Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Tongatapu

Tonga, "The Friendly Islands", or officially the Kingdom of Tonga, is a pacific island paradise a four hour flight from New Zealand. We arrived to Fua'amotu International Airport and were instantly greeted with sweltering heat and steamed up glasses. The airport is needing a major overall if it is to handle the intended influx of tourists but it currently does the job. Customs was rather lacking in formality, with the signs indicating lines for foreigners being filled with locals as well, with no one really caring.

Central market Nuka'alofa
We were promptly picked up by the Little Italy shuttle service, who actually run the accommodations we were actually staying at Tropical Villa. Checked in without major issue and were then ferried onto the Villa. The bungalows at the front of the property are very tidy (with the odd gecko visitor at night) and are right next to the road, which didn't really concern us. The main house which has additional rooms (and where Martins parents stayed) were a bit noisier as people actually live upstairs and seem to forget that they make noise during the night. Sadly the pool was under construction when we arrived so cannot comment on this facility. All up it wasn't a terrible place to stay at all, and I particularly enjoyed the air conned reception upon our return in the evenings.

Kings Castle, Nuka' alofa
We started our journey in Tonga by exploring Nuka'alofa, the capital of Tongatapu Island. Tonga actually has many islands but service via ferry is very poor and with a tight time allowance we focused our travels to the mainland. A highlight of the down town area is the local market, which has basically a tourist item side and then a local food market side. As we had a kitchen, we actually tried a lot of local food with our own cooking and in particular ate a fair amount of tuna. Just outside of the central area is the Kings Castle. Its more like a modern day mansion, but access is restricted and we only got to view from the outside.

Ha'amonga Maui Arch
Terraced tomb
After finally sorting out a car hire (its very very tricky to find a place that has low excess or any form of insurance so be careful who you choose) we headed off for a day of exploring focusing on the North Eastern part of the island. One of our first stops were the terraced tombs near Lapaha. There are quite a number of these massive tombs which house the remains of former Tongan Kings. Another ancient monument worth your time is the Ha'amonga Maui arch, which brings memories of stone henge to mind (although its from the 11th century and is singular).

Anahulu Cave
Anahulu Cave offers an unique experience of cave swimming. The cavern that you are lead to is rather large, has bats for added fun and a lot of tites and mites. Additionally if you go during off season and not on a weekend, you'll get the whole place to yourself with no time limit.

Another day, exploring another area this time the far North West. Ha'atafu Beach is highly recommended, with the palm trees, golden sands, its the postcard perfect ideal paradise that people associate with the Pacific Islands.

Ha'atafu Beach
Flying foxes





Spent quite an enjoyable time here and also at the nearby hotel which had great burgers for lunch. Sadly despite this area being a high light it was also a let down. There is no longer any real living coral near the shores (at least that we saw) in Tonga...its a coral graveyard everywhere we went. As a result the water is very mineral rich and leaves you feeling dirty after your dips. You will also get tiny rashes everywhere (minor issue), or at least everyone in our party did. So take some Savlon with you to stop the itchy. There are plenty of tropical fish to enjoy though. Also in this area are the famous flying foxes. Imagine a flying rabbit (but its actually a rat) and you kinda get an idae of how large these fruit eating bats area. Quite an amazing site.

Blowholes

We headed to the Southern coast of the Island to enjoy the blow holes. Total contrast to the northern part of the country with sheer cliffs and obvious ancient lava flows, the blow holes are a must do. We spent quite a bit of time just enjoy the noise and sights of this area and wished that we could have stayed longer really. Quite the spectacle. Just along from the blow holes are rather high cliffs that are best enjoyed by choosing a random road that goes towards the edge of the island.

Final day of exploring with the car we just went to the gaps on the map that we hadn't been to. Found another beach (although the one we wanted was apparently private) and tried our luck again but still found no sightings of live coral and barely any fish around (eastern coast).

Southern Tongatapu Cliffs

An important note, is that not all of the main roads (yellow on maps) in Tonga are actually safe to drive cars on. We actually had to turn back at one point as after investigating, we figured out that we would lose the car if we dare try to cross one of the larger puddles in our way.


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