September to November 2018
I show my photos of fishes and crabs in Tonga on this website.
After a night on the main island Tongatapu I flew to the archipelago Ha’apai, 160 km away, where I swam with the whales.
Compared to the more touristy Vava’u archipelago there are only a handful of whale tour operators, so that the whale swimming experience hardly has to be shared with other boats. A few tourists come back again and again for diving or kitesurfing. The capital Pangai is a village.
A road leads over the runway of the airport. It is closed when an airplane takes off or lands 1 or 2 times a day.
The large crops in the foreground are Taro plants, whose roots are one of the most important staple foods. The leaves are also eaten.
The deceased are buried under burial mounds.
A local caught these fish with a machete.
I often visited the Mariner Cafe, which is run by the Polish Magda. The name of the cafe refers to William Mariner, who as a teenager served on the English ship “Port au Prince”. The ship was captured by the Tongans in 1806, pretending a friendly contact, and all but four crew members were brutally killed. Mariner was spared, as the head of the Ha’apai people called Finau saw in Mariner a resemblance to his son who had died of an illness. Mariner came under the protection of Finau, lived for four years among the Tongans and learned the language and customs. He finally returned to England, where a book about his experiences was published, the first to describe the conditions in Tonga.
A few years earlier, in 1789, another historic event took place in the Ha’apai archipelago when Fletcher Christian started the mutiny on the Bounty off the island of Tofua.
Magda has been living on Pangai for 13 years and is now married to a local and has a son. She is a good cook and is the information hub in Ha’apai. She has also been active as a dating agent. Since one of the resorts where I was staying was a 20-minute walk or a 5-minute bicycle ride from Pangai, I occasionally stopped by for a meal or a beer. She has homemade sausages on the menu, whose skins her father sends her from Poland. Also the dried mushrooms in various dishes are from Poland. She is an energetic woman who has now started planting coffee and extracting honey from her own beehives. On a Saturday evening she organized an Oktoberfest in which almost the entire foreign community of Ha’apai attended. Magda put on her Bavarian Dirndl and served homemade sausages, sauerkraut and pretzels. There was a great atmosphere and for me a good opportunity to meet all kinds of people from dropouts, resort owners, tourists, aid workers, tour guides and yacht people.
I also got to know many stories. For example from an Australian who negotiated the price of a resort he wanted to buy. During the negotiations on January 10, 2014, the category 5 cyclone Ian moved over Ha’apai at up to 287 km/h wind speed and destroyed all the houses on the island. He had been lucky not to buy the resort before.
Also lucky were the members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (also called Mormons). The construction of their houses was paid for by the church. It is not surprising that the church subsequently gained new members.
Another story is that of the Austrian Horst, who has lived on Tonga for 23 years. Today he lives a little outside of Pangai in a simple hut from his pension. Today you can hardly imagine how remote Ha’apai was back then. The two grown-up children from a woman from Tonga now work on the main island Tongatapu.
I spent the second part of my stay in the Ha’apai archipelago in a resort at the northern tip of the island Foa, which had great snorkeling areas. Unfortunately the weather was mostly cloudy and very windy. The kitesurfers got their money’s worth. On the west side of the island it was mostly calm.
The weather was mostly overcast and windy. In sunny weather, the color spectacle was impressive!
One day I spent as part of a “Cultural Tour” on the island Ha’ano, only inhabited by locals and an aid worker. Meanwhile, there are about 10 mostly old cars on the island that drive the only 4 km long road between the villages Muitoa and Fakakakai. The main village Ha’ano counts 150 people and 4 churches of different faiths, which underlines the religiousness of the Tongans once again.
Schoolchildren on the island of Ha’ano
Weaving a mat
After 3 ½ weeks in the sleepy Ha’apai archipelago I returned to the main island Tongatapu for a few days.
Views on the flight from Ha’apai to Tongatapu
Over 70% of the inhabitants of Tonga live on Tongatapu. The Royal Palace is on this island and the international airport is also here. On the very first day I also got to know the hospital after being bitten by a dog. Fortunately there is no rabies on Tonga. The treatment was free of charge, probably because the accounting office had already closed.
The island offers a few attractions that I visited in one day with the rental car.
The rental car was a kind of Chinese Trabi, as the body was made of plastic.
First I visited the beach, where at low tide the pigs search the beach for mussels, crustaceans and sea algae and so broaden their diet. Thanks to this diet, the meat of these pigs is said to taste more aromatic.
Trilithon of Haʻamonga ʻa Maui
The trilithon of Haʻamonga ʻa Maui is an imposing and mysterious building. A trilithon is a structure consisting of two large vertical stones and a third horizontal stone resting on the two vertical stones. The arch is more than 5 meters high and the whole structure weighs 30 – 40 tons. The structure was probably erected in the 13th century and could be the entrance gate to a royal palace or a symbol of the brotherly love desired by the king between the two quarreling sons.
The ´Anahulu cave contains a freshwater lake in which visitors can swim.
