Category Archives: THE 3S

TONGA BY STEVE HUNSICKER

Tonga. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Steve Hunsicker, the author of a fantastic memoir called ‘Steve’s Adventure with the Peace Corps’, gives his recommendations.

Swim with humpback whales

It’s one of the few places in the world where you can get in the water and swim with the whales. Most of this is done in Vava’u, but it is also possible in Ha’apai. When you book a whale trip, book several days as there is no guarantee that you will see whales every day. But you might get lucky and get to swim with them each day.

Go to a kava circle (for men only)

It’s a great way to experience an important part of the Tonga culture. You will see kava halls in every village in the country. If you see men inside, go in. Don’t be nervous about entering.  There will be men there who speak English and as long as you make a small donation to help pay for the kava (5-10 Pa’anga which is 3-5 US dollars), you will be warmly welcomed. If they don’t ask for a donation, leave one with the man sitting closest to the kava bowl. Women are not allowed inside, so don’t ask. However, you will occasionally see an unmarried girl inside who is there to serve the kava to the men. She is the only woman allowed.

Try Ota Ika

It literally means ‘raw fish’. However, it is much more than that. It is my favorite Tonga food and is best eaten with some of the small red hot peppers that are often served with it. Not all restaurants serve Tongan dishes, as they cater to the tourists, but you can find it on all the islands.  Just ask. It is pronounced ‘OH-ta E-ca’.

AMERICAN SAMOA BY LYNN PULOU-ALAIMALO

American Samoa. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Lynn Pulou-Alaimalo, an emerging author from the Pacific Islands, gives her recommendations (this week we change The 3s for The 4s).

Visit the Turtle and Shark site in Vaitogi

The story behind this site in the village of Vaitogi is about a mother Fonuea and her daughter, who swam from Upolu-Savaii (Western Samoa) to Tutuila (American Samoa) to seek survival. During the famine days in the village of Salega, they swam to American Samoa in forms of a turtle and shark, until they arrived at the beach of Vaitogi. They turned back into their human form and met Chief Letuli. The village welcomed them. Upon receiving food and clothing, Fonuea thanked Chief Letuli for the love shown towards her and her daughter. She also proclaimed with gratitude to the chief that they will live under the cliffs of the Vaitogi Beach, and if the villagers should ever want to see her and her daughter – they can sing the chant of Fonuea, and they will reveal themselves on the ocean’s surface. The legendary tale has long passed, but the proclamation between Chief Letuli and Fonuea is still alive and preserved by the village of Vaitogi today. The Turtle and Shark site in Vaitogi have become one of the most visited sites in the South Pacific by world tourists. Every time the villagers chants the melody of Fonuea, the turtle and shark reveal themselves to villagers and guests. Become familiar with the song so you can sing along when you visit Vaitogi, American Samoa.

Laumei, faiaga, faasusu si au tama

Aumai le moega’afa- fa’i mai, fa’i mai

Se lauti o laulelei, e lavalava le laumei

Fonuea, Fonuea, laulau mai se manamea

Po o sa i luga nei

Sa Letuli i luga nei

A ua’ina, a la’ina

A solo e mata’ina

Lou galu tu’u la le i’a

Lalelei, lalelei,l alelei!

Visit the National Park of American Samoa

Colonization monuments, World War II artifacts, lands preserved and rare indigenous animals grant tourists an enjoyable quest when they visit American Samoa. One of the large sightseeing parks in American Samoa is in the village of Vatia. It takes a few minutes to drive past steep hills to get there, but you will not ever pass up another tour to Vatia once you discover the breathtaking view of the Polatai and Polauta mountains, lands and natural spring water flowing in from the mountains.

Hike Mount Alava

Hiking up Mount Alava is becoming a point of marathons and sightseeing for tourists and locals. Mount Alava is another mountain monumentally used by the territory for communication signals to reach each village in the territory. From Mount Alava, you can view the capital of Pago Pago, the central wharf of American Samoa in Fagatog unto the outskirt views of the Molioleava Point on the left and the Fatu ma Futi mountains on the right. The boomerang outlook from Mount Alava is best seen before sunrise.

Visit Tisa’s Barefoot Bar in Alega

Privately owned by the lovely Tisa, Tisa’s Barefoot Bar is another great place to relish the view of dolphins while enjoying a cocktail and seafood delight at the ravishing bar in Alega. There are numerous activities and events held at Tisa’s annually. There is a Tattoo or Tatau Festival hosted there every year, where local artists and tattooists can exhibit their talent in tattooing a Samoan traditional tattoo sogaimiti – for men, malu – for women, or any Samoan tattoo. This event also serves our locals and guests in a classic show to display or model their tattoos. Aside from the ongoing activities, there is more to enjoy besides scuba diving and surfing. There’s Rainforest Jungle Tours, Tisa’s Marine Reserve Tours, and Aunu’u Island Tours. The tour to Aunu’u Island is a must!

