Malo e lelei: a Special welcome in Tonga Paradise

tonga-island-timeTonga, a dot in the Pacific Ocean

A remote paradise destination, far away from civilization surrounded by endless blue seas. People are wearing woven mats as skirts and directions are based upon “the next coconut tree”.  This is the kingdom of Tonga: Where time begins and time stood still. I thought that this was ultimate paradise. This is an understatement. This travel experience goes beyond everything I ever imagined paradise to be.

A Tongan cultural experience

I was recommended to go on Sunday, the day that all the locals hang out there.  A short boat ride from the main island I arrived at one of the 176 little islands of Tonga, the island of Paigamotu. It was supposed to be the perfect paradise getaway with white sand palm fringed beaches, good snorkelling and a relaxing atmosphere.

I stepped out of the boat and looked up. I was awaited by the countries’ famous body build team. A group of 18 shiny Tongan bodybuilders were welcoming me with their songs, dances, and smiles.  They were wearing tiny shorts and had decorated themselves with the leaves of a palm tree. THIS was Paradise!

Tonga-paradise

Tongan-kidsThe Friendly Islands

Before I took off to Tonga I had learned that this nation is one of the most obese in the world, with 90% obesity. The fatter you are, the more status you have. I encountered the exception to the rule. What made the day extraordinary was not just the welcome by the sexiest men of the friendly islands. It was the mixture of Tongan children, fisherman, bodybuilders and the few travellers, having a good time all together. That day we played beach games, joked about our culture differences, shared food, laughed and took many photo’s of each other. Where in many places in the world everyone else runs to catch the time, we were simply being on ‘Tongan Island Time’.  Not many cultures are still so much intact as the Tongan culture, which makes it one of the most genuine destinations to experience. The friendliness of the people just cannot be beaten.  No wonder why Captain James Cook dubbed the Kingdom of Tonga the “Friendly Islands.” This Palangi (person from the sky in Tonga language) was very fortunate to get to know the Tongan way of life.

How did I end up travelling to Tonga? I was in Tonga as part of the Pacific Tourism – Climate Adaptation Project, a project led by Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia. I was leading the case study about the Tongan tourism sector and it’s vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. I’ve published the results in Sage journal of Tourism Hospitality and Research. The article is named: Tourism destinations’ vulnerability to climate change: Nature-based tourism in Vava’u, the Kingdom of Tonga and you can download here. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Aerial view of Tonga

Travelling to Tonga? Familiar yourself with the Tongan culture.

A recommend read:

Making Sense of Tonga: A visitors guide to the Kingdom's Rich Polynesian Culture

If you plan to visit Tonga this is a MUST-read! Become familiar with Tongan culture. They will welcome you with open arms!

And here’s where you can learn more about the Tongan body build team 🙂

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  1. […] I rappled caves in Brazil, I’ve explored depth learning freediving in Indonesia, I hanged out with the locals in Tonga paradise, and I hitchsailed across the Atlantic Ocean, and keep hitchsailing untill i’ve build my own […]

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