In Vava’u, Tonga it’s all about the whales. Here, deep in the South Pacific Ocean, is one of the rare places in the world where you can join a local whale watching operator, don your snorkelling gear and slide into the water to observe the huge hump back whales lolling about in the bays of the Vava’u group of islands. What a truly magical experience to plunge your masked face into the water and swim within metres of these huge gentle creatures while observing the antics of their offspring at close proximity. But, there are rules which must be obeyed to protect them and the industry that has successfully grown up around them in order to maintain the continuity of their annual visitors to the islands – the fines for breaking them are hefty!
The people of Tonga are friendly and welcoming and always happy to help out. Deeply religious and outwardly conservative, Sunday’s are off limits for shops and activities – even jogging or exercising publicly will raise eyebrows and the possibility of a fine from the local police. It is the Lords day and most family’s spend it at their chosen church followed by a Tongan lunch normally cooked over a fire in an earth pit in their back yard. We visited the Catholic and Methodist services to listen to their magnificent singing – rich voices in complete harmony and sung with from the heart. Afterwards we needed a ride to a restaurant to meet friends for brunch and with no taxis available on a Sunday, we were hoisted into the back of a family van, happy to collect us from the side of the road, and dropped off at our destination.
Provisioning was more difficult here – oh how I miss the supermarkets of the French colonies! Ask a local where to find particular foods and the answer is always the same…the Chinese store. Problem is that all the small grocery shops are owned by the Chinese which all sell the same stuff. There are a couple of specialist deli operators who can offer some meats and small goods but the prices are high as they are brought in by container ships. The local market is open daily, except Sundays, and offers basic fresh fruit, vegetables, eggs etc. One gem is the “Tropicana Cafe” operated almost single handedly by Greg an expat Kiwi who offers everything from a great flat white to garbage disposal, gas refills, laundry and IT support. I even bought a Yoghurt Maker from him! To top it off the Vava’u Villas and Glamping is owned and operated by Ian an ex Launceston Grammar student (James’ school) so we were entertained at dinner by “Rick, Rick, Rickedy, Dick…” – their old war cry!
Mary-Anne and Sandy Wilson joined us for a week on the boat and were immediately thrown in at the deep end with an Oyster beach party and socialising on tap, finishing their stay with a 70’s night of dancing in the local tapas bar with a Spanish DJ.
Amongst the whale watching, snorkelling, G&T’s and enjoying everything Tongan we managed to watch the Dees wiggle into 7th on the ladder only to lose their last game of the season to Collingwood and drop to 9th by a hairs breath and miss out on the finals…such a disappointing end of a better season. Simultaneously we were being sent articles and pictures of Nick (Riewoldt) as he finished his spectacular career with St Kilda – such a champion.
Our last day in the Vava’u group presented us with sunshine and fair winds (we had a lot of unseasonal rain during our stay) and a mother humpback and her calf glided by us as we prepared to leave. A few hours into our passage towards Fiji we received warnings from friends still in Nieafu of bad conditions with particularly big swells. Luckily their information was incorrect and apart from an uncomfortable first night of rocking and rolling we had a fast sail to Vanau Balavu in the eastern Lau group..Fiji is next!