi-level building, whereas Port Vila’s was more like a shack.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Shack

That wasn’t particularly a bad thing. There was a very homely feel to it. A short walk on the tarmac brought me to the terminal building. Inside, I was instantly drawn to two signs. One claiming that Vanuatu was ‘the planet’s happiest country’ and one about the country hosting the Pacific Mini Games several weeks beforehand. I was very intrigued by the first sign. My first contact with a Vanuatuan, or ni-Vanuatu in the local pidgin language Bislama, seemed to confirm the first sign’s claim.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Signs

Discover the Real Vanuatu – Smiles at Immigration

At the immigration desk I was greeted by a very friendly officer in traditional clothing giving me a very toothy smile. I couldn’t help but smile back as I handed him my passport. His next words surprised me, “Welcome to Vanuatu, we’re happy to have you here!”. I had to have a quick look around me to check that I was in fact at the immigration desk and hadn’t taken a wrong turn somewhere. Have you ever had such an enthusiastic welcome from immigration before?

The small airport basically just consisted of a strangely named one-stop-shop kind of store.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Strangely Named Airport Store

A police post adorned with a picture promoting the Pacific Mini Games.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Police Post

Then my stop, the tourist information desk. I stopped to find out some bus information. I was confused when the woman said there was no bus and I would have to get a taxi if I hadn’t already booked a transfer. She then tried to convince me that I needed to take a taxi. I let her know that I wanted to take the public bus. She then pointed to the road beyond the car park outside. She indicated that I should wait there for a bus with ‘B’ on it. “Make sure it has a ‘B’ on it!”, she reiterated as I walked away.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Airport Car Park

Smiles on the Side of the Road

A quick walk across the car park brought me to the road but I could see nothing that resembled a bus stop. I did see a helicopter next to what looked like a garden shed, a contradiction that seemed to describe Vanuatu perfectly so far; expensive stuff near sheds. With no indication of where I should be, I just stood on the side of the road. I figured I’d be able to flag down the bus as it drove past.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. View of the Airport from the Bus Stop
View of the airport from the ‘bus stop’

Within Minutes, people had started gathering around me. Of course, they weren’t gathering around me, they were waiting as I was in fact at the bus stop. I checked with one of the locals that was now standing near me and he asked where I was going. When I said I was going to Pango, just south of Port Vila, he advised that the bus could take me close. He then gave me a big smile.

As I waited, he decided to give me a bit of a history lesson about Vanuatu. I was already aware that the country has only been known as Vanuatu since it gained independence in 1980. My new friend Itu wanted to make sure that I knew it. “We used to be French. We used to be British. We called it New Hebrides”. I presumed that he was referring to the 74 years of joint French and British rule. He continued, “Now we are ni-Vanuatu!”.

He went on to explain that the word Vanuatu came from the joining of ‘Vanua’, meaning land and ‘tu’ meaning stand. For the ni-Vanuatu, it is a strong word that indicates they are independent on their land.

Discover the Real Vanuatu – The Bad Side of Tourism

When the bus arrived, Itu spoke to the driver and indicated that I should hop on. I paid the 150VUV/AU$1.90 to the driver and sat down. It wasn’t long before another local, Isa wanted to chat with me. She was relieved when she found out that I wasn’t staying at a resort. Although she admitted that they do bring money into the country, Isa believed that the resorts were taking advantage of the locals. “Nearly everyone I know works in tourism jobs, but the resorts are bad. Their money goes back to their big foreign company, not to our country”, she informed me.

As we got closer to Port Vila, which is only about 6 kilometres from the airport, the roads were falling into disrepair. Almost as if someone was trying to illustrate Isa’s point, we hit a pothole in the road while she was comparing the Port Vila’s pretty resorts to its less than well-maintained roads. “If the resorts are so good, why are our roads breaking? Why we have no power?”. I was not that surprised to learn that so many ni-Vanuatu were living below the poverty line. A lot of families still choose to live off the land, grow their own tropical fruits and catch their own fish. They’ll normally cook their food on hot stones or boil it.

Getting a Feel For Island Life

As you’d expect from a South Pacific Island, there is a lot of greenery and water everywhere. In fact, at one point in our drive, we were 300 metres from both the west and east coasts of the island.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Coast

I walked along a very simple looking side street, barely wide enough for one car. This road was actually a lot better than some in the area. Can you guess why?
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Local Street

I was near the southern tip of the island, so there were quite a few resorts in the area. Like this one.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Resort

At that point I was hungry and there were no other food options. So I popped in to see what this resort had on offer. I was pleasantly surprised by the reasonable prices. I was able to get a full breakfast for around AU$10 and the service was amazing.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Resort Breakfast

Discover the Real Vanuatu – Unexpected Interactions

As I continued along the road towards the corner where I could catch the bus to the airport, a child walking from the other direction approached me. He tried to talk to me in his language, which could’ve been any one of the hundred spoken in the area. Obviously, I didn’t understand, so the child took the Cricket bat he was holding and raised it above his head with a big smile on his face. Like he was making some kind of offering. I think this was his way of saying, “Let’s play!”

Rare moments like these are what make travelling so worth it! How awesome is it that this child just came up to me, with no concern about who I was. Or no thought of how I was different. He didn’t see a foreigner, just that I was a potential Cricket buddy. If only more adults in the world acted like this. I was so pleasantly surprised by this young boys actions that I just had to play some Cricket with him!

Discover the Real Vanuatu – Local Insights

Not long after that an older man came along and said something to the child. That made the boy grab my hand and take me over to the man. The man introduced himself as Jim. I’m not sure if that was his real name or just a name he thought would be easier for me to say. Jim asked if I had some time. I did, so we chatted for a bit. He was happy that I was interested in finding out about life in Vanuatu. He showed me an interesting article in the local newspaper that he was carrying.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Discover the Real Vanuatu. Vila Times Article

Jim also expressed some worries that many foreigners, mainly Chinese, are buying Vanuatu citizenship. With an investment of $150,000 they can get a passport. This is actually a major revenue maker for the country. Unlike most of the money from tourism, this money stays in the country. Jim lamented that although he doesn’t like it, it may be a necessary evil. He then changed the tone of the conversation with his rendition of the ni-Vanuatu national anthem, “Yumi Yumi Yumi”.

