30 January 2013

Climbing Tsunami Rock

When I told friends and colleagues where we went this last weekend, the most common response was "huh?" Tsunami Rock, also known as Maka Sio'ata, is largely an unknown gem in Tongatapu. With its mysterious and forbidding name, the giant three-story boulder sits just off a tiny and beautiful beach on the western side of Tongatapu - and no one knows exactly how it got there.

The tree-sized boulder: Tsunami Rock
We motored out in the morning astride our trusty scooter, driving the thirty minutes it takes along the only main road west, most of the way across the island. We arrived in Kala'au, and looked for the tiny white sign on the edge of the road that marks a number of mysterious (to us) sites; the Futu Ko Kaliloa, the 'Esi 'O Talafaiva, and our destination, Tsunami Rock. Once we figure out what and exactly where the other sites are, we'll have to take another trip back to see them. Even to find Tsunami Rock, it's not as if you can look for signs along the dirt road; the little white roadsign is the only indication of anything interesting, and the road was so small that we felt like we might be mistakenly driving down someone's long driveway as we made the turn. 

The other side of the little white sign. Attractions described as: "Beach, Talafaiva's sacred Tomb, Named by Princess Nanasipau'u Tuku'aho, Tsunami Rock, The ancient mythical stone clock, Maui's rock (thrown from 'Eua) Legend, Ancient meeting place of Tu'i Ha'atala, The first Ma'atu Kala'au (Helevalu) residence, Village cemetery, and Named by Queen Salote Tupou III"
Before we set out that morning, we pulled up Google Maps, and squinted at Satellite View. "Do you suppose that dark patch is it?" Mark asked. "I don't know, I don't see any shadow around it. Go up. No, that's the resort. Go down." We scratched our heads and called a friend who had recently been there. Following her description on Google Maps as she talked, we saw the turnoff, the liku (wild side) road, the two cemeteries down an unpaved road, and the faint tyre tracks leading across the bush to a dark splotch. Perfect! 

Tsunami Rock is a mystery. Geologists have studied it from time to time, and have confirmed, between rock tests and coral surveys, that it was ripped from the reef near the island. But how the 1,600 metric ton boulder was lifted up and deposited hundreds of meters away, no one knows. The best guess is that a massive tsunami lifted it and several of the other smaller boulders in the area in a wave that, at 40 meters, must have covered the entire island in water. But in the absence of historical data, and with no other evidence of a tsunami from neighbouring islands, no one is sure.

Ancient fossilized coral and barnacles on the underside of Tsunami Rock
 Considering that most out-of-the-way beaches we've been to have at most one or two other families relaxing on them when we get there, we were baffled to see the eight large vans all parked at the end of the road, and chuckled at the cacophony of kids' screams and laughter. Looking right to where the Rock was supposed to be, we cut off across the chest-high elephant grass, knowing that eventually we'd be able to see it and correct our course. The Rock itself was larger than I imagined; in such a flat island, it loomed above us, fuzzy with gnarled trees and foliage along its side and top. 

Wading through the chest-high elephant grass underneath the looming rock
A visit to Tsunami Rock is definitely worth it if you like bouldering (no pun intended). Climbing up the side of the rock is not too hard if you like hiking, and garners an impressive view of the surrounding bush and sea. Someone had left a helpful broken air conditioner at the foot of the rock that we used as a first step to climb up the side. The beach looked gorgeous, with white sand and a nice swimming hole, but considering the crowds, we left that for another time. 

Figuring out a way to climb up

You can look down through the trees at the grassland

And you can pull out the grass and eat the ends!

By the time we went out there, climbed all around, and then came back, it was almost lunch time and we were hungry. There are no places to get food of any sort out on the Western road, other than the occasional bread shop or falekoloa selling packets of dry ramen noodles and peanuts, so we treated ourselves to lunch at Friends Cafe in the centre of Nuku'alofa. Someone once said, "you go to Friends and just hand over all your money, but you're so happy about it," and it's true. On the pricey side, most breakfast and lunch options are between $10 and $30 pa'anga (around max. NZD $21) but they make wonderful eggs benedict, ceasar salads, and great sandwitches. A lot of restaurants here struggle with customer service, but at Friends, the staff supernaturally know your name after a visit or two, and are always a pleasure to talk to.

Delicious fried bananas and bacon with vanilla syrup, and marlin and poached eggs!

We always love talking with the staff on the comfortable veranda

Location on Google Maps

Drive west along Hihifo road. Turn 180 degrees (square left) onto Liku road where the Liku and Loto roads meet Hihifo road, at the massive rain tree...and green government sign next to the big white house with the Australian and Tongan flags out front. 
Pass White Sands resort on the right. Pass sign to enter Kala'au, and very shortly after, turn right at tiny white square sign.
Go along unpaved road and park at the end. Forward is the beach, but directly before the cemetery on the right, there are two faint tyre tracks leading right across the bush. Follow these for about 20 metres, and you'll immediately see the rock ahead of you. Brush the spider webs away as you climb, but the spiders don't bite and aren't venomous.

1 comment:

  1. What a fun outing! Glad you two were able to spend a lovely day together :)


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