Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Highlights of Tonga
Tonga prides itself on many things, including being the only South Pacific country never to have been colonized by a foreign entity. It is also the first place on this planet to reach tomorrow. It certainly has a different feel to it than all the other Polynesian spots we've been to so far, but I'm not quite sure if it's because of those factoids, the mix of ex-pats in the Vava'u islands, or because it is run by absentee royals and nobles (many of who live in the Bay Area).
Unfortunately, we had only a short 10 days in Tonga (Kingdom of) and therefore only had enough time to cruise the Vava'u group of islands in the north, completely skipping both the Ha'apai group and the Tongatapu group with the capital Nuku'alofa. We loved the fact that Vava'u's numerous anchorages were numbered rather than named - who can pronounce those places, anyhow?? Unlike anywhere we've been in Polynesia so far, this is a true cruising ground, where you can hang out in one spot for most of the day and still have time to make it to the next anchorage in just a couple of hours. The area is beautiful and the cruising is fabulous.
On the main island of Vava'u, the town of Neiafu seems to be a similar to what Cabo may have been 20 years ago - quiet, a few bars that can get quite lively at night, a few restaurants, but mostly locals. It's still considered an out of the way destination for Kiwis and Aussies who are the most common tourists here. We loved it.
If ever in Vava'u, here are the not-to-be-missed activities:
1. Swimming with Humpback Whales. While this activity was pricier than we what we've stuck to as a rule (remember that we are not on a one week vacation - this is our life so must keep to a budget) and at first felt more touristy than we like to experience, our friends John and Hinano in Rarotonga convinced us that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We were not disappointed, and in fact this will likely go down in our never to be forgotten memories. You don't actually 'swim' with the whales, but rather snorkel around them (or them around you).
2. Jason's Cultural Bike Tour. We headed out for 4 hours on bikes through the backroads of Vava'u, visiting a women's weaving circle, a local farm, an archeological site (that needed much love), lunch at a local family's home, and a school. We got a great sense of the local flavor by heading through villages that we otherwise wouldn't have gotten to, especially because Jason as our guide speaks Tongan (which not many expats do). And because Jason speaks Tongan, he was able to teach us a lot about the flavor of Tongan society. We learned so much about life in Tonga and the Tongan people along the way from little tidbits that Jason shared with us. It was thrilling to learn that Jason, who is originally from the Bay Area, is an alumni of Camp Tawonga, which Danielle and Harrison went to. We enjoyed his company so much that he joined us for Friday night dinner too.
3. Wednesday night at Tongan Bob's. Throughout Polynesia there is an age-old practice in which a family without enough girls chooses one of its sons to help with the women's work. These boys grow up dressing like women, and at some point around puberty can choose to continue living like women. If they do so, they conitnue as a normal part of everyday life, at the grocery store, or serving you at a restaurant. As you can imagine, the missionaries tried and tried to do away with this practice, but clearly were not successful. On Wednesday night in Vava'u, some of these men, donned in the sexiest of outfits, put on a show at Tongan Bob's. It's quite a site.
4. Snorkeling the coral gardens near Anchorage 16. We had to swim over a reef (sometimes in only 2 feet of water) and over the breaking waves to get to it, but the coral was spectacular, not to mention the fish.
5. Mariner's Cave. Thankfully we were able to visit this cave with our whale watching guide, as the entrance is under water (although it is now marked with bright pink paint on the rock wall just above the entrance). It was a little nerve racking swimming the 15 feet under about 3 feet of water to get inside, but once there, it was beautiful. It's a large cave with light coming in from under the water. Mist forms for a few seconds inside, dissipates, and then forms all over again.
6. Surprise visits with friends. When we arrived, we found our friends aboard s/v Imagine were still here and had some great times with them - David took the kids skurfing through the anchorage, we had a fun night of karaoking and wii'ing (rock band no less), and a bonfire dinner on the beach. Then, Piko and Britannia pulled into Neiafu when we hadn't expected to see them again after departing Rarotonga. I wrote about that in my last blog.
I'll have to post photos another time as I'm running out of time.
Written about 100 miles form Savusavu, Vitia Levu, Fiji - but must keep out here for another day and a half as checking in on a weekend costs more than triple overtime...
At 9/3/2011 13:32 (utc) our position was 17°29.84'S 179°45.72'W