South Pacific FAQ
Replies: 42 - Last Post: Nov 16, 2013 2:04 PM Last Post By: Hemis
Sep 5, 2005 10:02 PM
Sep 13, 2005 1:17 AM
16Papua New Guinea Tips for Backpackers
Having paid my fourth (this time 2 months long) visit to PNG, this time I also had the new LP guidebook to the country with me. This new book is so bad that if anything, it will only serve to put people off visiting by making the country sound a lot more expensive than it already is!
So let me share some tips - additions and corrections to the book.
I also suggest that you get a copy of the old LP guide to PNG as it is in fact more useful than the new one, at least for budget travellers.
Let me add that I would recommend PNG highly!
The extremely diverse culture, fantastic arts & crafts, diverse geography and wildlife (notably easily seen birds of paradise) but especially the friendliness and hospitality of the local people makes it a place unmatched elsewhere in the Pacific. All that, and there are no tourists in sight, except from those on packages to a few overpriced, isolated resorts.
Safety seems to be a major concern often raised on this forum. While the media coverage of the country makes it sound scary, having taken some very simple precautions like not walking the streets at night, I have not experienced any crime at all.
Costs may well be the other major deterrant, but this is relative. While PNG is more expensive than South-East Asia, prices are often lower than in most other South Pacific countries. The new LP book says even budget travellers need at least 50 USD/day to get by, which is a nonsense. Not taking flights and buying souvenirs I could live on 20 USD/day, though how much you actually spend will of course largely depend on where and how you travel.
However you might well need the 50 USD/day if you travelled as LP suggests you to do - the new guidebook conspiciously dropped listing budget places to stays, and their itinerary recommended as "possible for budget travellers" incudes staying at a 150 USD/night resort!
When reading the prices below, you can calculate with a rate of roughly 3K=1USD.
Getting There & Away
AirNiugini's virtual monopoly on flight's into the country, and the high fares they charge may well be the major factor keeping tourists away, but with the land/sea borders with neighbouring Indonesia and the Solomon Islands both open now (well, sort of) flying can even be bypassed altogether. More on this later.
Crossing from Indonesia
First of all, while LP actually recommends giving bribes to Indonesian immigration officers, DON'T do it!
While such "road taxes" used to be expected by some border guards in the past, this year nobody asked for them so please don't reintroduce the idea!
Getting to the land border from Jayapura, a taxi now costs around 2-300.000 Rp.
By public transport you can go from Pasar Baru in Abepura to Skouw, the last village before the border for 7000 Rp. An ojek (motorcycle taxi) from the Skouw border road junction to the border is 30.000 Rp.
However, note that you can't get an exit stamp for Indonesia at the border itself - you must get one at the immigration office in Jayapura. The catch might be that they might want you to go by sea, not land - at least if you entered Indonesia on a "Visa On Arrival". You would have to charter a boat in Hamadi for a million Rp to do so - the regular boat mentioned in the new LP guide hasn't existed for 5 years or so!
Once you have the exit stamp, you can exit via the land border though, and from the PNG side it is easy to hitch a ride (often free) to Vanimo, the first PNG town across the border.
While the cheapest hotel rooms here start at 90K, if you hang around the beach in front of the Vanimo Beach Hotel looking helpless with a backpack, there is a good chance locals will offer you rooms in their houses for about 30K. An American guy I met got 2 such offers within 1 hour!
Moving on from Vanimo without flying can be tricky, as there are no regular, scheduled shipping services.
If neither Lutheran Shipping nor Star Ships has a ship within a few days, check also the noticeboards outside the supermarkets for boats to Aitepe. "Banana boats" now charge 90K to take you there.
Aitepe now has a guesthouse (not in LP) opposite the post office. While rooms upstairs cost 80K or so, they appearently have beds downstairs for 30K.
PMVs to Wewak leave a few times a week, charging 30-50K. The road is rough but scenic.
LP only lists one budget place here, Ralf Stuttgen's Place with dorm beds for 40K. Note that it is a long way out of town and hard to reach by public transport (I waited over 2 hours for a lift to town), and very run down (mice chewed my guidebook at night there!).
A much better option is the Wewak Guest House (not in LP) close to the centre of the town on Church Street (but entered from the back) which has backpacker beds for 25K and rooms from 50K.
Well worth visiting this town as the haus tambarans (spirit houses) here are very different from those on the Sepik River! There are 5 different places to stay here, all listed on the prominent "Welcome to Maprik" signboard you will see when entering the town, but LP only lists the Maprik Hotel, the most expensive one!
There are nice new village guesthouses in Kanganaman and Yamok (behind Korogo) charging 25K pp.
Yamok village has built 2 new haus tambarans that are very beautiful and different from others on the river.
Near Dukum village, on the Highlands Highway a few kms before Kundiawa there are two ecotourism projects offering a chance to stay in a cheap guesthouse and go hiking and birdwatching with local guides. Neither is in LP, but both have signs on the road. "Malobo Wildlife Conservation" is said to be the better of the two, with accomodation for 20K.
Guides to climb the mountain cost 75K for the whole trek, porters 20K/day. Actually the trail up there is pretty clear and if you are an experienced hiker you can almost certainly do without a guide.
In Kegsegul, the gateway to the climb, the East Kege Guest House (not in LP) near the airstrip is the cheapest place for 45K, and very friendly. Betty's, recommended by LP, now charges 75K without meals.
At the lakes avoid staying at Henry's guestouse which is not as well located and comfortable as the other place right by the lakeside.
Note that both places mentioned in LP are actually almost an hour from Tari itself, hard to reach by public transport, and impractical for visiting the Huli villages in the Tari Valley itself. They are better located for birdwatching, and the Warili Lodge only costs 40K, not 60K as in LP.
However in Tari itself the Tari Women's Guesthouse (which was in the old LP but isn't in the new one!) is still the cheapest option for only 20K. There are also at least 2 new, cheap guesthouses in nearby villages, well located for experiencing village life.
The volcano in Rabaul is still very active, which means that the town is showered with ash every few minutes. This is really bad in the eastern part where Hamamas Hotel (highly recommended by LP) is located, so don't stay there unless you enjoy being covered with ash or plan on hiding from it in your room all day.
Stay in Kokopo.
Also note that the Kabaira Beach Hideaway recommended as a good budget place is an hour from town with public transport very scarce that way (I had to wait 2-3 hours), and the owners are not too keen on backpackers as they are more into catering for divers.
While I didn't stay there, there are appearently cheap guesthouses (none in LP) costing about 30K in both Buka itself and across the strait in Kokopau. PMVs to Buin cost 80-100K and supposedly leave on Tuesdays and Thursdays. There was a BRA checkpoint between Arawa and Buin that appearently turns foreigners back sometimes, but as I was riding in a PMV owned by a local BRA bigman, I passed it easily.
There is a guesthouse with rooms for 60K attached to Wolik Trading.
You can also change your lefover PNG currency into Solomons dollars there at a (poor) rate of 1K=2SD.
Crossing to the Solomons
Solomon Islanders come to the market in Buin on Thursday (only a few) and Saturday (more) and you can negotiate a ride to the Shortland Islands with them. I was charged 100 K but locals pay 30K - the first in a line of rip-offs in the Shortlands!