PACIFIC ISLANDS BY TONY HORWITZ

Pacific Islands. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Tony Horwitz, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and the author of several bestselling books, one of which is ‘Blue Latitudes: Boldly Going Where Captain Cook Has Gone Before’, gives his recommendations (this week we change The 3s for The 2s – just this week!)

Travel some part of the islands by sail rather than on a cruise or motorboat

I did so in Tahiti, which suffers from over-development and pollution. From the water, however, much of it is still magnificent. Sailing through the reef at Huahine and entering Bora Bora’s lagoon at night were two of the more memorable experiences of my travels. They also gave me a profound appreciation of Cook and his men, who navigated these and many other treacherous waters without maps or modern equipment.

Immerse yourself in all things Maori

Many parts of Polynesia were so ravaged by Western contact that their traditional cultures almost vanished. The Maori did better than most, fighting extremely hard and maintaining their language and traditions, which are a large and vital part of New Zealand society. In my experience, Maori are also eager to share their culture and educate visitors. The beautiful east coast of New Zealand’s north island attracts fewer tourists than other parts of the country and it’s a fine place to see a Maori haka, visit a marae, and learn to hongi.

PAPUA NEW GUINEA BY TRISH NICHOLSON

Papua New Guinea. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Trish Nicholson, the author of a fantastic travel memoir called ‘Inside the Crocodile’, gives her recommendations.

Visit Vanimo

Keen surfers should go to Vanimo in West Sepik Province. Its beach is famous for the surf, and there are now local guesthouses and a couple of hotels for a laid-back, friendly stay. You haven’t seen a sunset until you’ve seen the sun go down in Sandaun.

Embark on a journey on the Kokoda Trail

The Kokoda Trail is very popular and has historical wartime connections, but it can become a bit ‘touristy’. To appreciate the real Papua New Guinea environment, hire a reliable guide and walk in the mountains and through the montane jungles of the interior. It can be rough and you need tough walking gear, but it will be a unique experience of one of the wildest natural landscapes in the world.

Visit some of the islands by boat

Because of the difficult terrain, most travel within Papua New Guinea is by small planes, but the first inhabitants came by sea more than 50,000 years ago, and I recommend visiting some of the islands by boat – it provides an entirely different perspective. People on the many small islands surrounding the main island of Manus, for example, lead a different life and culture to mainland PNG, and yet they are closely connected by personal and professional ties.

PACIFIC ISLANDS BY ALAN BOREHAM, PETER JINKS, BOB ROSSITER

Pacific Islands. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Alan Boreham, Peter Jinks, and Bob Rossiter, the authors of a sailing adventure book called ‘Beer in the Bilges’, give their recommendations

Visit Huahine, French Polynesia

Huahine is an island located just northwest of the island of Tahiti in eastern Polynesia. Going there now is like stepping back in time. It is relatively undeveloped, so a traveler has to be prepared to stay in guest houses rather than five-star hotels and to shop in the local market rather than a big box store or hotel convenience store, but that’s how we like it. There are a few foreigners there, like surfers who came from the USA to seek out its perfect waves and never left, and French public servants, some of whom have retired and stayed on. The beaches, scuba diving, and fishing are all excellent; the people are friendly; and the pace is relaxed. In short, it has all of the beauty of Bora Bora without the cost. What more can one ask for.

Visit Western Samoa

Western Samoa was on the route of some of the famous writers of the 19th century, including Samuel Clemens, writing as Mark Twain, Joseph Conrad, Somerset Maugham, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Stevenson lived here with his family, and was much loved by the Samoan people, who called him ‘Tusitala’, meaning ‘teller of stories’. He found his resting place here, on a hill overlooking the South Pacific Ocean. For us, relaxing at Aggie Grey’s hotel in Apia, amid the authentic decorations and artifacts, evokes the romance of that era. While there are more modern hotels on the island, this is still our favorite place to stay, where you can truly drink in the history and savor the culture of the islands.

