Some of the islands in the Kingdom of Tonga are so heart-achingly beautiful, they take your breath away. Small wonder they attract all sorts of expatriate floatsam and jetsam. A recent resident of these happy isles, Robert Bryce, has a particular way with words to describe them:
"Tonga is a wonderful mix of culture and humor. Humor prevails in Tonga. Like a theme park, Tonga has all the characters. Living here is challenging, elusive and most interesting. Orderly chaos might describe its internal functions. Like a beehive, the closer in you get the more confusion and disorder you see, but somehow critters that aren’t meant to fly do and things get done, problems get solved or just go away - this is Tonga. If the plane does not fly today, it may tomorrow and that gives you another day to enjoy your stay. Friendly is what Captain Cook called these islands - though he was almost roasted on his visit to Tonga. The people are friendly, gracious, helpful and generous with everything they have. There are four different groups of islands that make up Tonga, each with their own expression of the Tongan creed. If you are looking for adventure but do not want to risk your life, Tonga is probably the choice, be it for your holiday or a better place to live.
Tonga is politically and functionally independent; no country owns or presides over Tonga. The King has wisely not sold out to, or aligned himself with, any larger country outside the region. Sometimes it feels as though the Tongans know something about life that the rest of the world is in the dark about.
Tongans take life as it unfolds and they make the best of it, good or bad. Tonga sits on the International Dateline so the travel brochures promote it as the land “where time begins.” It is also where time doesn’t matter. Stress-free and loose schedules are a way of life on the islands, unlike the more punctual Northern Hemisphere.
It is interesting to consider that each day on this planet begins in Tonga. Not exclusively, but regardless of who you are, your official calendar day starts here.
We live it first and by the time the Stock Exchange opens in New York, it is tomorrow in Tonga.
So, where is elusive Tonga? Somewhere in Africa?… is where most guess who have not heard of the islands.
There are even a few stories around about people sending mail or freight from the USA to Tonga and having had their freight end up in Africa, and sometimes that is where it stays. I guess most people in the world don't really know where their day begins. Tonga is located in the middle of the South Pacific (tell your postman) about 20 degrees south of the equator and 180 degrees west latitude. It was one of the last group of islands in the South Seas to be discovered by the European explorers. Tonga continues to be discovered today by pleasantly surprised travelers and tourists. Though on the map most vistors to the South Sea islands fly right over Tonga on their way to more popular tourist destinations like Fiji. French Polynesia is to the east and Fiji just to the west. New Zealand is to the south about 1,500 miles away, and American and Western Samoa just to the north about 400 miles away.
Modern sailors have no problem finding Tonga, for the Vava’u Island Group, the crown jewel of the Kingdom of Tonga, has long been a popular port of call for yachts cruising the South Pacific. Vava’u, once spelled Vavaoo, which is closer in spelling to the pronunciation, is home to our family.
We too, arrived by sailboat about 4 years ago, checked in at the main port of Vava’u and we are still here. The “Port of Refuge,” the main harbor of Vava’u is very well protected, as is the entire island group. A huge reef system which forms up to 60 emerald islands, shields the islands from the relentless ocean tides that pound the walls of coral and volcanic rock. Even a tsunami would spend its force on the walls around Vava’u.
Within the protected islands, white sand beaches, caves, coves, and blue water lagoons decorate each island. Small boats can safely navigate the relatively calm inter-island waterways making this island group unique. There are a few small resorts on the many islands, all of which offer the vistor a true Robinson Crusoe island experience, but with all the amenities. The islands are perfect for charter yacht sailors - no big waves, gentle trade winds and lots of beautiful anchorages.
Humpback whales have made Tonga their holiday destination as well. Each year the Humpback whales migrate here, probably because they don’t need a “Transit Visa". Here they breed and bear their young, schooling them for their big trip back to Antarctica in October. Tourists that somehow find Tonga may attend classes with the whales, swimming with whales is an incredible experience. This is the only country in the world in which you can swim with whales.
Governments are like magnets, attracting some and repelling others. Thank God we can still move around the planet. And, it is nice to be free without having to be brave.
Government is usually where things break down in most countries, but Tonga is blessed with a stable constitutional monarchy, successfully in business since 1860. A Kingdom with a real King and a Royal family that are benevolent in their rule. But like with any bureaucracy, a little political wrangling probably keeps everyone busy and, merrily, most of us feel like we are in a classroom with no teacher. Freedom is having fun without someone being there with a gun; and guns are something they don’t have in our little haven from crime and punishment. The police are armed with smiles and respect the populace. Crime in most of Tonga is very minor. They tell me the prison in Vava’u used to have a sign on it that said: “Not in by 9 PM, you'll be locked out” Things have toughened up some lately. Now they have to be in by 6 PM. It’s true, during the day you are basically free, but better get back on time or you will miss out on the Kava party. No one fears getting shot at McDonalds on Tonga … anyway there are no McDonalds.
Life is good in Tonga. The bugs and animals mirror the harmless populace. There are no harmful bugs, except for one species of centipede, no malaria, no snakes, no critters lying in the weeds waiting to harm you. In fact, there aren’t many wild animals at all. If this were Disneyland, we would be on the little kids ride where a child walks safely through the jungle. We do have pigs so, ‘good fences make good neighbors.’
Peace of mind has to be mentioned as a part of the appeal of these islands. You take it for granted after awhile. Peace of mind creeps up on you quite naturally, due in part to the fact that you can rid yourself of the “bad news” addiction you've acquired from watching too much evening television in the States. We have TV, but it is not very popular. Real life is so much more interesting in this Land of Oz than any soap opera and we certainly have no bad news to report. Most of the bad news generated in the big countries has nothing to do with us, anyway. Folks returning from the “civilized world” after a two-week visit, arrive in Tonga exhausted and depressed, but very happy to be back home in their island paradise. Watching all that crime and propaganda everyday is a huge pill to take for a cleansed soul that is not used to any more trouble than some spilt milk - milk being mostly imported.
