Monday, October 30, 2023

Nuku'alofa, Tonga

We'd booked an excursion through the cruise line but canceled it when some friends we'd met on the ship asked us to come along on their personal tour. Unfortunately their tour guide took ill at the last moment and that tour fell through. That left us on our own, so we started with visits to nearby War Memorial and the Royal Palace of Tonga.

We weren't sure what to do next so we headed to the Friend Cafe and Tourist Center to see what nearby sights were available and if we could book a last minute private tour. The first lady we spoke with said they didn't book tours anymore, but another worker at the cafe said her husband was available to drive us around the island. It turned out to be one of our best private tours!

The tour driver took us first to Abel Tasman's Landing Site, where Abel Tasman, the first European to land in Tonga, landed in 1643. He had been searching for a faster way to reach Chile after sailing around Australia and New Zealand.

Our original tour was supposed to take us to a nearby beach, but that area had been wiped out by a tsunami in January 2022. That's when the Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai volcanic eruption, one of the largest recorded with modern instruments, took place. The subsequent tsunami completely wiped out the peninsula on the island's north west side. Four people were killed by waves up to 49 feet tall washing over that part of the island.

Our next stop was at Tsunami Rock, a very very large boulder. Original mythology told the story that it was the god Maui who threw the rock after becoming annoyed by a crowing rooster. However more recent research indicates that it was ripped from nearby coral reefs and satellite images show a break in the reef opposite this boulder. As a result, the latest, most accepted hypothesis, is that it was tossed ashore by a large tsunami caused by a submarine land slide.

Our next stop was at an even more impressive site, the Mapu'a Vaea Blowholes. If you ever go to Tonga, this is a must see sight. We've seen a few blowholes before, but nothing of this magnitude. It was truly a magnificent sight to behold. We could have spent the entire day there just photographing the changes as the tide rose and ebbed, and as the sun moved across the sky changing the light. Having a tour of just the four of us, all enthusiastic photographers, we ended up spending quite a bit of time at this site, maybe a half hour or more.

Our next stop was at the Captain Cook Memorial, site of where Captain Cook landed on Tonga in 1777. Unfortunately the tall banyan tree which used to be here is no longer present. Overall, the site seemed a bit blah, but then the blow holes were a very tough act to follow.

Our last sightseeing stop was at Ha'amonga 'a Maui Trilithon, also known as the Stonehenge of Tonga. The size and weight of this massive stone structure is impressive.

This was the last stop of our tour. We'd talked about possibly seeing the "fishing pigs," but they only fish at low tide.

All in all our tour guide Paul provided us with an awesome tour and overview of the island of Tongatapu. He ended the tour by finding us some ice cold coconuts which contained sweet coconut juice. Back on our own, after the tour, we stopped by the museum and arts and craft shop at Langafonua Handicraft Centre and Gallery. Next we went back next door to the Friends Cafe to try some of their Pacific Brewery beer. The Coconut Stout I had was excellent!

After being suitably refreshed, Elizabeth and I headed to the Tonga National Museum, a few blocks down the street from Friends Cafe. Be sure to check the description on Google Maps from the museum owner on how to find the museum. It's on the floor above a Yummy Treats store in the Memorial Hall. Make a note of that before leaving wifi, as due to the volcanic eruption, internet service is very difficult to find on the island. Although it's only a single room museum, the quality of the tour guide description of the various items in the museum made it one of our favorite stops of the day. We showed up five minutes before closing time but they were kind enough to let us in and then spend the next 40 minutes taking us through the various items in the exhibition. This is another must see if you're in Nuku'alofa, Tonga. Be sure to ask for the guided tour as you'll learn so much more about Tongan history and culture. It is only open from 10 am to 3 pm on weekdays though and closed on weekends.

Unfortunately, due to thefts of some items in the past, they don't allow photographs of any of the items in the museum. We learned of that after we had taken the one picture above.

We had a wonderful day on the Tonga island of Tongatapu. We were exhausted by the time we returned to the ship and my fitness tracker registered 5.8 miles walking that day. But it was well worth it and the people of Tonga were very friendly and helpful.

Click this link or one of the pictures above to see more pictures in the Nuku'alofa, Tonga photo album.

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