Melbourne is known for its creative culture and ethnic variety, so when cheap tickets came up we decided to jump over the ditch and spend five days exploring Melbourne. We arrived with no clear plans and hoped that each day we would experience something new. We’d heard that Melbourne was a very ‘cash driven’ society so we got cash out in New Zealand when the exchange rates were good, so we didn’t use our credit cards therefore avoided hefty bank fees.

Below are some highlights from our trip and some helpful tips for using public transport.

Free Tram Zone is covered by a city circle tram and you can get on as many times as you like per day for free. We didn’t realize until our second day that you can actually catch any tram within the ‘free zone’ without needing a Myki card. Just make sure you get off when the automated message says “you are about to leave the free tram zone, please touch on your Myki card.” We heard that they have undercover people who get on the tram and check that you have touched on, and if you haven’t you can get an $80 fine on the spot. If you can’t pay the fine then and there you end up with a $300 fine in the post (apparently)! So be respectful of the rules.

Myki Card is a fantastic way to access public transport outside of the city square. If you want to head to St Kilda, the Zoo, Carlton or basically anywhere outside the Free tram zone, grab a Myki (my-key) card from any 7/11 or the information centre. Here is a link to the website. If you grab a visitors pack you get the physical card, a day worth of travel in zone 1 and 2 preloaded onto it and a protective sleeve for it. We loaded ours with an extra $7.90 (1 day worth) as we knew we wanted to visit the zoo. We also loaded another day onto it because we wanted to travel to St Kilda in a last minute decision. We used Myki for the train and tram system and were thoroughly impressed by how easy it was. I’d highly recommend getting one if you are planning on venturing out into the Melbourne suburbs.

Myki Card

SkyBus is a quick and easy method of transport from the airport to the city. We grabbed a ticket each for $19 outside the airport terminal and managed to get a seat on the second story. It was packed as it was rush hour, but only took about 30 minutes to get to the Southern Cross train station. We walked from there to our accommodation. You can also get on a Skybus that delivers you to the main hotels in the city- just jump onto their website to check if your hotel is eligible.

Melbourne Aquarium exceeded my expectations. It was a nice getaway from the heat and busy streets, and I liked that there was plenty to look at so a lot of people weren’t crowding around the same exhibit. All the tanks were beautiful and clean and well maintained. The signage was spot on and the layout/map was easy to follow so we didn’t miss anything. At $40 pp it isn’t a cheap attraction but if you grab one of the Melbourne catalogues there is a 20% discount voucher and if you book online you also get 20% off. The staff take your photos as you walk in, but these are very expensive to purchase so it’s best to take a look and pop them back on the shelf at the end of your visit. At the end of the day, you’re only going to put them in a drawer at home right?!

Melbourne Aquarium Stingray  Jellies

Cat café is a hidden gem for all the cat lovers. Located at 30 Guildford Lane is a quiet, spacious lounge area where you can enjoy the company of about 20 cats. It is a really novel experience and worth a visit if you need some peace and quiet! We had a drink and a slice, and let the cats do their thing. Some were very playful and others were tucked away asleep. If you are after a meal, pop into a café elsewhere as the council rules means that the cat café can only serve food that is wrapped- slices and cookies and coffees in takeaway cups or bottles of juice/fizzy. It is $12 to get in for an hour, you must book online as spaces fill up quickly and bring your camera!

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Queen Victoria Market was a big highlight for me. I was expecting a carpark market, with car boot sales and stalls. But QVM certainly blew my expectations out of the water. We went on Wednesday (but it was closed) so we went back on Thursday morning hoping to grab some local produce for dinner. The stalls are all permanent in an indoor setting and around the edges are all the food and drink caravans. The fresh produce section was fantastic: beautiful organic fruit and vegetables, eggs and honey. The meat section was intense- vendors yelling out to come and buy their meat, specials for the day etc. We grabbed some fish, cheese, veges and some salts and then went over to the ‘craft’ section. Most of it was cheap and nasty, mass produced souvenirs and clothing but there were some nice handmade goods for sale at reasonable prices. Give yourself plenty of time or multiple opportunities to visit the market, and don’t forget to take a stack of cash!

Market feast

Lygon Street is a very full on place. We caught the tram out to Lygon street in search for some food, and eventually stopped in at Donninis for some Italian cuisine. We ordered a litre of sparkling water (as we had already walked about 10km) and some of the spinach, ricotta and mascarpone ravioli. It was the best pasta I have ever eaten and the service was top notch too. A must!

