Monday, July 28, 2008
The Ha'apai Islands: Day 1
I am staying a week in Tonga to attend the coronation of the King, and while I am here I am having a few days out for R & R in the beautiful Ha'apai Islands.
I have emailed and chatted with Boris the owner of the Sandy Beach Resort for many years, so he suggested when I came to stay with him.
Last night when I was in Tongatapu it rained heavily, so it was dissapointing to fly to Ha'apai in thick clouds. I only had occassional glimpses of the tropical island passing below, and as taking aerial photos of tropical islands is one of my main pleasures when travelling it was a bit dissapointing.
I arrived in Ha'apai and got a taxi up to the Sandy Beach Resort, which was started by Boris' father Juergen many years ago. Juergen is such an asset to the tourism of Ha'apai that he flew off this morning to attend an award ceremony with the King in Tongatapu. The King is awarding him for his services to tourism. So if the King reccons the service is worth an award, then I should be fine.
It was still cloudy and overcast when I arrived, but even still the waters in front of the resort still shone turquoise, and royal blue, like a dark silk sheet glistening in the light. The waters were dead still, and the seas where flat as a sheet as well. Several yachts lay anchored offshore, and it was placid and tranquil as it only is after an overnight rainshower in the tropics.
Boris was really busy getting ready for a load of 18 guests arriving tommorow, and showed me to my beachfront bungalow, and we arranged to meet for dinner. I spent the afternoon, lying in bed, reading a book, writing blog posts about the coronation, and chatting to my wife on skype. All very ordinary except for the fact that from my spot on the bed I am gazing out at the beach, with islands in the distance whispering to me to come explore them, and the sounds of the gentle waves lapping on the shore. No sound is more soothing or relaxing in all the world, and in short order I had the first afternoon siesta I could even remember.
I arranged with Boris to meet for dinner at the neighbouring Matafonua Lodge, which is run by a cheerful couple Dave and his partner Sally Hartell, originally from the Manawatu, in New Zealand. It's just a few minutes walk up the road from the Sandy Beach to Matafonua, which is right at the northern tip of Foa island. It faces a stunning beach, and the verandah of the resort looks out across a short stretch of water to the neighbouring island of Nukunamo, which is a tapu (forbidden) island belonging to the King of Tonga.
There are ancient pigeon snaring mounds on Nukunamu, which in ancient days were used by the Tongan chiefs and kings as a getaway spot where they could listen to music, eat feast, watch dancing girls, boxing maches (girls too), and relax by eating roast pigeon. What a life huh? Fita, the chef who works for Boris siad he had been over there, and although overgrown the path wasnt too difficult to find. It was too late in the day, but I will definately go out there to explore the ruins.
Sally and Dave were in the kitchen when we arrived cooking up a storm of the nicest, cleanest kitchen I had ever seen on and island. I know I should have ordered sea food, but they were cooking a burger and it looked like and 'old school' hamburger with beetroot like I used to have when I was a kid. So I succumbed despite the island location.
I spent a few hours with Boris, Fita, and Boris' girlfriend who was here from New Zealand. We chatted about Tongan politics, and discussed the Treasure of the Port au Prince which I am here researching. Had a great meal, watched the sun slowly recede into the waters of the South Pacific, and then went home in the dark.
The food is great at both resorts, and if I hear another stupid whining backpacker complaining about how expensive food is here I will scream.
1: Most food has to be shipped in from Australia or New Zealand.
2: Then it has to shipped up to Ha'apai on the ferry (diesel is now $4 a litre in Ha'apai).
3: Then after all that it must be kept ready and waiting just for your arrival. There is such a thing as wastage, which means serving food is a very hard thing to do profitably.
So if you expect to get a meal in Ha'apai for what you spend at home forget it. You have to pay a little bit of a premium for meals here, but the surroundings totally make up for it. It's incredibly difficult to get even the simplest things on a remote place like this. I had two great meals today, for about the same price I would pay in Port Douglas, Australia. The food and the setting was great and service was brilliant. I have had much more expensive meals at home, in very average settings, that didnt even come close to this.
I reckon that getting a great meal, while sitting on a verandah watching tropical islands across a turquoise lagoon is priceless. Enjoy it while you can.
On the way back to Sandy Beach the wind had changed, the air was fresh and clean, and the stars had come out. My guess is that tommorow will be sunny, and Boris has organised for me to spend the day on Uoleva Island.
All in all, Sandy Beach is a great spot in a top location. Beautiful view, German management (tha means everything is clean, works, and is well organised) and really large comfortable bungalows, with extra big beds. It's probably more than backpackers want to pay, and if you are younger, and want to save money I thoroughly recommend Matafonua. They have really cool traditional thatched Tongan style fales. However, if you want more luxury, internet access and Boris's wealth of local knowledge, I would stay at the Sandy Beach. They are both perfect at what they do, and you wont be dissapointed with either.
Sandy Beach Resort
P.O. Box 61
Pangai, Ha'apai Islands
Kingdom of Tonga, The South Pacific
Telephone: +676 60600
Facsimile: +676 60600
Foa Island, Ha’apai Islands
Kingdom of Tonga, South Pacific
Phone/Fax: (+676) 60-766
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