I’ll do this day in two parts/days, otherwise it will be a very, very long post!
It started out overcast today then turned into full-on tropical rain alternating with rain and showers.
The island tour was pretty good despite the weather, and Vei our tour guide made it an entertaining way to spend the day. He started by apologising for talking too much because he had forgotten to take his pills!
First, we went to the Abel Tasman landing site not far away along the end of the road. As it happens, it’s just for show, and he actually landed at our beach, which I thought was pretty cool. Next stop was the flying fox colony. These fruit bats roost in some trees along the side of the road, only a short distance away. When we visited, most were snuggled up with their wings tightly wrapped around their furry bodies, hanging like ripe fruit from the branches. Some flew in but by the time my camera lined up, they’ve landed. Vei called to them which seemed to liven some up a bit & they fluttered in the tree.
Back in the van, we went to see Maui’s Rock, aka the Tsunami Rock. Maui appears in legends across the Pacific and in this one he saw a giant man-eating chicken, picked up a rock & threw it – and missed. So what’s the big deal about a rock? It’s a massive hunk of coral about 15 metres high, wide and deep, just sitting in the middle of an open space covered in scrubby coastal grass & the odd coconut palm. There are no other big boulders in the area but it’s not far from a beach, so a less romantic theory is that a tsunami brought it ashore. But the question is, why just one? According to National Geographic there are actually a line of 7 of them on the island, but Vei left that bit out! I do prefer his version though, science can be so boring. There’s a near-vertical sort of track up the side to the top of it, but I wasn’t wearing my climbing jandals & crampons, so declined the opportunity. One of the macho guys in our group WAS wearing his climbing Crocs (that he had tried & failed to climb a coconut tree with earlier), so up he went – the view was fantastic, he said.
Maui's / Tsunami Rock
Our next port of call was the Mapu’a ‘a Vaca blowholes, on the rugged south-eastern coast. Wow, what a spectacle! And there wasn’t even much of a swell. Hundreds, perhaps thousands of blowholes, large and small, shoot up with the waves along 4 kilometres of coastline. Some go up to 20 metres into the sky when it’s rough, but even though we didn’t see that, I still could have watched for hours as they did their staccato display. You have to time your photos just right, so unless you are particularly lucky, it’s best to stay awhile and learn how it all works.
Mapu'a 'a Vaca Blowholes
You can see here where the blowholes stretch around the coast
The terrace-like rocks provide big pools where a guy was wading, searching for baby octopus or other seafood that lives there. An incredibly dangerous way to catch your dinner, if you ask me!
A dangerous hunt for dinner!
After the blowholes, Vei took us to… drum roll please… wait for it… the three-headed coconut palm! This is apparently quite a big deal, and really unusual – the only one in the Islands by all accounts – a mutant, if you will. There are no big signs saying, “This way to the magnificent three-headed coconut palm”, and no plaque or carpark or anything else showing this is special. We parked on the side of the road right in front of it, marvelling at the wonder of it – I know, I’m being terribly sarcastic, perhaps the weather’s getting to me. My apologies to anyone offended. But, to be fair, it’s a spindly, unprepossessing thing that just happens to have three heads, and is standing in a scrubby field, pretty much in the middle of nowhere. If you didn’t know it was there, you’d drive right past it. Wonders of the world, Tongan style. Kinda sweet really.
Ta daaa!! The great and wondrous, one of a kind, triple-headed coconut palm. I know you're as impressed as I was!
Vei gave us a snack of delicious, crisp, fried thin breadfruit chips and Island bananas, then dropped us back into town for lunch. There was no rush, we were on “Tongan time”. On our way again, we headed to a land bridge, the Hufangalupe Archway where a cave collapsed and has created this beautiful spot.
The Hufangalupe Archway
It’s in an area of government land that Vei told us is the “government hideaway”. The remote area, with its long grass is apparently ideal for government officials to take their ‘special friends’ for liaisons – the Inspiration Point of Tonga. He knows this, because when he was a taxi driver, a government man’s wife had him drive her to “the hideaway”, where she caught out her hubby with his girlfriend. Vei’s version of the story is hilarious, and I’m sorry I haven’t done it justice!
The fishing pigs were next on the agenda. “Seriously, fishing pigs?” I hear you ask. Yes, seriously – and not, as the man in Crocs asked, policemen going fishing. These pigs, which are owned by a family that live next to the lagoon, snuffle through the wet sand, mudflats and in the shallows looking for shellfish. Apparently their meat tastes saltier. They were very cute, though a somewhat surreal sight.
See? Fishing pigs!! They were so cute, I couldn't stop at just one or two pics
Our next stop was the Trilithon, or Ha’amonga ‘a Maui, Tonga’s answer to Stonehenge. It was erected by a king back in the 13th Century. Made from coral, it’s also some kind of calendar, able to show when the equinoxes occur. Up to the top went our friend in the climbing Crocs. It must be a guy thing…
The Tongan Stonehenge & our man in Crocs
It was getting late, but we agreed that we wanted to see the ‘Anahulu cave, where there is a pool that you can swim in. A very long, boring drive later we arrived in the pouring rain and went in, torches required because their generator died some time ago. It was very dark but at least it was dry inside. Concrete & hewn stone steps lead through limestone and sparkling silica formations and stalactites / stalagmites.
Inside 'Anahulu Cave
We could hear the clicking of the tiny bats that hung from the rough walls and the chirping of swallows that nest in the crevices there. Down into the depths we went (not too far actually) and there was the pool. The two guys and one of the women went in, after all, we were already drenched from the rain. They said the water was quite warm and it was crystal clear. It would be amazing if they had it lit up from underneath, because the rock formations would have been fantastic to swim over – we could see them when they used a waterproof torch under the water.
It was an interesting, and entertaining day (with particular thanks to Vei’s gift of the gab and contagious enthusiasm), despite the abysmal weather.
Vei dropped us back at 5:30, with just enough time to freshen up & dry off before our pick up to go to the cultural show and dinner. I’ll write about that in my next post, because there won’t be much of interest happening on day 6!