Whales!! Fakarava was sharks, Mo’orea was stingrays, and Tonga was whales. We sure did see a lot of whales. Each year, whales come here to mate, give birth, and get their calves ready to travel the oceans. Apparently, the females will lose 75% of their body weight while they are here. While we were in Tonga, we saw whales breaching on our way to an anchorage called Hunga Haven and on our way back. We had a whale come into our anchorage in Port Maurelle and in Avalau. In Avalau, Ryan and I were on the beach while Dan and Ariana were working on Physics, and I saw a whale immediately behind our boat from the beach. I screamed to Dan and Ari, but of course, the ONE time I am off the boat, it surfaces right there. That happened in Niue too. The dive captain apparently tried calling us to tell us there was a whale playing on our stern, but we had no idea.
Here in Tonga, every time we left the main harbor, it seems, we saw whales. The negative of that is that private vessels are not supposed to come within 300 meters of a whale. If you’re in an anchorage and they come up to your boat, obviously, that is fine, but you are also not supposed to jump in the water with them either, even if you are at anchor and accustomed to swimming off of your boat. However, if you are a tour operator whale watching boat, you can go much closer to the whales and you can toss your tourists into the water to swim with them.
This is a still shot from video I took coming back from Hunga Haven Anchorage.
I’m fairly certain the expats who live on Tonga (and there are many of them) are the folks who lobbied for these whale “rules.” The tour operators charge $200 U.S. per head to come out on their boats to see and swim with the whales. In essence, they want to force private boat owners to take their tours. In my opinion, it is a racket, given it costs more to see the whales for a few hours than it does to do a two-tank scuba dive (where much more expensive gear is required) and they don’t guarantee you will actually be able to swim with a whale (or see one for that matter). Such is life!
In Tonga, many of the restaurants and “resorts” (which are very small) are owned by expats rather than Tonga natives. I am not sure why someone would settle here (maybe there is a lack of taxes?), but I wouldn’t be able to live here long-term! Other than the whales, perhaps some snorkeling and diving, and the handful of decent restaurants, there really isn’t all that much more. Hiking is limited and there aren’t too many sites to see here either. Also, many areas are quite dirty and there is NO veterinarian on the whole island, and the dogs, especially, are in very sad shape. That being said, it seems the ex-pats who do live here are active in the community and all seem to know each other quite well. They seem to make the place more livable by having events at some of the restaurants on different nights of the week. For example, there is a Thursday trivia night at Bounty Bar, Monday Pizza Night and Taco Tuesday at The Aquarium restaurant, Sunday movie night at the Dancing Rooster, Friday sailing night and BBQ at Mango Restaurant.
Overall, Vava’u was not the most organized place. Often, they ran out of fuel, had a shortage of eggs, and the expats often asked those going to American Samoa to get yachties headed for Tonga to bring them things that weren’t available in the Kingdom.
Reef outside of Reef Resort!
The Reef Resort Dining Room and Verandah
Below is Blue Lagoon next to Hunga Haven. It is not “The” Blue Lagoon, but we are going to the actual Blue Lagoon (from the Movie) later on here in Fiji!
Some of the beaches on the out-islands are pretty, and the diving is pretty good. We did a dive outside the pass at Hunga Haven (one day, Ari and Dan went and another day, Dan and I went). The visibility was pretty good and there were swim-throughs and crevices, which made for varied underwater topography, but the fish were average in abundance and variety. Ariana had a good time on that dive because she enjoyed the tight spaces she had to go through while following her dad. (That IS exciting as a diver!)
