The Kingdom of Tonga
I needed a vacation after New Zealand. If you’ve read my post about it, you would know that I was a little down there.
So I decided to take a short vacation to Tonga. A luxury vacation like I had back in those days with my parents in Greece, Hungary or Vietnam etc.
I wanted to stay at fancy hotels and do a whole tour package without caring about the money or planning. So at the end, I decided to do a 5-day tour package with Tonga Travel Troupe.
And I reckon it was the best vacation I had for a very long time.
Everything that happened just fell into place perfectly.
It was magical, and at least as good as my adventures in Costa Rica in March.
If I have to pick a honeymoon vacation with my partner in the future, Tonga would be one of my considerations.
I want to share with you in this blog post what you can do in one week (actually what I did) in Tonga and my experiences here.
First Day – Swim with Whales
Swimming with whales was always one of my lifelong dreams. When I read that I would arrive during the whale season in Tonga, I just knew I had to fulfill the dream. It’s not everyday that you get to swim with the radiant, giant humpback whales. I made sure I’d go with a company who provided us an educational whale adventure without harming these incredibly stunning creatures in their natural habitat. The crystal clear water of the serene Pacific Ocean was picture-perfect.
The fascinatingly gorgeous underwater world made me feel weightless and numb.
Feeling so insignificant in the vast ocean and knowing it is miles deep before you hit the bottom might scare some people, but not me. I
t’s not fear, but immense reverence I feel.
And my devoted love for it fills my mind with freedom and supplies me with infinite joy and affection for its creatures and profoundness.
The first day, we had non-stop encounters with whales. The only thing I didn’t appreciate much was the big group of people I went with (16 of us in total).
But to observe a mother whale and her calf while gliding right next to them is something you have to witness yourself to understand completely how I felt.
It was breathtaking and I had no doubt for a moment that I was the luckiest person in the world.
The mother was so calm and the calf extremely playful with us on the first day.
I had to pinch myself a few times just to assure I was not caught in a dream.
Second Day – Swim With Whales Again
Yes, I went swimming with whales twice. I promise you this was the best deja-vu ever!
What happened to me on the second day is incomprehensibly beyond my expectations and beliefs. I’d say it was a life changing experience.
Like I mentioned before, the first day of whale swimming, we got the chance to observe up-close the mother whale and her calf (about 5 metres away). We felt super lucky. And that was even more than I would have expected.
And here we go: The second day of whale swimming was one of my best life experiences so far.
At the beginning, while we went out far into the Pacific Ocean, we saw two beautiful, gigantic whales competing with one another by breaching the water, which I didn’t even see when I went to Antarctica.
A Lifetime Remembrance
We split up into small groups so I got to be with just my close friends.
But while we sailed around on this small boat, somehow the weather got worse and the waves extremely bumpy. Most of them didn’t have high hopes we would see any whales on this day. But after 20-30 minutes, we saw whales 50 metres away and all of us jumped without missing a beat into the middle of the Pacific Ocean.
We started to blindly follow the mother and her calf. I was very eager to be in the middle of nowhere in the vast ocean and have the chance to see these beautiful creatures again. But while I was distracted observing the mother and her calf, I turned my head swiftly to the back to search for my friend Amanda to share my excitement with her.
But there it came!!!!!!!
Another huge male whale (the escort) approached me from behind. My heart was beating so aggressively, my mind was in a state of shock!
In one of our whale lessons, the guides told us that if a whale would ever swim toward us, it would dive down deep to avoid us.
But this whale approached me and against my expectations, it didn’t dive below me right away. Immediately, I grabbed Amanda’s arm in terror. And while I was still in a state of shock I realized what would happen in the next second.
This majestic and gigantic whale swam directly to me, and with his fin, gently brushed my arm while all 16 metres of his body was gliding right by me!
In this moment, it was more than terrifying. Me being in the gargantuan ocean. And me being in the whale’s natural habitat and in his territory. I knew if he wanted to, he could have easily killed me.
But he didn’t. He gently passed me by and I had the chance to see this majestic creature full-blown. I will add two videos of my friends who went with me on this day so you can understand what I am trying to express in this story.
Big thanks Ronny! Video – Credits to Ronny
The Best Deja- Vu Ever
The next moment, all of us swam to the surface and immediately squealed out of happiness, still processing what was really happening.
On this day I had 3 more encounters.
For the second encounter, I got into the water and I felt the same whale approached me.
My small head faced his eye which was as big as my head. It felt for me like a real King passed me by and all of the beauty in this world lied in this old majestic whale.
The whale, for a second time, gently touched my arm with his fin while gliding next to me, just to show me in a few seconds the whole beauty of nature and the insanely beautiful world we’re living in. Full of scars from his previous fights in life, he revealed in a fraction of a second the evident universal truth to me.
(My mind felt like it could understand things which humans usually are not capable of comprehending.)
