People regularly ask me why property in Vava’u Tonga is so inexpensive.
Compared to other island countries, like Fiji, Tonga’s prices are so far below Fiji one has to suspect something. Rightfully so, for there are reasons why Tonga is priced at highly suspect low prices.
Firstly, know that we judge things by association, by comparison and with assumptions, which, without the facts and full story can throw off our ability to see things for what they really are.
The number one reason for a lower price in Tonga is; you can’t “buy” land in Tonga, you can only lease it. Leasing is generally perceived to be not as costly as owning, therefore the lower price of land acquisition.
The number two reason for Tonga’s low prices is probably the battle scars Tonga has racked up for one foolish thing or another. Allowing fraud in land dealing to get entrenched before they could extricate the culprits was a big one. The sinking of a ferryboat, the past and recent domestic airline debacle and the fiascos Tonga gets itself into leave scars on its otherwise well meaning and innocent face. Tonga is one of the last frontiers and new at about everything to do with development.
There are often positive ways to see negative things. When you bother to get into it, every negative out there seems to have a positive in there to offset or even flip the negative into positive. You just have to analyze it and see it for what it really is. For example; if you want to live in a nice home with the ocean scene taking up your whole picture window and a beach below, and all you have to spend is $100,000; you would be out of luck when a “freehold” lot without a house on it could cost more than your entire budget.
However, an equivalent piece of property under a lease might cost one tenth that of freehold. That being the case, you have the luxury of having money left over to build that dream home and live like the rich and famous. One must consider this leasing option versus waiting and maybe never achieving this lifestyle in their lifetime. If saving up the cash is your other option to get freehold, that takes time and time is precious, at least for us expats time is precious, but we will never convince many Tongans of that concept. Island time is infamously slow in South Pacific. Why? Because when you are living in the moment, the ever most pleasant and continuing moment, immersed in nature’s most comfortable and peaceful surroundings, you don’t mind the time it takes for about much of anything.
Back to land; Yes freehold is preferred if you have the budget to afford it and it comes with the same view and waterfront, and money left over for the uncompromised home too, go for it. Tonga doesn’t have freehold, but they have the next thing to it, renewable 99-year land leases.
Leasing has its place certainly, even when you have the choice of either, as in buying a car for cash or leasing it, leasing is often the preferred method of have what you want now. The car or land is essentially owned during the term of the lease. Land leases at 99-years gives you a lot of time to enjoy life rather than accept nothing or have to wait just because you can’t “own” it. Heck, even the World Trade Center in NYC is on a 99-year lease. (Another reason to consider moving to the South Pacific)
I have had people tell me, smugly, that they would never invest in a lease property, only freehold. I know some of these same people did not have the money for freehold, so they may never experience what was certainly driving them, a life in paradise all the way to the beach below. The hard core demand for freehold dilemma is more mental and emotional than logical, given the price differences.
As for how Tonga’s past screw ups and island methods of doing things can work for you, if you aren’t the type to fall apart at every little thing, these things serve to keep the competition down in almost any business. One has to adapt to the imperfections of the place and roll with them. However, if you are just retired and living off of pension income, you can sit back and relax and even laugh at the most entertaining situation comedy right here live, right before your eyes.
Having lived in the islands for over 13 years, Tonga and now Fiji, I have learned, never put yourself in a position where you have to rely upon anything going efficiently, for it rarely does for very long. When you are in business you have to see these aberrations as part of the natural element, like a flat tire that keeps coming back. This causes most of the uptight people to not get into a critical business activity, which otherwise serves anyone who doesn’t mind the bumps and doesn’t want tons of competition and is willing to take a break when the ferry breaks and the airline too. —both at the same time, which did happen a few years back. When that happens you just head for the pub and enjoy waiting out the whatever just broke and have fun joking about your life in this lovely Alice in Wonderland—a life most of us would never trade for going back to our homelands of rules for everything and even that is breaking down rapidly these days.
The way to see the Vava’u Island Group of Tonga is; it is one beautiful place, and thanks to nature, for Tonga had nothing to do with that part, but Tonga with its keeping things slightly off perfect has certainly kept it from being overdeveloped. This natural attraction tends to remain so, in spite of some five star attempts to make it Hawaii or the Maldives. The big time operator, the Warwick Hotel Group has had land leased for a few years now in Vava’u and for some reason, which we can guess, they have not elected to risk the investment to build a big expensive hotel when the airline can’t timely and regularly deliver their high priced, high expectancy guests. Tonga is for the easy going, casual types who expect delays, flat tires and are entertained by the unexpected.
The only event like a clock that keeps time are regular tourists that come to Tonga, and in droves; the world cruising yachties, and by their own trusty boats. They don’t rent rooms but they sure do drink and eat, and all over the place, in town, in the islands and they love those “full moon” parties. (Hint: there is a good business, serving them) You can count on them to be there and you can make a good living from serving their kind of tourism needs.
If Tonga resembles Alice in Wonderland a little, the Tongan version has that white rabbit sleeping in a hammock with his watched stopped for his forgetting to rewind it. Tonga demonstrates how life should be taken, with a laugh and with self-evident freedom beyond any land of the free. We are fine and enjoying what nature generously provided and what man has made too relaxed for the rigidly inflexible to enjoy. Life is good as it gets with no frets as a retired or independent resident.
Robert Bryce, Retired.