It's almost a week since we arrived in Tonga and the days since then have been occupied with some exploring, saying farewell to Emily and Julien, and welcoming Phil. Tin Tin has shuttled from anchorage off the Royal Island, Pangai Motu, to the anchorage off the port of Nuku Alofa. Going ashore there in the dinghy, we tie up to the most ramshackle, decaying and badly built dinghy pontoon that I have ever seen. It's the sort of thing I made a raft out of when I was a Boy Scout with oil drums, and timbers roughly nailed together with 6" nails, most of which are protruding dangerously to puncture inflatables,. Many of the pontoon bits are half sunk as the oil drums have popped out, and attached to them are old boats, many of which are themselves half submerged in a swirl of plastic rubbish. Depressing.
The town has grand government buildings with egg cosy shaped roofs in red, which echo the royal Palace on the sea front, in its intricate Victorian white. Some of the churches also point red spires skywards, giving a themed roof line. The main streets are busy with people and vehicles, but no scooters or bikes. General stores are well stocked with a wide range of goods, and the market has a great variety of fresh produce. Everything seems to be in urgent need of maintenance and repainting,, with a few exceptions which gleam.
We hired a car £15/day and explored to see where Abel Tasman landed in 1643, driving along good roads through well tended villages. Little roadside shops have the fronts barricaded off with grills through which transactions take place, the shelves behind all arranged so that everything can be seen easily, stacked with Punjas Breakfast Crackers, CheeseBalls, and other staples. Roadside vegetable sellers display piles of yams or taro. Dogs wander everywhere, often limping from encounters with cars. Large pigs and their piglets graze the roadside or cross purposefully on a mission. Cows are often tethered under a tree.
Graves are very prominent and colourful in village cemeteries, with big signs proclaiming Happy Fathers Day Papa, quilts or bright cloths draped over the graves or hung on frames. Our explorations took us to the blowholes in coral cliffs where the swell blasted great snorts of spray and millions of tons of water into the air. Further on we found Tonga's Stonhenge, Ha'amomga na Maui, where two massive blocks of coral support a huge cross piece which fits into carved slots. Three avenues radiate through the woods from the stone to the sea, through which the sun shines on 21st June (the shortest day) the Equinox, and the longest day. Two hundred metres away an imposing slab is reputed to be the backrest for the massive blind King who built this in 1200AD, where he could protect his back from assassination attempts, and wave his stick in front of him to keep people at a distance.