Visit The Vava’u Group, Tonga

The Vava’u Group of islands, at the north end of the Tongan Island chain, has to be on our list. Not only do the people of the ‘Friendly Islands’ live up to their name, but these idyllic, closely-grouped islands also hold some amazing historical sights. Mariner’s Cave is among the most fascinating places we’ve visited. It is named after a shipwrecked English sailor, William Mariner, who was taken in by a Tongan family, and with whom he lived for four years before being picked up by another ship and sailing back to England. Not for the weak of heart, entering the cave requires you to dive down and swim about fifteen meters through a dark tunnel until you reach a spectacular limestone cave. What is equally amazing is what happens when the water surges into the enclosed space. The water in the air immediately condenses like a fog, only to instantly disappear when the surge subsides and the pressure returns to normal. Depending on the sea condition, this can happen several times a minute. There is also a legend that goes along with this spectacle, which makes it even more special. In the legend, this is where a young Tongan man hides a young woman whose family is destined to be killed by a tyrannical ruler. He visits her daily to bring food and water, until the young man can sail away with her to safety.

COOK ISLANDS BY RACHEL REEVES

Cook Islands. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Rachel Reeves, the author of ‘Mātini: The Story of Cyclone Martin’, gives her recommendations.

Visit the island of Atiu

I’m partial to the outer island of Atiu, which is where my grandmother comes from. It’s an island of 500 people about 45 minutes by plane from Rarotonga. It’s known for spectacular caves and wild pigs and the tumunu, or the local watering hole – a thatched-roof hut where you drink homebrew from a coconut shell.

Experience the imene tuki

There are few things more spine-tingling and arm-hair-raising than hymns sung at church in the Cook Islands. They’re a capella harmonies resounding with indescribable Maori power. Go to church on a Sunday – wear something nice that covers your knees and shoulders, and take some loose change.

Eat umukai

Food prepared in the earth oven. I don’t even know if you can sign up for this as part of a tour – but make some friends!

MICRONESIA BY BRYAN VILA

Micronesia. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Bryan Vila, one of the authors of a truly fantastic book called ‘Micronesian Blues’, gives his recommendations.

Go diving

Diving in Micronesia is spectacular. Chuuk lagoon is popular among divers because it contains more than 100 sunken, mostly intact Japanese ships and about 270 planes. It’s considered one of the best wreck diving destinations in the world.

But my favorite place to dive when I lived in Micronesia was in the blue holes in Palau’s huge reefs. The marine life is amazing, like something out of a movie. I’ve never seen anything like it before or since. And it’s a lazy dive, you just fall off the side of the boat and drift slowly and quietly downward next to the reef face, watching as colors and critters and life swims around you.

Visit Nan Madol, Pohnpei

Nan Madol off the eastern shore of Pohnpei is an ancient compound/city made from huge, terribly heavy basalt ‘logs’ that was under construction for centuries. Construction probably began in the seventh century A.D. In its own way, Nan Madol is just as fascinating as the pyramids of Egypt, but without the hordes of tourists and hawkers selling souvenirs (or at least not back when I lived in Micronesia – I hope it hasn’t changed).

I remember that as you arrive (by boat) there’s this enormous plaza with 25-foot-high basalt walls. But the really impressive thing is that all the basalt that was used to create it and the other buildings at Nan Madol was brought to Pohnpei from neighboring islands on bamboo rafts – or maybe under them. I don’t know that anyone has solved the mystery of how a culture without a wheel could move such heavy objects so far over that kind of terrain.

Attend local events

The best way by far to experience Micronesia is to get to know people and participate in local culture. This isn’t hard to do if you’re polite, inquisitive, and respectful. Most Micronesians are friendly and welcoming.

Listen, smile, and be genuinely kind. Learn some of the language wherever you are. Read up on the culture, so you’ll know how to behave – and remember that proper behavior varies a lot from island to island. Once you get to know people, you’ll probably be invited to a local event. If this doesn’t happen, it’s OK to ask politely if you may join in a feast, a ‘real’ sakau ceremony, or some other activity.

Micronesian feasts are incredible – be sure to bring your appetite. They typically feature traditional foods such as cassava, taro, giant yams, giant chestnuts, fish, pigs, turtles, giant clams, mangrove crabs, coconut crabs, pigeons, lobsters, and – in Palau – crocodile. You will not want to eat again for a week!

Whatever you do in Micronesia, remember always to be mindful that you are the outsider there, and it’s up to you to fit in. For example, in Micronesia, things don’t always happen on schedule, so don’t complain when the shark dive you signed up for is three hours late. Savor the opportunity to sit back and observe a truly unique world, a sky that goes on forever or a sunset even Van Gogh couldn’t imagine. You can’t always get what you want, so don’t whine, just improvise. It’s part of living in the middle of the Pacific.

HAWAII BY LEHUA PARKER

Hawaii. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Lehua Parker, the author of the Niuhi Shark Saga and Lauele Town Stories, gives her recommendations.

