Tonga - The iron humpback whale

There are many islands around Tonga and which belong to Tonga, but I didn't have the time to get out there and so stayed only on wonderful Tongatapu. Especially when considering that out there is not much infrastructure and flights depart not too often, I didn't want to stress around and in worst case missing my onward flight to Tuvalu.

Tonga is recognized as the birthplace of Polynesia with 3000-year-old history. The only kingdom in the South Pacific.

Map of Tongatapu
Things to See in Tonga


May 18 – Arriving in Tonga (all the way from Nauru)

There are no direct flights from Nauru to Tonga
From Nauru to Tonga
Arrived yesterday evening after a long journey from Nauru. Almost 48 hours, from Nauru to Australia, from Australia to New Zealand and from New Zealand to Tonga.

The airport in Tonga is quite far from the city center. 30 minutes one way but thankfully the hotel picked me up.

Even I prefer having accommodation reservation a long time before I arrive in a new place, I didn’t make any for Tonga. Most because of avoiding discussion with Taxi drivers. But as journey here in Oceania could have gone wrong so much regarding flights and connections/delays/cancelations, I actually didn’t expect to even reach Tonga by today, or in this year at all. I expected being stuck somewhere in Kiribati right now...

The hotel taxi dropped me off this morning in the central Nuku’alofa and I tried to quickly organize the scuba diving and the rental car schedule for the next four days. With the help of the welcoming tourist information office, soon everything was clarified. That being said, they are ready for tourism here, especially as Tonga is frequent destinations for cruise ships.

After a first few meters of walking around, I a came across this particular church here. Fantastic, also the car in the front, which has a small "CH" sign and which means this car was used in Switzerland. Wondering how it made all the way around the whole globe to Tonga.

Cool church in Tongatapu

Tiny Nuku'alofa center

Walked around Nuku’alofa and later started to visit some places with the rental car. The capital Nuku'alofa is small, with just one 200 meters long main road which is supposed to be the center. Like almost all Oceania countries, most restaurants and shops are operated by Chinese owners and almost sell the same stuff :)About 200 meters
At the end or beginning of the center is a big tree

This is Nuku'alofa center at a glance

Scuba Diving

There are 3 dive shops on the main island of Tonga and I sent them emails already weeks in advance, asking about taking me for scuba diving. But only one of them answered me via email.

So today I walked to them and they are all on the same areal and basically live door to door and share the same communal area. I got informed that the other two dive operators only operate when there are cruise ships arriving and the third one requires a minimum of two divers.  And I was the only person that wanted go diving, that means no scuba diving for me in Tonga.

Operators only open when there are cruise ships

May 19 – With the rental car around Tongatapu

Picked up the car yesterday and started this early morning right after sunrise as I wanted to maximize the time available with the rental car. Had to bring it back this late afternoon as the weekend was arriving.

Rental car has to be cleaner on the return than on pickup??

Back in the afternoon I, brought the rental car back in time but the owner found that my car isn’t the same condition as I picked it up, as I drove through mud and therefore some dirt was on the side. I didn’t like to argue with them that it is a rental car and its normal usage and its normal that a car gets dirty when driving in around Tonga.

However, they persisted that the car has to be cleaned and I asked if they at least can give me a towel and some water so that I can get rid of the few point of dirt by myself. After making myself a little clown in front of the staff, they couldn’t find the key for the cashbox where my deposit of 100 USD was locked in. After some arguing about the circumstance, I took my phone, pretending to call the police.

Funnily how fast they begged to hang up and that they would organize the spare key in 10 minutes.

Driving, driving!

Still in Nuku'alofa, the capital, I came across a rugby match. Tonga is currently number 12 on the world rugby rankings and therefore I couldn't just skip this without having a look what makes being among the best.
Among the best rugby teams on the world
Fans wearing school uniformsSchool teams playing against each other on friday

Easy driving and not complicated

There are not many main roads through the whole island and so it is easy to find the way with a small map or GPS on the phone.

The weather in Tonga can change within minutes and also the scenery with clouds and sun can make a photo look completely different within a short amount of time. I tried to figure out which route might be optimal for having no direct sunlight when arriving at the things-to-see-spots, but in the end, it doesn't matter at all. The sun changes too quick and so any route would have been fine.

One palm tree in Tonga is unique. Its the so-called three-headed coconut tree and its a coconut tree with three heads:)

On the island of tongatapu

But there are many other normal trees.
Huge trees can be found

No stress, no pressure to rush

Not too many points of views on the island of Tongatapu. The ones which are the most important can easily be covered in one day. For example:

a) the massive rocky shore with the waves along the south coast, the "Cliffs Overlook". Not easy to get here with a car when its raining.

Fantastic viewpoint at the south coast
Not good for swimming but watchingOn rainy day its difficult to reach

b) the shore in the north where the pigs are looking for fish and shells to eat. Haven’t seen that before and it was amusing how all the tiny and the monster-sized pigs are running around in the low tide trying to catch some fish. The cracking of the shells is hearable from a hundred meters away.

All over the shore in north of Tongatapu

Yes, fishing pigs among whole families and fishermen fishing – such an amusing view :)
At the north of Tongatapu

c) The Mapu 'A Vaea Blowholes at the South Coast
Great viewpoint at the east of Tongatapu
No swimming here advisedKilometers of blowholes

d) The Mauri Trilithon. I didn't inform myself about what exactly it was supposed to be, but I can guess it has the same purpose as most shrines on the planet do have.
Religion is high priority
The stonehenge of TongaTongatapus religious tree

e) The Tsunami Rock, which brought here by waves after a Tsunami. Must have been a real strong Tsunami tho, as this rock is huge and heavy!
Came here with a huge wave
At the east coast of Tongatapu

Interesting funerals

As mentioned, there aren’t too many hotspots but the villages itself contain lots of interesting things.