This natural bridge in the cliffs of Tongatapu called Hufangalupe
Mapu ‘a Vaea’s
In the area of Mapu ‘a Vaea’s the waves break in an impressive way.
The huge tsunami rock is a piece of the offshore reef. Scientists believe that this rock was washed onto the land by a tsunami.
Palm trees dominate the western part of the island.
Triple-headed Coconut Tree
After the beaches in the westernmost tip of the island I visited the palm tree with the three heads on the way back. It is considered one of the major attractions and is signposted accordingly.
Next I wanted to take the ferry to the island of Eua. At the harbor I was told that the ferry would leave the next day at 4 pm. The next day I called at 12 noon to see if the ferry was really going. To my surprise I was told that they had moved the departure forward to the morning and that the ferry had already left Tongatapu. And there was no crossing planned for the following day. So I went to the office of Realtonga, the airline of Tonga. The flights for the same day and for the following day were already sold out. Since I didn’t want to rely on the ferry anymore, I bought a ticket for the probably shortest flight of a commercial airline, because the flight takes only 7 minutes. This gave me two more days in Tongatapu, which I spent mainly at the computer. The next day the ferry company called me and told me that they were leaving and that I should be at the port in two hours. Hmmm … Now I had already booked a flight ticket for the following day. So it goes in Tonga.
The flight to Eua was a journey into the past of aviation. The machine, which could transport nine passengers, was more a flying box and old. I sat right behind the pilot and could observe him at work. There was no co-pilot. If, for example, the pilot had dropped out because of a physical problem, we would inevitably have crashed. People who had flown on another day had two pilots on board.
On the route to Eua Realtonga uses a 9-seater aircraft of the Chinese producer Harbin.
At that time I didn’t know that this pilot almost took my life on the return flight.
Eua is with 40 million years the oldest island in Tonga. Although it is only 15 km away from the main island of Tongatapu, the vegetation is much more lush and people are even more relaxed. The houses as well as the cars are often in a bad condition. There is no public transport and it is not necessary either. The inhabitants of Eua are very nice and like to transport the hitch-hiking foreigners. It is common that the local motorists accept sometimes long detours for the tourists.
Locals in Sunday dresses on their way to church. Both wear the traditional Ta’ovala garment around the waist, which is different for men and women.
There are three hiking areas on the island. On the first day I visited the south of the island.
Mata Mahina Hopo lookout
The Mata Mahina Hopo lookout with a view over the cliffs and the sea.
Only 40 km away from the island is the Tonga trench, where the sea is the second deepest in the world with 10.8 km.
On my way to Fangatave Beach I passed this water reservoir, which was sponsored by the Chinese. Everywhere in the country I encounter donations from different countries, especially from Japan, New Zealand, Australia and China. Apart from helping, the donors hope for influence in Tonga with its geostrategic location.
The Fangatave beach was only accessible via a steep path. In some places there were ropes to help the hiker climb down.
On the beach a few caves can be explored.
Giant Ovava Tree
On the second day we were a small group who first walked to a huge, very impressive Ovava tree (also called strangled fig tree or banyan tree).
The Giant Ovava Tree is over 800 years old. This photo shows only a small part of the tree.
Not far away was the well worth seeing Smoking Cave, an 80 meter deep steep abyss where water evaporates and rises as steam.
The Lokupo Lookout offers a wide view over the coast of the island.
We continued to the Rats Cave, where no rats live. The cave got its name because it resembles an oversized rat hole. At the end of the short cave there is a hole in the cliff.
On the highest point of the island is the grave of the New Zealand soldier Yealand, who was killed during the Second World War by a comrade from Tonga during a dispute (the memorial plaque says “unfortunate misunderstanding between unit members”).
The vegetation on Eua is very diverse.
The end of our hike were the Hafu Pools, a few basins of a small river in which we cooled down.
The third hike led us to the north of the island, where steep cliffs also predominated.
A reader wished that I could be seen more often in the photos although I am definitely not the selfie-guy.
After a hike we came to a natural bridge which was very similar to the natural bridge on Tongatapu.
On the way back we met a herd of horses.
After a 6 km long hike we reached the Ha’aluma beach, which was not suitable for swimming. One truck after the other was loaded with sand for the construction industry on the beach. One of the truck drivers took us back to the village where we had our accommodation.
