Tonga: Fantasy island

By Kerri Jackson

The welcome at Tonga's Fafa Island Resort is mixed. A shiny green and gold gecko blinks a polite hello and scuttles up a post; a small timid bird, very much resembling a weka, makes a panicked dive for cover in the tropical undergrowth, and an indignant pukeko struts across the ground squawking protests at the human intrusion.

He's going to have to get used to me; I'm already thinking I may never leave.

Fafa Island Resorts sits, as you might expect, on Fafa Island, a 30-minute boat ride from Tonga's main island Tongatapu, and its capital Nuku'alofa.

On first glimpse from the water Fafa Island puts on a perfect Pacific show - clear, turquoise water, gleaming white sand, and lush green tropical bush. An anchored speed boat and a couple of wooden loungers on the beach are the only signs of life.

Then as your feet touch that soft sand, the warm, friendly staff materialise from the bush and whisk you away to your secluded fale.

Resort guests and staff (who all live on the island) are the only occupants of seven-hectare Fafa. This lends the place a laid-back, sequestered air, that makes anything that doesn't involve relaxing, strolling through the bush, or swimming seem impossibly difficult and out of the question.

The resort has just 13 fales - one is the gorgeous and always popular two-level honeymoon suite, there are three family or four-person fales and the rest are perfectly set up for couples. Each is built in the traditional Tongan style with traditional materials (coconut palm poles, and coconut thatched walls) and building methods.

And each is surrounded by bush teeming with bird life, so they are perfectly private and hidden away, with easy beach access, views of the water and the all-important hammock swaying gently under the palms.

Which is all before you get to the piece de resistance - the open-air shower. Pure bliss.
The resort was built with the intention of having as little detrimental impact on the environment as possible. Rainwater is collected and used for washing and drinking; and electricity comes from solar panels.

If it's that kind of detail that gets you there in the first place, it's the casual luxury and leisurely atmosphere that will keep you coming back.

I suspect it's a similar attitude found right across the rest of Tonga's 169 (96 inhabited) islands. As the baby of Pacific Island tourism, Tonga is refreshingly free of big chain hotels with the formalities and separation from local culture they inevitably bring.

Tourism here is growing all the time, on the humped backs of the whales that visit every year from July to November, but hopefully the fact that land in Tonga is owned by the King will keep it at a scale that helps the economy without changing the perfect pace.

And never fear, if you miss the whale season there is as much to see and do in Tonga as any of the other Pacific Island destinations.

After frittering away my first day, swaying in the hammock, playing peek-a-boo between naps with the flying fox hanging upside down in the palm tree above me, it was time to tear myself from the delights of Fafa to venture further afield.
Fortunately, there was a yacht parked right outside.

The Seastar, a 56-foot ketch available for charter, is often found moored at the resort, and today it's carrying me to the tiny uninhabited island of Malinoa, visible on the northern horizon from my hammock at Fafa.

If you think Fafa is the perfect tropical island, Malinoa will have you upgrading your standards - it happens to me several more times in this trip as each new island seems even more perfect than the last.

With the wind blowing in the wrong direction the day of my trip, the Seastar makes the one-hour trip to Malinoa by motor. On disembarking it's time for a stroll around the coast - which takes all of about 15 minutes - all the while watching out for vulnerable, well-disguised eggs left by the seabirds in the sand.

If you duck into the bush a short way, you'll come across the slightly eerie sight of several unmarked graves. They belong to several would-be assassins,
executed after attempting to kill the Tongan prime minister in 1886.

The reefs around Malinoa are also one of the best spots in the Tongatapu island group for snorkelling - plenty of fish and crystal clear waters.

After a day lolling about in and around the waters of Malinoa, the Seastar sails gracefully back to Fafa and I think, smugly, that I have visited the perfect Pacific Island and nothing can top it.

Wrong again. Next up is a jaunt in the Fafa speed boat out to the string of uninhabited islands that lie to Fafa's east. The furthest, a good 45 minutes by boat, is arguably the most beautiful. Another perfect bar of white-gold sand, another swatch of deep green palm trees and sea so turquoise it makes your eyes hurt.

Having dropped you off, the driver of your speedboat will make himself scarce so that as you step on to the pristine sand it's as though you're the first to visit, and the only one here - or possibly in the world. It's breathtaking and I start to make serious plans for building a shelter amongst the palms and moving in.

Before I do though, there's one more thing on my list of Tongan treasures to see - the famous blowholes that line the terraced south coast of Tongatapu Island.

If you pick your time right and hit the high tide on a big sea, the Pacific Ocean waves make an impressive thunderclap as they hit the rugged coast. The water is forced through fissures in the rock creating spectacular geysers that on the evening of my visit were shooting 10m into the air. As the sun sets the coast is lit in gold and you can see miles of geysers spouting the length of the coast.

Impressed, I shuffle back to the car, realising, sadly it's probably too dark to make a swim for the perfect deserted island I'd claimed earlier in the day.

Oh well, I guess it's the airport then, but I'll be back.

IF YOU GO
Fafa Island Resort can organise several tours during your stay, including a Sunday day trip to Tongatapu which includes a church service and a traditional lunch with a local family.

Nuku'alofa has a fairly basic town centre but you'll find most things you might need such as banks, internet and food. A good cafe is Friends Cafe in Vuna Rd, the main street. If you're in town on a Saturday there's a huge market in the centre of town - a good place to pick up tapa, jewellery, carvings and fresh food.

Air New Zealand operates up to five direct flights per week from Auckland to Tonga with great connections from all 26 domestic points around New Zealand. Visit www.airnewzealand.co.nz or an Air New Zealand Holidays store.

- Detours, HoS

- Herald on Sunday

Your views

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 25 Apr 2014 18:20:33 Processing Time: 41ms