Over­seas Walk: Tak­ing a Ton­gan ‘bush walk’

Go­ing on a bush walk is not the usual ac­tiv­ity for hol­i­day­mak­ers in Tonga, with its golden beaches, sun­bathing, snorkelling, scuba-div­ing and boat­ing.

Walking New Zealand - - Contents -

We were stay­ing at the Sandy Beach Re­sort on Foa Is­land in the Ha’apai group of is­lands which oc­cupy the cen­tral wa­ters of the king­dom.

A ‘bush walk’ was listed in the in­for­ma­tion folder in my water­side falé at the re­sort. So, when we wanted a break from the snorkelling, my son, two grand­sons and my­self meet Sele who will take us on the walk. He works at the re­sort and lives in a vil­lage nearby.

He leads us to the fore­shore on the op­po­site side of the is­land via a rough track. Here the colour of the water is just as turquoise as on ‘our’ side of the is­land but with­out the curve of golden sands.

We walk along a fore­shore that’s mainly broken co­ral and rocks.

Sele pauses at a promon­tory and points out the spot which is par­tic­u­larly good for catch­ing lob­ster. It’s been on the din­ner menu at our re­sort sev­eral times dur­ing our 9-day stay.

Fur­ther along the fore­shore he shows us a large scrubby pandanus bush — sim­i­lar but much bulkier than our New Zealand flax.

He ex­plains how the leaves are cut into nar­row strands and then put in a shal­low area of the sea for about 10 days to be bleached by the salt water. The leaves are then hung out to dry in bunches be­fore be­ing wo­ven into the mats and waist­bands worn by Ton­gans on for­mal oc­ca­sions.

Soon we turn in­land and en­ter the plan­ta­tions. We pass bushy ar­eas of dif­fer­ent crops, dot­ted with the in­evitable co­conut trees and the oc­ca­sional enor­mous fo­tu­lona tree.

As we walk, Sele iden­ti­fies ar­eas of tapi­oca, ku­mala (ku­mara), pele which is a type of red-edged spinach, pump­kin and the root veg­etable taro.

As well as the veg­eta­bles, we pass pa­paya trees, mango, man­darin and bread­fruit — a ripe bread­fruit can grow as big as a foot­ball. Sele points out the nonu bush that pro­duces fruit juice which lays claim to all sorts of health ben­e­fits. He in­trigues the grand­chil­dren by show­ing them the strange red flower of the ba­nana.

Many ex­tended fam­i­lies and some­times a church or or­gan­i­sa­tion own plots in these plan­ta­tions. Each is di­vided by hedg­ing, flimsy wire fenc­ing, or some­times barbed wire to dis­cour­age the odd cow or horse.

We see the oc­ca­sional horse tied up dur­ing our walk and at one stage meet a lo­cal head­ing for his plot on horse­back with a foal in tow.

We come across a fam­ily work­ing on their piece of land. The older of the four chil­dren is putting in some se­ri­ous work with his fa­ther. The younger ones are full of smiles, show us how they can climb co­conut trees and later jump into the back of their ute ready to go off home.

Ha’apai pro­duces the best tapa floor cov­er­ings in Tonga, Sele tells us, as we pass ar­eas of the pa­per mul­berry tree which tapa comes from. It’s not a cheap crop, he says, tak­ing 18 months or so to ma­ture. The skin of the bark is peeled off and strips of the in­ner bark soaked in water be­fore be­ing ham­mered out with mal­lets to en­large it.

Sele points out a tree which has leaves that are poi­sonous and later, a small bush where the fruit is dried and made into neck­laces.

He ex­plains how co­conuts can pro­vide co­conut milk for drink­ing; ‘meat’ for cook­ing and also feed for live­stock; while their leaves can be used for thatch­ing and their trunks for build­ing. The all-pur­pose tree.

The Ha’apai group of is­lands is un­com­mer­cialised and un­spoiled com­pared to many parts of the South Pa­cific. A walk through the plan­ta­tions gives a good in­sight into the life­style of these is­lands which you can’t get in the re­sorts them­selves.

We stayed on the is­land of Foa which is in the Ha’apai group of is­lands in Tonga.

Above: A co­conut palm bends over the sea on the Is­land of Foa. Be­low left: Sele eplains about a co­conut to 9 year old Jarvis. Be­low right: A bit of help get­ting to his plan­ta­tion.

By Ju­dith Doyle

Above left: Work in their plan­ta­tion is fin­ished for the day. Off they go. Above right: Sele ex­plains to my son and his two boys how the pandanus leaves are used. Above right: Be­low right: 9-years-old Jarvis learns about the ba­nana’s life cy­cle.

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