Most visitors to Ha'apai spend their time on Lifuka (11 square km) and its adjacent islands. There are convenient facilities in Pangai, a sleepy big village (3,000 inhabitants) strung along Holopeka Road parallel to the beach. There's even electric lighting! The small market in Pangai sells little more than bananas and watermelon. The modern high school in the northern section of the village was donated by the People's Republic of China in 2001. Although Lifuka is Tonga's fourth most populous island, it's only a 10-minute walk out of this "metropolis;" then you're all alone among the coconut palms or strolling along an endless deserted beach. The most convenient and enjoyable way to explore Lifuka and Foa is by rented bicycle.
It was near the north end of Lifuka that Captain Cook was so well received in 1777 that he called these the Friendly Islands. On the same spot in 1806, the crew of the British privateer Port-au-Prince received a different welcome when Tongan warriors stormed aboard and murdered most of the crew. The captain's clerk, William Mariner, age 15, was spared and Chief Finau 'Ulukalala II took him under his protection. Mariner remained in Tonga four years, participating in 'Ulukalala's conquest of Tongatapu using a cannon taken from the ship. Eventually a passing ship carried him back to England, where he spent the rest of his life as a stockbroker, accidentally drowning in the Thames in 1853. In 1816, Mariner published An Account of the Natives of the Tongan Islands in the South Pacific Ocean, the classic narration of pre-Christian Tonga. Scuba divers can visit an anchor from the Port-au-Prince which was rediscovered in 2009.
Continue to Lifuka & Vicinity: Sights of Pangai »