Local Island Kids
In Port Maurelle, Emily and Isabel from Blue Raven came over to see if Ari wanted to kayak into the beach with them. They are close to Ari’s age, and Ari went along and hung out with them for a few hours. She found out that the girls on Blue Raven knew the boys on Widago and K1W1 Beanz, so they already had that in common. The next day, after Ariana and the girls on Blue Raven did school, and then both Ari and Ryan went to their boat to look at the movies they had each made, and to play games. Dan and I kayaked to the beach, walked around for a while, and met up with the parents on Blue Raven (Brian and Nicole). They ended up coming to our boat for happy hour, and then we went over to their boat for dinner that night. We had a really good time. We ended up trading an almost full bottle of Flor de Cana Rum for a handful of fresh mahi mahi when the New Zealand (and Italian and Canadian) whale researchers from Sea Runner came over to Blue Raven. Sea Runner had gotten drone footage of the whale who came into our anchorage that morning, and they were willing to share some of that video—which shows the whale right next to Blue Raven (who was right behind us in the anchorage). The next day, Blue Raven left for Fiji, and we will likely catch up with them again while we are here in Fiji.
Me in a wetsuit in Swallows Cave. We snorkeled through here and climbed up to explore.
A Million Fish in Swallows Cave! It was beautiful in there and the Kids enjoyed Climbing up and Exploring in the Cave as well as the water.
Below is a short movie of Dan snorkeling through the fish in Swallow’s Cave…
The Aquarium Restaurant had movie night one night and it turned out that they had someone from National Geographic (Abraham Joffe) there who had just finished filming the Tongan Islands (including Swallows Cave and the whales). We got to see the not officially complete movie he and his team are creating for National Geographic. We talked with him afterwards and his job seems like a lot of fun. I can imagine Ariana doing something like that in the future!
Another night, we went to movie night at the Dancing Rooster (The Mummy was the movie), and had some good food. We ended up eating there again a few times.
We left the anchorage to go to the moorings off of the Tongan Beach Resort. There, we planned to spend the day at their pool, I was to have a massage, and Dan and I were to celebrate our 19th anniversary over dinner at their restaurant. Well, the pool was no longer in service, it was rainy, and the Internet was slower than you could ever imagine. Plus, our anniversary dinner was mediocre at best. It turned out not to be the best day, but that massage sure was great…
Dan and I decided to celebrate a “do over” (hee, hee, hee) of our anniversary at another small resort called The Reef Resort. Dinner was much better there, and the weather was pretty darn good. It was a lovely evening. Each year, the kids make our numbers that represent how long we’ve been married. The one is compliments of Ryan and the 9 is the Ariana’s artwork.
Another night, Dan and I decided to go out to the Bounty Bar. We went for the transvestite show that turned out to be quite fun! The only bad thing was that my favorite camera was stolen–which I am not happy about because it’s not like I can just reorder it on Amazon! It was my small, waterproof Canon that I took pretty much everywhere I went. Luckily, I had downloaded my photos a few days before that so I didn’t lose many. Another $300 down the drain!
Back to the Bounty Bar. All throughout Polynesia, you can find people who consider themselves a third gender. Here is a description of third gender as it appears in Samoan culture from Wikipedia:
“Fa’afafine are third-gender people of Samoa, American Samoa and the Samoan diaspora. A recognized gender identity/gender role since at least the early 20th century in Samoan society, and some theorize an integral part of traditional Samoan culture, fa’afafine are male at birth, and explicitly embody both masculine and feminine gender traits, fashioned in a way unique to this part of the world. Their behavior typically ranges from extravagantly feminine to mundanely masculine.Traditionally, if a family had more boys than girls or not enough girls to help with women’s duties about the house, male children would be chosen to be raised as fa’afine.  It has been estimated that 1-5% of Samoans identify as fa’afafine.”
It is interesting and refreshing to me that people here seem to have little to no prejudice against those folks who choose to live their own way.
Okay, I think that about summarizes Tonga well enough. We then had a three night sail to Fiji, which is where we are now. I will update more soon!
Isn’t this Piglet adorable? It matches its mom!
Ariana on the Boat at Anchor in Front of the Reef Resort
Our Hike Up to The Observation Area (in the Rain–Again!)
The View from the Top