All posts by Keyman

Vava’u – Scooter tour

The idea of my first day in Vava’u was to check out the township and get myself organised for my week here and to book myself some tours. Also while I was here, I hung out with a kiwi guy in the backpackers who asked if I’d like to do a scooter tour. Well, not a tour as such, we simply hire a scooter each and drive around the island. At 30 Paanga a day (A$20), why not!

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So, this morning the scooters were delivered to the front of the backpackers and with only a map and several hours, we set out. I’ve never ridden a scooter before, and it took a couple of minutes and some toe scrapes to get it. We stopped to gas up our vehicles and my scooter died – the accelerator would not engage. So, we called the owner and she sent out a mechanic, who got it going. We were ten minutes down the road when it started to play up again. So, after another call to the owner and a 30 minute wait, she arrived with another bike for me. And we were off!

The weather today was not the best, while I have seen the very occasional short rain during my stay, this was the first day where it actually rained. This happened while we were waiting for the lady to arrive and finished when we set out. We decided to head out to the north-east side of Vava’u to an island connected to the main one by a causeway, and a couple of beaches. We stopped for a chat with a resort owner at ‘Ene’io beach before heading off across the causeway to the end of the island.

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The people of Tonga are very friendly, and the kids just loved seeing us drive past on scooters. We then visited Keitahi Beach and my fellow biker went for a snorkel while I took some pictures of the beach and its surrounding cliffs.

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We headed back towards Neiafu to refuel. Then it was off in the opposite direction, to the south-west end of the main island where there is a large lake. The ride over there were great. Unlike most of the other islands, a large proportion of Vava’u’s roads are surfaced. And the roads between the villages are the best, as with less traffic, there are less potholes. Potholes are not the best in 4 wheeled vehicles, on scooters they are hideous but a lot easier to avoid.

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To ride around the lake, however, we needed to go on an unsurfaced track. This is where the fun began. Luckily it had not really rained too much in the last month, so the track was fairly dry. I say fairly, as there were some muddy spots that could not be avoided. Off road scooters! We got a little muddy and I came off a couple of times on the slippery track, but suffered only scrapes. At one stage we even had to carry the bikes over a fallen coconut palm.

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We finally made it back to surfaced road and headed back to the backpackers. This was when the rain decided to visit and it poured for about 10 minutes. Yay for being wet on a scooter. Thank god we were no longer on unsurfaced tracks. Back at the Backpackers and a well needed shower.

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Tomorrow I’m out on a boat doing a tour of the bay, caves, beaches and reefs.

The Trail Wanderer

Vava’u – The Arrival

After flying to Ha’apai in a DC3, I kinda expected the same to go to Vava’u. But alas, remember that 8-seater I took the 8 minute flight in from ‘Eua to Tongatapu? Yup, that was the same plane that flew me to Vava’u. Now 8 minutes in a tiny little plane is quite unnoticeable. 45 minutes in one is a long time. It’s like you’re screaming across the sky in a bucket. But as we came in to land, there were whales in the water below us. They are fairly populous in Tonga at this time of the year.

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As soon as you fly into the Vava’u group of islands, it’s like you’re in a different part of the pacific. While Tongatapu is the most populous island, it is very Tongan in it’s styling. Even the capital city on Tongatapu – Nuku’alofa – doesn’t really feel like you’re in a city. ‘Eua is a Tongan hideaway with it’s resorts and a few very Tongan villages. Ha’apai is a quiet backwater place where there is very little western influence and of course Uoleva is simply a deserted island.

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Being driven through Vava’u from the airport – a trip pretty much the length of the main island – you get the impression that this main island is far more commercial than the other groups. There are more roads here, and in turn, more vehicles to use the roads.

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I was dropped off at the Adventure Backpackers – my accommodations for the next 8 days. Most accommodations in Tonga are guest houses, resorts or hotels, but this place is truly a backpackers, like you’d find anywhere else in the world. The Adventure Backackers is right in the middle of Vava’u’s main town – Neiafu. This town on the harbour is like the west meets the Pacific. It’s got it’s Tongan aspects with the Chinese Markets, the pot holes and the markets, but it’s got bars, restaurants, shops and clubs a plenty. The people are friendly as ever here. And I’ve not seen this many non-tongas since I left the airport in Auckland.