Impressive is the way how people get buried, they don’t dig deep holes but simply leave the “coffin” above the earth and put sand over it. Its not a bad idea, as it gives the relatives the opportunity to go visit them and at least see some kind of sand there instead of nothing. Also for dogs it is a convenient thing, they can stick to their passed away master while sleeping on the sandhill.

Dead people get burried in sand dunes

In one village there was a funeral happening and they literally still drag the dead people in their coffin through the whole village, accompanied by a long queue of relatives and friends who play instruments and wear traditional clothes.
Dead people brouth to their graves the traditional way in Tonga
Funeral attendees wearing their Tongan clothes

The flying fox tree

There is also one tree, the only one on the whole island with flying foxes and all foxes live there in that specific tree. Went to make photos and then a local appeared and threw small stones at it to make it fly away.
One tree in Tonga with flying foxes

Friendly people

I don’t judge the friendliness and hospitality of Tongans based on this silly example with the few persons from the car rental. Cause in general, my experience in Tonga was astonishingly overwhelming when it comes to the friendliness of locals and how they treat foreigners and tourists.

Friendly people and relaxed

Tried not making to high expectations about Tonga before arriving here but unfortunately, I slowly started doing it anyway. Due to its relatively close position to New Zealand, I expected it to be a typical island culture influenced by New Zealand and Australia, which means a highly adopted behavior among Tongan people from these countries. Happy that it wasn’t like that, cause I don’t like that strange mix of island culture and Australian 'western' culture.

All of them are friendly, complete strangers on the street smile and shout “hellos” across the streets. They are highly religious. The majority of them goes to church every Sunday and they even sing church songs during the week, in their backyards with the whole family or listen to church music.

Many situations like that I noticed when just walking through the streets of Noku’alofa.
One person always forgets its uniform, even in Tonga
Depending on the grade, studends wear different uniform

Obesity also in Tonga

Regarding food, Tonga inhabits the second's place when it comes to highest obesity. They are right after Samoa. Unfortunately, I didn’t see too many fat people on the streets, but that probably explains why they are so big. Maybe staying at home eating their Ramen noodles?

But its not a big surprise, when an average meal looks delicious and huge like this. Lamb chops with (obviously) rice :)

Delicious and huge portions are served

May 20 – Sunday is church day (for Tongans) and diving day (for me)

On Sundays, it's like in Israel with the Shabbat. Everything is shutdown on Sundays, not one restaurant not one shop has open, not even gas stations.

Everyone is singing on Sunday!

The majority of people is having a siesta and goes to church in their traditional dresses and its inevitable not hearing people singing all day long from the top of their voice in the churches. When I walked to the harbor, I stoped at one church and took a look from the entrance hall. They are all highly energized in there, dancing and singing. Its like karaoke, whereas in the front is a projector showing the text and people can sing based on this.

Churches come in all shapes

Churches come in all shapes and sizes in Tonga. The first particular huge church can be found in the center of Nuku'alofa.
Great architecture
Modern church in TongaTonga has many different churchesGreat ideas for church buildings

The music is completely different than I know it from western Christian churches, as here in Tonga is such a high energy and the songs are actually really catchy they sing. I think when they would have church sessions like this back home, probably many more people would attend church voluntarily, as, it's like karaoke.

Walking in Nuku’alofa on a Sunday is interesting. There are the churches with the high energized singing people and also all over the town pigs are squeezing as well. I guess they will be the protein source for the many families who attended the church and come back home hungry for the Sunday feast.


Diving! Finally some water and a shipwreck for me for diving!

Going to the small island Pangaimoto on Sunday is a good thing to do. Went there in the morning and returned in the afternoon.

At the Nuku'alofa harbour

The island is 15 minutes from Nuku’alofa. The reason why I mainly wanted going there was that of the huge shipwreck, which is 50 meters from the shore and is there since the beginning of the last century. Unfortunately, they didn’t have any fins to rent which made the diving and staying on the surface a little difficult, for taking photos.

Underwater overwater picture

Pangaimoto was one island which was heavily destructed by the cyclone one month ago. The whole infrastructure there shows damage and started the renovation of the whole wrecked up stuff. But the staff there in the restaurant did their best to provide some good fish and chips.

Tonga is famous for its humpback whales. Tourists come here for watching, diving and snorkeling with them. Unfortunately, I wasn't in the season and therefore none of them were around.

No humpback whales but at least I had this shipwreck to dive around.

Doesn't it look like a humpback whale, a bit?

Can be found on Tongatapu

Pangaimotu has a rusty shipwreck

Dangerous when climbing on it

Time runs quickly on Pangaimotu and the morning turns fast into afternoon. With it also turns the sunlight and the wreck and the water look completely different above and under water. However, after a few hours it was time to go back to the mainland.

The boat for bringing back people comes every hour.

Locals enjoy the sunday on the shipwreck

I enjoy taking photos underwater and above

Every hours brings new light for photography

Among the shipwreck in Pangaimotu

Old corals at the shipwreck in Tonga

The shipwreck has almost access to the clouds

They eat the corals attached to the wreck

There are not many corals around Pangaimotu, but as I didn't have scuba gear with me, it wasn't possible to stay down there and observe the small fishes for a long time anyway.
Not many but at least some in Pangaimotu

Tonga coral serves for many fishes

Better not to touch

Tomorrow the onward flight to Tuvalu

Tomorrow afternoon I will fly to Fiji and then the day after tomorrow from Fiji to Tuvalu.
Hope that there will be no delay tomorrow, cause if so, I will miss my flight to Fiji, which means I will miss my connecting flight to Tuvalu and then in some days later, also my flight from Tuvalu to Samoa.

1 comment:

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