After six weeks in paradise, in the lovely Kingdom of Tonga, we decided at the last minute to spend the weekend on nearby Fafá Island in Nuku‘alofa Lagoon. It turns out that, even living in paradise, one needs (make that two need) to take a break from day-to-day routines and relax in a slightly different atmosphere.
Actually, I quite surprised Sūsana Friday morning with my last-minute plans. We’ll go for the evening and, if we like it, we will extend an extra day, I told her. That’s exactly what we did. It took less than ten minutes being on the island before we announced to our concierge that we were staying two nights. It was love at first sight.
Fafá Island, 18 acres of unspoiled white sand and palm trees surrounded by crystal blue and green waters, is about four miles (6.5 km) north of the shoreline near our home in Fangaloto, a suburb of Nuku‘alofa. We can see it whenever we travel Vuna Road along the coast to and from town, usually several times each day.
It’s farther out and just to the left of Pangaimotu Island, itself only a mile (1.6 km) off our coast, famous for Big Mama’s restaurant and swimming place with the half-sunken ship that people like to climb on and jump off.
Motu means “island” in Tongan so Pangaimotu Island is redundant, but everyone calls it that, reminding us of when we lived in Fort Myers, Florida, USA, situated on the Caloosahatchee River. Yes, hatchee means “river” in native-American Seminole language. Redundancy abounds, but I digress.
We took the 5:30 pm launch from the wharf near the fish market and were landed on Fafá about 40 minutes later. The ride was delightful. The Pacific in the relative protection of Nuku‘alofa Lagoon had a slight chop and the occasional spray of seawater splashed our faces, but it was refreshing and ever-more exciting as we approached our weekend resort.
Without a dock on the island, we were transferred from the launch, actually a motorized sailboat, onto a motorized platform that gently ran aground on the beach. With a long gangway extended, we were able to step ashore onto dry land.
How do I begin to describe Fafá Island? The food was amazing. No, really! It was amazing. We ate six meals during parts of three days and did not experience a single forkful of doubtful culinary craft. Flavors were bold when they needed to be and nuanced when subtlety was called for.
We ate fresh fruits, delightful salads of all kinds and main dishes made of beef, fish, chicken and eggs, all garnished with sauces ranging from beans, stewed tomatoes and bacon ranchero salsa to delicate freshly-made tarter to robust gravies and a light and sweet essence of Tongan-grown vanilla beans that we drizzled on marble cake.
Music in the restaurant was melodious and, for the most part, traditional Tongan repertoire. On Friday evening, there was a live band of men who sat around a kava bowl and crooned heavenly strains in their native language and accompanied themselves with four or five diverse stringed instruments. The volume was kept low, as it should be, so that we could converse over dinner without difficulty.
They then performed Tongan dances after dinner, but we didn’t stay, choosing to retire early.
Our accommodation was a traditional Tongan fale or house with the roof rounded at both ends. When Tongans arrived in the islands centuries ago, they mounted their upturned boats on poles to create houses. Or so they story goes.
The overriding theme for our weekend at Fafá Island Resort was leisure time. We relaxed. We played rummy. We slept. We watched the bats, butterflies and birds, including a trio of beautiful blue, green and red parrots that took up residence near our porch. (Or had we taken up residence in their front yard?) We picked up shells. We swam and snorkeled. We laid in the hammock and read. We napped some more.
We walked island trails to and from the open-air restaurant. We even hiked the beach all the way around the island, exploring tidal pools, sedimentary corals on the shore and experiencing the force of the prevailing wind in our faces as we moved from the sheltered, leeward side to the blustery, windward side of the island.
Most of all, we marveled that such a place exists just four miles from our Tongan home.
This morning, as we drove Vuna Road into town, we cast our eyes toward Fafá Island and, with an immense appreciation for the beauty of the earth, promised ourselves that we would go back again soon, when we need another break from paradise or just for the fun of it.
Fafá Island Resort has completely spoiled us. I’m sure that when we do make a day trip to Big Mama’s on Pangaimotu, with the draw of her sunken-ship diving platform, we will be quite disappointed, yet smug in our cleverness for having discovered Fafá first.