Ocean Dream / Red Dirt Road

Humpback calf Vava'u

Gathering ammo for articles in Vava’u was spectacularly fruitful. Unlike in Tongatapu, the main island, people were very enthusiastic about the opportunity to promote the region. As a result I was hosted on a fantastic array of different activities. On day 3 I found myself in a go-cart whizzing around the mainland and on day 4 I was out on the waves of the open sea in a boat all day.

The carting was very novel – the very rough terrain in places really epitomised ‘off-roading’. There was also a surprising amount of variety in terms of the terrain/flora/fauna. Up on the north coast, the rich brown/red mud and luscious greens transformed to sweeping yellow fields dotted with pandan trees. I’ll do a ‘photo story’ to try and recreate the impression of the trip:


First stop: beach at the north east of the main island

First stop: beach at the north east of the main island


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Flying fox den with a view

Flying fox den with a view


Picked up a straggler in the cart

Picked up a straggler in the cart


The following day, the excursion couldn’t have been a bigger contrast from that adrenaline filled mud-fest. A reasonably small motor boat, with me, the crew and three underwater photographers on, headed out of the bay, out through the islands to the open sea. We spent from 8am-4pm getting sea sick on the waves, spotting the odd breech or the odd fin but getting frustrated as all of the whales where moving. Tonga is renowned for providing perfect conditions for whales to hang around in. As a result you get many mothers with their calves sitting around in the warm water. If the whales are moving, however, there’s not much you can do about it as they’re far faster than you could ever be!

On our way back in we eventually saw an out spurt of water belonging to a resting mother and we jumped in the water with our snorkels on. The mother was very relaxed and sleepy and dozed away whilst her calf came to play with us near the surface – it was within a couple of metres of us! Every now and then the sleepy mother would rise up to breath and perhaps move along a little, still with her eyes shut! My favourite moment was swimming along side both of them, almost at arms length whilst they slowly moved along. We were in there for over an hour but it certainly eclipsed all of the morning’s sickness and frustration!

My pathetic little underwater camera did not fare well, particularly with the excitement of the situation, but I’ve fiddled around with a couple of the photos a little to try and reclaim a semblance of a whale from them! With any luck, the underwater photographer who got a shot of me with the whales with come through with his promise to send me the picture! I’ll include a low-quality version of his shot of the calf as well – Daniel Norwood photography, is where to go if anyone wants to look further into him.

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As usual, i've failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

As usual, i’ve failed to get a full whale in but here you can get an idea of what it was like to swim along-side!

The mum with her eyes shut!

The mum with her eyes shut!

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Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

Fantastic wooden whale at the crafts shop in town

Back in the Mud


Despite the excitement, it can be pretty unsettling arriving into an unfamiliar place, with chickens and pigs running about on the ‘highway’, and trying to make your way around without drawing too much attention to yourself. After touch down in Samoa, they were asking for too much for taxis at the airport so I headed in the direction of the bus stop when a taxi scooped me up for half the price – he did, however, have absolutely no idea where he was going, spoke little to no English, and had to stop at various hotels to ask for directions. He didn’t fail to make sure I had his number to arrange ‘picnic’ the next day though.

The hostel itself has no internet, maps or information. In fact the whole country apparently does not ‘do’ free wifi. Or signal on my phone, for that matter. You can buy a certain number of limits at a steep price but sometimes it takes such a long time to establish a decent connection that most of the minutes have gone! (Really irritated currently as have just lost 45 minutes of paid internet time as I couldn’t get signal to open the browser in order to log off so it just ticked away my time L Will have to just wait til the morning and try again). I headed to the tourist office in the local town several times to get my bearings. I was a little dismayed to find that the ‘fale’ I’d booked is essentially a (shared) wall-less hut. I bumped into a nice twenty-something guy from the Czech republic who helped me carry my shopping from the supermarket – he couldn’t remember the name of his hotel but it then amusingly transpired that he was a couple of beds down in the next fale. It’s all a little too close for comfort with people you’ve never met before! IMG_4060

I didn’t push myself on that first day: popped in to check out the flea market, familiarised myself with town and bought some crackers and peanuts (not the best selection at the supermarket) to serve as food for the next few days! Speaking of fleas – have just let the hostel’s cat jump onto my lap for some attention and am slightly regretting the decision.

The next day, Leiataua, the same taxi driver, returned to the hostel at the arranged time to take me down to Black Sand beach on the south of the island. Our language barrier led to a number of entertaining miscommunications. My favourite was when I asked what, if any, wild animals they had on the island. He seemed a little confused so I painstakingly tried to explain through a number of different means such as ‘animals that are not kept for foor or as pets’, ‘animals that are part of the natural environment’ etc. He confidently told me that he understood and after much deliberation announced that they have cows and chickens. Aside from these rather advanced questions he’d generally just respond with a ‘yes’ and a nod of the head, regardless of what I’d said.

Again, he had no idea where he was going and stopped to ask every person on the edge of the road. That isn’t an exaggeration – he would drive 10 metres then ask again as if he either had short-term memory loss or had no faith in the previous answer. We ended up somewhere different from what I’d requested but the hilarity of what ensued made up for that disappointment.

We had to park the car and get out as the road to the beach was only suitable for four wheel drive. I explained that I was happy to go by myself and come back but he didn’t seem to understand and just said ‘now we walk’ ‘you and me’ to which he giggled. We ended up going on what was apparently a 7 mile round trip, wading through rivers, knee deep mud and at one point being drenched by a monsoon. The poor guy fell over a couple of times and was needing to pee every 30 minutes but meanwhile I just couldn’t get over the surreal nature of the situation: I was out on a tropical hike with my obese taxi driver.

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The beaches at the end of this expedition were certainly beautiful – largely because it’s easy to imagine that they are completely undiscovered. I particularly love the volcanic rock everywhere and the rich black sand that it gets ground down into.


Hole in the lava rocks where the waves would whirl through and erupt out of

Hole in the lava rocks where the waves would whirl through and erupt out of

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ripples of solid lava falling into the sea

ripples of solid lava falling into the sea


Leiataua tried to charge three times the price advertised. I think this was due to the fact that the walk annihilated him – he was panting and sweating like he’d just run a marathon. I gave him all I head which wasn’t enough so not sure how that’s going to resolve itself…he wants to take me out for another ‘picnic’ trip (tickles me how any trip out is just called ‘picnic’). However hilarious, I’m not overly keen to head out on another adventure with him but he now thinks I owe him money…I’ll have to get some out from the bank but am reluctant to give him the extortionate price asked for as I’ve already spent too much.

Safely back at the hostel – I took the 30 minute walk through town to the marine reserve and headed out with my snorkel to cool down a little. It was pretty, but ridiculously shallow – the high salt content meant I could float on the top but I couldn’t move my legs or arms down at all or they’d make contact with the coral and that never turns out well! With only a few minor scrapes I eventually made it out to the drop off area where things got much more manageable!

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Look how far out I was - and the reef was still only half a metre below the surface!

Look how far out I was – and the reef was still only half a metre below the surface!

It feels so great to be able to relax in my hut now, even if it is dark. Am going to purchase a few more minutes wifi to get this up and running so fingers crossed it gets through! Bye for now.