Sun 17 Aug 2014 09:00
After 4 flights and 36 hours of air travel I finally arrived in Tonga having touched down in Vancouver and Auckland and then exited the Air New Zealand flight to Tongatupa with the Governor! I thought it was a bit over the top to be greeted by a ceremonial marching band of men in skirts! I then had a domestic flight from Tongatupo to Vavau where Syd and Gaviota were waiting. It was very good to be back but boy was it cold!!!!! Not at all what I had expected having experienced the wonderful UK heatwave.
We spent a few days in the main town of Neiafu, then sailed off to explore some of the anchorages tucked away behind the reef that surrounds the whole island group, the weather improved for the week but we were still finding the wind extremely cold and though the sea was lovely and clear it was cold! Don't believe what you read about the temperatures in the Tropics!
We returned to Neiafu for the Agricultural Show (big event of the year) and chance for a sighting of the King of Tonga. The show was impressive - a bit like a County Show in UK. Stands were beautifully decorated and after the King arrived and was greeted by one of the amazing Tongan choirs the whole showground was closed while he perused the stands and bought jars of local chutney and homemade cakes - oh and probably some Kava the local, legal 'get high' substance that everyone drinks here!
It was a hard act to follow but Sunday saw us at a Tongan Feast at the Botanical Gardens?? The owner of the place informed us that for Tongans Sunday consisted of church (with a lot of singing) followed by an enormous feast ( quite obvious by the size of the people), then he said with a huge smile on his face which resembled a full moon - we make love. Sounds good to us was the response from the whole bus! The feast was impressive with various curries - meat, fish and vegetarian, followed by the most delicious coconut cake, it was eat as much as you want so we all felt a bit too overstuffed to continue to the next stage of the day!
The following week I experienced the highlight - for me of Tonga - whale swimming. I joined a group of Aussie divers on Wednesday and we headed out at 7.00am to search for humpback whales. The whales come up from Antartica during July and August to reproduce and have their babies in the warm (warm to a whale!) safe waters of Vavau. It is 95% guaranteed that you will see the whales and be able to swim with them (the swimming part only happens in 4 places in the world). Our first sighting was not long after we got away from the Town where we were divided into 2 groups as only 5 people at a time are allowed to swim with one whale. The first couple of swims only saw brief glimpses of these huge pre-historic looking creatures but eventually our guide found a mother motionless feeding her calf. They are very careful not to disturb the whales and the whole experience was amazing being so close to these huge mammals. The mother hung motionless with her tail sticking out of the water and head down while her calf (still pretty huge) swam right up to us, had a good look and swam back to the safety of Mum. We had several of these encounters during the day and all arrived back with huge smiles having been lucky enough to experience something so special.
Memories of Tonga:
The friendliness of the people.
The amazing voices of the choirs - they are in church singing before the sun rises every morning and because the main church was on the hill, we could hear them harmonising as we lay there dozing. Tonga is the first place in the world to see the dawn (the dateline has been moved to include Tonga otherwise half the islands would have been in yesterday!
The incredible costumes the people wear. Men wear long skirts (I have a vague recollection of David Beckham returning from a trip to Tonga or Fiji stepping off the plane in one and creating a big fashion statement). Over these long skirts they wear a woven mat which is secured in place by a belt. The men often wear a shirt, tie and suit jacket on top. It all sounds quite strange but it actually looked very good - I did suggest to Syd that he tried the skirt but he refused! Obviously not Mick Dundee enough!
And of course the whales - stars of the show.
But it was time to move on so we checked out of Neiafu on Friday, 15th August and sailed up to Hunga Lagoon to sort the boat out and prepare for our trip to Fiji. We left at 11.30am on Monday, 18th August and set sail for our next stop Fiji.