#TongaPart2:Eua

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,

Steph

 

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#5ReasonstovisitTonga

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

Steph

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