Note that police in Buin will tell you that crossing to the Solomons here is not allowed, and if more travellers do it they may start cracking down on it actively.
Once in the Shortlands, nobody cares that you came from Bougainville, and you can wait for transport to Gizo in peace. Unfortunately the only rest house in the Shortlands, near Korovou, should be avoided as the caretaker steals from the rooms! Arrange to stay in a village instead, ideally in Maleai where the Solomon Airlines agent lives.
Note that flights from Ballelae in the Shortlands to Gizo now only operate fortnightly, on every second Saturday. This means that if you come from Buin on a Saturday market boat you will have missed it and will have to wait for the next one for a full week or two!
No ships service the Shortlands with any regularity (maybe one every 3-4 weeks) but small fibreglass boats with outboard engines do cross the 120 kms open sea to Vella Lavella and on to Gizo sometimes for 200 SD/person. This is quite scary and though I took one I would never do it again!
Once in Gizo, there is no problem getting your entry stamp for a 3months stay in the Solomons, and it will be dated from the day you arrive in Gizo, not in the Shortlands!
Nov 30, 2005 5:42 PM
17Snorkeling on Rarotonga and Aitutaki, Cook Islands
This has come up quite a bit over the last five years, and I've answered it in one form or another about 50 times, so a TT'er just suggested I put it on this fixed post. Maybe they'll leave it on.
On Rarotonga the best snorkleing area starts at the SOUTH end of Muri Beach, at Ta'akoka islet, and continues south and then a little west for about 2 miles (3km) to the village of Titikaveka. The middle and northern parts of Muri Beach---from Pacific Resort north---are not really very good areas for snorkeling. There are bits of coral everywhere in the lagoon, so you need to use reef shoes (many places lend them out for free, or you can buy them at the Dive Shop in town for NZ$30), but there are not many coral heads, which is where the fish live.
So, if you read posts that "We stayed at Vara's or Pacific Resort, etc, and the snorkeling wasn't good at Muri Beach", well, they are correct, but that is the middle of Muri Beach, and they are generalizing to their and your detriment.
Here is a cut and paste of a recent reply I did about the snorkeling here, when someone asked if the cyclones of early 2005 had destroyed the snorkeling near Muri Beach Hideaway, which is in the middle of Muri Beach:
"The snorkeling at the center of Muri Beach, where the Muri Beach Hideaway is, has NOT fallen off since the cyclones, since it was basically at zero and always has been! Repeat, there is horrible snorkeling in the MIDDLE of Muri Beach! The coral is small, and just bits, and some sheet coral, not coral heads that attract fish. But it is sharp enough to cut your feet, so you need reef shoes.
The snorkeling at Muri Beach starts at Ta'akoka islet, which is on the south end of Muri Beach, and goes for about 2 mi south and then a little west to Titikaveka village. Fruits of Rarotonga is a jam and muffin shop on the inland side of the road, and across the road is a kind of "entrance"---i.e. no private houses---to the lagoon. Fruits is about 1 mile south of Muri Beach Hideaway, more or less, kind of in the middle of that 2 mi area.
If you are at Muri Beach and want to snorkel, you can head into the good area two ways:
A. walk along the beach heading south until you are just past Ta'akoka, then wade into the lagoon until it is about 4 ft deep. Turn right, keep walking parallel to the beach and the reef. Look to your left, underwater, and when you see coral heads in about 6-8 ft of water, you'll start to see hundreds of fish. It gets to be about 10-15ft in the deeper areas towards the reef.
B. About 100m before you get to Ta'akoka, head into the lagoon in front of my place (Shangri-La), and aim at a 45 deg angle directly towards the area between Ta'akoka and the barrier reef. It's mostly 2-5 ft deep until you get there. When you get to the outlying tip of Ta'akoka, it drops off steeply, to 8-10ft, so only do this if you can swim well. But this is the single best spot on Rarotionga, according to the Dive Shop snorkeling guide. After this yo can keep heading south, and continue along as in "A" above.
The snorkeling has not fallen off in that big area, but it has changed a bit. A lot of the coral near the beach has been washed out into the middle of the lagoon, so it remains shallow for maybe an extra 50m, and then gets to be about 6-10ft deep. There are actually a lot of smaller fish about mid-way out. But the big ones are still out towards the deeper water. "
OK---if you are NOT staying here at Muri Beach, you can take the bus or bike or car and park opposite a little muffin and jam shop called "Fruits of Rarotonga". It is about a mile south of Muri Beach, and it is thus right in the middle of that best snorkeling area. If you are on the bus or a bicycle, the lady will often look after your pack/purse, etc., maybe justr buy a muffin or coffee after you are done to re-pay the favor!
The other spot that is good---as mentioned in the Dive Shop "snorkeling tips" brochure---is near Black Rock, on the NW corner of the island. Basically just head to the Golf Club sign on the main road, and park across the road. That area is called Nikao Beach, and although it is technically private land, it is OK for all to use it, just clean up when you leave. There are bathrooms there.
The single best spot to snorkel, according to the Dive Shop, is the tiny area between Ta'akoka islet and the barrier reef. You can see a photo of this on my website. You'de have to park at the Sailing Club and walk down the beach about 5 minutes, then head into the lagoon, as described above.
There are pockets all around the island where the snorkleing is also good. These might be 40-50m wide, and off to one side or another from a beachfront place. Ask the place you are staying at where "their" little snorkeling area is. So, you need not go to Ta'akoka/Fruits of Rarotonga or the Black Rock area, but if you do go to either of them you will be assured of finding the fish quickly.
Aitutaki: While One Foot Island is a popular and beautiful spot, the snorkeling is horrible, as it is all sand in the lagoon there, not coral. So, not a lot of fish there, defintiely worth going for its sheer beauty.
The single best spot is about 100m north or the islet called Maina ("Little Girl") which is in the SW corner of the Aitutaki lagoon, no where near One-Foot. To get there you need to get a lagoon cruise on one of the smaller boats, that carries maybe 8-10 people. The large 40-person boat, used for the day trippers mainly, is too slow to go there and also go to One-Foot in the time allotted, but the "fast boats" that Bishop's and a couple of other operators have can zip over to Maina, spend a half hour there for snorkeling, and also zip over to One-Foot for lunch and relaxing as well. But you cannot arrange this if you are only going for the day trip. Well, you could possibly do it if you did your own flights, trasnfers, cruise reservation etc., but it would be pretty difficult.
The area near the Aitutaki Lagoon Resort---which used to have a small bridge to it, but now just has a mini-ferry----is good snorkeling, BUT you have to be very careful due to the stonefish there. They are on the lagoon floor, which is not a problem as you should be wearing reef shoes anyway, but they are also clinging to the sides of all the large coral heads, esp. in the shallower areas (3-5ft deep), and these are the ones you may lean against or push off to continue snorkeling. You can barely see them, they blend in so well, so just avoid touching any coral at all with your hands if you snorkel in that area.
The fish here are great, but the coral is not very good compared to places like Fiji.