Krimper is also located on Guildford lane and is a spectacular place to experience Melbourne’s exceptional food. I ordered the chocolate donuts and it was stunning. Chocolate mascarpone, pistachio nuts, cinnamon and sugar donuts with berry compote. It was so rich I could only get through half of it! Callum got a squid ink pulled pork burger which looked sensational. Their whole menu was great, and the banana oat smoothie was a winner!

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Melbourne Zoo wasn’t always on the to do list but we sort of ran out of things to do so decided on Friday that we would visit the Melbourne Zoo. We hopped on the train and got off right across the road from the zoo. We paid $32.50 each and collected a map. It was nice and quiet when we arrived, but about an hour into it school groups began showing up and there must have been 1000 kids there, of all ages so that ruined it a bit for us. The kids didn’t respect rules and were very noisy, clogged up the paths and just generally were a hassle so we moved through quite quickly and got back on the train to the city. It was a lovely zoo, and I saw my first ‘real life’ koala, wombat, kangaroo and platypus.


St Kilda seemed to be where all the ‘Aussies’ hung out. We went out to St Kilda for the afternoon and down at the beach were plenty of topless men, bikini clad women, kids playing in the sand and dogs galore. The ocean was a horrible brown colour though, so only the dogs and one brave guy ventured into it! We got a gelato each, wandered down the waterfront and the pier. The Pier was very busy and I felt like one run in with a rogue child or person on a bike would have me over the edge! Prior to hitting the waterfront we went to Luna Park, which was packed! Kids everywhere, parents in tow and lots of rides! I’m not much of a thrill seeker so was happy to watch! It is cool because you can go into the theme park for free, so no pressure to go on the rides until you purchase the tickets! After a busy day we caught the tram back into the city for a much needed rest and to think about what we wanted for dinner.

Carousel St Kilda

Dex2Rose mixes science with food, using dry ice to create almost futuristic deserts. Callum surprised me with this one, he didn’t tell me where we were going so we left the apartment in search of ‘Racing Club Lane’ but we walked passed it a few times before  eventually finding it.We took a seat and both ordered the Hot chocolate desert called ‘Mist in the woods.’ You can watch the youtube clip here.

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Melbourne on a budget

  1. AirBnB – hotels are expensive
  2. Buy food at the market and cook it yourself
  3. Take coffee and tea with you
  4. Take your own snacks
  5. Don’t bother with cheap souvenirs
  6. Walk everywhere or get the free tram
  7. Check out places online in advance to see if they fit with your budget
  8. Only take carry on luggage, so you aren’t tempted to buy too much stuff that you really don’t need

What is your favorite thing to do in Melbourne?




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We’d booked a flight from Eua to Tongatapu while we were staying at Heilala so we packed all our gear up and got a lift to the airport. We were supposed to be checked in by 0815 but when we arrived no one was there to process us, which we found a little distressing. We waited until 0900 and finally a couple of people turned up to check us in. We had luggage that was over the limits so we had to pay $55 TOP to get it put on standby (this meant that our luggage would only make it on if everyone else’s bags complied with the weight restrictions!) So we anxiously waited for the plane to land and for them to load on the luggage. Our bags went on, came off, went back on and thankfully stayed on. Phew!

The little 8 seater plane has one passenger sitting in the cockpit with the pilot and everyone else crammed in the back. It was neat fun and the shortest scheduled flight in the world; 7 minutes of total flying time. It was a beautiful clear day and we could see whales breaching in the ocean beneath us. I’ve never whale watched from the air before- it was quite something. Callum was sitting with the pilot up front, which was quite hilarious because no amount of ‘plane crash’ movies would help him if we were to go down!

Once we landed in Tongatapu and had collected our bags we caught a pre-arranged shuttle to the wharf to catch our ferry to Fafa Island. We were greeted with open arms on board the speed boat and had a smooth ride over to the island. It was a stark contrast to where we had come from. We went from one extreme to the other: living it pretty rough on Eua to the stunning, pristine Fafa Island. It felt like paradise and we were so thankful we had made it with all our luggage. The host showed us around and took us to our fale (which she said was the best on the island, and I agree with her after staying it it). Our bags were delivered to the fale and some cold, fresh drinking coconuts were handed to us, on the house. It was the most pleasant welcome I have had anywhere so far. Amazing, amazing service.

