Friday, January 30, 2009

Atata Island, Tonga

For 60 Tongan dollars (~30 USD), you can set up a trip to the Royal Sunset Resort on Atata Island. The scuba prices were pretty steep for Tonga, something like 300 T$ additional (150 USD) - which is more expensive than the place where I went diving in Fiji. So, we all decided to just hang out on the island and snorkel a little. In hindsight, this seemed to be the right decision, since the place wasn't very organized and as a beginner, I didn't have much confidence in the scuba gear.

There was a 45 minute boat ride in a small transport boat from the port in Nuku'alofa. When we arrived, we spent some time wandering around Atata Island. We walked part of the way through some forest on the island and most of the way on the beautiful beaches. On the opposite end of the island was a small village. We had plenty of time to swim before lunch, and after lunch we were taken by boat out to the reef near the island to go snorkeling.

The snorkeling was pretty neat, although the size of the reef there couldn't compare to the reef by the island I was at in Fiji. The one really interesting part of the snorkeling was the rows of giant clams beneath us. When I say giant, I mean 1 meter across; and I was actually nervous to swim above them. The snorkeling was a lot of fun, because the fish didn't swim away when I came over. My favorite was a group of turquoise fish that I spent a lot of time following. I also saw one of the giant clams start to close when a fish was poking at it. For a minute, I thought I was going to see the fish get eaten by the clam (I have no idea if clams actually do this), but the fish swam away before anything happened.
I would have been able to spend hours out by the reef, but we only had about 45 min to an hour, before we had to catch the boat back to Tonga. The worst part of the snorkeling was that I had to learn how to pull myself back into the little boat that had brought us out to the reef. Luckily no pictures exist illustrating exactly how horrible at this that I am!

One last side note is the "flying fox" which are all around Tonga. They are bats, but as you can see from the picture of this little guy, they are adorable!
The trip back to Nuku'alofa on the boat was great fun. The waves had picked up quite a bit, and the little boat kept jumping over the waves and slamming back down on the surface of the water. It was a little rough, but it was exciting! The day trip was about 4 hours long, so we had plenty of time to shower and rest before dinner on the main island.

Monday, January 26, 2009


In all, I spent 4 days on Tongatapu (the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga). On our arrival, we were greeted by rainy skies and thousands of coconut trees that cover the flat island. The port city where we were staying is Nuku'alofa, the capital city. Two other grad students from University of Hawaii and I stayed in the Waterfront Lodge. It was a small, but really great hotel! There's a nice restaurant on the 1st floor and about 12 rooms on the 2nd floor. All of the rooms have big balconies, hot water, and air-conditioning. It was a little expensive for Tonga (about 120 U.S. dollars/night), but split between the 3 of us, it was a great way to go.

We were unsure about how to amuse ourselves at first, so we decided to take a taxi to some small, obscure beach on the opposite side of the island. The road was well off the beaten path. And of course when we reached the beach, we were the only tourists there, there was a steady rain, and it was nothing like we expected. After swimming a while, I decided that it was really a cool beach! There was about 20 meters of actual sandy beach, the rest was covered in black corals. About 50 meters from the shore was a black reef that constantly had waves breaking over it. If it wasn't high tide, I would have swam out there and walked on the rocks. After swimming for about an hour in the rain, we decided that we were sufficiently cooled off. It was a great beach!

On the second day in Tonga we looked around town and checked out the market. The market was pretty neat: lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and a section of handicrafts. The handicrafts were mostly all woven baskets, jewelry made from shells, patterned wall-hangings, and wood-carvings. It was a nice market, but a lot of the tables had the same goods, so I lost my excitement after the first few booths. In the nighttime, we went to a buffet at the Dateline Hotel, which was pretty tasty, despite being mostly meat. There was a live band playing, and after dinner, a local group of Tongans danced traditional Polynesian dances. All the dances were good - but there was a marked difference between the way the men and women danced. The women's movements were all smooth and flowing, but the men's were extremely energetic and aggressive. The best dance was a guy who twirled and flung around a torch that was flaming on both ends - I was really impressed.

On the third day we went to Atata Island (separate post), and on our last day, we boarded the boat and settled in. After becoming acquainted with the ship and clearing customs, we had one last night in Tonga. We went back to the restaurant in our hotel one last time and then met up with others from the boat at a really loud (and surprisingly cool) bar. Up until the final night, I didn't even know that loud, exciting bars existed on Tonga. Then we stumbled back to the port to sleep on the boat, waking up bright and early to leave port and watch the last bit of land fade away in the distance.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

South Sea Island, Fiji

For 200 Fijian dollars (roughly 150-170 USD), you can join a day trip to one of the islands just off the coast of Nadi, Fiji. I figured that I probably wouldn't be in Fiji much during my life, so I splurged. As a result, the day was one of the best days of my year (at least). After leaving the port at Denerau, we traveled about 15 minutes until we reached South Sea Island, which is a tiny beach island with a small resort on it. The island is surrounded by coral reef, and the company who owned the island had a semi-submersible boat with glass windows on the bottom walls. While I tried to take pictures, I don't think that I did the reef justice. It was really incredible.

The next part of the day I spent learning how to scuba dive (included in the price) with a beginner diver from New Zealand and our instructor. Since the reef surrounds the island, we were able to swim right to it from shore. We were both beginner divers, so the three of us stuck close to each other for the entire time, and we only dove to about 5-10 meters, although I was too afraid to look upwards towards the surface, so I can't really verify that. Once again, I'll just say that the experience was incredible, and I have learned that the only way to really see a reef is to be diving through it!

After lunch, I had plenty of time to kayak around the island and lay in the boat and relax. The best part about the kayaking was going through the waves (small as they were) out towards the ocean than laying in the boat as it got pushed slowly back to the shore of the island. I quickly decided that this was one of the best days ever - even before the snorkeling out above the reef and the sailing on a catamaran around the island. I thought the waves were fun in the kayak, but they were way better in the catamaran!

My only regret about the entire day is that despite being so diligent about putting sunblock on my shoulders and face, I forgot about my legs entirely. I have never burned my legs before. Don't worry mom, it's not a mistake I'll make again (hopefully).