There is a "fish chart" you can get at the Dive Shop, Pacific Resort, and other places, for about NZ$15. It is plastic-coated and has a hole near the top, so you can actually string it around your wrist and take it with you. But it is a little confusing, as it includes fish found inside the lagoon AND outside the reef in the ocean area, and some of the latter are dangerous---scorpionfish, lionfish, etc---but you will never really see one in the lagoon itself.
And, to again address the first Q I answered five years ago, there are NO sharks in the lagoon here! The only sharks are in the bars on Friday nights.
Dec 12, 2005 11:57 AM
18Tonga Trip Report (part 1)
My wife and I traveled to the Kingdom of Tonga from August 30-Sept.18, 2005, on a self-planned trip. Our primary reason for choosing Tonga was to have the opportunity to snorkel with humpback whales, and our trip was fantastic in that regard. Because we pieced our trip together ourselves, we had the opportunity (sometimes unplanned) to come into contact with a large number of tour operators and accommodations. Our trip was mostly spent in Vava’u, but we also were in Tongatapu for five days, so we had the opportunity to see both island groups. We did not visit the Ha’apai group or the Niuas.
Overall, Tonga is a very undeveloped, very beautiful group of islands with spectacular natural attractions, a thriving traditional culture, and very little in the way of modern tourist infrastructure. We found the Tongan people to be generally polite but not outgoing, with a few notable exceptions. Most tourist-related businesses are operated by expats from Australia, New Zealand, or elsewhere. Even so, the tourist industry does not operate with the reliability and dependability that many travelers are accustomed to, as I’ll explain in more detail below.
In my mind, there are three kinds of people who are most likely to enjoy a trip to the Kingdom: (1) people who are keen to get into the water with humpback whales; (2) people who want to visit destinations that are not heavily touristy or commercialized; and (3) people traveling across the Pacific on a yacht – Vava’u has a strong yachting community.
Several preliminary bits of advice if you’re planning to travel to Tonga:
(1) If you’re going with the objective of swimming with the whales, you’d be best served by signing up for one of the group trips offered by Whaleswim Adventures (www.whaleswim.com). We would have done this ourselves if our schedule had allowed it, and some of the inconveniences and involuntary changes-in-plans we experienced would have been avoided if we had. Even though we did not sign up for one of these trips, Rae Gill, the owner of Whaleswim, vastly helped us in choosing accommodations and tour operators. I had the opportunity to meet her and one of her guides, Annah Evington, while we were in Vava’u, and they have a time-tested way of doing things that ensures not only a good experience for the tourists, but also an absence of any harmful effects on the whales.
(2) If you are planning your trip yourself, do so many months in advance. We booked our trip in February 2005, and even at that time, many hotels were booked up or had limited availability, which caused us to have to change hotels every few days. September is at the peak of the whale season, and accommodations are very limited in quantity, so you have to book early.
(3) If you want some really expert assistance planning activities, either before your trip or while in Vava’u, get in touch with Aquarium Adventures (firstname.lastname@example.org), which is run by an American couple named Ben & Lisa Newton. They were extremely friendly, helpful and knowledgeable, and were one of the few businesses that ran like a regular tourist operation. Highly recommended!
(4) Don’t expect everything to go as planned – maintain an open mind and some flexibility.
With those introductory comments, here’s an account of our trip and some of the experiences we had:
I. Getting There:
We flew from Los Angeles to Nuku’alofa on Air New Zealand and arrived at Fua’amotu Airport around 5 a.m. on a Thursday. As of mid-2005, the airport has separate international and domestic terminals, so we had to catch a taxi for a short ride to the domestic terminal. When we arrived there, it was completely deserted. As we waited, a few more tourists arrived and we all waited together for the Peau Vava’u check-in personnel to arrive.
Peau Vava’u was, in September 2005, the only domestic airline in Tonga. (The government has now opened up the market to additional carriers, but as far as I know Peau Vava’u is still the only one). They originally had operated two DC-3s, but reliability problems had prompted them to ground those two aircraft in favor of a Convair 580. In researching the trip, we had found lots of stories about Peau Vava’u overbooking and canceling flights, operating hours late for no apparent reason, and the like. Our experience was just the opposite. Our tickets (which we had bought and paid for six months earlier) were waiting for us, the flight was not overbooked, and it took off and arrived right on schedule. We found the service to be courteous, and you get some great views of the islands as you fly north to Vava’u. We had expected that all of our luggage would be weighed for compliance with the airline’s weight limit, but they only weighed our checked bags and not our carry-ons. We encountered no problems at all.
II. Mounu Island Resort and Whale Watch Vava’u:
Our trip was set to begin with a 5-day stay at the Mounu Island Resort, situated on a private island about 30 minutes by boat from Neiafu. Mounu is owned and operated by Allan and Lyn Bowe from New Zealand, and they also own and operate one of the handful of whale-watching operations in Vava’u, called “Whale Watch Vava’u.”
Mounu Island is gorgeous. It’s a small island that you could easily walk all the way around in half an hour. The island is covered with a lush forest, and nicely landscaped trails lead from the main restaurant/bar to the four traditional fales for guests. We stayed in the “Honeymoon Fale,” #4, which is the largest and nicest. The fales are rustic, open-air structures, each set on the beach. They are comfortable and functional. The beds are equipped with mosquito nets, but we did not encounter any mosquitoes on the island. Mounu is surrounded by beautiful blue water and has a really excellent snorkeling reef between it and a neighboring uninhabited island, Ovalu. The food is also very good, although you don’t get a choice about what to eat.
We frequently saw humpback whales from Mounu Island, often while we were eating. Allan and Lyn have a dog named “Uli” that somehow senses whales and will bark furiously in the direction of any whale within visual distance. The dog is amazing and frequently spotted whales that no human had seen.
We went out whale-watching twice with Allan on one of his boats, and both times got in the water with whales. On both occasions, it was a fast-paced affair, with Allan bringing us close to the whales and having us quickly enter the water and swim to the whales’ anticipated path, usually just to watch them swim by and then depart. We did have one fortunate encounter with a curious male humpback that circled us, and approached us on the surface. It was incredible.
At this point, a few observations about swimming with whales are in order. First, be prepared for cool water. Humpback whales come to Vava’u in winter, and we found the water to be in the low- to mid-70’s when we were there. We were perfectly comfortable wearing 3/2 full wetsuits, but some other people on the boats used shorties. If you are sensitive to cold water, plan ahead and bring a wetsuit!
Second, keep in mind that the whales aren’t all motivated to be in close proximity to boats and people. In fact, in our experience, most whales would put their flukes up in the air and dive whenever approached by a boat. We have heard stories -- and seen video -- of friendly whales approaching boats and interacting with swimmers, and we had our own very close encounters later during our trip (see below), but those experiences appear to be the exception rather than the rule. As you might expect with any wildlife, the whales have their own agenda, and if you want to get a good encounter with them, you have to devote multiple days to give that encounter a chance to happen.
Third, be aware that different whale watching operators have different styles in their approach to whales. Some will swoop in quickly and drop you in the whales’ path, while others will approach the whales only cautiously and slowly. The latter approach is likely less stressful for the whales, although I have to tell you that the whales appear to be capable of effortlessly avoiding any whale boat or swimmers they choose to. They are fast swimmers, and can dive out of sight, hold their breath for 15-20 minutes, and surface frustratingly far away. None of the whale watch boats has any equipment that allows them to locate or track the whales, which means spotting and approaching them is done 100% by spotting them visually. Patience is definitely required when you go out looking for whales in Vava’u.