Once we had settled in, we made it priority to get our gear dry- as our bag that once was 21kg weighed in at over 30kg- not good when we had international flights to catch in a couple of days. The weather was gorgeous and hot so we hung all our clothes on the hammock and finally, after 6 wet nights at Eua, our beach towels were dry!

Our days were filled with snorkelling, lazing in the hammock and reading books. We loved watching the stunning sunset and lighting our lantern which guided us along the path to the restaurant for dinner. We were doted on at the restaurant and there was free wifi in the library which was really handy.

Callum somehow managed to get an insect stuck in his ear, which was very stressful! He woke me up at midnight saying he needed something to flush out the bug, as he could hear it scratching and it was quite painful. So I put some clothes on and went for a wander in the dark to look for someone, but all the staff members were in bed and we didn’t know how to contact them. So, we resorted to pouring some water into his ear and in the morning, got some olive oil from the kitchen and after a few hours Callum was pretty sure the insect had made its way out or died.

Our final morning was spent packing and catching a boat back to Tongatapu. We spent our last night at Heilala and caught our international flight home the next day.

Until next time Tonga! xx

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We were very excited and knew we were in for a significantly different week to what we had at Heilala. We were welcomed by Tani and Seiny who took us up to our accommodation amongst the trees. It wasn’t as nice as Heilala which we expected because it was $118 TOP cheaper per night but it was all we needed really. Having our own bathroom was a bonus and although it was a little damp and shower was cold most of the time, it was a fun adventure.

We unpacked and spent the afternoon looking for a supermarket (but everything was closed because it was the agricultural day) so we ate some sandwiches which Seiny kindly prepared and went for a walk to the beach.  We collected a couple of shells and did some rock pooling. In the evening we ate some dinner, played some cards and watched a movie.

Then the rain came. And it didn’t stop for four days. FOUR DAYS!! But we didn’t know that it would rain for that long at the time so we remained reasonably optimistic…

We filled our days with cards, eating, reading, watching movies and filming. Filming the rain. And how much we were sick of the rain. And WHEN WAS IT GOING TO STOP?!!! Everything was damp. Our once dry clothes were damp, the towels were damp, our bed was damp. The air was just damp and it was really dampening our spirits!

We did manage to do some whale watching although it was very cold, windy and rainy. A few of our fellow whale watchers got quite sea sick and had some impressive vomits over the side of the boat. We saw the whales from a distance but each time we got in the water they were too far in the distance. It was disappointing but we kept trying! In the end, we all got too cold and decided to call it a day. Seiny had made some delicious mahi mahi soup so we had a shower, got dry and went and sat in the dining area and ate soup and bread.

That night we noticed that one of the pet dogs Pata hadn’t been around, so we asked Seiny where he was. She said he’s been out trekking with some other tourists and had been hit by a car. The tourists carried him as far as they could but Pata got too distressed and when they put him down, he bolted into the bush. Everyone thought that he was not going to come back (that he would die from his injuries) but I had hope that he would return.

Our resident pooch Pata
Our resident pooch Pata

This repeated the next day, so we were feeling a little defeated and all we wanted was for the rain to stop and to swim with the whales. So we went for one last whale swim on our last (finally the sun came out) day on Eua and had the most amazing experience to date. The whales were like nothing I have ever seen before. The feeling I got when I saw them under the water was a mixture of astonishment, awe and just pure disbelief! We were in the water, the bluest water I have ever seen with Humpback whales; sometimes 4 at a time. Our spirits instantly lifted and we were stoked to be going diving in the afternoon.

I couldn’t hear them at the time, but on our film you can hear the whales communicating with each other which is pretty special. The dive was neat, although both Callum and I had issues equalising so had to stay at around 10m. There was every sort of coral you could imagine, thousands of fish and even some giant clams. I got stung by a jellyfish on my leg which stung like mad but the welts went down after a shower and the application of some topical ointment. The end to our day was made even better when Pata returned! He was cold, wet and dehydrated but in good spirits. His back left leg was completely out of action so he had a bad limp but was getting around ok and back out on the road the following morning! There aren’t vets on Eua (and we don’t know if there are any on Tongtapu either) so he was left to heal on his own.

