INT. TRAVEL ARCHIVE:
677: The Little Island
Escape the late-winter blues with a tropical blast from the past
675: Scenic Spirituality
Commune with religion and nature in an ancient land
673: Aoni Onsen
Return to a forgotten time at one of Honshu’s most remote getaways
671: The Golden Rock
One of Burma’s many splendid attractions hangs by a hair
669: Hida Takayama
For personal trips gentle to the soul, seek out the old-time charm of Hida Takayama
A serene stroll through history awaits at this seaside retreat
663: Cruising the Bay
Ha Long Bay offers a breath of calm away from Vietnam’s urban rush
Fox fires and bar codes help a rural Niigata town reinvent itself
535: Hotel California
Mark Parren Taylor kicks up the desert dust in Palm Springs, the perennial
Hollywood star retreat.
531: Race through time
The Xterra Saipan triathlon journeys through tropical jungle, up steep mountain
paths and across the sands of history. Tama M. Lung joins the chase.
527: Bohemian rhapsody
No visit to Paris would be complete without taking in the Montmartre district.
Bon vivant Simon Rowe dusts off his French to go exploring.
523: Slow Motion
Mark Parren Taylor touches down in the timeless former seaport of Lukang, Taiwan.
519: Rock of ages
From ancient times to the present, Gibraltar has always been an island of
legends. Stephen Mansfield sifts through its history.
515: Go west, young man
Simon Rowe takes in the big skies and dust trails of Western Australia's
East Kimberley region.
511: All mixed up
Mark Parren Taylor makes land on Macau and finds an enigmatic blend of cultures,
cuisine and heated competition.
505: Earth, wind and fire
A historically imperiled town in Papua New Guinea holds the keys to a magical
getaway. Carlo Niederberger splashes ashore.
501: Off the rails
Braving the 2,010 kilometers of Vietnam's Reunification Express from Ho
Chi Minh City to Hanoi is quite the adventure. Simon Rowe goes along for the
493: Rites of passage
From firecrackers and cheek piercing to divinations and buffalo races, Thailand's
most colorful customs come alive at two annual festivals. Mark Parren Taylor
joins the crowds.
489: Paradise found
Beaches, battlefields and a colossal casino provide tropical pleasures on
the Pacific isle of Tinian. Carlo Niederberger touches down.
485: Through the grapevine
Stephen Mansfield drinks up the delights of the Château Monbazillac
in southwest France.
481: Pleasure island
Saipan awaits the young and young at heart with its pristine beaches, pointy
peaks, and perfect amount of entertainment. Carlo Niederberger checks in.
477: Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst without warning
and wild canines rule the night.
473: Into the bat cave
Sarawaks Niah Caves are home to hairless bats, birds on the brink
of extinction, and lots of bugs, according to Simon Rowe.
469: A fork in the river
Laos ethnic minorities battle the forces of time. Stephen Mansfield
goes upriver in search of them.
465: Action scene
Sick of the short, humid Japanese summer? Tired of the winter? In NZ its
summertime and the living is easy, the food and drink inexpensive, and the evenings
long and lazy. Mark Devlin heads south to explore and party.
457/458: In living color
Simon Rowe soaks in the glow of Samoa's kaleidoscopic streets.
454: From Jamaica with love
Michael McDonagh soaks up the atmosphere in James Bond's balmy birthplace
449: See worthy
Dan Grunebaum drops oar in the stunning caves of Thailand's Phang Nga Bay
445: Great heights
Simon Rowe packs his hiking boots and sets out for Malaysia's Mount Kinabalu
441: Split personality
There are few cities with such an exacting dividing line between past and present
as Lijiang in China's southwestern province of Yunnan
438: Fierce creatures
Simon Rowe introduces us to the untamed charms of Australia's Kangaroo Island
434: Leap of Faith
Simon Rowe dives into a tropical island paradise of waterfalls, reefs and bush
rugby on the Fijian archipelago
430: A week in Provence
Stephen Mansfield explores the historic festival city of Avignon, a medieval
diamond in the south of France
426: Outer space
Surreal sites, lunar landscapes and UFO sightings go with the territory in Chile
422: The Big Easy
The Moorish streets of Granada, Spain are alive with a new Bohemian rhapsody
418: Small awakening
414: Fowl play
The animal kingdom comes alive in the Galapagos
410: The river of spirits
Wading through soulful waters in Varanasi, India
406: Heading north
Marching to the beat of a modern drum in North Korea
Santa's lap - enjoy saunas, Santa and sightseeing in Finland’s Lapland
Seeking the past in China's megacity
Rising from the ashes
Mary King explores the rich history, culture and art of Croatias phoenix
The betels and the stones
Simon Rowe rolls with the tropical exotica on the obscure island of Yap
World heritage site
Land of hope
Salt of the earth
Tour the Uyuni Salt Pan
Suzhou and Hangzhou
The river mild
Top of the world
Memo from the Lower Mekong
Call of the wild
Mad about Madurai
Reservoir of dogs
Simon Rowe visits the Kingdom of Tonga, where storms burst
without warning and wild canines rule the night.
|Chaos reigns in the Talamahu
Flying into Tongatapu was like dropping into a cauldron of
meteorological mayhem. The plane bucked and skidded on the
wind gusts, and the airstrip, from 800 meters up, looked more
like a storm drain than a viable landing zone. On this, the
largest and most populated of Tongas 170 islands, sinister
forces were brewing.
