“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).