Anyway, we went out with Allan twice whale-watching, but the weather wasn’t the best and the whales weren’t being very cooperative. Even with that, both of us got in the water with them and it was an great experience.
We did have two frustrating experiences at Mounu. The first was on a Sunday, which happened to be the first day with nice weather since we had arrived in Vava’u on the preceding Thursday. We were DYING to get out to find some whales under the good weather conditions. Allan informed us, however, that Sunday is a “day of rest” in Tonga, and so he’d be unable to take us out. He then promptly got on his whale-watching boat and headed out to pick up the group of tourists to whom he had chartered his boat for that day. We saw him and the tourists swimming with a whale right off Mounu later in the day! Needless to say, we were irritated, but being out on Mounu, we had no choice to do anything but stay on the island. At least we were able to have a good day of snorkeling out on the nearby reef, but this experience highlights the fact that when you stay at Mounu, you’re a captive with little control over your daily activities.
Our other problem came when it was time for us to leave Mounu and transfer to the main island of Vava’u for the rest of our stay. We had pre-arranged with Dolphin Pacific Diving to go out whale-watching on that day, and had confirmed the arrangements with numerous e-mails before we arrived. We asked Allan to contact Dolphin Pacific to work out a plan to transfer us so that we could go out as planned, but he did not contact Dolphin Pacific until after hours the day before we departed, and by then Dolphin Pacific had canceled our whale watching day. We learned this when Allan dropped us off at the Tongan Beach Resort (chosen because he was picking up a whale watching group staying there), and we were left to fend for ourselves and figure out where to go and what to do. Not a very smooth or professional hand-off, but it’s just one of those things that happens in Tonga. As it turns out, Allan was actually doing us a favor …
Dec 12, 2005 12:01 PM
19Tonga Trip Report (part 2)
III. Hakula Lodge and the Maris King
Our plan was to stay the next four nights at the Hakula Lodge (www.fishtonga.com), a two-room lodge owned and run by Jeff and Janine LeStrange directly beneath their own residence. The Lodge caters to fishermen, since Jeff and Janine also have a sportfishing boat called the “Hakula” (Tongan for “sailfish”), but the lodge is open to non-fishermen too. The Lodge has a lot going for it, which I’ll get to in a minute, but the best thing about it is Jeff and Janine. Of all the tourist-industry people we came into contact with in Vava’u, Jeff and Janine took the most personal interest, and made the greatest effort, to make sure that we were taken care of and that our stay in Vava’u was enjoyable. It started when Janine found out that we were stranded at the Tongan Beach Resort, which is not near anything else. Instead of leaving us to our own devices, Janine immediately came over to the Tongan Beach Resort and picked us up, let us drop our things at the Lodge, and then gave us a ride into town. By then, we had learned that our carefully pre-planned itinerary of whale watching had been canceled by Dolphin Pacific Diving (more on that below), and Janine gave us some suggestions for places to visit in Neiafu to fill our unexpectedly-free day. Moreover, she informed us that Hakula’s whale-watching boat, the “Maris King,” would be going out the next day and invited us to go out with them. This kind of personal attention and caring about our trip continued throughout our stay with Jeff and Janine, and it really made the trip go much more smoothly. I would recommend staying at Hakula for this reason alone.
The Lodge is located about a mile outside of Neiafu, overlooking the Port of Refuge with a beautiful view. It has two rooms, each with a refrigerator, air conditioning, and the like. If you are going out fishing with Jeff or out whale-watching on Maris King, all you have to do is roll out of bed and walk down to the dock -- very convenient! The only disadvantage to staying there is that you end up having to take taxis back and forth into Neiafu if you want to eat out there or have activities that depart from town. This is a bit of hassle, but worth it in my view because Jeff and Janine are such great hosts.
We ended up going out whale watching twice on Maris King (www.whales-in-the-wild.com), and those were our two best days on the water. Maris King is piloted by “Veni,” and the whale-watching guide is “Ofa,” a lovely young Tongan woman. Maris King is an extremely comfortable boat, and Veni and Ofa do a great job of carefully and respectfully approaching the whales. As an added bonus, our trips were accompanied by one or more of the young women from “Wild Focus,” who shot digital video both above and below the water of our encounters with the whales, and they can then sell you a DVD of the highlights of your day. They do excellent work (we have three of their DVDs) and turn around the videos in only a day.
The highlight of each of our days on Maris King was a long in-water encounter with a mother/calf humpback whale pair. Some mothers don’t want swimmers near their calves, but this one (it was the same whale both days) didn’t seem to mind. They allowed us to approach VERY close and just sit there watching them play and interact with each other. The calf, at one point, approached us to within about six feet distance, just to “check us out,” with the mother watching carefully but never doing anything aggressive toward us. It was an astounding experience that we will absolutely never forget, and we get to relive it by watching the video any time we like.
Our experiences on Maris King were the best ones we had. I’m sure luck played a role, but we concluded that Maris King was the best whale-watching boat of the ones we tried. So, if you are in Vava’u, try to go out with Veni and Ofa.
Now that we were on the main island of Vava’u, we were going into the main town, Neiafu, to eat out and for other activities. Neiafu is a small, picturesque and very sleepy town. Everything closes around 6pm on weekdays, noon on Saturdays, and the whole place is shut down after hours and on Sundays. We ate at a number of places, including the famous “Dancing Rooster” and the “Bounty Bar,” each of which we found disappointing. Our favorite dinner spots were “The Compass Rose” and “Ciao,” both of which seemed to be open when lots of other places were closed, and both of which had excellent food and service. If you want to experience the Neifau social scene, go to “the Mermaid” any night of the week, but especially Friday night. It’s a lively bar with bar-type food and lots of people partying.
If you want to use a computer for any purpose, such as getting on the internet, you have a couple of choices, but the best is Aquarium Adventures. Ben and Lisa Newton have a half-dozen VERY modern computers with a fast internet connection and excellent home-made desserts to boot. As an added attraction, Wednesday night is “game night,” where you can partake in whatever first-person shooter they happen to be playing over the network.
V. Tongan Feasts
We did two Tongan feasts with traditional dancing while in Vava’u. The first, and most popular, is held at Hinakauea Beach on Thursday nights, and you can buy tickets at the Adventure Backpackers Lodge in Neiafu. The Hinakauea Feast is extremely authentic and very entertaining and is considered a “must do” activity in Vava’u. The only drawbacks are that they pack a lot of people in, and the seating (simple wooden planks) can get very uncomfortable after a while.
We also went to a barbecue/feast at the Puataukanave International Hotel. This one was indoors and a lot more comfortable, but also less authentic-feeling than the one at Hinakauea. The food, music, and dancing were all excellent, though, so I still think it’s worth attending.
