Tonga - 'Atata Island, Part 2
On Thursday after 5 nights at Heilala Ldoge we left Nuku'alofa interisland wharf at 10am and arrived by a wee boat (the one on the right) at the stunning Royal Sunset Island Resort, 'Atata Island - 10km from the mainland (Tongatapu). Breathtaking.
When we arrived we were given an orange juice while our bags were taken to our fale on the beach by boat. We took a moment to absorb our surroundings, the pool, the views before being taken to our room, lucky number 13!
By this stage, island time and relaxation was starting to become a natural state which was surprising to all of us - Dave and I don't 'switch off' easily or at all but we were well and truly switched OFF here! As expected, within minutes it was togs, balls, masks and beach.
We weren't sure what to expect in terms of meals but from night one we realised it was going to be a big four days of eating, drinking and lazing about. Seaweed salad for an entree, pork and vegetables for the main and pineapple fritters for dessert - we well and truly over indulged before near rolling back to the fale!
Of course the resort had a dog which pleased us all to no end - her name is Frosty and was a lovely companion on our walks on the beach and through the village. She was adamant that no pigs or dogs should bother her guests!
As we are creature loving people, we found this island to have quite a different array of wild animals and reptiles! We saw incredible fruit bats with a one metre wingspan, geckos, sea cucumbers on low tide, sea snails hanging out with the hermit crabs and even a huge spider conch who put out a comical eye to see who I was and what I was up to!
On the second day is was Friday and happened to be my 30th birthday! (Better than some boozy party right!?) We had Ana, one of the girls who works at the resort and who lives on the island, take us through the village to have a look. It was similar but also very different to the mainland. It was really quite lovely! Similar in terms of the dogs and pigs with the addition of some tethered goats. We also got to see the school which was extremely sweet.
An interesting addition here is the Japan funded solar street lights!
At the end of the island was a large plantation, I think split into four for four different families. We kayaked acround parts of the island but wish we had done the whole thing! (Next time). This is a map of the island. The small yellow pin at the bottom is the resort, the houses and buildings further up is the village and the circular area at the top is the plantation land.
We enjoyed looking around the village, asking Ana more questions than she ever anticipated and waving to the kids in the houses as we went by. We also planned to be back on Sunday to attend a church service (no, I didn't burst into flames!). By the afternoon we lazed, read, kayaked and swam topped off by more eating and cocktails!
Roll on Saturday!
Now everyday was incredibly special but Saturday was a highlight for me. The resort takes guests out snorkeling in the afternoons to the coral reef just 500m or so off the beach. The kids were being horrific so I said I was going to 'fill water bottles' while Dave made them have a nap. Slyly I jumped on that boat and I had a blast.
I had jokingly said to Ana in the morning, you tell those whales to come see me this afternoon - I only got a giggle but my hopes were high and I was feeling positive! I must admit, on the way out I was channeling everything I had into having the whales appear. My eyes were fixed on the horizon and my camera was at the ready.
The whales hadn't been in the area for a couple of weeks but we saw one of the whale watching boats nearby so we sauntered towards it as our boat dude was licensed to be with the whales (this comes with many rules and regulations).
Well what do you know! My buddy Tangaroa was listening and ready for me as a breaching whale appeared in the distance my heart beat raced, my eyes were popping out of my head and my insides were singing!! THE WHALES ARE HERE!! Mums, Dads, Babies - we had them all. Heads, fluke, dorsal fins - an absolute privilege and something I will never forget. Mark my words, I will be back and I will be swimming with them on my return!
It didn't end there. Once we moved away from them we jumped off the boat into the deep ocean to snorkel around the coral. The beautiful colourful coral and fish was only 2 metres below and around this was deep deep sandy bottomed valleys and dark blue endless seas around you. In my head before going out there I vaguely thought this may feel a little unnerving but I will never let any opportunity pass me by (I did go white water rafting and cliff jumping in a freezing river last year after all haha). It turns out this was a surreal, relaxing experience I could have swum around out there for hours. My snorkel felt leaky so I shoved it down my togs and halfway through gave me flippers to someone who didn't have any. The water was lusciously warm and then we heard something...
