Simply the best…
Yes, that is probably the best way to describe Vava’u and her islands that surrounds this region of Tonga. The city of Neiafu is the home of the Port of Refuge, the safest natural harbor in the South Pacific. The entire harbor is often full of various yachts and boats from around the world. As a result, the city offers multiple amenities and establishments for travelers and locals alike to enjoy throughout the year. It is a lot different than Ha’apai! Only in Neiafu may someone have an espresso for breakfast, a delicious curry dish for lunch, fancy tapas dinner with your closest friends for dinner followed by an option of dancing the night away by the waterfront bar/nightclub or experiencing a fakaleiti (a Tongan drag) show! In addition, this place is also blessed by natural beauty. Mount Talau overlooks the city and bay area with its lush forests and hiking paths waiting for you to explore. During the months of June through late September, the annual migrations of the humpback whales make Vava’u their ideal location to malolo (rest) and give birth to the next generation of whales. Humpback whales are often seen gallivanting around hidden coves and secluded beaches waiting for you to swim with them!
Even though this place is paradise, I hate to burst the happy bubble, but there is still a lot of work to be done in terms of development in Tonga. I often remind myself that there is a reason why Peace Corps is still here in Tonga after being here since 1967. From my short time that I have been here so far, I have noticed that there is a huge rift between modernization and Tongan culture. In many aspects, the Tongan culture hinders business development throughout the Kingdom. This can be seen when Tongan business owners operate under “Tongan” time or closes randomly for any reason from church functions to putu (funerals). It is no big surprise that foreign competitors, especially from the Chinese, are doing so well in the business sector throughout Tonga. These “China shops” are often fully stocked with a wide range of imported and local goods with set and consistent business hours. As a result, there are some feelings of resentment towards these foreign shops as they became prominent players in the Tongan economy. Today, Tongan businesses have an arduous task of competition for survival.
The environment and social problems in Tonga are two blogs that can be dedicated on their own. I was talking with one of the locals from Neiafu the other day and he told me that he did not realize and appreciate the natural beauty of Vava’u until he left and came back. There is no such thing as a perfect world and Tonga is anything so, but with hard work and commitment by the local people, the Kingdom of Tonga can take slowly move towards a brighter future. Regardless, this place is truly magical and simply the best in Kingdom.