Visit Waikiki Aquarium

Located on the Diamond Head side of Waikiki, the aquarium offers an up close and personal view of the amazing undersea world of the Pacific. Through interactive displays and a bazillion aquariums you can learn all about rare and indigenous fish, turtles, corals, jellyfish, and monk seals. Younger visitors enjoy splashing in the tide pool and watching brightly colored fish; older visitors come away with an awareness of marine ecology and conservation. It’s a low-key and entertaining way to spend a morning or afternoon. Tip: if you have an annual membership to your local zoo or aquarium, check to see if it’s on the reciprocal list – you may be eligible for free or reduced admission.

Visit Bishop Museum

Just outside Honolulu City proper, there’s something for everyone at the Bishop Museum. Founded in 1889 by Charles Reed Bishop in honor of his wife, Princess Bernice Pauahi Bishop, the museum is the place to see ancient Hawaiian artifacts, learn about the many emigrants who came to Hawaii, and explore the stars. Docents provide hands-on crafts, cultural activities, and share the myths and legends of Hawaii and the larger Pasifika. Explore star maps at the planetarium, see lava melting in action, and wander the gardens to learn about native and introduced plants. Major exhibits and programs change frequently, so be sure to check the schedule before you go. Tip: closed TUESDAYS!

Visit Iolani Palace

Located in downtown Honolulu, Iolani Palace was the official residence of the Hawaiian monarchy. Styled after the homes of European monarchs, Iolani Palace was innovative, opulent, and full of political intrigue. In 1886 Iolani became the first royal residence in the world to be lit by electricity. Committed to modernity, King Kalakaua had indoor plumbing, hot water, electricity, and telephones installed – well ahead of the White House! The architecture and restoration are beautiful and showcase another side of Hawaii often startles visitors expecting grass shacks. Classes and lectures are offered daily. Tip: free concert by the Royal Hawaiian Band on the palace grounds most Fridays.

VANUATU BY BRYAN WEBB

Vanuatu. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Bryan Webb, an Assembly of God missionary and the author of two fantastic memoirs, ‘Hungry Devils’ and ‘The Sons of Cannibals’, gives his recommendations.

Stay at Ranpator

Ranpator is an amazing village on the west coast of Pentecost. The water is brilliantly clear, the sunsets are spectacular, the people are warm and friendly, and the food is amazing. It is a place where you can completely unplug – no Wi-Fi, no electricity, and no distractions.

Swim in the Man Pool and the Woman Pool Waterfalls on Santo

There are thousands of waterfalls on Santo. My favorite is hidden deep in the bush and far from all commercial tourism. To get there look for a transport headed to Big Bay at the Unity Store. Once you get to Unguru, hike up to the village of White Grass and ask Chief Robert to give you a guide to the waterfalls. It will be about an hour and a half walk total so be sure and pack drinking water and a lunch. There is no more beautiful place to swim and picnic in Santo. As a bonus, you will be swimming under waterfalls that only a handful of outsiders have ever seen.

Spend the day at Champaign Beach

Anyone who has ever been to Santo will tell you to visit Champaign Beach. It is simply the most beautiful beach in the South Pacific. Sadly, I see lots of tourists who only budget an hour or so at this great beach. Trust me, it’s worth a full day. Pack a lunch or plan on walking to one of the nearby bungalows for a simple meal.

PACIFIC ISLANDS BY ANDREW RAYNER

Pacific Islands. Where to go? What to see? What to do? Andrew Rayner, the author of a wonderful book called ‘Reach for Paradise’, gives his recommendations.

Visit The Marquesas Islands

The Marquesas Islands are stupendous and unspoilt. The high Pacific island of the imagination is here, spectacular scenery, untrodden beaches, ruined cities, mountain spires, and people recovering their culture after the devastation of white man’s diseases and colonial rule. Should it be lagoons you seek, consider the New Georgia area of the Solomons, whose huge areas of reefs and islands and villages scattered through the lagoons of Marovo and Vona Vona are unsurpassed. And for atolls, dream of the Tuamotos. Vast rings of rock with coconut fringed beaches surrounding seas of astounding coral. The narrow passes through which 500 square miles of water oxygenate with the tides nurse a true kaleidoscope of life.

Snorkel the coral

I believe nothing on land is as beautiful. Coral damage is so far local, usually the result of run-off from the land. Everywhere swim, snorkel, and dive if you can. Undersea life is so prolific in the islands of PNG that there must be countless as yet unnamed shells, sponges, fishes. Seek out nudibranchs, nature’s exhibitionists.

Attend the dancing, listen to the music, and talk story with the people

And, I’d add, whatever one’s religious views, go to church. In these ways one can start to be part of this mysterious Blue Continent and perhaps soak up a little of its mana.