'Moooooo', *Insert squeaky door sound here*. 'Meeeooooo'. I popped my head up and asked what noise whales make and gave the driver my hilarious rendition as others also popped their heads up. We all initially thought this was the water in our ears or similar but no, it was the whales singing and chatting away. It was so loud at times I half expected to see one straight in front over me, coming out of the blue. Absolutely incredible experience and strangely enough they weren't there the next day. I felt like an extremely lucky girl! (Suddenly turning 30 wasn't so bad ;) )
I was BEAMING and couldn't contain my excitement as I came off the boat. Unfortunately the photos weren't fantastic but I had decided to put the camera down and just absorb the experience.
The Cultural Night
Let's be honest, we're foodies at times and the one thing we had missed until this point was an authentic Tongan meal or feast. We wanted to try the foods that the locals would eat and tonight did not disappoint. In fact it was glorious!
Kumala with banana, tapioca, octopus, fish curry, Ota Ika (My new fave - raw fish in coconut milk with onion, tomato, lime and chili), seaweed salad, slow cooked pork by the staff/villagers, stirfried noodles and rice (these two were much appreciated by the kids who were a little more suspicious). I couldn't express enough how delicious this all was to the beautiful cooks and the cocktails weren't shabby either. Just what we had hoped for!
This night we also got treated to a beautiful dance, singing and music experience like you would get in Maori style in Rotorua. It was powerful and great to see all the villagers come together for it. I'd like to think they enjoy getting dressed up and having a chance to perform. Another thing I found unique was that everyone we met had multiple roles and skills. One person went from boat driver to gardener to building, cooking a pig, being the lead in the dance, playing the guitar or ukelele each night during dinner and more! Few people means each one is very talented!!
By this stage our kids had made 'best friends' with three other kids ages 4, 9 and 11 from Auckland so that made the evenings SO much more bearable. Between the four parents we checked on them from time to time as they made sandcastles, played volley ball and had a chance to run riot also supported by one of the staffs year old daughter, Insie who showed them the ropes and taught them some new games.
Our last Sunday
Come Sunday we thought we should experience a Tongan church service which was going to be a test for the kids, sitting for one hour in 24 degrees with zero english! They were a little antsy as they shuffled in their seats and played around but so were the local kids which was reassuring.
Observations here: he churches are always the most grand buildings, the people dress beautifully to attend as do the kids. Their best dresses, hats, heels, weaved waist pieces. The preacher wasn't too intimidating (perhaps helped that it was entirely in Tongan) but the biggest highlight here was the singing.
I can't even explain how powerful and loud this was. Each persons voice has such an incredible range and uniqueness to it. Really quite spellbinding and moving.
Church was followed by a Tongan BBQ full of more delicious food like the night before plus chicken and sausages. You may have a;so heard the news and it was around this time that an 8.2 magnitude earthquake hit near Tonga! Funnily enough we had been talking about earthquakes and tsunamis the day before and joked it was a case of grab a life jacket and hang on! A long rolling but not jarring quake made us all look up from our lunch and glance at each other but it wasn't for half an hour that we learnt of the strength and in turn became extremely grateful that it was 560km deep or is could have been quite a different ending!
To be honest, we weren't keen to leave on Sunday! We played with the idea of cancelling our last night on the mainland to have one more night on 'Atata but ended up sticking with the plan and took the 4.30pm boat back.
This was our last night in Tonga and we spent it at the Tanoa International Dateline Hotel. This place had fab food where we actually got to try sipi (The cursed lamb flaps I talked about in Part 1), yes I can see why they like them!
The rooms were nice and clean with a western and modern style. Downside being they had very little options in terms of room configuration. It was either a king bed or two singles so for the sake of being tight arses we all piled into a king - after all we do it at Ohau all the time!
While we were at 'Atata the owner of the resort happened to be visiting for a few days from Melbourne. French born Bruno Dubois provided fantastic company and engaging conversation with a huge amount of knowledge of Tonga and it's workings. As he owns a large company in Australia it was a good opportunity to talk about business, staffing and get his stories and wise words. Dave and I were both really taken and impressed by him! Hopefully we will be back and when we are, it would be great to time it around one of his visits also!
So 'Atata, until next time cause you can be assured - we will be back!