Days M105-106: The Friendly Islands

Mon 09.01.12 – Wed 11.01.12:

After quite literally skipping Tuesday, we arrived in the port of Nuku’alofa in the Island Nation of Tonga two days after Sunday… on Wednesday. In what is becoming a bit of a tradition for us us Lilynauts, the port agent came out to greet us off the ship and then took me, the captain and Joe (the ship’s cook) on a tour of the main island of Tongatapu

I should point out that ‘Nuku’alofa’ means ‘Abode of Love’ in English. How much better is that a name than ‘Hull’, ‘Grimsby’ or (urgh) ‘Skegness’? I should also point out that Tonga is the Scandinavia of the Pacific. By that I mean they substantially added to the gene pool by totally stealing the best looking women from Fiji, Samoa, Vanuatu, Tokelau, Niue etc. in days of yore. Much in the manner of the Vikings (hence Danish/Swedish/Norwegian girls being hot to trot). This sits in stark contrast with Bolivia, where all the best looking virgins where sacrificed to the gods, thus diminishing the overall totty quota of said Andean nation. Silly ancestors!

Also, possibly in an echo of what went on in Sparta, the men here are built like the proverbial brick shithouse. The words ‘you lookin’ at my bird?’ would have me on a rowboat fighting the current back to Fiji before you could say ‘eek!’.

First up on our sojourn around Tonga’s main island: the blowholes. Captain Andriy had promised me a show, and by god these babies did not disappoint. A mile-long stretch of coast where every time the waves crashed against the rocks below, small but perfectly formed holes in the basalt allowed the salty brine to shoot ten metres into the air. AWESOME!!

After watching nature’s fountains, we toddled off to go and see the bay where Captain Cook landed in 1773. So overwhelmed by the hospitality and the generosity of the Tongan people, Cook Christened the country ‘The Friendly Islands’. What Cook didn’t realise is that the natives were just buttering him and his men up, ready to murder them all and steal their ships. However, a dispute occurred as to whether to strike during the day or at night and the plan was called off. Cook never found out how close he came to an untimely end.

Well, that is until he actually did come to an untimely end upon his second visit to Hawaii…!

There’s a monument to Cook’s landing, and a breadfruit tree where I learnt what breadfruit actually is from Joe the ship’s cook. Funny that I was there with a Captain and a Cook eh? Only just thought of that. Wakka wakka wakka!

We then headed to the east of the island in order to go see the Ha’amonga ’a Maui (Burden of Maui) – the Tongan equivalent of Stonehenge. The irony being that I’ve never visited Stonehenge, but I have been to the Burden of Maui. Debate has raged over the origin of this magnificent trilithic monument, but the consensus is that, like Stonehenge, it is a calendar for setting the exact dates of midsummer and midwinter. Hey: great minds think alike, eh Tonga?!

In the evening, Captain Andriy and I had a sad duty to perform. I had promised the guys on the Southern Pearl that I would go and see the late Captain Mafi’s family to pass on our condolences. It was with a heavy heart that I met Mafi’s widow and his two daughters. We sat outside their family home and chatted about Mafi as the sun set in the west. They asked me if he had appeared ill while I was on board to which I had to give the honest answer of no: he was faster getting up the stairs to the bridge than I was. But he did smoke like a chimney and the smokes will kill you if something else doesn’t get you first. That’s (sadly) the way they’re designed.

Captain Mafi’s grave was (as is traditional in The Pacific) placed at the front of the house. So, so sad – Mafi was due to return home to his family on the day he died.

Captain Andriy and I headed back to the ship and got ready for tonight. There was an all-you-can-eat buffet followed by a traditional song and dance display going on at one of the resorts to the west of the island. Joe The Cook came with us and I have to say, the place did not disappoint. After filling up our leaves (not dishes!) with tasty seafood, you almost needed to roll me down the beach into the cave where we could watch the dancing.

It was pretty good, but it was the finale that really kicked ass: full on fire twirling, breathing, swallowing and craziness. I loved it. So, Tonga, what can I say? You, like pretty much every Pacific island that I’ve been to so far, ROCK! Us three Lilynauts got a lift back to the ship standing on the back of a Toyota pick-up truck, the night wind whistling past our ears. Man, I could get used to this.

Days M107-110: Towards The Long White Cloud

Thu 12.01.12 – Sun 15.01.12:

The ship was due to leave Tonga at midday, so I made good use of the morning looking for some internets that would allow me to update my much-neglected blog. Looking being the operative word, for I did not find any. Never mind, I enjoyed the walk. So farewell, then, Tonga, you beautiful place. I’m sure I’ll return one day.

Out of the port and out towards the Land of the Long White Cloud, Aotearao. Or ‘New Zealand’ as you heathens insist on calling it. It would take a couple of days to get there, time to kick back, relax, back-up my tapes and work on my inane scribblings.

We arrived on Sunday morning, in good time. Mandy would be arriving in New Zealand tomorrow to begin our North Island Odyssey. This would be our first holiday together since Egypt back in January 2010. As the ship I’d be taking from New Zealand to Australia (in order to then reach country 195, Nauru) would not be leaving until the end of the month, why not eh?

We glided into Auckland harbour at around 10am. Perfect.

I took my leave from the good ship Southern Lily 2 and, after hopping on the courtesy bus to the port entrance, walked to the nearest backpackers. Happily, this was a journey of about 200 metres. Had a come from the airport, the same journey would have taken half an hour and cost $26 one way… on the bus! Considering all of the cargo ships I’ve been on so far have let me on for free, this is how to travel, kids!!

I spent the day re-familiarising myself with the city of Auckland, a place I have not been to for almost a decade. Very like Melbourne, I have to say, but I think I might just like it a leeeettle bit more. Don’t tell anyone 😉

After a blissfully sunny day, I met up with Captain Andriy. We would have one last night out on the tiles. Today was the day that the Costa Concordia sank, and so HOW THE HELL DID THAT HAPPEN?!! dominated the conversation somewhat. With the amount of modern technology available to these large cruise ships, this was already looking like human error par excellence. Sonar, Radar, GPS, Collision Detection Systems… hitting ROCKS off the coast of ITALY?? Nah. What? Nah.

That captain is going down for some time for this, you bet your bottom dollar.

After experiencing the delights of The Occidental, an eye-wateringly expensive (but breathtakingly beautiful) Belgium beer bar, we opted for the Irish Pub: Father Ted’s. Oh yes. There is a Father Ted’s. Although, somewhat disappointingly, you can’t get tea and rollerblading is not allowed.

Somewhat less disappointing was the live band that played. After a few rather decent Beatles covers, I asked the barmaid where these guys were from. ‘Liverpool’ was her reply. ‘My Liverpool?’ I asked. ‘Yeah – Your Liverpool.’

Awesome!! Even better: the lead singer used to go to Bluecoat. My school. Here we are on the other side of the planet and I’m running into people who remember Mr. Hayes, Tittershill, Holt and all those nefarious reprobates who taught me nothing but the Dark Side of the Force.

Small, small world eh? Unlike Melbourne, Auckland stays open past midnight, so Captain Andriy and I made the most of it, there may have been a kebab involved at some point, but I’m pretty sure that those Burger King micro-burgers are the work of the devil. Goodbye, Captain Andriy. It’s been an absolute blast.