Out and about in Tongatapu

Sat 25 Oct 2014 22:56
My sister Julia and her husband Michael came to stay with us whilst we were in Tonga so, in order that they had a proper South Pacific experience, we set off to find a desert island, which was remarkably easy, seeing that Tonga consists of hundreds of little islands.

Malinoa from our fore deck at anchor.

It was a pretty good one: you could walk around it in about 15 minutes, it had a good jungly interior to explore, palm trees to give shelter from the breeze and sun so that we could lie and read on the sand, and some delightful coral to snorkel. It even had some cool birds: Lalae, which are Purple Swamp Hens and White Collared Kingfishers. The anchorage wasn't that sheltered though, so after a rocky night we headed back to Big Mama's.

A channel through the coral led to the sand spit to land on.

Julia and I decided to go explore Tongatapu further. We decided the best way to do this was by bus, as you get to meet local folk and the taxis were expensive. As all the 'places of interest' marked on the map were on the coast we planned to go around the island, first heading to the North Western tip to see  Abel Tasman's landing place (some Dutch chappie who 'discovered' Tonga) and the Christianity landing place (how did that work, how can "Christianity" land anywhere?), then following the coast road around the South of the Island to take in the blow holes and a 'Natural Land Bridge" before finding the caves on the East coast and the standing stones on the North East tip. 

Our plan started well: we found the right bus and didn't have to wait too long before we set off, enjoying the scenery, mostly farmland, and chatting to an American Tongan on board. He explained that it wouldn't be as simple as we'd thought to circumnavigate the island because the buses didn't go along the coast road. They fanned out from the capital in the middle of the island, just going to their terminus then straight back, not going along the coast road at all. He also warned us that the West of the Island had a reputation for violence. I was shocked, all the Tongans we'd come across were so friendly and helpful (apart from the one on the shore near where Scotia was anchored, who wished us to admire certain of his body parts which we had no desire to view). I knew there were prisons but assumed they were for minor crimes, like theft or fraud, not for violent crimes. I said as much to the chap on the bus and he paused, thought a moment and said "yes. They are friendly. They smile whilst they beat you!". It seems that Tonga has a problem with warring students. The youngsters have a strong feeling of pride in their school, of brotherhood, and want to be seen to be standing up for their school community, to fight for it, even to the death.

When we reached the peninsula and left the bus the driver asked us how long we'd be. "A couple of hours" we replied. "I'll wait for you" he said. He had customers on the bus, we said not to worry, we'd find another bus, he couldn't make the customers wait, but he just repeated that he'd wait for us. 

Crocheted grave blankets and banner.

We headed down the track to the Christian Landing place. There was nothing there, well, a small church inside a chain fence, all padlocked up - you couldn't even get to the shore. We turned back to the road. Ten minutes had passed. The bus was still there. "How long will you be?" he repeated. We down scaled our estimation, "An hour" we said. "I'll wait" he said. Perhaps Abel Tasman's landing place would be better, we thought, and had a pleasant wonder up the road, enjoying the pretty little houses wither side, watching the children play in the school yard, admiring the crocheted grave covers in the graveyards (I'm not kidding. Crocheted blankets), and listening to the Wattled Honeyeaters in the trees. The road ran out:

But there was a sign post and to the right a small plaque marked Abe's spot. The sign post said that to the left there was a beach and a lighthouse, which sounded promising, so we followed a track across the fields under the palm trees and found... nothing. The path petered out at the coast, no beach, just a rocky drop to the coral shelf, and no lighthouse. Ho hum. Back to the bus. He knew we wouldn't find anything to keep us long... But the bus was gone. However, another one was waiting and the driver said the first one had just left so he wanted to wait for 20 minutes, otherwise there's be no customers at the stops for him. We clearly looked like we wanted to be off so he reached a compromise and set off, but very very slowly. At least we were moving in the right direction - sort of, because this would just take us back to town not to the blow holes along the coast.

Looking for the beach and lighthouse.

Back in town we decided that actually, the most important thing wasn't blow holes, it was food. Our exploring had left us in danger of severe dehydration and famine, so we decided to be Ladies-Who-Lunch instead of intrepid explorers. Friends cafe was the venue of choice so after chatting to three Tongan Ladies-Who-Lunch who were sisters back in Tonga from New Zealand to attend a funeral, we were sufficiently refreshed to resume our exploration of Tongatapu. There was a problem though: Julia's shoes were hurting. Her toe nails were a little long and were hurting her toes so, after looking in vain for a chemist, we found a Chinese shop which sold us something that looked exactly like nail clippers made of pressed tin. They looked like nail clippers but were actually nail nibblers, so after what felt like a long time on a bench in a square in the centre of town (no one there was going to see us again so we didn't mind doing chiropody in public) the toenails were nibbled into submission and we resumed our Island Exploration.

We had hoped to resume the bus trips but realised that if we waited for the right bus, walked to the blow holes, walked back and waited for another bus, then walked to the harbour we'd never be back in time for the ferry to Big Mama's so went to look for a taxi. We found one, but he had a customer in, a Grandmother and her Granddaughter, however she didn't mind us coming along for the ride so we popped to a daughter's house, then the shops, then an Aunt's house, chatting all the while. Finally we headed for the blow holes, which were actually pretty splendid. There was a shelf of coral all along the Southern coast, which is the windward side of the island, and the swell comes crashing in. Over time it's undercut the shelf and created numerous blow holes for miles along - spectacular. When a wave rolls in the blow holes are set off, one after another, as the breaking wave moves along the coast.

Individual blow holes on the coral shelf.

Blow holes going off along along the coast.

We didn't get to the caves or the standing stones, we failed to circumnavigate the island, but we had a great day, got to chat with Tongans, had a good lunch in town and saw some dramatic blow holes. We were more than satisfied.