I spent part of my time on the main island, Tongatapu, in the capital city of Nuku'alofa. This is where Amy & Toni own the lot where Toni grew up. There is a main house, guest cottage and a two story duplex all nestled into the small piece of property. Toni grew up in the duplex and a few years ago Amy and Toni had the main house and guest cottage built. They currently have all the spaces rented out with the exception of the lower level of the duplex. That's where they stay when they are occasionally down on Tongatapu.
Since this past fall they have lived up in an outer island group of Tonga called Ha'api. Back in January 2014 Cyclone Ian hit the Tongan island group of Ha'api leaving 800 homes severely damaged - that's over 80% of the total homes in Ha'api. Back in the fall Toni accepted a position with the Tongan government to help manage the rebuilding of homes for families in need. His contract is for one year and requires him and his family to live up there.
They live on the island of Lifuka in the village of Pangai. About 3,000 people live on the island of Lifuka and it's total area is approximately 7 square miles. It was near the north end of Lifuka that Captain Cook was so well received in 1777 that he called Tonga "The Friendly Islands." I was pleased to experience this friendliness during my time in Ha'api. I loved the village feel. Everyone waves and smiles and says hello. Well, actually they say "Bye" as a hello greeting to us 'white' folk. Kind of funny to get used to. Amy says they use the word "bye" like that because you're just greeting each other in passing.
There's not a whole lot to do on Lifuka, but there is a sweet spot called Mariner's Cafe where you can get some yummy food and sit in the open air dining area while sipping from gigantic fresh young coconuts as the cafe resident dogs lounge around under the tables. I also had some amazing food one night at the delectable buffet at Matafonua Lodge; an absolutely stunning resort on the neighboring island of Foa. There is a causeway that connects Lifuka to Foa and it's apparently not uncommon for waves and water to come up over the causeway depending on the weather. You can see evidence of rocks, sand and chunks of coral that have washed up onto the roadway.
On the drive to Matafonua Lodge, you drive across the airport runway. It runs from left to right and you see the ocean on either side of you - pretty cool. If a plane is taking off or landing, a sort of railroad crossing bar will come across to block traffic on either side of the runway. Once you get to a certain point on Foa island, you have to get out of your car and open the chain link gate that keeps the pigs, cows, horses, chickens and dogs out of a whole section of the island.
Once you get to the beach at Matafonua Lodge, it is totally gorgeous. Even on an overcast day I couldn't resist getting in the clear tropical water. It wasn't necessarily warm, but it wasn't painfully cold either. I played with 'Iva in the water a bit and Ollie joined us - the huge white dog who lives at the resort. I hope to return to this resort someday to go out and swim with the humpback whales that migrate there from July - September. Definitely on my bucket list!
Overall I had a really great trip. I loved bonding with baby Melino and had a blast being 'Iva's playmate. I am grateful to have had two weeks to be with my sister and a handful of days with my brother in law. They have spent most of their time on the main island in Nuku'alofa since before Melino was born so they could get to the hospital for his birth and be down there to meet up with my parents and myself at the main airport. After I left they headed back up to Ha'api to really settle in as a family of four with no luxury of daily help from family. There have been some challenging days for Amy juggling both a toddler and a newborn while Toni is at work - especially when 'Iva has a meltdown - but overall they are doing well and figuring it out as they go along.
I really miss my family in Tonga but am counting down the months until I get to see them next. In the meantime, I look forward to our weekly Skype dates and am super delighted that 'Iva is just beginning to talk and sing with me on the phone!
More about Ha'api and it's history