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While attempting to fly from Vava’u, Tonga to the west coast of the US, we encountered some travel fails, giving us a 30-hour layover in Tongatapu. Thankfully we could make the best of it – stay in a hotel and attend the Oholei Beach Resort Dinner & Show.
Where to Stay
The closest hotel to the airport is the Scenic Hotel, so we booked a night there. The hotel is actually between the domestic and international terminals, with a complimentary shuttle to get you to either. The grounds have a great pool, restaurant, billiards room, kids playground, even a putt-putt course, and a driving range. It’s basically designed for those of us who have a one-night layover in Tongatapu.
Oholei Beach Dinner
After all the travel drama, we needed to go have some fun, so I booked us for the Oholei Beach Resort Dinner and Show. The evening was $40 TOP per person and the shuttle was $10 TOP per person, for a total of $50 TOP per person ($22.50 USD). For an all you can eat buffet plus entertainment that’s pretty good!
The restaurant was down on the beach, a large bamboo shelter with a stage and wooden tables and benches. There was a band playing Tongan music with modern instruments, some songs in English, some in Tongan. We listened for about an hour as people filed in. This is the offseason, and most of the crowd was Tongan. As we got closer to dinner (8 pm), the owner joined the band with a ukulele and played. He talked a bit about the history of Tonga and his family. His father had started this show in the 60s, with the foresight to see an opportunity in Tongan tourism. Amazingly, Tonga’s major industry is tourism, which stuns us because Tonga is NOT a touristy place – it is certainly not a top vacation spot for Americans like Fiji or Tahiti.
The owner of Oholei Beach is a very religious Christian. They prayed. He talked about the blessings of Christ and the importance of religion a lot. It was a bit too much – we were almost uncomfortable with it. Also, he said a few historical inaccuracies. I cringed when he said that Tongans before King Tupou I were atheists; they weren’t. Tongans had their own ancient polytheistic religion but Tupou I forced his subjects to convert to Christianity.
The buffet dinner was a wide variety of the traditional Polynesian foods – roast pig, fish in coconut sauce, salted beef wrapped in taro leaves, etc. The food was pretty tasty, and typically on par with what you see at these kinds of buffets.
Afterward, everyone moved into the Hina cave. We watched about 7 dancers perform traditional dances, many of which were similar to what we saw last year at My Tongan Home in Vava’u, but on a much bigger scale. The Tongans have a seated dance, which is pretty unique. In general, the women are very reserved in their movements, while the men are very energetic, often doing jerky movements and vocally yipping. Then, we got to the fire dances!
Thursday morning we had a lazy day around the hotel – we played pool, read, had our meals at the restaurant, and made it to the airport in plenty of time to catch our flight to the states.