VI. Dolphin Pacific Diving
As I mentioned above, our pre-planned itinerary of whale-watching and scuba diving was thrown completely up in the air when we learned that Dolphin Pacific had decided to cancel all of our reservations for no apparent reason. Dolphin Pacific had recently been purchased by a British couple (Al and Zoe Coldrick), who had taken over about a month before our visit to Vava’u. I really got upset when Al told me that they were not going to honor our multiple days’ worth of reservations. To calm me down, he offered me a free night dive, which I accepted but never actually occurred. Despite being completely irritated with them, we still went out whale watching with them on one day and out diving one day. There’s more detail on each of those outings below, but overall I found our dealings with Dolphin Pacific to be disappointing, mainly because the reservations I had made months earlier and confirmed a few days before our arrival were completely ignored, I surmised because a big diving group had shown up and taken priority. Dolphin Pacific has gotten a lot of great reviews over the years from other travelers to Vava’u, but our experience was not encouraging.
Whale watching on Dolphin Pacific’s boat “Makaira” didn’t go well. Makaira is a sport fishing boat that has been converted into service for diving and whale-watching trips. On our day, twelve tourists plus several guides were crammed onto the boat, and as a sport fishing boat, Makaira doesn’t have an abundance of comfortable seating. The whales weren’t cooperative and the other people on our trip were mostly 20-year-olds who didn’t really seem to care anything about whales. The only good point of the day was meeting Annah Evington and her brother Grant.
My 2-tank dive with Dolphin Pacific went better. We went to two dive sites, each of which was spectacular. We saw vibrant coral, sponges, and an array of great fish, and the visibility must have been at least 100 feet. I had my first shark encounter (a group of whitetip reef sharks we found in a cave), my first turtle encounter (looked like a hawksbill), and my first squid and lobster encounters. The divemasters appeared to be very safety-conscious, and the dives both went great. As an added bonus during the surface interval, we got to observe a giant swarm of large fruit bats roosting in the trees on top of Kitu Island, and our second dive was highlighted by the sound of a humpback whale singing nearby. I wish I had gone on more dives in Vava’u. Amy from Wild Focus accompanied our dive and made a great video of it, which I also got the DVD for.
VII. Vava’u Lahi Land Tours
If you want to see Vava’u by land, the best option is Vava’u Lahi Land Tours, which is a tour bus driven by “Eva,” a Tongan gentleman who is reputed to do the best land tours. You can arrange the tour through Aquarium Adventures, and it takes about half a day. Eva takes you around the island to see various villages, takes you to the top of Mount Talau (with a wonderful view), and to a couple of caves. Be warned: part of the tour involves some light hiking through overgrown fields, so be sure to wear long pants and enclosed shoes. We didn’t, and each got a variety of insect bites in the process, one of which developed into a very serious problem a couple of days later.
Dec 12, 2005 12:04 PM
20Tonga Trip Report (part 3)
VIII. Puataukanave International Hotel
Hakula Lodge was all booked up in anticipation of an upcoming fishing tournament, so we had to check out and spend our final two nights in Vava’u at the Puataukanave International Hotel, the newest and supposedly most luxurious hotel in Neiafu. On the plus side, “Pua’s” has a superb view of the Port of Refuge, and is extremely conveniently located, so you can walk to anything in Neiafu. On the minus side, we found the service to be indifferent. Our room featured a television that didn’t actually receive any channels of programming, and had a column of ants marching from the door, up the wall, across the ceiling, and out the sliding door to the balcony. Overall, I would not recommend the Puataukanave, even despite the extremely convenient location.
IX. S/V Impetuous
After our two awesome days out on Maris King, we figured we had topped out on whale-watching and it wasn’t going to get any better than what we had experienced. So we had a discussion with Lisa at Aquarium Adventures, and she suggested that we go on a day sailing trip on a boat called the “Impetuous.” (www.sailingtonga.com) What an awesome idea! Impetuous is a 51’ Beneteau in perfect condition, and is operated by two Kiwis named Sandy & Terry. We chartered the Impetuous, and went out sailing for the day, which was really wonderful. Sandy & Terry sailed us around, anchored near a deserted island with a fantastic reef for snorkeling (‘Euakafa), and at the end of the day stopped near Kitu Island to let us record a singing whale through the hydrophone we had brought with us. They also do multi-day charters and whale watching trips. The lunch we had on the Impetuous was superb as well. It was a really enjoyable day, and if you like sailing, Impetuous is highly recommended.
X. Off to Nuku’alofa
The last five days of our trip were to be spent in the Tongatapu Group, so we flew on Peau Vava’u, again with no check-in complications and no significant delays. One piece of advice that you will see everywhere is to re-confirm your flight the day before it leaves. We did this.
Upon arrival at Fua’amotu Airport, we thought we were going to be picked up by a van from Fafa Island Resort, which was where we would be staying in Tongatapu. No one showed up, prompting one of the assembled taxi drivers to call someone associated with Fafa on our behalf. He then volunteered to take us to the wharf to meet up with the boat that would take us out to Fafa, so we got there with no problems. Apparently there had been some mechanical difficulty with Fafa’s van.
The boat that took us out to Fafa was the “Kurti,” a sailboat that now operates exclusively on motor power. The boat is clearly aging and that, together with the absence of the van to pick us up at the airport, didn’t make for a very good first impression of Fafa. Fortunately, in this instance, the first impression wasn’t accurate. Upon arrival, we met Joseph, one of the Germans who runs the Resort, and had a tour around the island. Fafa is similar in concept to Mounu Island, in that it is a small island with nothing on it but a resort composed of traditional fales. There are differences, however. Fafa is slightly larger, and the surrounding water and reefs are not as nice as those at Mounu. There are more fales (probably 12, as opposed to 4 on Mounu). The fales themselves are much larger and more advanced from a construction and comfort standpoint. They are beautiful works of architectural art that seem very traditional, but very modern at the same time. The pictures on Fafa’s web site (www.fafa.to) don’t even begin to do these fales justice – they are spectacular. One of the coolest things is that the fales have fully-enclosed, private OUTDOOR showers, each set in a lush garden. My wife and I agreed that it was the best shower we had ever seen. And, unlike the showers on Mounu, these had actual working hot water.
The other thing you notice immediately at Fafa is the bird life. The whole island is swarming with various kinds of birds, including Red Shining Parrots, purple swamp hens and banded rails. The greenery is well-maintained and the staff is courteous and responsive. The restaurant serves three meals a day, with a menu that you can order from that changes every day. The food is superb.
There is one and only one thing we didn’t like about Fafa: the geckoes. The island has a large population of geckoes that appear to inhabit every structure, and they come out every night. They are about 6” long and scurry around, hissing at each other and probably eating loads of insects that would otherwise be biting everyone. We thought they were cute at first. The problem, however, is that they poop with impunity inside the fales and other structures from dusk until dawn. We would wake up with brown stains across the top of our mosquito net, and we’d have to be careful where we walked first thing in the morning. If you sat out in the open in the fale at night, you were at risk of being pooped on, which I actually was at least once. We talked to other guests who had similar experiences. It got to be very unpleasant after a couple of days.
