“We Tongans party today, and there’s nothing on the table tomorrow,” a Tongan woman tells me as we queue at Tongatapu’s airport. It’s 2am, I haven’t even set foot in the country and already I’ve been warned that Tongans are hardened socialites.
Looking around, I realise it’s true. You’re nobody if you’re not kissing a staff member. Customs officers, passport controllers, baggage handlers – they’re all wrapped in warm, loving embraces from the passengers from our plane, all serenade by a tuneful, live ukulele band. I guess there’s a reason why Captain Cook called them the Friendly Islands.
My recent story in Air Niugini’s inflight magazine, Paradise, finds the song of Tonga, from ukulele bands at the airport to the ancient, deep and almost mournful whalesong that reverberates through the water and into my bones.
It’s not a country high on the tourism radar, and I can’t work out why. Surely the great Aussie tropical getaway is the new one-two – first stop Fiji, second stop Tonga (the whale-loving archipelago of Vava’u is now connected by direct flights to the Fijian capital, Nadi).
Fascinated by nature’s spectacular fireworks, a breed of adventurers chase volcanic eruptions around the world.
Peering into a chasm into the earth’s crust is the chance to peer into creation – pits of bubbling, boiling lava, deep rumbling voices from our planet’s core, plumes of sulphurous gases and the spectacular, powerful arcs of red-hot, molten lava shooting into a darkened sky.
For some, it’s a glimpse into hell. For others, it’s the perfect holiday.
“I guess we’re like storm chasers and people who want to see solar eclipses – we’re in the same family,” says Belgian geologist Dr Ingrid Smet, a guide for Volcano Adventures (VA).
My piece on volcano tourism was published in Paradise, the inflight magazine of Papua New Guinea’s national airline, Air Nuigini. If you’re not on an Air Nuigini flight any time soon, you can read the full article here.