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Tonga: Mapu a Vaea Blowholes

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Mapu a Vaea Blowholes | Tonga | Oceania

[Visited: September 2012]

To see the blowholes at their best, I was told to watch at high tide, which proved to be at the end of the day. The old man sitting right next to me in the bus told me where to get off; from here, I followed a road down to the south, full of anticipation of something I only had a vague image of in my head. It was only when I saw a concrete platform that I could hear the surf of the sea, and when I stepped out on it, I stood in awe at the spectacle. Over a length of some 5 km along the coast, I saw big waves heading to the rocky shore, crashing on the coral bed. Over time, holes and tunnels have formed in the coral, through which the waves are forced high into the sky. A natural water show, and since the waves don't break simultaneously on the coast, there is a permanent view of white fountains of sea foam being hurled up to 30 metres into the air. It left the impression of a smoke rising out of the coastline. I wondered if Abel Tasman, the Dutch explorer who landed on this island in 1643 just a little further west, had also seen the same spectacle, and if he should not have called the island Smoking Island.

Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Waves crashing on the coral rock of the coast causing a massive spray

I walked on the sharp coral rocks, and saw some spectacular samples of water spouting into the air, so I walked closer to get a better view. I was walking above the pools below me, which seemed totally safe. I pointed my camera right at the sea when a big wave was coming in; when it slammed into the wall of coral, it was forced vertically up into the air. Through my camera, I saw a fearsome wall of seawater coming towards me. I re-checked if I was really in a safe position: the sheer power of the Pacific was overwhelming. I was often at a loss about where to look: I tried to guess the waves approaching the coast, following the highest ones, but would then hear another wave causing an uproar somewhere else. Apart from the sound of the wild surf and the breaking, there was the ominous sound of air being sucked into, and pushed out of, the blowholes causing the whole spectacle. It often sounded like the breathing of a whale, it was loud, it was fantastic.

Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Huge wave crashing on the coral rock

I walked further east, where the waves were at a more direct angle with the coast. The rugged coral rocks make for quite easy walking and are not slippery at all, and when I reached a good spot with clear views of another kilometer of coral rock beds which the waves were pounding, I stopped. Scary walls of water crashed directly on the rocks, and there was a constant sound of the blowholes, which in Tongan are called the Mapu a Vaea, or the Whistle of Vaea. It was easy to see where that name came from. I watched and watched, and the spectacle did not tire me; I had a last bus to catch, which in Tonga is rather vague, as there is no specific time for it. I was told to be at the road before 5pm, so I walked back, past the platform for some last views of the watershow, and then headed back to the main road, and walked in the direction of Nuku'alofa. No bus showed up, but fortunately, a friendly driver stopped spontaneously, and saved me from walking the 15km back to town.

Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Water pushed high up into the air
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Wave sent high up into the sky by the hard coral rocks
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): The coral coast causing spectacular show of water fountains on the southwest coast of Tongatapu
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Strong waves and high tide cause the water to be sent high up into the sky
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Wave crashing on the coral rock bed
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Fountains caused by a powerful wave
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Powerful wave launched into the air by the coral rock
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Wild coastal view of the southwest of Tongatapu
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Several blowholes causing simultaneous fountains
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Wave crashing on the coral shore of Tongatapu
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Fountain of sea water caused by the blowholes
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Spray of sea water caused by the crashing of a wave on the shore
Picture of Mapu a Vaea Blowholes (Tonga): Wave sent high up into the air by the hard coral rock

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