Our plan was to spend a couple of days just relaxing at Fafa, and then take a couple of day trips to the main island of Tongatapu to see various tourist attractions. Those plans were interrupted, however, by a serious medical problem. Remember the insect bites that my wife and I had received taking the land tour with Eva on Vava’u? One of the bites on my wife’s foot had become badly infected and rapidly swelled up to the point where she could not walk. Her foot was in incredible pain, she was running a fever, and the toxins from the infection were causing her to be nauseated. We talked with Joseph, and he kindly arranged to take us to Tongatapu first thing in the morning on the resort’s speedboat, and he also arranged a driver to take us to a clinic run by Australian missionaries near Nuku’alofa. So, that’s what we did, and by this time we were really worried. Tonga isn’t a very advanced or modern country, and we worried about the quality of medical care. The doctors and staff at the Village Mission Clinic quickly put us at ease. My wife got first-rate medical attention and a lot of caring and compassion at the Clinic. Although they lacked the diagnostic techniques and modern drugs that you find back home, they were extremely professional, and took the right course of action. They gave my wife antibiotics that caused her fever to go away and stopped the spread of infection in her foot.
Over the next five days, my wife continued to be unable to walk and we were forced to spend the rest of the trip in our fale at Fafa Island, except for a short sight-seeing tour to see attractions like the blowholes, flying foxes and the trilithon. Joseph and the people at Fafa were extremely caring and accommodating throughout the ordeal. Finally, the day arrived for us to return home, and we had to endure six flight segments over a 36-hour period to get there. Not pleasant!
As an epilogue, I can tell you that after about a month of daily IV antibiotic treatments, we finally got rid of the infection in my wife’s foot. It wasn’t a weird tropical disease or anything like that – just a garden-variety infection like you could get anywhere in the world through an infected break in the skin. My wife is walking normally again, and we still treasure our experiences in Tonga, especially swimming with the whales.
Well, that’s my trip report. Feel free to write with any questions, and enjoy your trip to Tonga if you decide to visit there!
Mar 26, 2006 1:18 PM
21NIUE TRIP REPORT “THE REMARKABLE ROCK OF POLYNESIA”
*A note to the readers: These are my impressions of Niue only as a visitor and may not be representative of all views. Also all accommodation, eating establishment and attractions have not been critiqued and evaluated.
It is truly remarkable that Niue exists. Not as an island, of course, but as an independent nation. No other nation on the planet except perhaps the Holy See claims so small a population and such a subsidized life. Only 1700 people cling to this coral rock hundreds of kilometres from the next piece of land or island and it feels (and is) seriously remote. When one arrives on Niue, your first though is, “Hmm, this island MUST belong to someone else”. It’s status as an independent entity does not quite seem plausible. Yet, all the signs are there that you are indeed in a sovereign nation. There’s a premier (with his own parking stall and a fondness for Steinlager at the Pacific Way Bar), a parliament, and all the various ministries and departments are there dealing their bureaucracy in the same serious manner as any government agency in Canada, America or New Zealand. There’s even a very official looking stamp in my passport stamped by a very friendly and proud young man in his crisp uniform very ostensibly communicating to me that I am now “Nuie Arrived.. February 7, 2006”.
Niue is, however, not a de facto independent nation... Only in being in free association with New Zealand has this little dot of land been able to exist and shout it’s name to the world. It may be compared to a teenager, living on his own, away from his parent’s house in his own space with his own brand of independence written all over his being, when in actuality Mom and Pop are paying the bills, making the important decisions and putting the petrol in his car. . Niueans know this too... that this is the only way they can exist. Nobody seemed to be yelling too loudly for more independence and from my perspective, the status quo seemed to suit everyone just fine, thank you very much. There are no Niuean passports, of course, only NZ ones... a fact that has led to it’s own demise... more than half of the population has fled to New Zealand since “independence” in 1974.
This does not make Niue any less interesting...In fact, if anything, it adds to the mystique of this tiny Makatea island that is only 64 kilometres around, so cut off , so lonely and so different from even its close Polynesian family members in Samoa, Tonga and the Cook Islands.
Niue is very much like that eccentric cousin one only sees at 10- year family reunions; sitting in the background.. always looking to see if his older brother is checking up on him... a loner, wearing miss-matched clothes, being very sensible not to drink too much punch like his more raucous island cousins and socializing in his own friendly and charming way to those who seek him out.. and then only on his own terms.
I arrived in Niue after some quick deliberation in rain-sodden Samoa. After seeing nothing for weeks but leaden skies, flooded roads and soggy personalities, I decided on quite the spur of the moment, to flee to a physically flatter and perhaps drier locale. Now that it is feasible and economical to fly from Apia to Niue, I felt the opportunity could not be better to visit. A quick visit to Island Hopper vacations in Apia was all I needed to do and I was on the next flight to Niue.
The ticket cost me just over $730 Samoan Tala (approx. $360 Canadian dollars) which I thought was reasonable considering the distance and the destination. I was to leave on February 7th.
A word of warning to those who are embarking on a trip to Niue from Samoa. Polynesian Airlines is your link...Any of you who have lived or travelled in this part of Oceania are probably all too familiar with this carrier and it’s sorted reputation... All the rumours you have heard about Polynesian are true...It is a dreadful airline.
Check in at Faleolo International Airport in Samoa was interesting. The Poly check in staff were surly, apathetic and totally unprofessional... A situation I had never encounter in Polynesia anywhere so it was quite a shock.
We were soon on our way to Niue via American Samoa. The little Dash-8 was packed. I thought this was wonderful that so many Niueans were returning home for a visit. Little did I know that all of them, save 5 of us, were Samoans headed to Pago Pago and would disembark there. After a transit stop in Pago we were on our way to Niue.. On board there was a holidaying young couple from Australia, a Samoan woman and what looked to be her granddaughter and myself... Not one Niuean was on board. Oh yes, and a flight attendant who did her best to hide from us.. there was no safety demonstration, no telling us to have our seats and trays in the upright, locked position and certainly no comforting words from her or the flight crew as we flew headways into a tumultuous and black thunderhead somewhere between here and there...There was nothing except a packet of stale Taro chips and some off-flavoured Orchy drink that was only given to us after the Australian fellow went up front and asked if we could have something. (!!!)
Approaching Niue, the sun came out, shocking all of us and the verdant island itself came into full view... very solid looking against the deep blue of the Pacific.
Landing at Hanan Interenational airport was uneventful. It’s a tiny airport but customs and immigration are as efficient and thorough as anywhere. Prepare for a bag search... I got a soup to nuts one here.. all conducted by a very friendly and polite immigration officer, who in between looking at my Rexona and squeezing the toothpaste, asked such questions as “How did you hear about Niue?” or “Do you have friends or family here?” or “Is it really cold in Canada?” It was one of the least intimidating experiences I have ever had entering a country despite the fine toothed comb search.
I had emailed a guesthouse in Alofi, Niue’s main town and capital. The server in Samoa let me down and the email was not received so there was no one there to pick me up. Now, this is where Niuean hospitality and friendliness comes in...A young lady, hanging about the airport terminal for what ever reason, decided I needed a ride to Kololi’s guest house and we were on our way.
Kololi’s Guest House is a fine place to stay and looks to be like the pick of the crop for Alofi guesthouses. Neale and Rupina are your hosts and are very friendly and accommodating.
The spacious main house has rooms for $35NZ (NZ dollars is the currency here just like the Cooks... Samoa Tala are used as kindling for Umu fires in Niue, so exchange them back in Apia!).