Our day was topped off by some delicious homemade pizzas and a coke, which went down an absolute treat. We settled our bill, packed all our (damp) gear up and enjoyed our last evening in the tree hut. There was some serious wildlife that night and it sent my mind a little crazy I think. I could hear a cat screaming at something, a pig? Another cat? Who knows!? And I was telling Callum that I hoped it wasn’t Mr Squish (who is our cat at home) fighting with a tom cat. I woke up and he was like, did you hear that cat? And I said “Yeah, we just talked about it!!!” and he said no we didn’t… you just woke up! It was a crazy mix of real life (noise) and dreaming (the conversation) but very funny at the time! I thought it must be a sign that it was time to go to a different island!

One other thing about Eua was their amazing care for Turtles. Green Turtles and Hawks Bill Turtles are both endangered but still traditionally eaten in Tongan culture. Sadly, this means there are some dirty tactics surrounding the ‘Turtle Trade.’

The way it works is any turtles that are caught are supposed to be tagged and released from the main island (Tongatapu). Fishermen will catch them and bring them in to sell at the market but ultimately hope that tourists or locals will buy them and get them tagged and released; saved from the dinner plate. This means that Fishermen are being rewarded for bringing the turtles in, when in fact they should be punished or fined. Apparently anyone caught with a tagged turtle is charged a hefty fee however the whole system seems flawed. Anyway… whilst on Eua we saw two turtles (saved from the agricultural market) sent back to Tongatapu for tagging and one was caught but was unable to be sent back to the main island so it was held captive by some staff members at Ovava Tree Lodge for about 3 days. They padlocked a string to its shell and let it swim about in the water by the jetty or while we were out diving but evidently the ferry didn’t come back for over a week so it was released, as it would have been starving.

These turtles were saved from the market and waiting to be sent back to the main island for tag and release.
These turtles were saved from the market and waiting to be sent back to the main island for tag and release.

Although their methods were questionable it was nice to be in the company of locals who cared and made the effort to save the Turtles. I hope that one day I can return to Tonga to help with Turtle conservation. Maybe I’ll start a crowdfunding page…

So that was Eua in a nutshell. A truly life changing trip for me and I’d highly recommend a visit if you are looking for an authentic island experience.

We’d love for you to watch our second video on YouTube and give it a like!

Much Love,



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Top 5 reasons you should add Tonga to your travel ‘wish list’

  1. Whether you like the ocean or not, Whale Swimming is an absolute must do in Tonga. Hearing the whales sing and communicate with each other is mesmerizing and also very eerie. We were out in the deepest blue water and there was nothing else around, just us and the whales. It’ll cost you $200-$450 depending on who you go with (I’d recommend Deep Blue Diving) but if you add it into your travel budget you’ll have no regrets. Deep Blue Diving operate off Tongatapu and Eua, so easy to access and the cheapest to go with.
  1. The people are amazing. They never hesitate to help you, and you never feel in danger. This was important for us, as it was our first overseas trip together to a place neither of us had been before which was a little daunting. We went on an Island Tour with Vei and he was so friendly, caring and professional. At the market, we asked lots of questions (feeling a little lost with all the different types of bananas) and the people working the stalls asked us where we were from and helped us find the good stuff!
  1. The snorkelling and diving is a real treat. We were lucky enough to stay on the western side of the island right at the top so we could walk off the beach and into a magical world of coral, urchins, starfish and hundreds of different types of fish. If you get the chance to snorkel off Fafa Island (ask to stay in the Huni Fale as it is the best beach to snorkel off) you’ll see huge Giant Clams, clown fish and their anemones and so many species of fish. If you make it to Eua, go for a reef dive. It isn’t too deep (18m) and the coral is pristine. You’ll even hear the whales singing!
  1. There is an abundance of activities and places to visit in Tonga. I enjoyed going into Nuku’alofa and wandering around the streets looking for t-shirts, food and souvenirs. Head to Friend’s café and the craft store next door, and don’t miss the Talamahu market. Downstairs is all the fruit and vegetables and there is a huge array of jewellery, clothing, tapa and carvings on display for you to purchase. Go upstairs if you want to find a snazzy t-shirt!
  1. It is super easy to get around. Grab a bicycle or a scooter from your resort or lodge and go exploring. You can rent a car (although it’s about $60 TOP for a Tongan Driver License) or hop on the bus for $2. We utilised the bikes, free shuttles from our lodge and caught the bus home from town which was good fun. There is a Ferry to Eua most days of the week and speed boats to Fafa and other islands that are close by. Taxis are available but the ones we saw were in very bad shape so if you plan to do a lot of driving, grab a map and a rental car.

I hope this livens up your travel bug and gets you online booking some tickets for next year’s whale season!

Much love,

Callum and Steph Heilala


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“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.


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