Ferry travel in Tonga – do you dare? Taking the ferries in Tonga is a life experience, one that can range from a pleasurable whale-watching journey to a nightmarish-ride with only the prayers of your fellow passengers keeping you going through the night. Ferry departures are never on time as they are dependent on tides, wind direction, Tongan holidays, various church events, funerals, weddings, or late-night kava drinking sessions. I advise to only take the Tongan ferries if you have a very strong stomach and are keen for an adventure. Case in point: the ferry between Nuku’alofa and Vava’u is nicknamed the “Orange Vomit” as Tongans tend to get seasick as soon as the boat leaves the harbour. And the sea is frequently, if not always, rough. Fly if you can.
However, against my own advise, I took the ferry between Nuku’alofa and the neighboring island of ‘Eua since it was only a four hour ride. What could go wrong in four hours? My travel buddy, Gwenda, and I arrived at the Nuku’alofa jetty at 5 a.m. and were able to grab some slab-of-wood seats next to the window. The boat soon became overcrowded with chickens, taro root, furniture, a few pigs (some alive/some dead) and passengers sitting on the roof and windowsills. We left two hours past schedule, but the ride to Eua’ was smooth-ish and only slightly breezy. No whale sightings, only a few seasick passengers, and no visits to the toilet…luckly. Ferry bathrooms are never a pleasurable experience.
Island accommodation: Taina, owner of Taina’s Guesthouse, picked us up at ‘Eua’s harbour, whisked us up the mountain, and dropped us off at our cute twin-bed bungalow. After unpacking, we somehow became pseudo-babysitters to Taina’s young daughters, and Gwenda and I spent the rest of the afternoon drinking tea and creating mock English-speaking games.
‘Eua island tour – ‘Eua has different topography from the other Tongan islands. The hills, virgin rainforests, dramatic coastline, jagged reefs, numerous caves, giant banyan trees, and ancient stone quarries turn ‘Eua into a bona fide “Lost World.” The pure sunshine and daily rain showers have created a foolproof environment for growing bananas, oranges, pineapples, and other tasty tropical fruits. Wild horses and pigs roam the bush, and the calls of screeching native parrots echo through the cliffs. Looking for Lost World? You got it here on ‘Eua. All that’s missing are the dinosaurs.
What better way to explore the Lost World than to take a local tour with an island expert? Taina’s eccentric friend, Teema, picked us up in a day-glo van and shuttled us to ‘Eua’s most popular destinations. Our first stop was the “Rock Garden,” a gorgeous hill overlooking pristine cobalt seas below. Nobody knows where the rocks came from, hence it’s nickname as ‘Eua’s “Stone Henge.”
The incredible Liangahua ‘A Maui archway was also nearby. Legends say that young Maui ‘atalana, a demigod from the underworld, once dwelled in ‘Eua. He was lazy and usually slept all day. One day, Maui ‘atalanga overheard his foster parents talking about how lazy he was. This angered him so much that he started digging his spade in the ground with such great force that Maui ‘atalanga tilted the southern half of the island higher then the northern half. When his foster parents tried to stop him, he became enraged and threw his spade into the ocean. The spade was thrown with such force that it went right through the cliff into the sea, thus creating the hole known as Liangahuo ‘A Maui archway. I love South Pacific island legends!
We spent the rest of the afternoon driving around ‘Eua, exploring massive banyan forests, crawling through slippery caves, and bush-walking through ancient quarries. I had a brush with death when my camera fell over the cliffside in a silly attempt to capture the perfect picture. Luckily, it only fell a few feet over the side instead of careening hundreds of feet to the beach below. After cunningly devising a plan, Gwenda held my legs while I leaned over to scoop it to safety. Only afterwards did I think that my travel insurance probably didn’t cover cliff jumping.
‘Eua is truly a magical haven in Tonga. Following our day of 4-wheeling exploration, Gwenda and I spent a few days relaxing in Tania’s gardens and caught up on our journaling. It was the perfect spot to unwind at the end of our holiday before heading back to Auckland. Make sure to visit ‘Eua, if only for a quick weekend away from Tongatapu…and give the ferry a try while you’re at it!