The guesthouse was full with of friendly workers and tradesmen building the new hospital here, unfortunately, so I had to opt for a more expensive bungalow.. They are normally $NZ95/night, but I got a weekly rate, so you try to negotiate the price with Neale if things are slow. I decided Niue would be the splurge for my 2 1/2 month South Pacific tour.
The bungalow was great... all brand new... fully equipped kitchen, 2 bedrooms with comfortable beds, good bathroom with shower (and hot water!!...yeah!) and a pleasant lounge and front deck area for sitting in the evening (Don’t forget your Aeroguard when in Niue... the mozzies are as friendly as the locals).
By the way...Thanks, Mark (Crossie) for being that link in between Neale and me... much appreciated!
Kololi’s guesthouse is worth ****1/2 out of five in my books.
It takes 2 minutes to walk to the centre of town. Centre is relative Alofi has the same population (about 700) as my home town in Saskatchewan and is remarkably similar... One main/high street.. there’s the store and a few other shops, the post office, the butcher, Telecom office and the police station. A few cafes are thrown in and a couple of places to wet your whistle.
I had some uncertain moments (the only nail-biting I ever did in Niue!) when cashing some traveller’s cheques into NZ$ at the local bank. This bank was once a Westpac and is now a branch of the Bank SouthPacific, a Fijian enterprise. When I initially asked if there would be any difficulty cashing Canadian dollar cheques into New Zealand currency, the smiling teller said “No problem...all major currencies are accepted and exchanged” Once I had the cheques out though and on the wicket, a very long process of deliberation between all the employees of this branch ensued.... 20 minutes and a ridiculous transaction fee later I walked out with my cash in hand... very nervously thinking how I may have had to spend the duration of my Niuean visit sleeping in the bush and eating coconuts if they had decided to not exchange the cheques for whatever reason. You may want to get your NZ dollars in Samoa before you come here... The banks in Apia are perhaps a little more used to tourists and foreign currency so there would be no problem there. There are no ATMs on Niue, although I was told one was in the works at the bank.
A good thing to remember too, is that Niue is very much a cash society. Eftpos/ Interac aren’t used much and only the Matavai resort and a few other places take credit cards. The guesthouses, cafes, bars and stores are cash. Keep this in mind when you visit.
Everywhere I went people smiled and waved...I thought my arm was going to fall off. I can’t even begin to count how many times I was asked where I was from and what brought me to Niue... even on the first day. Everyone wanted to chat and had the time to do it. I could see this as a blessing for the friendly tourist, a curse to those who wanted privacy and live in the shadows here. This is truly the friendliest place I have ever been to anywhere in the world.
A short walk from the guesthouse to Swan Son’s supermarket gave me an opportunity to stock the larder of my bungalow. Supplies in Nuie are quite expensive... and selection is limited as there are just not enough people on the island, I suppose, to warrant stocks of luxury goods or vast amounts of even everyday items. Something tells me that if the ships can’t make it for whatever reason, the shelves on island stores would be very bare very quickly. The whole ambiance, pace, society and economy of Niue was very reminiscent of Aitutaki in the Cooks...sans One Foot Island and the Teking lagoon cruises.
One nice thing about Niue is that the water is deep bore well water (at least at Kololi‘s)... It’s cold, full of minerals, tastes really good and is safe to drink... I didn’t need to buy bottled water here. A nice change from the tasteless, rather expensive bottled water of Samoa or the tepid, odd-flavoured rain water in outpost Tonga.
There is a local market in town that is held twice a week... Most of the folks that attend are there more for the socializing than actual engagement in commerce. There isn’t much to be purchased anyways. Niueans live in a consumer society evidently and there seems to be too much money around to warrant slaving away in a plantation for your primary source of food and income like one would be doing in Tonga or Samoa. I even had trouble getting bananas! The selection of local produce is limited to taro, coconuts a few very expensive (although lovely) handicrafts and not much else. No one seems to eat the papayas that are everywhere and they usually just fall on the ground to rot or are fed to pigs. There were no fish as the sea had been too rough to go out at the time.
There were no other fruits or vegetable at all. In Nuie, you may end up eating a lot of tinned or frozen veggies and the fruit you eat may be in the form of imported NZ apples and oranges or tinned pineapple. It’s hard to believe on this little tropical island that so little produce is grown.
After walking around Alofi in the searing tropical heat and humidity, I decided I needed wheels. I went to Alofi Rentals where I got myself a nice,shiny Yamaha 250 motorbike... Not a scooter, but a real motorcycle. If you have ever wanted to learn to ride a bike, Niue is a great place to do it... The roads are all in excellent condition, there is little traffic and few hazards like dogs or waddling hogs to deal with. The bike was $25 NZ per day but be forewarned that the rental place does not carry any liability insurance. You will be responsible for the first $1000 damage to the bike if you have an accident. The police all look very professional and respectable looking here (They DON’T wave when they pass you) and road rules seem to be followed and enforced here... You will need to wear a helmet (comes with the bike rental), be courteous and keep the speed to the posted limits. The bikes are in excellent condition and you can rent pushbikes and cars here too.
You are required to get a Niue drivers license. They cost $10 and make a great souvenir all laminated up and pretty...All you need is your license from home. I got a motorbike validation even though I haven’t ridden a motorbike for 20 years. The lady who stamps your passport also works at the police station... You will get to know her well if you are in Niue for more than a few days (She also does a shift at Radio Niue, too!!... This is a multi-tasking society, folks. When you leave Niue, she knows ALL about you, where you’ve been, where you’ve been staying and what brand of beans you buy at Swan Sons!! She‘s a sweetheart...)
Eating out in Niue does not leave a lot of options. I self catered for the most part as I had the cooking facilities. Swan Sons IS the supermarket. It’s like a small town store, but they have most items you’d need. There is also a small shop in the “shopping centre” in the town centre that has a big selection of frozen meats and other things. These frozen items are very expensive, although they did have a run on small frozen chickens for $5 a piece... They were good for 2 meals. Needless to say, I ate a lot of chicken in Niue and became quite creative in preparing it (The Film “Forrest Gump” comes to mind... “We got fried shrimp, baked shrimp, shrimp soup, shrimp cocktail, pineapple shrimp...).
There are also a few other small shops in town that carry basic supples.
If you wanted to veer away from cooking yourself and taking some of your meals out, there are only a few options in Niue. There are several cafes, two of which I really enjoyed going to as their food was good and the company excellant.
The Crazy Uga is a little round shed sitting across from the Police station overlooking the sea. Keith is the main man here who can whip you up a good flat white (or other excellent brews) and some fair grub. It is open later too so can come have a burger and a beer after you’ve had too many beer at the Pacific Way bar.
The Cafe Falala Fa is not a bad joint with a semi-funky feel. It is also on the main drag just south of the town centre. It is a popular place especially for lunch and the food is good although pretty damned expensive ($9 for a toasted sandwich that came with nothing else... no chips or salad).
The Washaway Cafe is a fair hike south of town at Avetele beach. It is a pretty spot (you can snorkel here...kind of) and the folks who run it are super friendly and the food is good and the beer is cheap. It has a look more like a beachside bar one would see in Mexico or Thailand. Good place to come on Sunday when everything else is closed.