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Standing in the balcony of the Backpackers, you look out along the harbour. There is a great island in the middle and small mountains around the side, otherwise there are many yachts dotted around.

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The main island is large for Tonga, and has been set up with tourists in mind with lots of activities. I am going on a scooter tour tomorrow, a boat tour with snorkelling and caving on Saturday and a big kart island tour on Monday. Somewhere in there I would like to do some hiking. But I’m sure there will be plenty of time.

The Trail Wanderer

Ha’apai – Uoleva Island

After my cycling around the islands yesterday, there wasn’t much more of the islands to see. So what else could I do but find a beach and relax. So, I walked to the southern point of the island – taking an hour – and back along the western side, where there is a very long beach protected from the winds. I nestled myself in and camped out for the day.

After sun, sand and swimming, I made my way back to the Mariner’s cafe and hung out for the afternoon, running into a Canadian girl and arranging to hang out at the beach with her tomorrow.

Tomorrow came and I went down to Mariner’s for a coffee and to wait for my Canadian friend to arrive. While waiting, I was introduced to a resort owner on Uoleva Island and before I knew it I was whisked away on a boat to this classic Pacific Island island, all beaches and very little else. Uoleva is an almost deserted island to the south of Lafuka island with three resorts and a total of 6 permanent residents.

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I was put up in a fale less than five metres from the beach at high tide and just sitting in front of it,

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could look out over a fantastic ocean view with Tofua – the volcano island – in the distance.

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On the afternoon of my arrival, I went for a long walk and found a nice spot to sit and just read my book. I swam in the crystal clear water and enjoyed the sun. The thing is about an island that is literally just one giant beach, sitting on the beach and swimming pretty much covers the majority of activities. Oh damn.

My second day I decided to circumnavigate the island. This took me two and a half hours with beach going almost the entire way around. There is a spot of about 10 metres of totally rocky shores. When you reach the tip and head down the western side the wind hits you. The resorts are on the eastern shores in the quiet tranquil bay. By the time you reach the bottom end of the island, the right side of your face is icy from the wind. The hardest part about the walk is the sand, sometimes your feet sinking below your ankles in the slush.

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That afternoon, I grabbed some snorkelling gear and headed up the beach for a swim. Plenty of colourful fish to see.

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Back to Pangai tomorrow.

The Trail Wanderer.

Ha’apai – Day 1 – Lafuka and Foa

Today is my first day of a week-long stay on the Ha’apai island group and it’s also the Crown Prince’s Birthday – a public holiday. This means that other than the cafe below the guest house and the local chinese stores, pretty much everything else is closed. This isn’t as bad as it sounds, there’s not a lot here to be closed. But the one store I was hoping to find open today was Fins and Flukes, the adventure store, as I was hoping to organise some trips around the island group, snorkelling, diving and other island like activities. But this will have to wait until tomorrow.

Today I decided to hire a bicycle and ride around Lafuka Island – the main island of the Ha’apai group – as it’s pretty flat.

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For the first part of the day, I rode to the northern most tip of the island.

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Along the west side of the island chain there is a reef barrier where the waves crash constantly. From the beach it looks like the surf is crashing well before it reaches shore. To the north, other islands dot the bay with a mix of rocky and sandy beaches. But it’s the volcano island of Tofua rising up out of the ocean that interests me the most. It is distant and only really seen as a looming shadow on the horizon.

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I would love to get out and climb it, but the chances of hiring a boat to take me out there is fairly slim and likely very expensive. I sat on the beach for a while and enjoyed the day – and my book.

I then rode back into Pangai – the capital town of Lafuka – and turned off just short of where I am staying. I followed the road back out to another beach, this one closer to the reef barrier, where I again sat and read my book.

After lunch at the Mariner Cafe, under the guest house, I headed south towards the southern tip of the island. The airport is located across the island, the runway pretty much starts and finished at the beach. Like a railway crossing, there are some crossing barriers and you actually cross the runway to continue down the island.

