Tonga is the Pacific's last remaining monarchy and is culturally very strong - Tongan society is hierarchical (royalty, nobility and commoners), is devoid of materialism and 'borrowing’ is a way of life! Even school uniforms feature a sarong for boys, as did the uniform for the clearance officials on Monday. It was under Britain's protection until 1970 when full sovereignty was re-established and it joined the Commonwealth of Nations. It isn't a wealthy country at all, with little tourism infrastructure, and largely survives on international aid (primarily from Australia and NZ but also China) and remittances sent from Tongans living overseas.
The Tongans themselves are extremely religious with many churches of various Christian denominations. We were chatting with two young Californian girls, both dressed in long floral dresses with braided hair, a few days ago who are here as Mormon missionaries for a year. They told us that over 99% of the population are Christian, and that great energy and creativity is put into decorating graves. As in Niue, Sunday is truly a day of rest: it is actually illegal to work on a Sunday. No flights arrive, no shops are open and sports are prohibited. A few tourism businesses do operate but generally the island grinds to a halt while the nation attends church, feasts and rests. Attending a church service has been recommended to us for an amazing cultural experience where the singing is unbelievable. We'll try to go to one on Sunday, and Paul would like to attend a rugby match too.
The Vava'u Group of islands comprises myriad small rocky islets covered in vegetation and palm trees. Protected from the ocean by reefs, it makes for a lovely cruising ground and is apparently world famous, although we have never heard that it is before. As with Niue the water is very deep and shelves steeply and quickly near the shore making finding a spot of anchor quite challenging. On Wednesday/Thursday nights we anchored off a small island called Vakaeitu, remote and beautiful and all we could hear was the waves lapping against the overhanging rocks and sounds of the jungle … crickets, the occasional roosting bird etc. Very tropical indeed.
Sadly Tonga has been more of a tropical rain forest than anything else with yet another day of pouring rain yesterday … we awoke to 20cm of water in the dinghy yesterday morning and it continued to rain most of the day and night as well. No water shortages here! Even this morning is overcast and showers but there are bright patches around so hopefully it will clear up.
Last night we were invited to the birthday celebrations on one of the other boats … a fun and informal affair where we all took a dish and alcohol and shared it with all the other guests. Despite the rain we had a great night and finally made it back to Tumi at 1am this morning!