Saturday, 7 June 2014

Sunday in Nuku'alofa

My first day in Tonga was filled with excitement and adventures, of which the most important one was finding a post office.

Nuku’alofa is not a big city, and least its center is not big. Definitely not by Paris, or New York or Tokyo standards. By those standards, the capital city of the Kingdom of Tonga is nothing more than a sleepy backwaters village in a sleepy backwaters country.

On a Sunday afternoon, the entire city, or actually, the entire country, gives the impression of having barely survived a zombie apocalypse. The streets are devoid of people, stores shuttered. Wild pigs and feral dogs roam freely and other than that, and the ever-present flies, there are no signs of intelligent, or even of semi-intelligent, life.

So where does the intelligent life go on Sundays? To church of course!

Sundays are enshrined in the Tongan constitution as the day of rest. Work is prohibited and church attendance practically mandatory. There is no public transport, no domestic and international flights, nothing at all.

The Chinese-owned businesses hold the only exemption to this law, and some of them do operate on Sundays. These are mainly hotel restaurants catering to foreigners. After having lunch at such an establishment at the Emerald Hotel, I decided to put my hooves to the pavement (where such a luxury could be found) and do a bit of sightseeing.

The sounds of religious hymns brought me to church. Probably the grandest church in the whole city, this was the Centennial Church of the Free Church of Tonga in Nuku’alofa. This was Sunday, after all.

Although very impressive from the outside, the interior looked worn and not particularly well cared for.

As it was already after the Sunday service, I had the place almost to myself.

There, I quickly made a new friend. This young lady was in charge of tidying up after the Sunday services. Dressed in a traditional Tongan dress, she looked mighty fine and was eager to chat with a friendly horse.

She explained to me where the post office building was located, but warned me that mailing a postcard overseas could be an exercise in futility, even on a weekday.

Apparently, the post office had been shuttered some time ago, and a printing company – Tonga Print took over some of the basic postal functions.

While exploring the city, my hooves took me in the direction of the royal palace. Unfortunately, the royal residence is not open to visitors. Pity. I had to be satisfied with a view through the royal gate.

But since Tongans are a friendly bunch, I made another new friend. As he explained, the Sunday no-work laws do not apply to the royal guard.

These poor fellas work 24/7. He said that he actually preferred working on Sundays, because it was so peaceful and quiet. So what did he do to kill time? Played with his smartphone, of course! Hahaha! I’m pretty sure that a smartphone was not an approved electronic device while on active royal guard duty, but frankly, I can’t blame him. It WAS a lazy, quiet, peaceful afternoon. A wild hordes of the great unwashed storming the royal grounds? No chance. Not in Tonga.

On my way back to the guesthouse, I walked pasted the royal tombs.

Sadly, they were also off limits to visitors. This handsome building also baffled me. It looked important, yet I could not find out what it was. Only later did I find out this was the country’s prime minister’s office.

With the brief tour of Nuku’alofa concluded, I decided to save more in depth explorations for a weekday, when there would be more signs of life on the streets. I retired to the guesthouse and began my preparations for the next day’s journey. But I’ll tell you about it next time.


  1. The church is the Free Church of Tonga, not the Centennial Church. And being a Protestant church there is no Mass.

    1. Thank you for this comment, I really appreciate it. I have now corrected it.