Since a week, every time I would slightly turn my head to the back I would see this whale approaching me.
We were super-duper lucky to have had this encounter.
Even our guide told us that in all four years she has been swimming with whales, she never experienced an encounter like that.
“And when you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Third Day – Pangaimotu Island Day Trip
After the whale experience, Amanda and I needed to relax for a while.
So we took a ferry at 11 am at the wharf to Pangaimotu Island with a glorious beach. It is a mere 10 minute boat trip from the main island – Tongatapu.
You can snorkel the day away or soak up the sun. Whoever needs more adrenaline can jump off a sunken shipwreck which has been placed deliberately in front of the island. The restaurant Big Mama’s Yacht Club welcomes hungry visitor for a tasty lunch.
As soon as the sun sets down, be prepared for a mouth-watering Tongan traditional all-you-can-eat buffet at Oholei Beach Resort. A 30-minute drive away from the capital town- Nuku’alofa. Post dinner, you will witness an extravaganza in the Hina Cave: Traditional Tongan dances from all across the kingdom. Nothing can compare. It ends with a fire dance, which was my and Amanda’s highlight for the day. What else more could you want?
Fourth Day – Three Headed Coconut, Tsunami Rock, Ha’amonga
Forget what I wrote about my whale experiences. The three-headed coconut tree should be put at the top of your travel list. It will beat everything else you’ve ever experienced in your life thus far. Your life will never ever be the same once you witness this miracle of nature.
I mean you can see everywhere a one-head coconut, but here you don’t witness a two-headed coconut. NO! It is a three-headed coconut. I am in awe!
My life will never be the same again.
After that we drove to the Tsunami Rock. In Tongan legend, one morning God Maui, who lived in ‘Eua, was angered by the crowing of a rooster early in the morning, so he hurled a giant stone at it. He missed the rooster but struck another bird before the rock hit the ground, which is known nowadays as Tsunami Rock.
Some Japanese researchers have theorized that it was brought inland from the ocean by an unimaginably massive tsunami thousands of years ago. You can see the power of nature and sea in this rock.
I guess it’s the world’s largest tsunami debris!
Ha’amonga was built in 1200 AD. There are lots of theories why it was built, but it served as a guide to establish the beginning of a new year. It has 3 paths to the beach, and when the setting sun aligns perfectly with one of the paths, it tells the people the longest day of the year, the shortest day of the year or the beginning of typhoon season.
Anahulu Beach and Anahulu Cave Pools
In the afternoon I had lunch at Anahulu Beach and sunbathed before I entered the Anahulu cave for a swim. Gosh, my geology friends would freak out if they had accompanied me on this day.
The cave is a beautiful and large network of huge limestone caverns.
The clear water (on sunny days) of the cave pool which is 8 metre deep was just waiting for me to jump in.
Fith Day- Fafa Island And Sunset Behind The Blow Holes
Seriously, Fafa Island is such a luxury island to chill and unwind. Maldives vibes assured. Super calm, with a bushwalk, a delicious meal with a cocktail, a chance to snorkel in the coral reef or just swim the day away in the warm Pacific Ocean.
I prefer Fafa island over Pangaimotu, but you have to decide which is the better island for your taste. The boat leaves in the morning at 11 am at the wharf and heads back to Tongatapu at 4.30 pm.
Also the day couldn’t have ended better than at the blow holes. So make sure you catch a sunny day to visit the blow holes. Tongans call them Mapu’a Vaea (“the chief’s whistle”) because the spouts through the holes in the coral reef make a distinct whistling sound. And some of them can reach up to 16 metres and they are located along the coast for 20 kilometres. Probably my favourite landmark in Tongatapu.
Sixth Day – Hufangalupe Bridge Look Out And Snorkeling At Tanoa
There is this beautiful natural bridge look out called Hugangalupe where you just sit around and watch the waves crashing down onto the rocks below you.
Also if you have time, you can go to the market downtown, where you might buy some souvenirs, clothes or super fresh vegetables.
On this day, we went snorkeling at the wharf in front of Tanoa International Dateline Hotel.
I have been to many wharfs in different countries around the world, but I would never consider swimming so close to them because they are just so disgustingly dirty. But this is the cleanest and best wharf I’ve seen, so you’d probably love to snorkel and swim there.
The water was so clear and on top of that we saw so much more coral and fish than at Pangaimotu or Fafa. The underwater world at this wharf is just stunning.
Don’t miss it if you ever visit Tongatapu.
And the best thing about it is you can observe the locals swimming there and see how they happily enjoy their life to the fullest.
Seventh Day – Resting Day
Tonga is a very religious kingdom and is dotted with churches. On Sunday, it is illegal to work and everyone goes to the church. All the shops are closed, so please prepare for that when you visit Tonga.