Final Thoughts

When I first had the thought that I wanted to discover the real Vanuatu, these kinds of random interactions with locals were exactly what I had in mind. In the end, I think I got much more of an insight into local life than I ever thought I would. As for the poster that I saw on the way in claiming that Vanuatu was the planet’s happiest country. I think I would have to agree. Despite all their troubles, ni-Vanuatu are happy with their simple lives always have a smile ready for you.

Check out all the South Pacific Adventures:
Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji
Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga
American Samoa
Surprising Samoa
The Captivating Cook Islands
New Caledonia
Discover the Real Vanuatu
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands

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New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific

After an awesome time on the Cook Islands followed by a short stopover in Auckland, I was on my way to the mysterious land of Noumea in the French territory of New Caledonia – a piece of Europe in the South Pacific

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Aircalin Plane

When I boarded the small Aircalin plane bound for New Caledonia, or Nouvelle-Calédonie, I knew this trip was going to be a little bit different. As Aircalin is the national carrier for New Caledonia, the onboard announcements were in French. I was glad to see that the plane wasn’t very full and I had a whole row to myself. It would’ve been great if the flight was longer than three hours, so I could’ve really enjoyed the extra space.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Empty Row

Once the sparkling waters we’d been flying over gave way to land, I became mesmerised by New Caledonia’s beauty. I was glad to see some hills on our approach to Noumea because that meant there would be opportunities to see some great views!

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Approaching Noumea

New Caledonia was unlike any South Pacific island chain I’d seen so far. From the time I landed at the slick, new-looking La Tontouta International Airport, the place felt more like somewhere in Europe than a South Pacific island.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. La Tontouta International Airport

Upon exiting the airport, I found the bus stop where I could catch a bus into the city. Or at least I thought I did. I couldn’t tell because everything was in French!

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. La Tontouta International Airport Bus Stop

Getting to Noumea in New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific

I used the only phrase I know in French, ‘Parlez vous Anglais’, to check if the other lady at the bus stop spoke English. She didn’t. When the bus came, I tried to talk to the driver, but she also didn’t speak English either. Uh oh.

Luckily, another lady was approaching the bus who spoke a little English and was able to indicate to me that I was in fact in the right place and this was the correct bus. Phew! I paid the 400 CFP Franc (US$3.60) fare to the driver and got a small ticket in return. The ride into the city was long as the airport is 50 kilometers out of the city. That gave me some time to sit back an enjoy the view.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. View on the Way to Noumea

The New Caledonian Capital of Noumea

The bus dropped us off at a station that was almost straight across from the waterfront. A military vessel was docked to the righthand side but it was too far away to read the writing on it. Sunset was fully underway by that point, so can you guess what I did? Took pictures for your viewing pleasure ;o)

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Waterfront Sunset New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Sunset at the Waterfront

Looking back towards the town from the waterfront a casino could be seen. It may have been there for the use of the many cruise ship passengers that visit the place. Further on from that there were some decidedly European looking buildings. I was really starting to wonder if I was even in the South Pacific anymore! Aside from the crystal blue waters, there was nothing about this place that felt like a Pacific island.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Waterfront Casino

The level of development on New Caledonia was different to other South Pacific Islands. All of the colourful buildings and the roads looked shiny and new. I even noticed several buildings that were over 10 stories tall! That is a bit of an anomaly in the South Pacific where things tend to be low rise.

The roads were immaculate and set out in an easy to navigate grid system. This meant that I pretty much just needed to walk up one street to get from the waterfront to the top of the hill where my accomodation was.

Noumea At Christmas

When making my way to my accomodation I stumbled upon Noumea’s main park, the very tropically named Coconut Square.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Coconut Square Tree Lights

It was alive with lights, Christmas decorations and a 2 metre tall Santa. With a trusty snowman at his side.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Santa and Snowman

As if that wasn’t Christmasy enough, there were speakers throughout the park playing Christmas songs really loudly.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Coconut Square Light Tunnel

This was the kind of Christmas fanfare I would’ve expected leading up to Christmas, but it was several days after Christmas! So either nobody told Noumea that Christmas was over, or they just didn’t care. Needless to say, the atmosphere was very festive. Even the local Museum was lit up.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Museum at Night

Coconut Square By Day

When I ventured back to the square during the day, I came across a very deflated Santa. As well as a tent claiming to be the North Pole. Which of course seemed very apt for a tropical island where it’s was around 30°C.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Deflated Santa New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. The North Pole Tent

The sheer amount of decorations in this park didn’t really hit me until I had a chance to see it during the day.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Coconut Square Christmas tree and Baubles

I can’t imagine how long it must’ve taken to make and place all these man-sized baubles throughout the park. It seemed like more of an art installation than just festive decorations.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Coconut Square Christmas Baubles and Statue

Street Art of New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific

The park wasn’t the only place in Noumea that had a bit of art happening. There was a mural on the wall just before I entered my hostel. I figured it might be a one-off because I was staying in the area where all the cool kids were.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Mural in Noumea

But I did find a few other walls in the area that had been used as canvases. I’m not sure these would qualify as art though.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Graffiti on a Building New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Graffiti Wall

It was a little bit surprising to find a couple of other pieces of art around town. Like this.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Wall Art in Noumea

I even found this skeleton boat down near the port. I actually spent a crazy amount of time near this boat trying not to look dodgy while I searched for a geocache hidden there. At least one of those things was done successfully.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Skeleton Boat Near The Port

Down By The Water in New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific

Although New Caledonia doesn’t receive a huge amount of tourists, most that do visit get there via cruise ship. Almost everyone I spoke to thought I’d come over on a cruise ship. They all seemed genuinely surprised when I advised them that I’d flown in.

As most people getting off cruise ships tend to hang out near the waterfront, there were a few restaurants near the port area. They were not the cheapest places to eat, but they were nice. And mostly closed. It seems island time had struck again! I walked along for a little while before I managed to find the only restaurant in a row of several that was open. That became my lunch destination.

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Restaurant Near The Port

Ordering was interesting due to the language barrier, but we got through it with a lot of hand gestures. I ended up being served some raw meat that I had to put on a hot stone to cook. Is this some kind of Melanesian twist on a sizzling plate?

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Sizzling Stone Near The Port

That was followed by a refreshing no waste desert, in the best flavour of all!