Its the last month of the cyclone seasonthe
most dangerous month, said the bicycle rental man later
that morning, as he counted out my wad of tatty two paanga
notes and handed me the keys to his last mountain bike.
The Kingdom of Tonga, a mere sprinkle of islands, islets
and atolls, lies smack in the middle of the South Pacifics
notorious cyclone belt. Its track record for withstanding
acts of God is a tale of woe and misfortune. Cyclone
Kina devastated the nations four major island groups
a decade ago, carving swaths through vanilla and copra plantations,
turning roads to rivers and crushing reefs and houses with
Now, on particularly dirty days, villagers tote industrial-strength
umbrellas and wear sombrero-like hats woven from coconut palms
to lessen the risk of being flattened by a torrential downpour.
In Nukualofa, Tongas sleepy commercial hub, getting
my hands on a sturdy touring bike was a relatively straightforward
and cheap undertaking. Freewheeling on the islands lonely
highways in March, however, is not an activity encouraged
by the tourist office. Wouldnt you prefer a nice
half-day island tour in our air-conditioned mini-bus?
a concerned hostess asked from behind her information booth.
|Cycling thorough Tongas
roads allows tourists to take in the local sites
Her concern was justified; Tongatapus roads, I discovered,
are fraught with the perils of paradise. Not just cyclone-strength
headwinds and cloud bursts, but falling coconuts, stray pigs,
packs of bad-tempered dogs, and maverick mini-bus drivers
can also prove life-threatening to cyclists.
I set out at sunrise, passing Nukualofas hectic
Talamahu market with its shoppers caught up in a feverish
buying and selling spree of the nations only stable
currency: root potatoes. Huge ladies presided over vast piles
of green bananas, kumara (sweet potato), taro leaves and bulging
baskets of braised chestnuts, while across the street village
elders surveyed the chaos from the shade of a huge banyan
I headed onto the Vahaakolo highway and across the
island towards the village of Houma, home of the Mapua
Vaca blowholes, or chiefs whistles, which
curl along its craggy, palm-fringed coastline. On stormy days,
as ocean swells roll in and buffet the coral ledges, the terrific
crashing sounds and shuddering of earth underfoot can be felt
and heard long before arrival. The big photo opportunity comes
as jets of spray, some up to 50m high, are forced up through
crevices in the coral and into the air.
And up ahead I saw that, beyond Houma and its blowholes,
a storm was brewing.
Wild in the streets
Deviating onto Liku Road, I rode north towards Haatafu
Beach and the site of the first landing by English missionaries,
in 1797. The highway became more buttock-busting with every
potholed mile. Save for the brightly painted billboards that
welcome and farewell travelers, it was impossible to tell
exactly where each village began and ended.
My first encounter with Tongas dogs was at Vaotuu,
a tiny village 11km north of Houma, where a pack of toothy
mongrels pursued me all the way to its dusty outskirts. From
then on, and to the amusement of locals, I rode at top speed
through villages with my legs hoisted high above the handlebars.
Tongas 20,000-odd dogs are an increasing problem for
travelers, though one not considered serious enough by local
authorities to warrant a pest control program.
One tourista Californian surferwho was attacked
in Nukualofa one night, displayed five neat teeth marks
across his lower leg. Another English woman showed off the
scars from an attack that put her in hospital for seven days.
After dark, Tongas streets belong to the dogs,
Often told is the story of an elderly Danish tourist who,
keen to check out the Nukualofa nightlife, spent the
night barefoot, fending his way from nightclub to nightclub
with his loafers loaded with an arsenal of coral rocks.
By late afternoon, the storm I had seen from the blowholes
finally burst across the island, soaking the coconut and taro
plantations and sending villagers scuttling for the shelter
of mango trees and shop fronts. The spectacle of a sodden,
mud-splattered palangi (foreigner) pedaling the pock-marked
backroads was a sight not wholly understood by a population
used to keeping the big wet at bay.
Cycling across Tongatapu, as the tourist office will kindly
point out, is a dirty business. But despite the odd bump and
bruise and unruly pack of local hounds, it sure beats taking
Tonga is roughly two and a half hours by plane north-east
of New Zealand and one and a half hours south-east of Fiji.
Air Pacific flies from Narita to Tonga via Fiji weekly, see
for flight info and bookings.
Where to stay
Winnies Guest House (tel/fax: 676 + 25215) has beds
for T$30 including breakfast. Centrally located in Nuku'alofa
and with bicycles to rent.
Visit in May to October for warm and dry days and cool nights.
November to April tends to be hot and humid.
Rental bicycles are available on Tongatapu and the other major
islands for around T$10-15 per day. The Friendly Islands Kayak
Company (tel: 70173), on the neighboring island of Vavau,
also runs mountain bike tours. Watch out for dogs, cows and
pigsthe usual cycling obstacles in Tonga.
Photo credit: Simon Rowe