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Tongatapu, Nuku’Alofa Less Attractive Destination

By doina — last modified Nov 08, 2006 02:37 PM

Published: 2006-11-08 14:37:00
Countries: Tonga

After 7 weeks in Tonga it is time to sum up. It is easy to agree that the beaches are wonderful, that the landscape is beautiful and that the whales are excellent entertainers that let you get really close. The common Tongan couldn’t be more friendly and service minded. Vava’U and Ha’apai are fantastic. Just go for it even if the anchorages in the latter island group tend to be exposed.

But what about Tongatapu and Nuku’alofa? Other than the friendly people, there seem to be no compelling reason to visit unless you are really into the few archaeological digs. Two factors dictate that the place is better avoided.

The fishing and small boat harbour gets more dirty by the year and is far from good in strong easterly winds. The officialdom is in a league of its own. There is no real sign that anything useful to yachties has been developed in the harbour area other than the most basic amenities. There are a few restaurants, two of them are pleasant enough. You can also get water at 25 pa’anga per litre (12 cents) and fuel. That is about it. The wildlife is limited to quite a good colony of rats and you will spend half a day after leaving cleaning your ground tackle and the rest of the boat. It takes 20-30 minutes to walk into town from the harbour.

If you like 3rd world official offices you can, however, have the time of your life. Tonga beats all the other 30 or so countries we have visited by a very good margin. We made 16 visits to 10 offices while we were in Tonga. Some were quite far from the harbours. There was no real explanation to the order of things, so it was often a matter of trial and error, mostly error. We may of course have been unlucky. The fact that we wanted duty free fuel certainly did not help. The following does, however, explain how the tally rises:

Wednesday: Dry run (not counted) to customs to find out if we should get fuel before or after checking out at customs: The answer was that we of course had to check out first.

Friday at customs: “You must get fuel before checking out”. We rushed across to another branch of “Customs and Excise” a few hundred yards away.

Then out to the local BP depot: “Where is your licence to fill fuel in the harbour?” We had to rush back to the Harbourmasters office. We had visited there before, but not this particular office. After that we actually got diesel. Then back to customs, but now they were out. Back again an hour later. A stern face told us to come back tomorrow. “But that is Saturday, and you are closed”. He explained patiently that they would be there. Our wish to leave right away did not matter. Saturday 0900: Five skippers from different yachts waited, all had got the same message, but the office was still closed. 0930: A tired official arrives. He could check us out. “That will be 55 p’anga overtime please”. “What? But we tried to check out yesterday!” “That does not matter, it is still Saturday. But maybe you want to come back on Monday?“ We all paid up and left. Weather windows don’t last forever.

I have posted a copy of this note to the Tongan Ministry of Finance. I was led to believe that they also deal with tourism (you never know). Maybe they will take some action. In the meantime it is better to check in and out in Vava’U. You can always find a way to visit Ha’apai “on the way”.

Jan Fredrik Mack, S/Y Necessity