New Caledonia - A Piece Of Europe in the South Pacific. Choc Mint Icecream Near The Port

Check out all the South Pacific Adventures:
Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji
Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga
American Samoa
Surprising Samoa
The Captivating Cook Islands
New Caledonia – A Piece of Europe in the South Pacific
Discover the Real Vanuatu
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands

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The Captivating Cook Islands

What trip to the South Pacific would be complete without a visit to a remote island that tourists never really hear about? The often overlooked, tiny South Pacific nation of the Cook Islands had always been somewhere that I’d wanted to see. With under 30,000 visitors a year from outside Oceania, it’s one of the South Pacific’s best-kept secrets. The captivating Cook Islands are about as close to paradise as you can get on this earth.

Travelling to the Captivating Cook Islands

As amazing as the Cook Islands are, their remoteness makes them a bit of a challenge to get to. The only option to get there from Samoa, a mere 900km away, was to fly 3250km to Auckland. Nearly four times the distance! From there I had to fly another 3000km to Rarotonga, the biggest of the 15 islands of the Cook Islands Chain. That’s over 6 hours flying to get to islands that should only be an hour’s flight away.

Booking a flight from Auckland to Rarotonga requires a little more planning than normal. There are only 12 flights a week. Those flights are split between Air New Zealand, Virgin Australia and Jetstar. If you want to fly out of Auckland on a Monday, you’re outta luck. On Sunday, a morning flight with Air New Zealand is the only choice. But Tuesday to Friday you’ll have a choice of a morning or afternoon flight. Saturday is the busy day as all 3 airlines fly the route that day. There are also flights to Rarotonga from Sydney and Los Angeles, but they only run once a week.

To make matters even more complicated, flights to Rarotonga cross over the international date line. That means that most flights land in the Cook Islands the day before they left Auckland. Conversely, flights back to New Zealand land two days after they left Rarotonga. Are you confused yet? Things can get quite complicated so extra vigilance is required to make sure you don’t end up cutting your time on the Cook Islands short by mixing up your days.

Arriving in The Cook Islands

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Kia Orana - Welcome to the Cook Islands K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Welcome Serenade

The displeasure of all that extra planning fades away as soon as you land in the Cooks. Who could help but be captivated by the cute little neon sign that welcomes you the islands? Immigration officers greet you with ‘Kia Orana’, the local way of saying hello, then quickly and painlessly process your entry into the tiny country. When you enter the baggage reclaim area, you notice a man in the middle of the luggage belt. He’s performing a slightly upgraded version of the serenade received on other South Pacific islands like Fiji and Tonga; with laptop accompaniment instead of guitars.

The Captivating Cook Islands At Night

On the way to the Cook Islands, I had crossed the international date line for the third time during my pacific adventure. That meant I had once again gone back in time, to land in Rarotonga on the eve of the day that had just passed. Of course, everything was closed and there were no transport options besides taxis and airport transfers. I’m not a taxi kind of person and hadn’t booked an airport transfer with my accommodation because I thought that NZ$15 was a bit extreme for a 5 minute drive!

My accommodation was just behind the airport, a mere 200 metres away from where I stood. Unfortunately, I had to walk all the way around the airport perimeter to get to it. That made the walk a little bit longer but also gave me time to really take in the awesomeness of my surroundings. I was awed by just how dark things got once I hit the suburban road that would take me to my lodging for the night. I must admit that I stopped many times to admire the amazing amount of stars in the night sky. It was actually an exhilarating feeling knowing that just a few minutes walk from an international airport had taken me far enough away from all light sources to see the full glory of the heavens after dark.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands at Night
Rarotonga at Night. Yes, it was actually that dark!

It’s Christmas Time Again!

After a good sleep, I woke up to Christmas Day, for the second time! The Cook Islands are a majority Christan country. So as you would expect, Christmas is a big deal there. With an island twist..

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Meri Kiritimiti Sign
Merry Christmas – island style!

Most places on the island were closed for the Christmas holiday, so I’d decided to hire a bicycle from my hostel, (NZ$10 for 24 hours), and ride around the island. The island of Rarotonga, or Raro as it’s affectionately known locally, is only 32km in circumference. You can circumnavigate the island comfortably in less than four hours on a bike. Additionally, it’s an easy ride because the road around the island is completely flat. The middle of the island, on the other hand, is not so flat.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Centre of Rarotonga

Cycling Around The Captivating Cook Islands

The main road around Raro hugs the coastline, so you are guaranteed spectacular views no matter where you stop along the road.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Coastal Views in Rarotonga

Even the dead get great views!
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Graves with Coastal Views in Rarotonga

Cycling around the island is a great way to get a feel for island life. You’ll also learn that islanders are not only a caring bunch, they also have a great sense of humour. The only ‘stop’ sign on the whole island is a shop sign!
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Shop Stop in Rarotonga

And obviously this is a joke, right?
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Rarotonga Humour

There are no busy roads in Raro! In fact, there’s a good chance you won’t see another person on the main road for hours. But you’ll see plenty of this.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. More Coastal Views in Rarotonga

And this.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Rarotonga Coastal View

And maybe even a bit of this.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Rarotonga Rocky Coastal View

Seafood With a Side of Safety

After a few hours of cycling around the island, I had decided that it was time to escape the heat and grab a bite. Seeing as it was Christmas Day, my only option was to eat at a resort. I felt like I was the centre of attention when I walked in. All the staff were waiting to serve me. I was given the option of dining inside or outside. The decision was easy.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Resort Tables On The Beach

Owing to the season, the tables were looking quite festive, in that island kind of way.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Festive Table Setup

I’d opted to try a local dish called Ika Mata. It consists of raw fish marinated in lemon and coconut milk.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Traditional Seafood Dish Ika Mata

To be honest, I wasn’t holding high hopes for this dish as I’m not a huge fan of fish, but it was actually quite delicious. Once I’d finished my feed and admired the beach for a bit longer, I headed back to the main road where I saw this sign

Interestingly, the law on the Cook Islands when I was there only required people between the ages of 16 and 25 to wear helmets when cycling or riding scooters/motorbikes. I could probably guess why that was the particular age group chosen but it’s still a little weird that it wasn’t applied to everyone.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Rarotonga Coastal View Through Trees

After a few more roadside stops to look out into the mesmerising blue sea, I found my way to a small local shop where I’d planned to buy some refreshments. That should’ve just taken a few minutes, but I left the store three hours later.