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I rode to the causeway between Lafuka and Foa island where the wild ocean crashes on one side and the peaceful bay sits on the other. I found a quiet beach on the south side and basked in the sun with my book.

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By this time it was 2pm and I’d pretty much done Lafuka. I’d planned not to do Foa, as I have a lot of time and there is not that much to discover. But I had the bike, so decided I would ride to the southern end along the tar sealed road.

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At the southern tip are the two resorts of the Ha’apai group. I stopped for a beer and watched the sea and the islands not far beyond. At low tide you can wade across to the next island. I might do this on another day.

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I rode back along the island and across to Lafuka then back to Mariner’s Cafe where I stopped for a cold drink and to relax for the rest of the day.

The Trail Wanderer

‘Eua to Ha’apai – Travel Days

‘Eua to Tongatapu

This morning will be my last day at in ‘Eua. I have enjoyed my time on this ‘wilder’ island with its National Park. As this is one of Tonga’s quieter islands, it’s almost the opposite of Tongatapu. I spent most of my social time at the resort, chatting to other patrons or hanging out in the main eating area. I discovered a taste for the local beer Mata Maka – conveniently brewed in NZ.

I hung out this morning after breakfast and waited for my ride to the airfield, as ferries only run every 2nd day. The ticket said I had to be there 45 minutes early, but this is Tonga. I asked the resort owner for a ride and that wasn’t a problem. I reminded him again 20 minutes before the flight. He rung them and told them we were coming. In Tonga, schedules aren’t cut in stone, if anything, they are cut in jelly and wobble about all the time. It took us 10 minutes to drive there and even when I got there, no one was in much of a hurry. The plane hadn’t even arrived by the departure time.

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The plane did eventually arrive and all three passengers boarded the 8 seater. The plane took off for the 8 minute flight and before we knew it we were back on Tongatapu. The drive back to Toni’s Guest House took longer. I went into town for the afternoon, and wandered around looking for a pharmacy – I have a cough – which took me almost an hour to find. I also tried to get a sim for my phone, but alas Digitel network – Tonga’s main cell provider – doesn’t support iPhones. Nevermind.

That evening, I found myself alone in the Blue house, so I settled down to watch some TV – from the Satellite – when a kiwi couple arrived for the night eager to crack into their duty-free. Who am I to turn down free drinks?

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Tongatapu to Ha’apai

My pickup time to the airport was midday, so I decided just to relax this morning, read a book. Yesterday I was informed that today’s flights had been changed. Instead of a 30 minute from direct to Ha’apai, it was now going to be 2 hours including a 30 minute stop over in Vava’u. I’m getting used to the laid back Tongan style.

I finally arrived in Ha’apai this afternoon and was picked up by the guest house. The Fifita Guest House is above the Mariners Cafe in the capital town of Pangai. The town is quite small and there is not much here, but I had expected that from this Island group – it’s the least established of the groups.

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I have 7 days in the group and tomorrow I will be begin my adventures on the main island by going for a long bike ride around the island.

The Trail Wanderer.

‘Eua – Day 2 – ‘Eua National Park again

While I walked in the National Park yesterday, hiking was the major reason I came to ‘Eua (ay-oh-a). So today I asked to do a guided hike. Which one? I was asked…The hardest one, of course!

So, after breakfast, the owner of the resort set me up with the guide that was to lead me on a harder trek across the Island. And along with me were two other walkers… An English chap and his pre-teen son.

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We were dropped off further into the National Park than I was yesterday and headed through bush and forest similar to yesterday. About a km in, our first stop was the Lookout at the end of yesterday’s hike with the same great views over the ocean and beach below.

The second stop was the Rats Cave. I chose not to go down the hole today. I got covered in dirt enough yesterday… We continued along the path and instead heading back along the one that had brought me to these sights yesterday, we took a different path. Our guide told us of some leaves not to touch that causes rashes similar to nettles. The path led us to the edge of the cliff and our way down. Now this is what I was looking for, a semi difficult climb down a steep earthy hill covered in trees.

