27 August 2012

Whale-song in 'Eua

Yet again, last weekend I was reminded why 'Eua is such a deliciously amazing best-kept-secret place to have a holiday. We'd gone back to 'Eua several times since living there, but this was the first time we went entirely for fun. The island of 'Eua is a large (for Tonga), samosa-shaped island off the East coast of Tongatapu, and is geographically completely unlike the entire rest of Tonga. While other islands are tiny, flat beautiful atolls spread atop porous volcanic material and ancient coral, 'Eua is a small mountainous slab of continent, bursting with natural springs, high rocky cliffs, and massive networks of subterranean caves.

The plane is so tiny you have to weigh yourself and your carry-on before boarding!
Not to mention that it has the best whale-watching in the country, not that I'm biased of course. We took a long weekend, heading out on Friday afternoon on one of the shortest flights in the world (6 minutes), and Asa sat co-pilot with a panoramic view of the water. From the air, we saw two huge pods of humpback whales, their rough backs and fins appearing and disappearing in the water below us as we flew towards the island.

The Hideaway, looking back from the beach lookout where you can watch the whales pass through the channel

There's nothing quite like being a tourist where you live! We stayed at the Hideaway, which brought back fond memories of being in Peace Corps and going there several times a month to have the only meal out at the only restaurant on the island. The first day we spent with Deep Blue Diving, out in the channel betweeen Tongatapu and 'Eua in a boat, hoping that the whales would be curious enough to come up to us.

It was a cold day, so Mark and I opted to put on wetsuits. Asa was more hot-blooded than we were.

But, it was a busy day for the humpbacks, and we were constantly surrounded by a flurry of busy whale-activity; whales speeding off one way or another, flapping their tails all around the boat before investigating some other interesting undersea event, and blowing jets of spray before diving into the depths. Several times, we were able to jump out of the boat to hurriedly stick our masks in the water to see a pair, huge and shadowy blue, soaring below us off into the darkness. That evening, we were treated to freshly baked pizza from Wolfgang's - the German operator's - pizza oven

Hiking to Fangatave Beach. The beach far below is where the hike eventually took us.

Four or five days are just about the perfect amount of time to spend for a short holiday on 'Eua. There are three main hikes that each take about a day, leaving another two to go out on a boat, go diving, or relax at the beach. The next day, we went up north to my favourite hike, Fangatave Beach. It takes a leisurely 4 hours' hike there and back, and during the walk, you go through pine groves, horse fields, high grassy cliffs with amazing views, deciduous light forest, boulder down some small inclines to reach a humid, mossy forest covered in ferns, and make your way out through a cave system to a white sandy beach.

Asa bouldered down the cliffs like a natural

And climbed through caves on the cliff face. He's looking at me where I'm standing on a tiny ledge on the cliff.

When we got down to the beach, we could look up to the cliff's edge and see where we had walked.

The next day, it was a hard choice to forego the centre-island hike with it's cliffside caves, lookouts, and huge banyan trees, but for our third and final day, we chose to go down South to the Lakufa'anga cliffs, Ha'aluma Beach and Li'anga Huo 'a Maui, or Maui's Archway - and it didn't disappoint. The cliffs are called the "rock garden" because they're strewn with huge piles of rubble you'd swear were Roman ruins if you didn't know any better.

A panoramic view of the rock garden.

The cliffs below the rock garden had a bird colony on it's face.
We walked up past the cliffs and through a small stand of trees and reached the huge, natural archway on the other side of a spit of land. Pictures don't do it justice: it's actually large enough to fit two or three small houses underneath!

From the lookout, the waves crash in the archway far below.
Asa stayed on an extra day to work with a colleague from TBEC on some business advising, and we all arrived home by Wednesday, tired and satisfied. The trip was short - too short to do anything but show Asa some of our favourites so we had no time for visiting, but even with it only being a long weekend, we had a wonderful time and managed to see a lot of the island. 'Eua is definitely (still) one of my favourite places in Tonga.

Man in blue with papaya.

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