Swimming with whales in Tonga – Take three

After skipping 2018 due to scheduling challenges, we returned to Tonga for the third time in August of 2019.

Getting There

Based on trips in 2016 and 2017, we know that Tonga isn’t easy to reach. In 2016 we flew Melbourne to Auckland to Tonga, then overnighted in this horrible hotel, and then had a bunch of delays getting to Va’vau. In 2017, we decided to go via Fiji, but our connecting flight was cancelled and we barely made the flight they moved us to. This year, we planned a few days in Fiji as a buffer. Fiji Airways had other ideas.

We received a call from the ariline while waiting in the lounge before departing Sydney (on Thursday). “We see that you are flying today and then continuing on to Va’vau on Saturday. Does your luggage need to go with you?” It sounded like the flight on Saturday was overbooked, or too heavy, so if we wanted our bags to arrive before Monday, we would need to skip the Fiji layover and go to Va’Vau on Friday. Not a huge deal, we would miss a day in Fiji, arrive in Va’vau a day early, and the airline would pay for accommodations. This is why we always have travel insurance.

By the time we got to the hotel, it was around 8pm. All of the restaurants and bars were closed (not closed, just booked for a massive convention), and the only option was Ports o’ Call (the fine dining option). We’d been traveling all day, weren’t dressed appropriately, and didn’t have a booking, but the maître d’ was empathetic and accommodating. Andy did have to put on a sulu (a Fijian men’s skirt) to cover his shorts.

The next morning we headed back to the airport for the flight to Va’vau. After a bit of a wait, we were given a voucher for a taxi and one night at the Puataukanave International Hotel. We read reviews of the hotel on Trip Advisor, which weren’t great, but it was just for one night so no big deal. We messaged our friends at Blue Lagoon to advise them of the change so they didn’t pick us up at the airport the next day.

We arrived in Va’vau, waited in a very long immigration line, collected our bage, and found a taxi to take us to the hotel. Despite mentioning the voucher before we got in to the taxi, the driver demanded an additional fee when we arrived at the hotel. Fares from the airport are fixed, so we just left him in the carpark and went to reception.

The hotel has a great central location, but that is the only positive thing that I have to say. Our room was on the ground floor, overlooking the water. It hadn’t been cleaned (there were used tissues, half consumed bottled water, and muddy footprints) and it smelled of mildew. The room backed to a large room hosting a very loud party. There was no air conditioning, and there were no windows to open (only the door). It was in a word, disgusting. I didn’t event want to leave our bags there while we went somewhere to figure out what to do!

We needed internet, so we walked up the road to Bellavista. They were open, but no longer have internet during meal time. Pfft ! We wound up at Mango, and got a message from Blue Lagoon saying simply, “you will not stay there – we will pick you up at 7pm.” Phew !

Blue Lagoon

The boat ride out to Blue Lagoon was magical. It was a moonless night, the Milky Way was bright, and bio-luminescence illuminate the wake from the motor. We were exhausted by the time we got to our fale, but I shot a few images anyway (because you never know if you will get another clear night!)

We’d been here before, and it was like being welcomed home with big hugs from Feleti, Otto, Uli, Po, Tabu, and Jessica. We stayed in the same fale (Moby Dick) and it was just as we’d remembered.

The Whales

We had decent weather this trip (end of August) and some magical encounters, including a newborn almost purely white calf.

Getting Home

We took the late flight out of Tonga to allow for some shopping in town. This meant an overnight at the airport hotel, but it broke up the journey and gave us a chance to clean up before returning to Sydney.

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