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Sunday, February 15, 2009

Don't Worry, Be Ha'apai!


In September 2006, I visited the Kingdom of Tonga in the South Pacific where on the remote island of Lifuka in the Ha'apai Group I met Horst Berger from Austria (not Australia but Austria, that little country in Central Europe where they speak German with a funny accent), who had settled there some twelve years earlier.

My little webpage gives you some idea of the remoteness of Lifuka whose main settlement (town would be too grand a word) Pangai consists of little more than a few shops, a post office, the local airline office, and the Mariner's Café, operated by another expat. It seems that Lifuka's remoteness was not remote enough for Horst who has just relocated to the even remoter island of Uiha where he's renting a house in the village of Felemea (brings to mind D.H. Lawrence's story "The Man Who Loved Islands").

Uiha is a tiny island, three miles long and half a mile wide at its widest point, with two villages, neighboured by the even smaller Tatafa Island, which is uninhabited and accessible by foot at low tide (if you are feeling brave; ask a local for the best route).

Uiha's resort

Uiha has 'Esi 'O Ma'afu - phone 60605 which is a small 'resort' - well, really a house, which belongs to 'Esi and his wife Kaloni and family, and a group of fales, or huts. There is a toilet and shower room (cold, dribbling and shared) and ... well, thats it! Meals can be provided at extra cost, up to $15 (Tongan) for the lobster (if they catch any), but considering the lack of world-class restaurants on the island, you're pretty much a captive audience. The fales have mattresses and sometimes mosquito nets, but no electricity or anything else for that matter.

Drinks can be bought, there is a kiosk shop nearby, and with some notice, your hosts can nip in the boat to Lifuka Island to pick up some Royal Tongan beer (quite possibly the finest beer in the world... well, it certainly tastes like it at the time). For entertainment there's 'Esi and his family ... other than that it's the conversation of the other guests that keeps you amused.

So why go? Well, the beauty of the island is indescribable. The blues and greens of the water, the leaning palms, the distant volcano and the endless coral formations all make the island a surreal South Seas Island paradise. Peace and quiet, lazy days in hammocks reading books, isolated and deserted beaches, private lagoons, no phones, no tv, no kids (except the locals), beautiful forest, spending a few hours on deserted Tatafa Island, tasty seafood and amusing breakfasts such as an omelette with chocolate cake on top. There is something indescribably great about waking up, crawling out of bed through a plywood door onto the beach, drinking out of a freshly opened coconut, washing in a bucket of cold water, then settling down in your hammock to watch the sun dance over the Pacific Ocean, while discussing the merits of fly-fishing with another guest. All your senses tell you, "STAY LONGA IN TONGA".

Uiha Island's 600-or-so inhabitants survive mainly on fishing and financial assistance from overseas relatives. Its children eventually have to attend school elsewhere because there are only elementary level classes on the island. The lack of education available to those children perpetuates the cycle of poverty and the community wants to build a kindergarten. If you can help, please contact them via this webpage.

If you want to give Uiha's newest resident a thrill, send a postcard to
Horst Berger
Felemea, Uiha Island
Kingdom of Tonga
South Pacific

Felemea Village