News from happy Ha'apai in Tonga

and "Malo e lelei mei Pangai" to you all!

Take one part sun-soaked, palm-lined beach, add hammock stretched between two palm trees, dash of ice-cold beer, and a pinch of gentle tradewinds, and finish with a twist of tropical sunset. It's easy to lose track of time in the land where time begins. Welcome to the South Sea Island Paradise of Ha'apai in the tiny Kingdom of Tonga!

The peace and tranquility of Ha'apai (in a South Pacific travel poster setting) is an experience not to be missed! If relaxing was an Olympic Games event, this is where you'd come to train! These are the islands where the famous mutiny on the Bounty occurred (could you blame them?), the Port-au-Prince was ransacked, and where Captain James Cook who found Ha'apai to be the perfect place for rest and relaxation and made long stopovers at Nomuka in 1774 and 1777 and Lifuka in 1783, dubbed Tonga "The Friendly Islands."

The low coral islands lined by coconut palms along colourful lagoons and reefs, offer miles of deserted white sandy beaches where you can explore and linger as long as you like. Towering volcanoes can be found here too. In all there are 60 small islands in the Ha'apai Group, 17 of which are inhabited, and all are uniquely special.

The traditional lifestyle of the locals is supported by fishing, agriculture and handicrafts. The friendliest people you can meet are here in Ha'apai. Caesar is to have said, "Let me have men about me that are fat". Well, he would have loved Tonga because the people of Tonga, by and large, are fat. They are proud to be fat. They want to stay fat. If they aren't fat enough by Tongan standards, they want to get fatter. Perhaps that's why "Fakalahi Me'akai" which means "Grow more food", is inscribed on every Tongan coin. And "The Complete Book of Running" would never make the bestseller list in Tonga. The only joggers here are foreigners while bulky Tongans sit in the shade and follow them with uncomprehending stares.

The centre of Ha'apai, Pangai, is located on the island of Lifuka. Just a short trip from the airport, Pangai offers a great deal, from churches, to a royal palace, tombs, fortresses, monuments, shipwrecks, shops and banking services. There's a range of accommodation here, all just moments from the beaches. My favourite is Billy's Place.

And check out the Mariner's Café. It's THE (only) meeting place in Pangai. It was started in 1998 by the taciturn Trevor Gregory (he's a Kiwi - enough said?), who had been wandering about in his yacht "Tranquillo" since leaving Tauranga in August 1997 - "Just liked the place" he said, sold his boat in September 1998, and stayed on. He sold the café to the 40-something South African Craig Airey who arrived on the island in his Endurance 37 yacht "Gwendolyn" in mid-2007.

Another one of Trevor's now-you-see-it-now-you-don't business ventures, Mariners Guided Camping Tours, is also for sale. US$13,800 is a lot of money for a few used tents, if you ask me - but then, nobody ever does!

The new Café-owner Craig has already succumbed to the siren song of these remote and soporific islands which is that on this small and human-sized stage your life will count for more and even your smallest accomplishments will be remembered. Of those who do remain, few are ever struck by homesickness. Why would they want to leave? They echo closely Louis Becke's sentiments - of whom they know nothing - who once wrote about life in the South Seas, "Return? not they! Why should they go back? Here they had all things which are wont to satisfy man here below. A paradise of Eden-like beauty, amid which they wandered day by day all unheeding of the morrow. Why - why, indeed, should they leave the land of magical delights for the cold climate and still more glacial moral atmosphere of their native land, miscalled home?" (Mind you, Saint Ignatious of Loyola's observation on donkeys could be equally applied to many expatriates living in Tonga, "Content to chew the simplest of foods he is free from ambition, untouched by the need to improve himself and even unaware of his pitiful plight. He spends his days as idly as possible and works only when beaten...")

The Mariner's Cafe´ is also the headquarter of the Pangai Yacht Club which has been offered reciprocal rights by the Nelligen Yacht Club, Australia's most exclusive yacht club.

STOP PRESS:  Craig is said to have left Tonga again and is working in Nigeria. So what's going to happen to the Café? Its website has already disappeared. Going, going, gone?

There are so many romantic beaches to wander at sunrise and sunset, or in fact, all day long! You can explore on foot or mountain-bike too - just bring along a change of clothes, beach towel, and snorkel and mask. As you stay in a traditional fale on a deserted beach or uninhabited island, you may think for a moment you have died and gone to heaven. But this paradise is real. And you can live this dream lifestyle for a fraction of what it costs to live anywhere else.

Avid explorers may be tempted to visit the large volcanic islands of Tofua and adjacent Kao in the west part of the group. It was 30 nautical miles from Tofua that the mutiny on the Bounty actually occurred on April 28, 1789. Captain Bligh navigated his 23-foot open launch first to Tofua where he spent four days and where the only casualty of his epic 3,618 nautical mile long voyage occurred: a crewman named John Norton was stoned to death by natives when they tried to seek refuge in a cave while trying to augment their meagre provisions. Tofua is the most active volcano in Tonga and often bellows smoke. The island has virgin rain forest, lots of pumice, is rich in bird life and has a stunning lake in its crater. It's possible to walk to the summit in under 2 hours from landing on the coast, and it's much faster coming back down. Kao is considerably smaller in size but its towering perfectly cylindrical peak is the highest point in Tonga at 1109 metres. On a clear day, you can see Kao on the horizon from Lifuka, 70 kilometres away.

DVD Cover "Traumfischer" In 2004 a German television producer asked for two volunteer families to live for three months on the tiny island of Ha'ano in Ha'apai which is just six kilometres long and has 400 inhabitants spread over four villages. Some 400 families volunteered from which the producer picked Steffen Kinder's and Uwe Armbruster's families, with altogether five children and even a grand-dad. They lived on the island in primitive conditions, cooking on an open fire, working in a neighbour's plantation, and, of course, there was no fridge, no TV, no supermarket. Constant rain for the first three weeks, in the constant humidity the smallest cut becoming a festering sore, and an invasion of lice and fleas and cockroaches were some of the downsides of living in a South Sea Paradise. Their experiences were documented in the film "Traumfischer" which ran on German television and is also available on DVD. Gabriela Kinder's final comments, "Wir wären gerne länger geblieben, aber dorthin auszuwandern stand und steht nicht zur Debatte. Ich würde viele Dinge, die ich sehr schätze, vermissen, zum Beispiel klassische Musik, Konzerte, Theater, Museen und auch Kneipen. Deswegen würde es uns auch eher nach Italien ziehen, falls wir einmal aus Deutschland weggehen sollten." ["We would have liked to stay longer but to permanently settle there was out of the question. There are too many things I would have missed, for instance, classical music, concerts, theatre, museums, even our corner-pub. Should we ever consider leaving Germany, it'd be to some place such as Italy."]

Another film that deals sympathetically with Tonga and its incredible natural beauty is "The Other Side of Heaven" which is about John H. Groberg's experience as a Mormon missionary in the Tongan islands in the 1950s. It is based on the book that he wrote about his experiences, "In the Eye of the Storm." The movie focuses on Groberg's adventurous experiences and trials while serving as a missionary in the South Pacific. While portraying these events, the film refrains from being preachy and discusses little theology, instead portraying what missionaries used to have to deal with during their missions.

For Europeans, life on a small Tongan island may seem akin to the television show "Survivor". It's really not the same thing. However, at this very moment a man from the French-speaking part of Switzerland is living the true Survivor experience. His name is Xavier and he is spending 10 months alone on the island of Tofua. Tofua is an active volcano and for the most part uninhabited. Xavier decided to go there with no more than a knife and some very basic camping equipment to live life away from what he calls the trappings of modern society. You can follow his adventures on his website which he updates each week.

If you're visiting Tonga, be sure to visit Ha'apai: one of the most beautiful groups of islands to be found in the South Pacific. With so many highlights, attractions and history, one cannot visit Tonga without visiting Ha'apai!

Best wishes and
from all of us here in Ha'apai!


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In the meantime, why not send your friends a postcard from Ha'apai?

I love to receive mail !
So, wherever you are in the world, if you would like to send me a picture postcard
of your place or a letter (in English or German), please write to me at

Horst Berger,

But don't expect a quick response as mail is very, very slow to Ha'apai.
Alternatively, you may wish to send an email which will be forwarded to me.

Still want to see more of Ha'apai? Go to the next page

Links to some interesting island reading:

Lots of additional information on Tonga

Thinking of buying real estate in Tonga? Think again!


FARAWAY by Lucy Irvine about a tiny island in the Solomons

A trip to Thursday Island

The story of German Harry ...

... and his eventual demise

A Swedish Robinson Crusoe who lived in the Torres Strait

A trip to Samoa

Ever heard of Oskar Speck? He paddled his kayak from Germany to Australia.

And here you can read about my meanderings through the mystical island of Bali:

Rushhour in Pangai
Mariner's Café
Trevor on a good day
At Billy's Place
Welcome to Billy's Place
...and Billy himself
A hut at Billy's Place
...and the room service
At Billy's Place
Horst doing the washing
Horst at home
Horst at the south tip of Lifuka
Horst at the Mariner's Café
Peter and Horst at the Mariner's Café
Horst's house
Horst's boat
In good company at Billy's
The lane to Horst's house
One of the many beautiful beaches in Ha'apai
Life is a beach
...and another one
Ha'apai's airport sleeping in the sun
Good-bye, Lifuka!
Craig and Magda who own Mariner's Café with Lazy who may become a Kuli-Burger one day
Tongan washing-machine
Horst's place from outer space
Downtown Pangai The busy harbour of Pangai Peau Vava'u's 60-year-old faithful DC3 A last look at Lifuka and the causeway linking it to Foa