No traffic lights, is how I answer the question; “Why did you choose Tonga?” Well, that is part of it. I also enjoy my new freedom of not having to keep one eye on the rear-view mirror. A police officer on every corner may create more crime than it prevents, as evidenced by the success of the law enforcement system in Tonga where you rarely see an officer. Common sense and mutual concern rule. You find you don’t break the rules, written or otherwise, out of concern for others, and not because some uniform might arrest you: concern replaces fear in Tonga. Policing yourself is the key to real freedom.
Discovery TV is boring compared to the discoveries one makes in Tonga, particularly in the Vava’u Island Group. Vava’u is like an oasis in the ocean. The huge ring of protective reefs combined with islands strung like emerald pearls results in a sea within a sea, with the pattern of islands resembling an ink spatter on an azure canvas. The islands come in all shapes and sizes and some come as round as a silver dollar. You see colors, hues and views that even a $5,000 camera can’t get right. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the real thing is worth a million. The ambiance is all encompassing. You are surrounded by pure nature and all your senses are activated and enhanced. The air is pure, oxygen laden, with hints of floral scents and exempt of any pollutants. The sea is clear, clean with all the iridescent hues of blue. What you cannot see you can feel and the combination of it all is the appeal. For a delightful experience, put Tonga on your map."
And there is more of the same in his article ‘Thinking of Leaving the Rat-Race?:
"One hundred thousand of us out of over 7-billion people on this planet are living free and secure here in Paradise. 100,000 is the entire Tongan population which includes a growing expat community from all over the world. “We found it,” is the message, the ultimate place to live.
This is an invitation for you to join us. We have room for just a few more, and you will be pleasantly surprised how easy it is to get a residency visa. Investing in your own or any business of just $298,000 USD earns you a business visa. A retirement (non-working) visa requires only $5800 USD in annual assured income to qualify. Where in the world is it easier than Tonga? Like the foot soldier that made it to the safe bunker, we are home-free, or free from home, as it might more accurately be restated. We are now in full control over our lives here in paradise. We are self-sufficient. We don’t rely on any system in the hands of others that might fail us. We provide our own electric power, water and can even provide our own food and lots of it. We are insulated from the worst that might come to pass and yet, in the event of the best of all of what the world might actually render up, we would still chose this paradise to live and prosper.
We lack nothing that was vital or important back home. We have stores, building supplies, restaurants, hotels and even a mini shopping mall. Some of us have been here for many years and would never think of 'going back to Kansas' (so to speak). Even back when the world was a better place; this was still the best place. In our paradise, not much has changed. We live a life that is depicted as what Heaven is like. Fruit, none forbidden, with gardens of free food, tropical forests, blue skies, azure seas and white sandy beaches, and just like in Heaven, no serpents, snakes, wild animals nor any critters that can harm us.
We have no snakes, dragons or deadly anything in our Heavenly haven. Not many places in the world can boast of being able to allow an unattended child to roam freely about and never fear anything will harm child or adult, for there is nigh or nothing so inclined in this paradise.
We are like you, some of us from near and some from far, from Canada, London, Malibu, New York, California and Austria, Germany, Italy, AU, NZ and Norway, Mexico and even South America. The reasons why we live in this remarkable place run very deep and might take many pages to thoroughly explain, but for the sake of those who have little time or penchant, I will recap the driving forces. We live in the Kingdom of Tonga which is comprised of four island groups. Tonga wins in about every category that people use to chose a new place to live on the planet.
Let’s start with the air. You can’t see it, which can be scary at first since it doesn’t appear to be there. No soot, smog, dust nor chemical pollutants to remind you it is at hand. So you breathe deeper naturally and, remarkably, the body responds.
The water is as soft and pure as rainwater falling through clean air; for that is where we get our most potable essence of life, from the see-through, blue sky. The grass is truly greener. The earth is naturally rich and has not been depleted nor artificially recharged with chemicals that synthetically stimulate what results in fake food. When you eat a home grown tomato from Tonga, you taste it and feel it working like Popeye did his spinach. Real food is a wholly another study and how that is part of what is having us loving it here.
Fish - imagine the kind that aren’t running on oil or eating it so we can too. Clean, unpolluted and vital are the expected in these crystalline waters where you can see 100 feet deep. This is just another thing to get used to when you come from the polluted bays where you can’t see anything but the surface of the water. I remember feeling a sensation akin to a fear of heights when I first looked down into the water while stepping from the boat to the deep water dock. I could see to the bottom as clearly as through the air. It was like living in an artificial world, but it was real.
Anything this beautiful back home would have had to been fake - something from a theme park. In Ha'apai we live in nature’s own naturally made theme park. The entire island group is like a huge resort, the world’s largest perhaps, within find numerous restaurants, hotels, accommodation choices and supplies to build your own resort or home as you might see fit.
So what about building a home here and living happily ever after? Got to live somewhere; might as well be in Paradise.
During the whale season, pods of Humpbacks swim through Ha'apai and frolic right off the beach. The huge but docile Humpbacks put on their show of spy hopping by leaping high into the air and hang there with their massive tail flukes treading water till they fall back into the sea with a huge splash. This is how they look around and over waves.
It is in these waters that the Humpback whales migrate each year to bear their young. A mother and child sight to behold, and you can even swim with them. Imagine that. These islands are the magnificent Humpback’s safe haven choice too. When in doubt, do what the whales do. As ever, Robert Bryce"
You, too, can have a whale of a time when you book yourself into VILLA MAMANA on tropical Telekivava'u.