Local Celebrities on the Captivating Cook Islands

You may be asking how I could’ve spent three hours in a small store. Well, part of the reason was that the lady behind the counter was a chatterbox. I also never shy away from a chat. Especially when it’s with a well known and respected local. Aunty Mei, who was the local lei maker, was happy to give me some insights into her life on the island.

Many are familiar with the Hawaiian lei, generally slipped onto the neck as a symbol of friendship when welcoming visitors. The idea is similar in the Cook Islands, but they also have many other uses. There are two main types, Lei Kaki, which are similar to Hawaiian leis, and Lei Katu which are wreaths placed on the head. Aunty Mei specialises in the second type. Locals will place orders with Aunty Mei for all kinds of events, like graduations and weddings.

Aunty Mei’s Leis

All flowers used for Aunty Mei’s creations come from her own lovingly tended garden. The impression I got was that Aunty Mei had enough lei orders to keep her going for several months at least. She did say she had noticed a slight downturn in business in recent years as the younger generation were becoming disinterested in traditions. That’s something that unfortunately seems to be a bit of a trend around the world.

Despite being busy making a lei at the time I had walked in, Aunty Mei stopped what she was doing to chat to me. That’s one of the things that make islands so endearing; everyone has time for everyone. It’s always enlightening talking to locals, but as it was getting late, I had to continue my ride. Aunty Mei said I was welcome to come back and chat any time, then offered some flowers from her garden as a parting gift.

The Cross Island Trail

After seeing the flat coastal parts of the island, I was ready to tackle the rugged, hilly interior.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Rarotonga's Interior

I had asked around town about the Rarotonga Cross Island Trail and most responses indicated that I shouldn’t try it without a guide. Looking at the hills I had to scale, I didn’t think it would be too difficult. Plus with my experience trekking around the world, I was sure I’d have no problems.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Rarotonga's Cross Island Walk

At the beginning, the trail was more like a road. Quite flat and easy to walk along. The surroundings were very lush and green as well.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Starting The Cross Island Walk

I even spotted a few animals just hanging around, trying to shade themselves from the harsh Cook Islands sun.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Mother Boar and Kids On The Cross Island Walk K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Cow and Chicken On The Cross Island Walk

The trail stayed relatively flat for a while, then it started narrowing gradually.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Narrowing Trail On The Cross Island Walk

The Challenge Begins

A little bit further along the trail, I entered the forest. It was there that the trail became considerably thinner and started looking a bit more like the trails I’m used to. I found this a little exciting as I was looking for more of a challenge.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Start Of The Forest Trail On The Cross Island Walk

Perhaps I should be careful what I wish for! It wasn’t long before things got decidedly harder.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. The Trail Gets Difficult On The Cross Island Walk

Now I could see why everyone was suggesting that I do the trail with a guide. It was definitely not an easy hike. Even as an experienced hiker I was beginning to get annoyed with parts of the trail. It seemed to wind back on itself and cross streams a crazy amount of times. It was a relief when I finally made it to the mid-point of the hike.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Halfway Point Of The Cross Island Walk

From there you can take a side trip to The Needle, which is a rock jutting out from the hill. People think it looks like the eye of a needle. It can be seen from many places on the coast of the island.
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. The Needle On The Cross Island Walk

From the mid-point, the trail became slightly easier, although there was one particularly muddy section where locals had tied a rope to a tree to help people on their way down. I was excited when I saw this sign
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. The Last Sign On The Cross Island Walk

It meant that the trail was coming to an end and I would soon be able to reward myself with a cool-down at the Papua Waterfalls!
K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Papua Waterfalls At The End Of The Cross Island Walk

Getting Back to the Other Side of the Island

The Cross Island Trail had brought me out to the main road on the south side of the island, but I needed to be on the north side. Luckily there were buses that ran regularly along the main road. They run clockwise at certain times and anticlockwise at certain times. Unfortunately, I had looked at the normal schedule and thought they would run until 4pm. But as it was a public holiday, service stopped at 3pm. Whoops.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Palm Trees On The Walk Back to Town

I still had several hours before my flight departed, so I started walking. It wasn’t long before someone stopped to pick me up. He worked at the next resort, a few kilometres up the road. He told me he’d take me there and I could get another lift into the town from there. I actually didn’t mind walking, so once he dropped me off, I continued along the road.

Friendly Locals of the Captivating Cook Islands

I had probably only been walking for 10 minutes when another car stopped and motioned for me to get in. They were a middle-aged Australian couple who had made the Cook Islands their home many years ago. They told me they couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. The island life had won them over and I can definitely see why. A short while later, they dropped me off at the pub across the road from the airport.

I had left my backpack there before I’d done the Cross Island Trail. As most places were closed by 4pm, I’d figured that it would be a good place to hang out before my 9pm flight back to Auckland. I sat myself down to enjoy a local beer with a view, when some locals came to join me.

K in Motion Travel Blog. The Captivating Cook Islands. Beer And Sunset At The Pub

They insisted that I shouldn’t be sitting alone and that I needed to drink more. Once I mentioned that I was flying out that night, they tried everything in their power to convince me to stay. “Don’t worry, you can get a flight out tomorrow”, they said. As amusing as my new friends were, I knew what I had to do. Get myself on that flight back to New Zealand so that I could continue my South Pacific adventure in the French territory of Nouvelle-Calédonie.

Check out all the South Pacific Adventures:
Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji
Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga
American Samoa
Surprising Samoa
The Captivating Cook Islands
New Caledonia
Discover the Real Vanuatu
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands
Palau

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Surprising Samoa – An Undiscovered Gem in the South Pacific

I’d always known that time moves differently in the South Pacific, but I wasn’t aware that it was possible to lose a whole day! That’s exactly what happened in the hour between taking off from Pago Pago, American Samoa at 10:30am to landing in Apia, Samoa at 12pm the next day. Time gymnastics aside, Surprising Samoa is an undiscovered gem in the South Pacific, just waiting to be explored.

