Our last island stop for this trip is a visit to the main island of Tongatapu in Tonga. While a Sunday on this island is certainly a surreal and interesting experience, it is also, by most holiday metrics, a wasted day. No normal restaurants, no shopping, no transport, no tours. Nothing. Thankfully, we had a couple other days in Tonga. Additionally, the weather was kind of lousy on Sunday, so it made for a decent rest day.
On our first full day in Tonga, we drove around the capital city island of Tongatapu for our own round-island tour. It was a Saturday and technically you need to go by the Tonga DMV to get a proper temporary license to be able to rent from a normal rental agency. This being a small island though, it wasn't a problem. A lady at our hotel had her brother "rent" us a car for the day, which turned out perfectly.
Driving in Tonga is on the left side of the road, which actually proved trickier than I expected. I'm already a pretty bad driver, so this warranted extra caution. Luckily, there are no stoplights on the entire island and much of the round-island circuit had us on pockmarked remote backroads.
This place was mostly empty except for a few visitors. No admission fee is charged (no staff) just like every spot on the entire island.
The Hufangalupe Land Bridge was a truly amazing remote spot. We initially missed the turnoff from a very remote dirt road that leads to it. You drive though miles of uninhabited areas and coconut and banana plantations and there is a small and uninviting dirt road off to the side that leads to it. We had Google maps already preloaded, otherwise we wouldn't have been able to find it. The road leading up to it is one car wide and almost requires a truck at a few spots. Of course, we were in a tiny little Toyota economy car.
It's hard to convey the scale and power of this place. The thunder of the waves crashing through this opening was incredible.
These were some windy conditions for the little Mavic drone, but it handled well and I really enjoyed the shots I was able to get there.
The last round-island stop we visited at sunset was the Mapu'a 'a Vaea Blowholes. This is a continuation of the same coastline that made the land bridge, but this area has some interesting little vents that have been made that create these channels for waves to shoot through and upward. The sound from this from this is like an incredibly loud, low-pitched wind instrument.
The really explosive stuff would come in rapid sequences and was hard to time capturing it.
Another windy drone flight over the coastline.
Back in town, our hotel was on the same street a. few blocks up from the Royal Palace.
Our second full day in Tonga was on a Sunday. We knew ahead of time that things were closed on Sunday, but it was still bizarre to witness the completeness of this. Businesses are prohibited by law from operating in any manner on Sunday. This picture was taken standing in the middle of the street on the main road, which normally has bustling, rapid traffic at all hours. There was not a single restaurant or business with any sign of life. Playgrounds were empty. Sidewalks were empty except for small groups going to and from church. No sound was coming from any houses. The only activity was people in these creepy fire and brimstone churches playing weird island-themed Christ-Karaoke music. We walked by one and caught the wide-eyed glance of a teenage girl seemingly trapped in there. Her pleading eyes seemed to communicate: "I hate my life and wish I could be out there with you guys." I'm not sure of what the legal repercussions of doing business on Sunday in Tonga are, but they must be severe, because no one, not even the Chinese businesses, were operating. It was really, really weird.
This looked to be an historic church, but interestingly had no activity on Sunday.
We did find another hotel that had "Sunday Barbecue" in their restaurant. Hotels are the only business (besides hospitals) that are allowed to operate on Sundays.
We stayed at the "Seaview Lodge" which also had a pretty nice restaurant. They served huge portions of lobster for about $24 USD.
We spent our last full day in Tonga out on the water, hoping to swim with humpback whales. We started out the day doing some snorkeling around some outlying uninhabited islands.
This is a still from a clip I shot. We had several quick swims in close proximity to groups of whales. Towards the end of the day, there were also some dolphins around the whales. The dolphins were frantically breaching and doing flips, possibly fleeing a shark or some predator. That was about the time we wrapped up for the day.
We had lunch as a group on this island. This place had the best collection of shells we've ever seen. Pretty sure the high tide brings up new stock to the edge of the forest on a daily basis.
It seems we've had to have at least one truly amazing sunset per country.
Next stop is back in Australia for a few days before wrapping this trip up.