If you’ve been following our adventures swimming with humpback whales in Tonga, you might have noticed we spent most of our time out on the ocean swimming with whales, exploring underwater caves and jumping off the boat. When we weren’t out on the water, we felt like we were on the water. But while the islands of Vava’u in Tonga required an epic amount of ocean time, we managed to squeeze in a few days exploring dry land and discovered that it was just as much of a destination as the waters we were there to explore.
The Vava’u group of islands in Tonga are pretty remote and from Australia, they take about a day to reach. My journey involved three flights and an overnight stay on the main island of Tongatapu – but it was well worth it. Vava’u consists of one main island and 40 smaller ones – we based ourselves on the main island and used a boat to explore its surrounding waters. Even when you take the epicness of swimming with whales out of the equation, the Vava’u islands are an amazing place to visit.
Tonga is not geared for tourism like many of the other islands in the South Pacific – the landscape is similar, but instead of luxurious hotel chains, there are cute villages, authentic boutique resorts and low-key restaurants. We didn’t even stay at a resort – we stayed with our buddy photographer Scott Portelli from Swimming with Gentle Giants, in an apartment where the locals lived, which gave us an authentic island life experience.
Maintaining my cool on dry land proved to be difficult. I tried to keep my regular routine of morning runs, but it was impossible. I literally had to stop every five metres to take a photo a palm tree or a piglet and I’m not taking about any piglet. Tongan piglets are seriously some of the cutest I have ever seen – there were tan colour ones with black spots that looked like leopard print piglets. LEOPARD PRINT PIGLETS! I did my best to get a photo, but in a land where suckling pig is a favourite on the menu, you only have to give a piglet a sidewards glance and it will bolt like it’s running for its life.
While Tongan pigs have the right to be shifty, they do have a pretty good life in the meantime. On the island of Vava’u they call them fishing pigs for their love of seafood. Each day at low tide, the pigs head out onto the sand banks to go fishing for mussels and any other shellfish.
The best time to visit Vava’u is between May and October for whale watching season – just make sure you factor in at least a few days on dry land.
What we did:
The Swimming With Gentle Giants tours run in 7–9 day blocks during August and September and includes lunch, photography and research advice (including guidance in the water), daily snorkelling on reefs and in caves. Airport transfers in Vava’u. Prices start at $3,165 per person. There are still spaces left for the 2015 season so get in quick! Details here.
How to get there:
Getting to Vava’u is not easy, but that’s all part of the adventure. Vava’u is the northern most group of islands in the Tongan archipelago. To get there you need to fly to the main island, Tongatapu and then get a connecting domestic flight to Vava’u. Currently Real Tonga, is the only domestic airline operating in Tonga. You can book directly with Real Tonga through their website. Details here.
Where to stay:
Luxe: Mystic Sands – this is the most premium accommodation on the island – the waterfront property means you can whale watch from your pool.
Mid-range: Tongan Beach Resort – the resort also has a great restaurant and a beautiful beach and gardens – it was the location for our bikini love shoots.
Budget: Backpackers Vava’u – located smack bang in the middle of town so you can stock up on supplies at the local farmers markets.
Questions? Ask us below 🙂