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Geography lesson: Tonga is made up of four main island groups. The southern island group and big island are both called Tongatapu, with the capital named Nuku’alofa. The biggest cruising port is in the Vava’u island group, on ʻUtu Vavaʻu island, the town of Neiafu.
Traveling full time is wonderful for the most part, but it can be pretty stressful when things don’t go as planned.
Our flight was scheduled for 10 am originally with a stop in Ha’apai. As I’d put Kjell’s number down as my contact info, he’d received a call that our flight was moved, and we needed to call to confirm. In the morning I called and got no answer, but was able to log in to manage my reservation and see that our flight was moved back an hour and a half.
At the airport, we checked in and waited in the tiny seating area. And waited. It was announced that the flight from Tongatapu was rerouted back to Tongatapu due to the weather. If we wanted to leave the airport we could, and they would call us back for the flight. We didn’t really want to deal with the hassle of getting back out to Starry Horizons, so we opted to wait the weather out. By 1 pm, it was sunny, the rain and sunshine combining to make the air muggy and stifling. But still no plane.
Around 3 pm we were told that all the flights were canceled. We would not be making it to Tongatapu to catch the rest of our flights (four flights total). Real Tonga would call us to make alternative arrangements and we were given a number for Fiji Airways to call to reschedule our other three flights.
Many Tongan locals and ex-pats were pretty skeptical regarding the reason behind canceling our flight, and most of the talk was well, this is Tongan business! It should be noted that it actually was a holiday – ANZAC day – and I think the pilot are all either Kiwis or Aussies.
I received three phone calls which each ended with a “I’ll call you back” before our Fiji Airways flights were rebooked for Thursday, but I still hadn’t heard from Real Tonga for the domestic flight. The rep from Fiji Airways also told me I needed to go to the Fiji Airways office in Neiafu. “Where is it?” I said. “Ask a local” she said, which I took to roughly translate to “I don’t know”.
We still hadn’t heard from Real Tonga and it was approaching 5 pm. David and I were nervous that we weren’t going to get a domestic flight to make our rescheduled flights, so we took a risk and went online and booked the next flight available to Tongatapu – Thursday morning.
We didn’t hear from Real Tonga until almost 9 pm. They got us booked on the 2:30 pm flight Wednesday afternoon, which we gladly took, and they canceled our Thursday flight.
To pass the time and even out the fun to suck ratio, we had dinner with Brian and Carol up at the Aquarium Cafe, and coincidentally Kjell and his family were also there eating. What can we say, Neiafu is a small place.
Keeping in mind that we had no food on Starry Horizons, David and I went to shore Wednesday morning to eat a great hot breakfast at Tropicana Cafe and walk to the Fiji Airway office. Unfortunately, we walked right passed it, and way out of town. It should have taken us only 15 minutes, and instead, it took an hour. Opps. Guess what the lady at the office did when we got there?
Printed out the email confirmation. Smh.
We got to the Vava’u airport on time and made it through our flight. We had been a bit worried about our luggage – the policy is that you get free checked bags ONLY if you have an international flight within 24 hours. Technically with the new schedule, our second flight was 30 hours after our first flight, but they didn’t charge us for the luggage. There was no security, no one even checked our ID! The plane was tiny and hot, but we made it to Tongatapu. One flight down, three to go.
Now we had an overnight layover in Tongatapu. Thankfully we added some fun to our lives by checking out the Oholei Beach Resort Dinner & Show. Thirty hours was plenty of time to catch the show in the evening and relax for most of the next day in our hotel.
To fly back to the states, we were flying Tongatapu to Fiji, Fiji, to LA, LA to Seattle. We had looked at flights to Portland, but it was much cheaper to fly into Seattle.
In the Tongatapu airport, we walked up to the customs officer – he looked at us, we looked at him…the officer and David both said “you look familiar…”. It turns out the young man had cleared us into Neiafu last year – he even remembered our boat name! He reviewed our letter and stamped it before giving us the go ahead to proceed to our gate.
The Tongatapu airport is small (technically 3 gates) but nice. Nadi (Fiji) is slightly bigger (8 gates) and nicer. Then a 10 and a half hour flight to LA and we are back on US ground. Having Global Entry has really come in handy this year, since this is our third flight into the states in four months. And, hey, we saw Arnold Schwarzenegger at the LA airport!
After talking to a few people in Vava’u, I know what I would do differently if I was rebooking my flights. I had just assumed that there are only domestic flights out of Vava’u, but in fact, there is an international flight from Vava’u to Nadi on Fiji Airways. This flight is once a week (Saturday) during the off-season but increases to twice a week during peak season (which just started this week). It would have eliminated one flight and negated having to fly with Real Tonga Airlines. There is also talk of adding a direct flight from Vava’u to Apia, Samoa. Also, if I had a better memory I would have remembered that Del Viento recommended giving yourselves a night in Tongatapu between your domestic and international flights. Smart advice.