When the boat rounded the cape of north-eastern Tongatapu, I was looking south-east, convinced that 'Eua island should be visible right away. But alas - there were low clouds in the sky, and not the slightest hint of an island. It was only later that I saw the northern tip appear, while much of the island remained hidden in clouds, making the approach all the more mystical. The girl from my guesthouse was waiting for me and quite soon, I had dumped my stuff, we took a bike for the following day, and I was on my way on a first hike. 'Eua is renowned for its nature and hiking opportunities, and I had been looking forward ever since reading about it. Two of the dogs of the guesthouse came with me, and together we discovered an enormous banyan tree, and a little further up, a secretive waterfall, Smokey Cave, dropping off around 70m into a depth you could not even see. From here, the directions I followed indicated hiking up a road that was officially closed, and so I did. But with all kinds of tracks leading through the rainforest, it was a matter of time before the description became useless. By this time, the sky that had been a whitish grey colour turned dark, and when I felt the first drops of rain falling on my head, I knew it was going to be tricky. Sunset was within 45 minutes, and in this dense forest, certainly earlier; I was not sure where I was, and going back felt like not a good option either. So I continued, following my sense of direction, hoping to find a track leading west again. The many birds continued singing like before, the dogs followed, and I took this as a good sign. When it started to pour down and the track had become a muddy affair while the light was being squeezed out of the sky very fast, I started to run where that was possible. Eventually, I passed a shelter, and a little further down, I saw a light in the distance: sign of life! Indeed, I hit the main road crossing 'Eua island, did some shopping, and came home with only one dog - the other followed later. I had counted on eating alone, but the girl of the guesthouse was home early and we ended up cooking for each other. Certainly an unexpected end of an exciting day, with hopes for better weather the next day.
But alas, after an entire night of rain, water was still falling from the sky when I woke up. I waited a couple of hours, but since there was no improvement, I decided to go to church instead. When I got out, the dark grey of the clouds was finally showing signs of change, and I decided to take my chances, took the bike I had rented the day before, and off I went, to the southeastern-most point of the island. The bike was odd in the sense that its steer was very wide, and though it looked fancy, it did not have gears. Most of the way was going downhill, and I started wondering how I would come back on the bike. At the same time, I thoroughly enjoyed cycling through the forest, and later the crop plantations on an undulating landscape with views of the sea on the right, and the mountains of 'Eua on the left. I had to be careful about cows on the road, and those were the only living creatures I saw. At the end of the road, I stowed my bike in the bushes, lifted the gate, and started hiking. Soon enough, I entered the so-called rock garden, where formations of dark coral rocks were sticking out of the grassy landscape. In a distance, a herd of wild horses. When I walked to the far end of the island, I reached an abrupt drop-off; below, the sea was pounding on the wall of rocks. I watched the scene for a while, looked around me, and with the sun trying to break through the clouds, shedding a brilliant light over the rocky landscape, the sea below, the horses in a distance, a sense of satisfaction came over me. The day looked promising after all: my plans were to visit the south-east coast, bike to the north, and see several things there, too. I left the rock garden, followed the 4WD track that was muddy in parts, and took a trail climbing into the forest where I spotted plenty of nutmegs on the ground, to reach a small wooden platform. Even though I knew what I was to see, seeing the natural bridge for real was much better: a naturally formed arch, with trees on top, the waves of the sea crashing into the rocks below; over the many centuries, their constant attacks on the rocks had resulted in the formation of this formidable structure, locally called Li'angahuo 'a Maui.
According to legend, the bridge was formed by demi-god Maui who hurled his spear across the island, creating the hole in the rock face we see now; the spear landed in the sea, thus creating the Tonga trench. Back to the main track, I continued walking north, and was not even aware that I was crossing the natural bridge I had just seen from above. A little further on, I reached a smaller rock garden, more steep cliffs, and from here, it was supposed only another 20 minutes to a cave. However, I was probably focused on not hiking through too much mud, and in awe by a stampede of bulls on the loose who fortunately went the other way, and must have lost the right track, for at one moment, I nearly tripped over barbed wire on the ground, and almost had to get down on my knees to advance through others. I decided the track must be closer to the sea, and walked east, where I indeed found a track. By now, it had started to rain again; the window of a little clearer weather was already over. But the cave was nowhere to be seen; when I realized I was walking right next to a drop-off, I imagined the cave to be in the cliffs below me, and when it was possible, I went down. There was no real trail to follow anymore, and at one point, I thought the cave must be behind me. Clambering through the dense forest, I heard a constant battering of rain on the big leaves above me, I did not care anymore about the many spiderwebs I was destroying (once, the spider then walked over my face), I heard the shrieking red parrot which is endemic to 'Eua, and eventually, I even found the cave where I took shelter to have something to eat and drink. Walking around the cave, I did not see any indication of a trail, nor the pipes mentioned in my trail description. When, after waiting for a while in the cave, the rain just did not give any hint of stopping, I decided to forget the Vaiangina stream and head back. That proved easier said than done: there were steep cliffs on my right, and I knew the sea on my left; I had to get up somewhere, but could not find any place to do so. When I reached an open spot in the forest, I finally had a chance to get close to the cliffs rising vertically from the wild sea below; it also finally gave me a view of the east coast of 'Eua island. But when I reached a point where there was no more space to walk between the cliffs on my right and those on the left, I knew I had to return. I then decided that I should head straight up, and force a way to the second level. The rain was falling incessantly from the sky, and my thoughts were on the well-being of my camera, hoping the rain-cover of my backpack would be sufficient for this tropical deluge. In the end, I walked over slippery roots, holding on to sharp coral rocks, threw my backpack further up because it got constantly stuck between the small holes through which I was creeping, and fought myself higher. I ended up walking on the roots of airborne trees, as there was no proper ground under them to walk on. Eventually, I proved right: I found the track again, and hurried back to the bush I had left my bike. It was now raining even harder than before, and I pushed really had on my bike to brave the hills and find shelter in my hut. Going further north seemed useless with this kind of weather: it was just not meant to be. As a small consolation, the sky was clear before sunrise the next morning, and I was out right away to still do a few hour hike to Falateha beach. The first sunrays were trying to pierce to a heavy ground fog: the earth was still reeling from the onslaught of water it had the days before. The beach was easily found; a stretch of white beach with a reef just off it, huge oceanic waves crashing on the hard coral bed, creating a spectacle of water spraying into the air. Unfortunately, the tide was still quite high, and I could only reach other spots by walking cautiously on the rough surface of the coral rocks with a layer of green vegetation right on top. I could see the doughnut pool, but I was not sure about the pool of tranquillity. I watched the powerful display of the Pacific, before heading back to my cabin. As a second bonus came the sighting of a pod of 9 whales from the sky, just after take-off from 'Eua - an island that is grossly underrated.
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from 'Eua island (Tonga). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to 'Eua island.
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