3 years ago, I went to Tonga for one of the most epic experiences of my travel life – swimming with humpback whales – and I ended up suffering my biggest disappointment – there were no whales to be seen. I still had an amazing time in Tonga, exploring its gorgeous landscapes and unique culture, and I promised myself I would come back one day. A couple of weeks ago, when I saw that the whale swimming season was in full blow, I didn’t think it twice, and I booked a flight to Vava’u over Labor Day weekend. As I fly back home, I can’t erase the smile from my face, it’s been such a dream come true.
- Mapu’a ‘a Vaca blowholes
- Relaxing in a paradise beach in Vava’u
- Swimming with whales
NICE TO HAVE:
Tonga is one of the few countries in the world where you can enjoy the crazy experience of swimming with humpback whales. The Vava’u archipelago is the prime spot for this activity, due to its position on the migration route, and the warmth and calm of its water, which make it perfect for calving. A handful of licensed operators organize daily tours for $120-200, which include 4-6 hours of boat riding, spotting whales, getting in the water with them, and even hearing them sing. The price is steep, but probably worth it for a once in a lifetime opportunity, plus it includes a mandatory local guide and a feeling of it not being massified. The whales usually hang out in pods of 2 or 3, either an adult pair, or a mother, her calve and an escort. These pods are not only the cutest, but also the most fun to encounter, because the curiosity of the baby whales drives them to approach the swimmers rather than escape.
During our stay in the island of Eue’iki, we not only enjoyed its paradisaical isolation, we also got a taste of Tongan tradition. Sunday is a very important day for Tongans, who are devoted Christians; they abstain from working (for real, they don’t even have flights), and families get together and attend church. Our host Veronica organizes a “Culture Day”, where guests visit the neighboring island of Taunga for several activities… and there we went.
How did we end up in this little piece of heaven? Eue’iki is a private island in the Tongan archipelago of Vava’u, home to the Treasure Island Eco Resort. A few days back, when we were wrapping up our time in French Polynesia, we started looking into places to spend the last days of our round-the-world trip, and we stumbled upon this one. We booked it without expecting much and we got lucky: it is as close to paradise as it gets.
What an epic day! What a fascinating country! We arrived at Fua’amoto international airport at noon, without knowing what awaited us in this mysterious country called Tonga. It was definitely one of the most off-the-beaten path places we had ever visited, and we barely knew a few things about it. We quickly went over it in our heads: Tonga, an archipelago of over 170 islands. Population around 100,000, 70% of which live in the main island, Tongatapu, with about 20,000 in the capital, Nuku’alofa. Ancient masters of the seas, the only Polynesian nation that has never been colonized, and now a Christian kingdom. Rather poor, with high dependence on remittances from its numerous immigrants. Safe, though the last time it was on the news was for the 2005 riots against the government. Great at rugby. And that was pretty much all.
The South Pacific islands are one of the most desired and challenging travel destinations. Most people believe they can’t afford to enjoy places like Bora Bora or Fiji, and it’s true… unless you plan smartly.
Picking a destination in the South Pacific
First, let’s take a look at all countries and territories (a total of over 20,000 islands) that compose the three key regions of Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia.