Paradise dwells on the island of Uoleva…balletic palm trees brimming with sweet coconuts, pink clouds skimming a cobalt horizon, and a soft lullaby of waves kissing my toes. I’m sheltered from civilization here. No electricity, traffic noise, or obnoxious technology have a home on this tucked-away oasis – it’s just a few languid backpackers stretched out in various stages of sleepiness, a sultry sun, velvety sand, and soothing, tropical breezes. All I seem to be missing is a bottle of Tongan rum to mix with my daily coconuts, courtesy of our strong island man with excellent climbing skills and a two-foot machete.
My English friends and I arrived to Uoleva two days ago. We first attempted to walk here at low tide, crossing by means of a reef that links Uoleva to the much bigger island of Ha’apai. Timed just right, it is possible to walk the 1 kilometer between the islands by skipping across some higher stones and sand dunes that crest at low tide. Alas, we were not as lucky as previous voyagers.
As with all things in Tonga, the tidal charts at the visitor’s bureau were a bit outdated…like from 1996 outdated. Nobody on the island seemed to know just when low tide might be so we were left to sit on the beach and haphazardly guesstimate the opportune moment to hike across the exposed reef. Unfortunately we got preoccupied playing with some wild horses frolicking on the beach, thus delaying our channel crossing about 15 minutes too late. Instead of slowing sloshing across the shallow reef with water barely nipping our ankles, we wound up fighting a mighty intense current while carrying our bags over our heads. That should have been our first clue.
What could have been an enjoyable trek across a simple sandy bank turned into a perilous journey falling on sharp rocks, slicing open bare feet, and hurrying to reach the Uoleva side before we were washed way by the ever increasing tide. Halfway across, even I was a bit afraid that we were all going to meet premature deaths on the glorious Pacific Island. “Western Girls Attempt to Walk on Water” would have made a nice headline for the Tongan daily newspaper. We eventually gave up and returned to the beach to hitch a ride with Jim the boatman.
And here we are – The hazardous trek attempt was well worth the trepidation and foot lacerations. Uoleva is completely isolated except for one lonely guesthouse called Taiana’s Place. No electricity, no running water, no dogs fighting pigs, no pigs fighting cats, no cars honking – ahhhh, peace at last. Uoleva is truly a Tongan paradise.
Back to the simple life – My first shower considered of washing my hair in the sea with the faint glow of an oil lamp. Later, we made a bonfire from forgotten coconuts and torn palm fronds and boiled a kettle for tea and noodles. After sunset, there is nothing to do except lie on the deserted beach and watch shooting stars. We counted twelve of them and I almost ran out of wishes….almost.
Taiana’s Place is simple, but comfortable – a real off-the-grid accommodation (they types I love best of course.) Our fale’s have mattresses with mosquito nets and hammocks, and there are shared shower and toilet facilities on the property. The shower tap uses rainwater and is slightly cold, hence washing my hair in the sea the first evening. If self-catering, there are adequate kitchen facilities, or Taiana and Kalafi will provide delicious Tongan cuisine for a minimal rate.
Our hosts – Taiana and Kalifi are the lovely Tongan couple who run this beautiful guesthouse. Taiana is 100% kind heart and pure energy while Kalafi is a fantastic mash of gentle soul and quiet wisdom. We sat down to share a cup of tea one rainy afternoon, and Kalafi entertained us with stories about his incredible life. He was once a well-known boxer and a prize winning spear fisherman among the South Pacific islands until a freak accident cost him his right arm. Now Kalafi spends his days on a small fishing boat, cruising back and forth between the islands and taking care of his guests and family. One of his many talents is making homemade bush beer, a strong, fuzzy concoction that he shared around our campfire on many occasions. Whatever was in that drink brought about many interesting conversations that lasted well into the morning hours.
You haven’t seen a tropical paradise until you’ve seen Uoleva – I read five novels during my stay on Uoleva. I daydreamed, made pictures out of clouds, enjoyed aimless walks along sandy shores, and got lost in the brightest of night skies. After four days, I really wasn’t ready to leave, but Jim the boatman arrived for our transport back to Ha’apai. We hugged our gracious hosts and took in one last scenic stroll along our Tongan paradise before climbing aboard with Jim. As we motored away, my friends and I gazed fondly at our little, sandy utopia and promised that we would one day return.