If you’ve read some of my other South Pacific posts about Tonga and American Samoa, you’d be aware that flights between island states in the region do not come cheap. The 45 minute flight from Pago Pago, American Samoa to Apia, Samoa was no exception, although at US$85, it may have been the cheapest in the area. We landed at the tiny Fagali’i airport, which only had a 600m long runway. As of 1st January 2020, this airport has been closed down and all of it’s flights have been redirected to the bigger Apia Faleolo Airport.

Super Small Airport in Surprising Samoa

The Fagali’i Airport was only a few kilometres from the town of Apia on Samoa’s second largest island, Upolu. All I needed to do was walk the short distance down the airport road to the main road to catch a local minibus for 2 Samoan Tala (WST)/US$0.75. As I was walking, a local guy started talking to me. This local guy, let’s call him Bruce, (not his actual name), was also going into town and said he’d help me find the bus.

It actually wasn’t that hard to find, it just required waiting at the intersection of the airport road with the main road. Bruce was saying that we may have a long wait but the minibus arrived soon after we reached the intersection. On the bus, the driver had a coin tray placed between his seat and the passenger seat, where all passengers were expected to place their fare. The driver would give change if needed but clearly preferred correct change.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Seaside Bus Station

Interestingly, the driver was on the lefthand side of the car, even though we were driving on the lefthand side of the road. Samoa changed from driving on the righthand to the lefthand side of the road back in 2009. The main reason for this was the high price of continually importing American lefthand drive vehicles in a region where righthand drive cars were more readily available. Although the change happened over 10 years ago, it is still possible to see quite a few lefthand drive vehicles, like this old-style American school bus that is now used for public transport.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. American Style Bus

Surprising Samoa Seaside

The bus dropped us off at a seaside bus station right near the local market. Bruce suggested that I might want to walk along the waterfront for a while. It was rather peaceful. He pointed out some points of interest to me while we walked along. Of course, there were palm trees but Bruce couldn’t tell me if they were naturally occurring or introduced.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Seaside View With Palm Trees K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Seaside View

Bruce then said he would help me find the place I was staying at. The problem was that the building at the address I was given was not the place I was staying at. We stopped and asked at places along the way but no one had any idea where my accommodation was. I eventually found the main building for the flats quite accidentally. My host had left a key there for me. I was relieved to finally be on my way to where I was staying!

The Sleepy Capital of Surprising Samoa

With a population of less than 40,000, Apia is one of the smallest capital ‘cities’ around. I had arrived in the early afternoon, but by the time I got to my host’s place, everything was quiet. Super quiet. There were barely any cars on the road. All the shops were closed. By 3pm! Wow. That could’ve presented a problem because I was hungry at that point. Imagine the relief I felt when I spied a small cafe that had people inside. I happily went inside only to find out that the people inside were staff and they were closed. Feeling sad, I started walking back towards the door when a worker asked if I wanted to take any of the food they had left on the counter.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Meat Salad

I was able to have quite a hearty meal with the cafe’s leftovers. Including this interesting take on a salad. That was great because I’d planned a hike to a nearby hill, Mount Vaea. I had no idea what would await me on the top of the hill that stood 472m above the town. I just wanted to get a good view.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. First Part of the Hike

Hiking To The Highest Point Of The Island

For the first part of the hike, I had to walk along some suburban roads to get to the trail. The initial part of the trail was more of a dirt road running behind some local farms. The road may have still been in use, but not that often. Except maybe by the occasional cow.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Baby Cow on the Trail

About halfway up the hill, I met a local named Seb who was on his way down. He stopped to chat with me. He seemed surprised that I was on that trail, because it is the hardest way up to the hill. I thought it was weird that he would say that because I was finding it quite easy. I just shrugged it off thinking that other people’s ideas of difficult are different to mine. He was also worried about me going up by myself, so he decided to accompany me to the top. Even though he was already on his way down. I assured him that I’d be okay but he insisted. So now I had someone to talk to on the way up, which was lovely.

The Fun Way up Mount Vaea

We had actually come up to the hill next to Mount Vaea. I had noticed that on my map, but the second hill looked so close that I was sure I could find a way through the bush. Luckily Seb knew where the trail joining the hills was. That was where things got fun. Despite the trail being dry all the way up, this connecting trail was very slippery and muddy. Almost like there had been a recent downpour.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Muddy Forest Trail

The previously open trail gave way to a well covered forest trail. That could explain why it was so wet even though there had been no rain. My trusty hiking shoes were having problems keeping me upright. But I was determined not to let the mud get the better of me! Although treacherous, the connecting trail was short. We were soon on the top of Mount Vaea.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. View From Mount Vaea

Tomb With A View

From the top of the hill there was a view over almost the whole town of Apia, although it was slightly obstructed by trees at few points. The first thing I had noticed when I got to the top was a huge white structure. Seb had informed me on the way up that this was the tomb of Robert Louis Stevenson. He had in fact thought that was the reason I was going up the hill.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Robert Louis Stevensen's Tomb Sign on Mount Vaea K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Robert Louis Stevensen's Tomb on Mount Vaea

If you don’t know of Robert Louis Stevenson, he was the 19th century author of Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. What’s his connection to Samoa? He settled in Apia a few years before he died. He was revered by Samoans and Seb told me that when he died, Samoans surrounded him with a watch-guard overnight then carried him to the top of Mount Vaea and buried him. The inscription on the tomb was from Mr Stevenson’s own words –

Under the wide and starry sky,
Dig the grave and let me lie.
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you grave for me:
Here he lies where he longed to be;
Home is the sailor, home from sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.

Heading Back to Town

Although there was an easier way down, it would take me several kilometers away from where I was staying. That’s one of the reasons I’d picked the trail I did on the way up. The start point was much closer to the area I was in. Seb had also parked his car on the road near the beginning of that trail, so we braved the muddy connecting trail again.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Sunset Over The City

We got to see a lovely sunset over Apia on the way down. Seb then offered to drive me back to where I was staying. When Seb dropped me off, he suggested that after a shower, he could come back and take me for a drive around town.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Sunset

Getting To Know Surprising Samoa

When Seb came back, we decided that it would be a good idea to eat something first. I thought all the shops had closed at 3pm, but there were a few restaurants that reopened for a few hours around dinner. I never would’ve known that without some local insight. It took a bit of time but Seb found a place that sold traditional local grub. Right next door to the local beer depository. Score!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Local Food on a Car Boot K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Local Beer on a Car Boot

We took our local food and beer to a nice little spot by the seaside before driving around the ‘city’. I hadn’t realised how small the city was until we drove around it. I had almost walked around all of it while trying to find my accommodation earlier in the day.

