“So how was your trip?” “Where did you go again” “How much did it cost” were all common questions we returned to after spending 15 days in Tonga.
Reflecting on how I felt when I got home, I realised our trip was similar to that of an ocean tide: some parts of the day had us on a high, other times we felt quite low. It was refreshing: the feeling of being outside our comfort zone and embracing all that surrounded us.
We booked our flights and accommodation at least 6 months in advance as peak season is between June and October. We flew on Air New Zealand from Auckland, but you can fly direct from Fiji or Australia via Fiji Airways or Virgin Australia.
We landed in the rain at Fua’amotu International Airport, cleared customs and biosecurity and fledged into the Kingdom of Tonga. Greeted by lovely Liu from Heilala Holiday Lodge, we boarded the free shuttle (it’s free if you stay with Heilala for 3 or more consecutive nights) and drove all the way to the western side of the island. It took about 45 minutes and by the time we arrived we had felt every sort of emotion; elation, concern, sadness, anticipation and most of all, uncertainty. Callum was quite distressed about the amount of rubbish, and I the malnourished animals. We simply had to let water slide off the ducks back and try to understand that their way of living is very different to ours.
Heilala was truly astonishing and oh so quiet. It was bliss. We were offered a free city orientation which we gladly accepted and after a peaceful night in our Superior Fale ($198 TOP per night) and a complimentary breakfast of toast, fruit and tea we ventured into Nuku’alofa with Liu and one of our hosts Carolina.
The most valuable part of the orientation was getting our bearings for where we were in comparison to everything else! We went to Talamahu Market and bought some bananas, papaya, tomatoes and cucumber and visited the craft stalls too. It was spectacular and definitely worth a visit. They don’t have eftpos so cash is a must have. The iSite was close, on Vuna Road so we headed there to attempt to book a ferry to Eua and a flight from Eua back to Nuku’alofa which we had scheduled for other parts of our trip. We ended up only booking our Ferry but the flight was easy enough to book online. We spent some time in town and got some food at the Friends Café (the best café in town) and walked down to the bus stop.
Catching a bus was easier than I thought, we jumped on the Hi’Hifo bus and it took us all the way back to Heilala. I listened and watched what other people were doing in relation to getting off the bus as there weren’t any ‘stop the bus’ buttons! People just yelled for the driver to stop and he pulled over. Pay the driver on the way out ($2 each) and that’s it! I managed to catch the drivers eye in his rear view mirror, so I signalled him and he stopped for us. Forty minutes on a bus for $2, it doesn’t get much cheaper.
We spent the next couple of days snorkelling the beautiful reef and visited Liku’alofa for a cultural show where we ate all sorts of local cuisine and they did an array of dancing. Members in the audience would get up and place money on the oiled up dancers which initially, we thought was quite unusual (as in our culture we associate money and dancing with strippers). However apparently it is a long time tradition that tapa cloth was given to the dancers but over the years it has been more practical to give money as a token of appreciation. It was a really great night (although long) and well worth it for $35 TOP each.
We’d asked Heilala if we could be a part of the island tour which they happily organised for us. We were picked up by the lovely Vei on Thursday morning and we ventured all over the island visiting the ‘tourist sites.’ The blowholes were spectacular and definitely worth the visit, you might even see some whales swimming in the beautiful sapphire blue water. The natural land bridge was also very pretty, especially the view of Tonga’s rugged coastline. It was neat stopping on the side of the road and looking high up into the trees at the Flying Foxes. We visited the Anahulu caves and went for a much needed swim! After cooling off, we hopped back into the van and drove for an hour across the island back to Heilala.
Unfortunately, about half way through the tour, before we arrived at the caves I started to feel very unwell. I initially thought I was suffering from motion sickness as the roads are very bumpy and I was sitting at the back of the van. I soon found out that it was a little more serious and my hands went so numb I couldn’t use them. We stopped a few times on the way back to our lodge so I could vomit, and as time went on I found it harder and harder to stay on my feet. I vomited in the van, all over myself and out the window. It was classy stuff.
We arrived back at Heilala and I walked and crawled back to our Fale. I spent the next 6 hours or so vomiting and pooping (sometimes at the same time) and at midnight I was able to settle into bed and get a few hours of sleep. Poor Callum had to clean vomit off my clothes, wash the towels, and scrub the toilet… oh and drink all our alcohol!
Looking back on that day we laugh hysterically about the things we had to endure (I literally almost shat myself on the side of the road) however at the time it was really, really miserable. It took me about three days to come right but thankfully Callum had sourced some anti-nausea pills, immodium (for diarrhoea) and some antibiotics from his doctor in NZ which helped a lot.
Our last few days on Tongatapu were spent resting, recovering and relaxing. Callum did a lot of snorkelling and reading in the hammock. We packed our bags, watched the sunset on the beach and went to bed early as we had our trip on the ferry over to Eua Island the next day.
Our stay at Heilala cost $1004.50 which included a kayak hire, a few drinks, a superior fale for 5 nights and shuttles. We guessed we’d need about $1000 per week, so it fit perfectly into our budget.
Saturday morning rolled around and we were picked up by our Tour guide Vei (who seconds as a shuttle driver) and when he saw me he said “Are you ok now princess?” and I replied with “Yes, I am much better Vei… and sorry for vomiting in your van” to which we both laughed. It was a lovely day but very hot in the sun so when we arrived at the ferry terminal we found a shady spot and waited for about an hour to board the ferry. We then waited another 30 minutes before setting sail.
The two-and-a-half-hour trip to Eua was stunning, the day was calm and the ocean was a mesmerizing blue. Whales breached and played in the distance, as well as surfacing close to the boat. We felt very lucky to be in Tonga, with the most amazing wildlife around us.
I was still feeling a bit queasy after my bout of illness but I managed to keep it together for the length of the ferry ride. We docked in Eua and proceeded to get our bags, trundle over the road to the Ovava tree lodge and sat in the beautiful outdoor dining area awaiting check-in. Bliss!
Watch and ‘like’ our short film on youtube and follow us on our journey to Eua and Fafa Island.