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At the bottom we emerged though some trees on the beach covered in shells and rocks. There was even some sand, just a little mind you.
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We stopped for lunch under the cliffs.

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After lunch, our guide – who had been wearing thongs this entire time – climbed a coconut palm tree and dropped a bunch of green coconuts down for us. He then spent some time skinning then by smashing them against some rocks. We drank and feasted on the coconuts until we’d had our fill.

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We set off along the beach, climbing the rocks until we found an entrance up the cliff face. Climbing through a small gap in some large rocks, we made our way up the via sometimes slippery earthy slopes and some rock scaling.

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We came to a short plateau and ended up walking in circles as our guide managed to get lost. We did find out way to the right path eventually, up some very steep banks and more rock scaling.

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We reached the top and continued through the bush. My guide and I were rearing to go while the English chap and his son were exhausted. After a couple of kilometres through the bush we reached the road and were picked up another kilometre along.

A good day’s hiking. Tomorrow I fly back to Tongatapu for the night, then fly north to the Ha’apai islands for the next stage of my holiday adventure in the Kingdom of Tonga!

The Trail Wanderer.

‘Eua – Day 1 – ‘Eua National Park

Of all the islands in the Kingdom of Tonga, ‘Eua is the one with the big national park you can walk around. This was one of the main reasons for coming here, so today I arranged to go on one of the unguided walks through this natural paradise.

Everything is closed on Sunday in Tonga, so this is the perfect day for a hike. There are several hikes on the island, some guided and some unguided. While I am pretty confident with hiking unguided, after several incidents of travellers getting lost and falling into sink holes, the resort prefers that the guided tours are guided. Also, since the guides do not work on Sunday, I arranged to be dropped off for one of the unguided ones.

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I was driven to the edge of ‘Eua National Park and Forest plantation and given a roughly hand drawn map. My driver – the owner of the accommodation – highlighted the path I should take, and some of the points. I then headed off on my way.

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The initial part of the walk is along a gravel road to and old forest nursery. It’s a disused house, but it’s hard to tell as many of the homes on the island look in worse condition. The path splits off and heads to a place called the Hafu Pool. Hafu Pool is a mini dam made with a concrete wall. A small stream runs down the hill in the pool and then beyond via a couple of channels. This would be a good place for swimming.

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Beyond the pool the trail continues for a hundred metres to Big ‘Ovava – a giant Banya tree. The tree grows out of sink hole and you can follow a path down to the bottom where there is a cave. The cave is fairly large with a hole in the ceiling.

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There is a crack in the wall at the base where you can follow the cave in further, but I decided not to follow it, as it was rather slippery and I had a while to go. To exit the cave, you can climb up the Bunya tree and out.

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I was told the path to the west from the Banya tree was overgrown, but I went that way anyway and yes, it’s overgrown, about half way up, I turned back. No point getting lost. I headed back to the old forest nursery and along a 4×4 track that lead up a steady climb into the forest. I followed the designated ribbons and cut through some over grown but obvious paths until I came to the cliff tops at a place called the rats cave. It’s a small, waist high hole in the rock.

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I crawled in and it goes for ten metres before dropping down into a cave. The cave is small, but it opens out onto the cliff face and the views out into the Pacific. Climbing out of the cave is not the cleanest. It’s more of a scramble on your stomach. I emerged covered in dirt.

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Walking through the forest again, I quickly came to the Lokupo lookout, a wooden platform looking out to see. Brilliant views of the Pacific, the beaches and the forest at the base of the cliffs. I walked along to the Louua lookout, a similar platform looking out more to the north. I hung out here for lunch and a rest in the sun.

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I walked back to the start point, mostly downhill, and instead of ringing for a lift back to the resort, I decided to walk – it’s only an extra 3-4km and I’ve been walking anyway, so what’s another 45 minutes?

Dinner at the resort is a Umu – like a Hangi but more Tongan. I was joined by a couple of girls I’d met at Toni’s Guest house for dinner and beers.

Tomorrow, a guided tour.

The Trail Wanderer.