Seb decided that he wanted to drive me to the airport the next evening, so I told him the time I needed to leave and he agreed to be there at that time. Knowing that island time is a real thing, which causes people to be late a lot, I also made sure I had a backup plan!

The Sites of Surprising Samoa

The next day, I thought it was about time to see the city close up. It was lovely and quiet. My impression of surprising Samoa by that point was that it was kind of sleepy and slow-paced. That is to be expected on South Pacific islands. It could’ve also been possible that everyone was napping because it was so hot and there was nothing else to do.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Town Centre K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Town Centre Building Art

When walking around, I barely saw any people. But I did come across the striking Immaculate Conception Cathedral.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Immaculate Conception Cathedral

Which was also beautiful on the inside.
K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Immaculate Conception Cathedral Interior

My favourite sight in Apia was these amusing signs in the window of a pharmacy. Yes, an actual pharmacy in plain sight. Samoans have a great sense of humour!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Town Centre Pharmacy Sign K in Motion Travel Blog. Surprising Samoa. Town Centre Pharmacy Sign 2

Rush To The Airport

Seb didn’t turn up at the prearranged time, so my host took me to a point about halfway to the Faleolo Airport on his scooter. There he helped me flag down a taxi. The taxi driver then agreed to take me to the airport for the exact amount of Samoan Tala that I had left. That was great, because what I had left was a little less than the 80WST/US$31 it would normally cost.

I was starting to get a little concerned that I might be running late. It was a 30 minute drive to the airport and my flight was scheduled to leave in 1 hour. The taxi driver however thought that was plenty of time. I was on an island, where being late was essentially being on time. There was nothing to worry about. I made it to the airport with plenty of time to spare. It was time to get ready for the next leg of my adventure in another South Pacific paradise; the Captivating Cook Islands.

Check out all the South Pacific Adventures:
Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji
Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga
American Samoa
Surprising Samoa
The Captivating Cook Islands
New Caledonia
Discover the Real Vanuatu
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands

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American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania

Picture this; you exit the airport terminal on a lovely tropical island to get your international flight to another tropical island. Once you step foot on the tarmac, you realise that the only plane that can be seen is not even big enough for ten people. In fact, you can only see 4 windows! This is just the first of many things that make American Samoa an oddity in Oceania.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. Smallest International Flight Ever

American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania – Smallest International Flight Ever

This tiny plane, the inside of which is about the size of a minivan, only runs once a week between Tonga and American Samoa. At US$374 for a flight that takes less than 2 hours, it was the exact opposite of cheap. But that’s not even the strangest part. On the way to the American Samoan capital of Pago Pago the plane made a scheduled stop in Samoa. Although they are in the same island chain, American Samoa and Samoa are separate states.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. Inside the Tiny Plane.

Upon landing in Samoa, all seven people in the plane were required to alight and pass through immigration. Just to get back on the plane again straight away. Our plane was so small that our pilot also doubled as the cabin crew. He didn’t even need a microphone to do the safety announcement. As you could guess, there was no cabin service, but everyone got a window seat. As the flight duration was too short to reach cruising altitude, we all had a pretty awesome view for the whole flight.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. View From the Plane

American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania – Entrance Fee

As I was the first person from our plane to make it across the tarmac to the arrivals area, there was no line at the immigration window. To tell the truth, it didn’t even feel like immigration. The officer welcomed me in a cool and casual way. That’s not normally something you expect when going through immigration! He then looked at my passport and told me that I needed to pay an entry tax to visit American Samoa.

For a moment I thought that he might have been talking about the Electronic System Travel Authorisation (ESTA) used in the US. American Samoa is a US territory, after all. So I said, “Oh, I have ESTA”. He then informed me that even though it’s an US territory, ESTA is not required. American Samoa instead required visitors to obtain an entry permit if they are staying in the territory for more than one day.

Seeing as I had a flight out the next day, I thought I’d check if I would be exempt from the fee. The lovely officer asked what flight I was leaving on, without asking for any proof. He must’ve memorised the flight schedules. That wouldn’t be particularly hard considering that there are only 3 airlines running international flights from that airport. He then handed back my passport and said, “Okay, have a good time in American Samoa”

As of 2019, people from the countries that could previously get the entry permit on arrival must now apply online for the Entry Permit Wavier Program (EPWP). The country list is the same as that for the US Visa Waiver Program. The processing fee for the EPWP just happens to be the exact same price as the old entry tax.

America in the South Pacific

After exiting the small airport, it was immediately obvious that this was a little bit of America in the South Pacific. Everyone was driving ‘trucks’, which don’t exist on other Pacific islands. Anything that wasn’t a truck, was a minivan from one of the many resorts in Pago Pago, or an old-style US school bus. Who knows how they got transported all that way.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. Welcome to American Samoa K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. US Style Bus

Having visited the US on several occasions, Pago Pago really felt like it could be a small continental US town. The roads and infrastructure were almost identical to those I saw in the US. The island also had its fair share of American chains, like McDonalds as well as American style malls. All the people I spoke to had very strong American accents. Even they said they felt that they are a lot more Americanised that other South Pacific Islands. It’s actually something they are proud of.

The Beauty of American Samoa

Pago Pago, pronounced Pango Pango in Samoan is located on one of the two main American Samoan Islands, Tutuila. There is one major highway on Tutuila that runs from the airport in the southwest to the east of the island. The highway runs along the coast for almost it’s entire length, which makes for some mesmerising views on the way to your accommodation.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. The Flower Pot Rocks

The Flower Pot rocks are a prominent feature on the righthand side as you drive away from the airport. Just after them, you’ll see the Pago Pago Harbour, which is one of the deepest harbours in the world. The harbour is flanked on the opposite side by Mount Pioa, which is also known as Rainmaker Mountain. It is a big part of local folklore and is said to trap clouds, giving the harbour some of the highest amounts of rainfall in the area.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. Pioa Mountain

American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania – American Traditions

While American Samoans have passed down a lot of their traditions and folklore through the generations, they have also whole-heartedly embraced American customs. I got to see this first hand because I was there around Christmas time. While Christmas is celebrated around the world, there are certain things that I’ve only seen in the US during the festive season. That includes people going out of their way to decorate their houses with colourful displays of lights.

