A Travellerspoint blog

Bye Bye Tonga

There was enough time to catch a light breakfast at Friends Cafe (which turns out to be owned by an ex-colleague of Kim's). We headed to the airport around 0900 for our 1120 flight back to Auckland [Auckland-travel-guide-1139106].

On leaving Tonga, here's my summary:

1. It is probably my favourite Pacific Island so far.
2. It is cheaper than many of the others due to the weak currency, the Tongan Paanga.
3. It isn't over touristed. It is very laid back and what tourism they have is on a smaller scale. This creates a much nicer atmosphere.
4. Food was excellent. Every meal we had was great.
5. The only bad thing is the ludicrously expensive domestic airfares. At least the air service now is fairly reliable with Chathams Pacific unlike its predecessors like Royal Tongan Airlines.

I hope to come back one day!

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in New Zealand Comments (0)

Back to mainland

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large_5550_13473167239865.jpgThe King's Palace in Nukualofa.
Today we head back to Tongatapu on the 1535 flight. The timing would allow us some activities (at a push) if we had been unsuccessful with whaleswim on the preceding days. Since we had been rather lucky, we could do absolutely nothing but laze around the guesthouse then go for lunch.

We left for the airport around 1400. Check-in for the Convair flight was quick. But we were soon advised that the old lady of an aircraft had broken down after departure from Tongatapu. They turned back to have the problem fixed. We ended up before 1h45 late.

We got to Tongatapu around 1830 and taxied into Nukualofa staying at the International Dateline Hotel. The hotel was nice from the outside but rundown in the rooms.

At first I was disappointed with the delay as it cut short our already brief stay in the capital. But I realised there wasn't much to Nukualofa and I had seen most of it in the taxi ride from the airport. We walked around briefly and went to Friends Cafe then had a yummy dinner at the Emerald Hotel's Chinese restaurant.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Tonga Comments (0)

Motorcycle Diaries

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large_5550_13473166144695.jpgChurch in Vava'u.
Today is our "spare" day in case weather or other factors prevented us from achieving our whale-swim or dives. Since everything had gone so well, we rented a scooter today to go sightseeing around the Vava'u. Due to its odd octopus-like shape, we thought we could go to a few different arms of the island.

For a start, the scooter was expensive (TOP50) and rickety. The battery wasn't working, so they mounted a car-sized battery on the footboard. It had a tendency to jump off on the bumpy roads.

First we went to the south-western arm. The scenery was pretty with lots of coconut, taro and banana plants. We then backtracked to Neiafu [Neiafu-travel-guide-1193769] to go slightly east to the Tongan Beach Resort.large_5550_13473166148801.jpgBeautiful sheltered waters of Vava'u make it a good stop for boats.The cafe/bar which came highly recommended by friends who had lived in Tonga.

But things didn't go smoothly. We suffered a puncture after overshooting the resort due to lack of signage. We parked the scooter at someone's house and attempted to walk to the resort. Fortunately we met a taxi driver who told us we were heading in the wrong direction and he gave us a ride (paid) to the resort.

The puncture didn't really interrupt our day apart from the little walk and taxi ride. We had lunch at the resort's cafe then enjoyed the sand and sea here. The Tongan Beach Resort has 12 chalets it seems; very nice compared to some faceless mega-resort.

We rang our guesthouse from the resort and the owner Tai organised the scooter-man to come repair our puncture at the house where we had left it. We were able to make our way back into Neiafu mid-afternoon.

In the evening, we went to the theatre. Yes, in Vava'u! But it was a 12-seat venue with nearly no ventialation called the Baby Grand Theatre. It wasn't the reenactment of the Black Hole of Calcutta but instead it was a one-man show called Augustine's Circus. It was a one-man flea circus by a very talented English man. I did see three fleas at the beginning but for the remainder of the show, it was his slight-of-hand (and his big persona) that drove everything else; from imaginary fleas cycling, jumping into water, on the trapeze etc!


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Tonga Comments (0)

Crystal-clear dives

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We toyed with the idea of doing more whale-swims. But no one could take us; they're all full. It's probably better that way as our companions told us our experience yesterday was unbeatable compared to the other days they've had out.

We did two dives instead. The water was absolutely crystal clear. Oh, in diving terminology around 60m visibility. But the marine life wasn't there. I saw a white-tip reef shark, sea snake, some lionfish. There were some interesting swim-throughs. We also dived close to a wall that disappeared freakily into the abyss.

In short, while visibility was amazing, there wasn't much to see in terms of marine life. But there was still plenty to see in terms of the underwater seascape and very enjoyable.

We spent a short part of the evening at Tonga Bob's cantina where there were performances by fakaleitis (lady boys). I couldn't help noticing how some of them had amazing rippling shoulder muscles, as they dancing around in their bareback dresses.

Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Tonga Comments (0)

Swim with whales

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large_5550_13473162524219.jpgOur first sight of the humpback.
We walked down to Dolphin Pacific's office with a large wad of cash at 0830 for our whale-swim adventure. There 8 guests including ourselves (with 2 of them picked up at a resort rather than setting out with us). The rules require a max of 4 pax in the water plus the guide. Some operators operate with 12 guests which means that there are three groups taking turns to swim; potentially you could have a more "diluted" encounter as a result.

We cruised around to look for a whale. When another boat finds a whale, they have the right to that creature for 90 minutes and then they have to handover to any boat that's waiting. So I guess it is a difficult decision for our Captain as to whether to find our own whale or join a queue.large_5550_13473162494825.jpgSwim with the humpback whales; photo by Dyfed Evans.

After over an hour, we found a pod of three whales made up of a pregnant female and two males (so I was told). Another boat was just finishing up with them so we were very lucky with our timing.

Kim and I were the first group into the water, as the other guests had encounters with previous excursions already. We swam towards the pod. They were resting with their noses down (deep down) and their tails up.

Our guide told us to stay put. He knew that after around 15 minutes underwater, the whales are likely to surface and breach (jump out of the water). And sure enough, that's what they did.

They slowly rose from the deep. One of them was so close its fin would have touched my leg if I hadn't moved.large_5550_13473162492408.jpgSwim with the humpback whales; photo by Dyfed Evans.They surfaced and played around for a while. I was absolutely in awe. It felt surreal seeing this with my own eyes.

The whales started blowing bubbles underwater turning our view hazy; we also expected them to go back down soon. It made sense to go back to the boat and let the other half of the group have their turn. We hoped that they would have as good an experience and it looks like they did.

Both foursomes had a second turn in the water. The sight was so unreal I couldn't seem to absorb it all. Fortunately two people had very good quality underwater cameras (we had none). We exchanged email addresses so we could have some snaps to remember the very special day.

Some people in the group had been out 3-4 times already. They rated today the best by far. Kim and I were very lucky to get the last two seats and have such a good sighting. A sighting is not guaranteed as we're not in an aquarium. Operators advise going out 3 times to ensure a comprehensive experience; that would make it an extremely expensive holiday.


Posted by alexchan 17:00 Archived in Tonga Comments (0)

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