The next day I flew with the same small airplane and the same pilot back to the main island Tongatapu. Shortly before the start of the flight an ambulance arrived and a man was carried on the stretcher to the back of the plane. Later I learned that he was suffering from a contagious pneumonia. The pilot said that we were in a hurry because of the patient and that we were about to take off without further explanation. The shortest commercial flight was now even shorter. During the landing approach it flew a steep curve to the runway, but this time we were already much lower and lost further altitude in the curve. Since I was sitting in the front, I could see the plane dashing towards the ground and the fence at the side of the airfield was only a few meters in front of us. I thought these were my last seconds. At the last moment the pilot was able to accelerate the plane so that it didn’t lose any more altitude and the extended wheels didn’t collide with the fence, which would inevitably have resulted in a crash at still high speed. We landed safely. But the shock was written all over the faces of all the passengers. Some locals have flown this route many times, but they also said afterwards that they were scared to death. I spoke to the pilot about it. He took it easy and only said that he had arranged a faster approach route than usual with the tower because of the patient. This time it went well again and maybe the next hundred times as well. But exactly this makes the pilot self-confident and at some point there is not enough margin anymore. I wouldn’t be surprised if we read about a crash on this route in the future. I wrote an email to the airline and drew their attention to the danger, but received no answer. Actually, I have no fear of flying at all and tend to ask the doubters what is the most dangerous thing about flying. The answer is the trip to the airport. In Tonga this is certainly not the case for the Eua route.
I was lucky that my flight with RealTonga from the main island Tongatapu to Vava’u was not cancelled because cancellations are common with this airline.
The Ha’apai archipelago lies on the way to Vava’u. In the middle of the picture is the Tao volcano. With 1’030 meters it is the highest mountain in Tonga. Just to the left is the island of Tofua, where close by the mutiny on the Bounty took place in 1789.
An impressive evening atmosphere
The highest point in Vava’u is Mount Talau, 131 meters high, from where you can enjoy a view of the capital Neiafu and the islands.
As in many other places I explored the surroundings by bicycle. This was a bad idea on this island, because in several places I was hunted by packs of dogs. A dog even bit me. That was the second dog bite in my life. The first time a dog bit me in Tongatapu. My destination, the ‘Ene’io Botanical Garden, was closed. I didn’t dare to cycle back anymore and called the owner of the guesthouse who picked me and the bicycle up with the pick-up.
A local treated the wound with the juice of a local plant.
In the Guest House in the capital of Vava’u I met a Swedish woman who told me about her upcoming stay on the island of Ofu. She inspired me for this island, so I accompanied her. The Swede worked for a few weeks in a resort in the Ha’apai archipelago, whose owner I met in the Mariner Cafe. The world is small in Tonga.
The island of Ofu is only a few kilometers away from the main island.
There are no vehicles on Ofu. The “main road” is well maintained. There are even solar-powered street lamps donated by Japan.
Each house has its own solar cells. These are just enough for lighting and charging devices with USB plugs. 120/240 V devices such as laptops or televisions cannot be operated with them. The electricity for two community refrigerators is generated by this central solar power plant, also donated by Japan.
The local children enjoy themselves on the beach by jumping into the sea on a rope.
The leaves of a plant are dried after boiling. These are the base material for weaving mats.
On Sunday morning the bell is rung to announce the mass.
Our Bed & Breakfast hostess in her Sunday clothes. Of course, the traditional Ta’ovala garment around the waist should not be missing.
The last week I spent in a remote resort on the main island.
One afternoon we visited a vanilla plantation.
A vanilla blossom. The natural pollinators are only insects and hummingbird species occurring in Mexico. Therefore, flowers outside Mexico have to be pollinated by humans.
The vanilla pods. After the harvest they are boiled in 60 degrees hot water and then wrapped in woolen cloths and placed in a wooden box where they sweat. This initiates fermentation and kills germs. Only after a subsequent drying period of 6 weeks is the fermentation completed and the sweet vanilla aroma developed.
The return flight from Vava’u to Tongatapu was uneventful and punctual. I met a sport fisherman on the flight, whose flight was cancelled the day before and he missed the international connecting flight. The other members of his group were still stuck in Vava’u.
Now my 7-week journey in Tonga comes to an end. I knew that would be a long time for a country like Tonga. But I have time and that allowed me to get to know many people better and to have deeper conversations. With some travelers I have arranged to meet again in other places in Tonga. The weather was mostly cloudy and windy, so I spent a lot of time at the computer and was able to put many previous travel reports on the website. Also this travelogue is much longer than usual, because I had a lot of time to write and edit photos because of the missing sights and the bad weather.
The Tongans are very friendly people. This does not apply at all to the dogs that gave me the first two dog bites in my life.
The internet was much faster than expected, because in March 2018 a fiber optic submarine cable was put into operation between the main island Tongatapu and the archipelagos Ha’apai and Vava’u, which in some areas even brought 4G to these islands.
The Tongan airline RealTonga is the most unsatisfying I have ever experienced. On the one hand it is expensive. In addition, more than half of all flights are cancelled or take place at a different time. The reason is either a technical problem or bad weather, as the pilots can only fly on sight. Delays of several days are not uncommon. Many travelers have missed their international connecting flight.
Swimming with the whales in Tonga is a great experience. After the whale season only a few tourists visit Tonga.
Next I drive with a rental car one month from Sydney in Australia via Canberra to Melbourne and along the Great Ocean Road to Adelaide. On the way I will visit some wine regions.
This text is an automatic English translation from the German original by deepl.com