K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. Colourful House Lights K in Motion Travel Blog. American Samoa: An Oddity in Oceania. House With Light Star

One final thing of note about American Samoa is that despite being in the same chain of islands as Samoa, it’s on the opposite side of the International Date Line. That means that it’s 25 hours, or more than a whole day behind it’s nearest neighbour. That definitely causes a few headaches when trying to book flights. In fact, when flying from Tonga or Samoa, you will land in American Samoa the day before you left. Then when it’s time to go, you’ll land two days after you left. That essentially means you’ll be flying back to the future!

Check out all the South Pacific Adventures:
Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji
Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga
American Samoa
Surprising Samoa
The Captivating Cook Islands
New Caledonia
Discover the Real Vanuatu
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands

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Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

The South Pacific Ocean is known for its crystal blue waters and amazing marine life. It’s also known for pristine beaches on resort islands. But probably one of its best-kept secrets is the tantalisingly tropical Tonga island chain. If you haven’t heard of the Kingdom of Tonga before, it’s about time you did! The archipelago of 169 islands in Polynesia that form the Kingdom of Tonga lie to the northeast of New Zealand.

Logistics of Getting to Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

To be honest, none of the South Pacific island countries are known for being easily accessible by sea. Unless you have your own boat. In fact, the most efficient way to move between them is to fly. Although quick, these flights do not come cheap, no matter when you book them. The flight from Nadi in Fiji, to Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga in the Tongatapu group of islands, took just over one hour but cost US$250.

The Fua’amotu international airport in Tongatapu is rather small. Interestingly, the runway is only graded to handle smaller jet aircraft, so you’ll never see a 747 there! Even though the airport is classed as international, don’t expect to be able to get a flight there from anywhere in the northern hemisphere. In fact, the only connections are to and from Suva and Nadi in Fiji, Pago Pago in American Samoa, Sydney in Australia or Auckland in New Zealand. Perhaps the strangest thing about this airport is that it closes on Sundays. Let’s just say it takes a bit of planning to get there.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. International Airport

Arriving in Tongatapu

Once you’re there, you’ll be given a welcome serenade, as seems to be the island way. This had also happened in Fiji but somehow the Tongan welcome wagon was a bit lackluster. Or maybe they were just too cool. As you would expect from a small airport, immigration was quick and the officers were really friendly.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. International Airport Welcome Serenade

The capital Nuku’alofa, is around 20 kilometers away from the airport but there was a slight problem. There was no public transport from the airport to the town. Taxis were, of course, available for 40 Tongan Pa’anga (TOP)/US$17.50. I had decided to do things a little differently. While researching for this trip, I had come across quite a few comments about hitchhiking being a viable way of getting around in Tonga.

A Hitchhiking Adventure in Tatilisingly Tropical Tonga

I’d barely even made it out of the airport grounds before a minivan stopped. This minivan was full of ladies who, almost in unison, motioned for me to get into the car. The ladies were very talkative and very interested in why I’d decided to go to Tonga. They seemed quite surprised that I would choose to go there. I got the impression that they believed Tongatapu was the most boring island in the Tongan chain and that there was nothing to do there.

After a while of chatting, the lady driving pulled over onto the side of the road. I wasn’t quite sure what was happening. Perhaps we were just waiting for someone? I couldn’t see any buildings around though. Just then, a lady seemed to appear out of nowhere and joined us in the car. It was at that point that the driver turned to me and asked if I had a license. I indicated that I did, then she opened her door and said, “I don’t like driving in town, so you can drive!”.

I was so surprised that I think I agreed before I really knew what was going on. But hey, I do like driving, so why not? The ladies directed me to their village, just outside of the town, where we had to drop someone off.

We stopped at a house where there seemed to be an impossible amount of people residing. At least 4 generations of people. They invited me in for dinner, but I had a host waiting for me in town, so I had to regretfully decline. My host Jasmin, who I’d meet from Couschsurfing, was infinitely amused that my hitchhiking adventure had turned in to a driving adventure. I guess that’s not an everyday occurrence.

Food in Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

I was fairly hungry when I arrived and it was around dinner time. Luckily, Jasmin knew where the good local food was made. But what do you do when you’re waiting on a tropical island? Drink from a coconut, of course! A coconut straight from the fridge, no less.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Drinking Coconut

Cliche coconut consumption aside, I was looking forward to trying a local delicacy. A popular dish in the area consists of meat wrapped in taro leaves that have been soaked in coconut milk. There are two variations; Lu Pulu (beef) and Lu Sipi (lamb). I grabbed the Lu Sipi and it was super rich and delicious. Given all the meat and coconut milk it contained, it was also a very heavy meal. I was barely able to finish it!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Lu Sipi

Imported foods

Tongans also love having dessert after their super heavy meals and I was interested to see what Tongan desserts looked like. Unfortunately, pretty much everything was closed because I was on a small island after 7pm. I did manage to find an ice cream shop open though. It seemed to be the only place open besides a couple of bars. I’m not sure if that’s why it was so crowded, or if it was just because locals really love ice cream? Even if the only flavours available were vanilla, strawberry and blitz.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Super Scooper Ice Cream Shop

Another imported food that Tongans love is KFC. Tonga is too small for KFC to open there, but all Tongans know what it is. To the point where anywhere that sells any kind of fried chicken refers to it as Kentucky. Jasmin informed me that when locals fly back from New Zealand, where there are KFCs, they will bring back buckets of the stuff for the family.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Food Stall

Nightlife in Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

When Jasmin was ready to retire for the night I decided to have a little walk around the town. Except for a few cars here and there, the town was very quiet. It wasn’t long until I’d found my way to some roadside tombs. They were quite ornate and it looked like people added flowers and tended to the graves every day.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Tombs

As I wasn’t far from the sea, I decided to take a walk down to the waterfront. That didn’t go as I had planned. I could barely walk a few hundred metres without a car stopping to ask if I needed a lift. Tongans are a very caring bunch and seemed worried that a foreigner was out walking by themselves at night. After the fifth car stopped and I hadn’t even managed to walk 500 metres, I gave up and found some local beer.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Local Beer

Animals of Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

Of course, you would expect tropical islands in the South Pacific to be full of tropical animals like birds and colourful fish. I promise I’ll show you some of that later. Tonga also had its fair share of introduced animals wandering around. There were some stray cats and dogs, which you might expect to see almost anywhere in the world. But chickens weren’t really on the list of animals I’d expected to see. Never-the-less, they were everywhere and normally had a couple of chicks in tow.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Tongan Chickens

Other much larger animals that I was not expecting to see were boars. Obviously these had been introduced by European explorers and were eventually left to roam the islands. They generally seem quite docile and are always happy to eat any food you might leave out for them.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Tongan Boar

There are stories of fishing pigs. These are boars that have lost their natural fear of the water and can be seen wading out at low tide to catch themselves some dinner. If you were thinking of going to Tonga for some sun and sea, you could end up staying to watch the fishing pigs!

