When our plane approached the shores of Vava'u, I realized I was sitting on the wrong side of the plane, and it was too late to move to the other side. A family was kind enough to offer me a ride to Neiafu, after which a search for accommodation started: without knowing it, I had arrived one day before the start of the yearly regatta and the town seemed fully booked. Walking the town in search of a place to stay, I had my first glimpse of the famous harbour, a long inlet from the sea, surrounded by verdant hills, and dotted with islands. The waters off Neiafu were full with yachts, making the picture complete, and when I had finally settled a place to stay, I was able to enjoy the island and its people. The water is like a magnet, and I found ending up walking the waterfront, or a little higher up, for a different perspective. The next day, after exploring some of the natural wonders under the sea in two scuba dives, I rented a bike, and felt the freedom of having my own two wheels. Quite a few islands are connected to the main one with causeways, and it allowed me to explore also those islands. There are some hills, but my rusty bike had gears, and they did not pose much of a problem. I reached deserted beaches, where small fisherboats were bobbing on the light swell of the sea, but without a village nearby.
I cycled to the far south, west, and north of Pangaimotu island, passing several villages; contrary to Neiafu, it felt like life had been going on here the same way for a long time, and no palangi were to be seen. Standing on the white beach of Talihau, the view stretched further into the archipelago, with yet more islands almost within swimming distance. My last detour on the way back to Neiafu was to the village of 'Utulei. When I came down the especially steep descent, I knew going back might be difficult, but again, it was too tempting to go all the way to the waterline. The tide was low, and I found another friendly village; when I walked around a big house, I suddenly saw the pretty town of Neiafu just across the water. Only later would I suspect that the large house had once been home to Patricia Ledyard, who moved here in 1949, stayed to live in 'Utulei, and wrote an entertaining book about the island she loved so much; I then realized that the old man I talked to on the beach, must have known her. The next morning was a Sunday; with everything closed in town, I was off early for an exploration of the west of Vava'u. When I reached the village of Tu'anuku, the road that had been quite good, ended, and the dirt track soon became a narrow trail through the grass. I was cycling around the Ano lagoon, but only got glimpses of it whenever there were no trees on my right. I was happy that the roaming bull I met was kind enough to step out of the way and let me pass with surprised eyes. The going was tough, but when I reached Longomapu, I knew that I would be OK. On my left, I could see the sea again; just off the island, I saw Hunga island.
Since I did not want to miss the church service, I now cycled back in a steady pace to town. A few hours later, when the sun was shining at its brightest, I took the straight road to the north, ending in yet another 4WD track through the forest until, suddenly, the track veered right, the forest opened, and I found myself standing on a hill overlooking the steep cliffs of the northern coast of Vava'u. Compared to the friendly, rolling hills of the south, this was a stark contrast: rocky cliffs rising sharply from the waves of the South Pacific, but also several seductive, white-sand beaches safely hidden behind a reef barrier and the tantalizing transparent water, on which I could see people enjoy the sand and sea. After having taken in the views, I tried to search for a way to reach the other viewpoint, but the only trail I found went down with the pleasant sound of the surf getting louder, and when I emerged from the thick forest, I found myself on a deserted beach. I could not resist the temptation any longer, stripped down, and went for a dip in the sea, even though I knew this is totally unacceptable in Tonga where you are often required to wear a shirt while swimming. The sun was fast to dry me, and I hiked back up, found my first tasty sweet mangoes under a big tree, and cycled back to town. I hiked up to Mount Tatau through the outskirts of Neiafu, with the last part going up steeply, and found several points from which there are great views of the harbour, and the islands lying off the eastern coast of Vava'u. Even though it was a Sunday, I was surprised to only find one friendly foreign couple here, as this seems such a logical place to go to appreciate the beauty of Vava'u.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Vava'u 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 Vava'u Island. Read more about this site.