Singing is a big part of being a Tongan and it is deeply rooted in their culture and beliefs. You need to visit the churches on Sunday and listen to their angelic voices. It will melt your heart.
Another option would be to rent a bike and do a tour around the island by yourself.
If it’s not Sunday, you can visit Ancient Tonga to learn more about handicrafts and the traditions of Tonga. Or another option would be visiting Atata Island and stay at the Royal Sunset Island Resort for a day. It is a fantastic day trip, a clean beach, turquoise water and if you love coral and reef fish, you gonna love it.
What Did We Do?
Amanda and I instead choose to unwind on our last day, and sit in Friends cafe and work and order something special for ourselves.
A good place to eat is Mum’s Café (way cheaper than Friends Café) or delicious street food outside of Nuku’alofa. The best places to work online and to read are Friends Café or Escape Café.
Always consider in Tonga, they are ruled by island time. Nobody is in rush, so shift down a gear and leave all your cares behind. I was on vacation and Tonga was better than I expected in every single conceivable way.
Brief History of Tonga
An interesting fact about Tonga is that their country has never been formally colonized and is the only remaining kingdom nowadays in Polynesia.
By the 12th century, the kings of Tonga ruled for hundreds of years across the Pacific, from Samoa to Tikopia. Their system was strictly aristocratic.
Later in the 15th and 17th century, the traditional system weakened due to civil wars and the arrivals of European explorers like James Cook or Abel Tasman and some missionaries. But in the 1820’s, the Wesleyan Methodist missionaries had the greatest influence in Tonga. In 1831 Taufa’ahau, the ruler of Ha’apai was converted. After the end of the wars in 1845, Taufa’ahau became King George Tupou I, the leader of modern Tonga.
In the very beginning of the 21st century, pressure grew for political reforms. People wanted their democratic rights to be respected and to move the country towards a more democratic form of government. Later, King George Tupou V himself had also supported the reform.
However, he still possessed more power than planned.
Some Facts about Tongans
I felt Tongans are genuinely friendly and very hospitable.
They smile often and help each other wherever they can, therefore I always feel welcomed here in Tonga. They have huge families. And with huge, I mean in average they have 6 children living mostly under one roof. It’s very common that the guys stay with their parents until they pass away, even after they get married.
Moreover, it was quite funny that no one bothered me to buy from them at the local markets, whereas in South East Asia they would chase you down the streets until you buy a souvenir or something from them. But here in Tonga, it’s so laid back.
They don’t rip you off, everywhere I went, they charged me the same price like the locals and the prices are written everywhere. Isn’t it great?!
Tongan food portions are HUGE! I’ll share a photo of Amanda eating 3 scoops of ice cream as big as my head.
Facts, Facts, Facts
Even though they are very laid-back and sometimes extremely lazy, you can rely on them and they try to keep their word.
Sometimes I feel they had a very suspicious look in their expression when they observe someone enter their shops. But I didn’t have a chance yet to ask why.
But what’s interesting is that even though they provide great customer service, they would still apologize for not providing the best service to you. I never witnessed a behavior like this in any country before. When you go to Mum’s Café you will find a poster which apologizes in advance for the lack of service, even though their service is great!
Churches, singing and communities are very important for Tongans. It annoys me that you have to wear dresses if you want to visit the churches on Sundays.
Their needs are few and they live in extremely modest accommodations, but most of them are still very happy. Their English is exceptionally and unexpectedly good.
All land is owned by the king and the government. All male citizens above 16 are entitled to receive some acres of land from the government. And the men usually inherit titles and land in Tonga. Even more, every citizen is entitled to free primary education and free medical care.
The men in Tonga wear this cool mat around their waist which is kept in place by a belt of coconut fiber. I tried one from Michael, thank you!
Big Thank You, Eunice (Sissy) and Kolo (Michael)
Here I really want to say a big thank you to our three hosts Robert, Eunice and Kolo.
They made our stay unforgettable and magical. We truly found our family in Tonga. We were more than lucky to have met you guys and we can’t wait to come back next time to our Tongan Family. Love you guys endlessly, you have done a lot for us and we can’t show you enough gratitude for everything.
Thank you so much, Eunice and Kolo!
Also a big thank you to Tonga Travel Troupe, who organized everything for us and made this magical trip happen.
Until Next Time
My beautiful and magical vacation from world traveling ends here.
But if you read carefully along the lines and everything I have written, you will know that I will definitely 100% come back to Tonga one day.
Tonga is so raw and authentic, it’s not crowded with tourists yet, which makes the kingdom such a gem.
Let’s be honest, did you really know where on the world map Tonga even is? No? – Me neither. But now I know. I am so glad and proud that I came here before tourism would arrive.
And of course to make all these lifetime experiences in Tonga.
And above all, I was able to share this happiness with Amanda.
It was perhaps the best vacation ever!
See you next time, dear Tonga!