Wandering Around the Town

As I’d been unsuccessful in reaching the waterfront at night, I decided to try it during the day. This time I was able to do it in a respectable five minutes! That’s how small Nuku’alofa is! On my wander, I was able to see some palm trees as you would expect.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Palm Trees

But one of the more interesting things I saw was the Centennial Church. This church was run by the Free Church of Tonga, an organisation set up by the Tongan King and a missionary in 1885.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Centennial Church

Unfortunately, Cyclone Gita hit Tonga a few months after I left, causing widespread damage. The church was one of the buildings damaged and as a consequence, is no longer in use. The royal tombs across the road fared better though.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Royal Tombs

As I got closer to the waterfront, there were a few memorials around.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. War Memorial K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Memorial Plaque K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Waterfront Memorial

And of course, as it was coming up to Christmas, some seasons greetings.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Seasons Greetings

I’d come for the water though. While there was no beach to be seen, the area was calm and peaceful.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Waterfront

Tourist Attractions in Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga

As the Tongan island chain is particularly remote and not the most easily accessible, tourism hasn’t had a big impact on the area. That means that literally every tourist attraction on Tongatapu is listed on this roadsign.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Road Sign in Nuku'alofa

That’s not to say that Nuku’alofa has not been set up with tourists in mind. There are actually a few informational signs around to guide you on your way. Like this handy map of the island, near the waterfront.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Tongatapu Map

Under The Sea

After Jasmin finished work, she asked if I wanted to join her for a swim. She had two bikes so we rode down to the waterfront. Given the absolute flatness of Nuku’alofa, the ride was rather quick and enjoyable.

We left the bikes up near the carpark and walked along some rocks to the local swimming spot.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga. Rocks on the Waterfront

I spied this little fella in a rock pool on the way.

But the view was definitely better under the water!

The fact that Tonga is a little bit off the tourist radar and a little bit harder to reach makes it all the more enticing. The absence of the big resorts seen on other islands gives it a more genuine and homely feel. It’s definitely a must-see!

Check out all the South Pacific Adventures:
Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji
Tantalisingly Tropical Tonga
American Samoa
Surprising Samoa
The Captivating Cook Islands
New Caledonia
Discover the Real Vanuatu
Papua New Guinea
Solomon Islands

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Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji

When most people think of Fiji, they think of islands, beaches and resorts. While these are certainly prevalent, they are not really what Fiji is all about. When I think of Fiji, I think of my childhood Fijian neighbour, who I thought was the funniest and friendliest man alive. Because of that man, I was expecting a lot of friendliness and a whole pile of laughs in Fiji. I was not disappointed! Read on to find out more about the friendliness and festivities in Fiji.

Fiji Time

Being a chain of hundreds of islands in an endless sea means that Fiji has a culture and vibe all of it’s own. Aside from the friendliness that was noticeable instantly, one thing that struck me on arrival was that everyone was happy. This could be because they have their own version of time over in Fiji. This concept may be a bit hard for busy people to get a handle on. I’m sure you’ve heard of island time, but Fiji takes it to a whole new level with ‘Fiji Time’. They even have the t-shirts to prove it.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friends and Festivities in Fiji. Fiji Time Tshirt

Fiji time is really something else. Things move slower and no one is stressed by deadlines. This means that everyone always has time for others. Fiji has to be one of the friendliest and most welcoming places on earth. In fact, when you visit, you’ll leave with a new word in your vocabulary; Bula, the Fijian word for welcome. You will hear and see it everywhere!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Bula

All travellers arriving in Nadi are even given a welcome to Fiji serenade by locals in their colourful local threads. We may have had no idea what they were singing about, but it sounded cheery and quickly put us at ease.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friends and Festivities in Fiji. Airport Serenade in Nadi

One interesting thing about Fiji is that alcohol is super expensive. Like really, stupidly expensive. So much so that when locals have friends flying in, they ask them to grab some duty-free booze for them from the airport. It’s half the price! I had therefore agreed to grab some bourbon for my host, Save, who in turn met me at the airport.

Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji – A Local Experience

Save lived in a very simple house in an area not too far from the airport. It was very green and lovely but I was disappointed to find that I was on the wrong side of the island to climb the mountains. The area only had a few small hills.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Far Away Mountains K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Little House on a Hill

As soon as we got to Save’s house, I met some of his family and we immediately sat down for dinner. As I mentioned before, Save’s place was rather simple, so they didn’t have a dining table. That meant that a rug spread across the floor became the dining table for a delicious local meal. Mostly eaten by hand. I like this idea actually. Who needs to wash those pesky knives and forks anyway?

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Floor Dining Table

Save’s place was about a 10 minute walk down from the main part of town, where the buses to the city left from. On the way I saw some kids swimming in water that I wouldn’t think was good for them, but they seemed to be having a lot of fun! I also saw horses and chickens wandering around. It wasn’t until further into my South Pacific travels that I realised that chickens wandering around was a normal everyday occurrence on many Pacific Islands!

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Horse and Water

I also passed a store that claimed to have all my needs. Although I found this claim dubious, especially considering the rather small size of it, I went inside to check it out anyway. It turns out that they didn’t have all my needs, but the lovely shopkeeper was eager to chat to me. With all that Fijian friendliness flying around, I didn’t leave that little store for over an hour.

K in Motion Travel Blog. Friendliness and Festivities in Fiji. Grog Shop

More Friendliness and Chats On a Fractured Fiji

On my many walks through the area t