The Matavai resort looks like a nice place (made even more attractive by Mr. Cross’s incredible art!)
Although I did not eat or stay here, the bar is pleasant and this is the best option for visitors to Niue who want something upscale. They only had a handful of guests staying there.
There are a few other places to eat in town like Jenna’s cafe and Mataki’s bakery and cafe. They are not exceptional places to eat, but are okay for a quick bite, I suppose.
When you are cruising around Niue on your bike, stop at the Israel Mart in Avetele as well for an excellent cream cone that comes in many flavours.
Places to drink: There are a few. I had my beers at the Pacific Way bar which seems to be the most popular “local”. Come in and have a Lion Red or a Steiny (beer is dangerously cheap in Niue... go figure) and visit with the local expats or maybe even the Premier if he is so inclined to come in for one. I had a great visit with him and found out his daughter (sister?) lives in Kitchener, Ontario and that there are quite a few Niueans in Canada. Where in the world can you drink with the leader of the country???
There was an empty chair on one side of the table that no one would sit it... Would it have been Mark’s chair????
Clayton’s bar just a bit further into town looks like more of a night place.. I didn’t go.
The bar at the Matevai is very nice and the Washaway is a drinkable place. I also saw a bar at the motel at the Coral Gardens motel. There is also the Bond shop in town where you can get your duty free booze.
There is not a lot to do on Niue and this was it’s primary attraction for me. There are some really interesting caves and rock formations around the island at various, well-maintained sites. (The Togo and Matapa chasms are really cool).
There is good snorkelling at Limu pools... I mean REALLY good snorkelling. The most incredible water clarity I have ever seen and the fish were in technicolour. The black and white sea snakes, although unnerving at first, actually become charming after a while. Avaiki cave is also very intriguing.
The sea was very rough for almost the whole time I was there, so water-based activities were limited. I wanted to go snorkelling/diving with the friendly folks at Dive Niue (right beside the Matavai resort) but the conditions were never calm enough.
Of course, being interested in botany and horticulture led me to some esoteric adventures like some botanical hikes in the forest reserve and a visit to the Crop research station at Vaipapahi. I also had to pop into that palatial looking Noni plantation (Niue’s next boom may be the Noni rush.. A lot of money has been dumped into here, boy... I hope it pans out and that my dad and all his old cronies here in Canada and elsewhere continue to choke down their daily morning ration of the vile juice.) It had the feel of an old cotton plantation in Alabama... driving off the main road onto the hibiscus-lined access road lined with palms and with rows of bent figures labouring away around the Noni seedlings, it was hard not to imagine hearing “We Shall Overcome” or “Old Man River” being sung in the distance.
Some final thoughts onNiue:
It is the most friendly and one of the most enjoyable places I have ever been to. No, there is not a lot to do here and that was it’s charm for me. I enjoyed spending hours being alone (something that is almost impossible to do in Samoa) just biking around the well maintained roads, talking with everyone and hiking to the chasms, cliffs and caves and through the rain forest.
Thank you Niue for a truly wonderful and enchanting time!... I would return anytime (I would fly Air NZ this time, though!!)
May 21, 2006 6:13 PM
22Sugarmooning on Atiu
Cook Islands May 2006
For those of you unfamiliar with Atiu Island, it is an unspoiled gem. Atiu is a raised makatea island, which basically means it was an extinct underwater volcano that rose out of the ocean. Makatea is fossilized coral, which is really cool. In some places, you can easily make out the coral branches like it came out of the ocean yesterday and not 120,000 years ago. Now I see why Crossie is always making a big fuss about his beloved Niue (which is the same type of island).
Visiting Rarotonga, Atiu, & Aitutaki I saw all 3 types of Pacific Islands (From a geological standpoint). Rarotonga is your raised volcanic island. Atiu is the makatea island and Aitutaki is very close to being a coral atoll. Ok, end of the history lesson and on with the show.
May 6th: Made it to Atiu after a fun flight on Air Rarotonga (AR). We were way over the weight with our baggage, we had about 25 kg’s each and not the 16 kg’s AR allows. Not a problem, AR did not even flinch. On our flight to Atiu and staying with us at the Atiu villas, were some local tour guides and land owners who were going to join the National Geographic cruise ship Endeavor, help them tour Atiu, and take them to the uninhabited island of Manuae. These guides included Lawton, who does the glass bottom boat tour in Aitutaki. Once all unpacked, my wife and I toured a little bit of the island on a scooter (we signed up for the encounter package with the Atiu Villas, this included all food, drinks, scooters, and tours – great deal). Talk about a crash course in scooter driving. We did not rent one in Raro, which was a big mistake. On Atiu, I was learning scooter driving on mud and loose sand. Finally made it to the coast where the makatea sits about 20 feet above the water, fantastic views. We barely made it back to the villas after sliding across the entire muddy road with my new wife on the back. No cook island tattoo’s is my motto (2 type’s road rash or coral rash). Don’t have to worry about making dinner reservations, only one restaurant on the island which is Kura’s Kitchen (Roger & Kura run the Atiu Villas). The best food the Cook Islands is in Kura’s Kitchen (and that includes the Tamarind House). Some of the local tour guides (on our flight) knew some of the fisherman of Atiu. Being very lucky, the fisherman had landed about 40 large yellow fin tuna the morning of our arrival. That night in Kura’s Kitchen (KK), we had the best sashimi, served with teriyaki and wasabi. The Ika Mata made with that same fresh fish was out of the world good. It felt like I ate 5lbs of raw fish that night and it was sooooo good (I’m not a big sushi eater). The deserts Kura makes are legendary. We had lime custard with fresh fruit and a frozen whip cream topping.
Mary 7th: Sunday morning, so we started the day with church. My wife is catholic, so we went to the 10 o’clock mass at the Catholic Church (they had a special 4 o’clock mass for the Endeavor cruise people, but we wanted to see the regular service). What a service! My wife might get me to go more often if the US service was more like Atiu. The singing was inspiring. My wife and I stuck out like sore thumbs, out of the 60 or so people in the church, I was the tallest person in there, my wife was the second tallest (I’m 6’2). After service, everyone in town knew who we were and nicknamed us “sugarmooners”, don’t ask me why (I guess they don’t get a lot of honeymooners on Atiu). Next, we scooted around the entire island. With all islanders staying in villages at the center of the island, this left the coastline deserted (we never saw anybody which is eerie, but cool). We stopped a various beaches, checked out the various coral and shells, all amazing. At one beach, I noticed the surf was really small – so I slipped outside the reef to do a little snorkeling – amazing! Best coral I have ever seen, tons of fish, best snorkeling experience ever. It was a little weird to snorkel with reef shoes on instead of fins. My wife was afraid to join me; timing the small waves and slipping outside the reef can be tuff, so I didn’t snorkel very long. Coming in I came very close to falling, but I pulled it off. If the waves are big, I would not recommend trying this (on May 8th & 9th the waves were way too big, I wished I had snorkeled a little longer the day before). After checking out the island, we made it back to the villas for our worst night in the cooks. The night was so still, out came the Whisky Bugs (WB). Because it was Sunday, KK was not open. The Atiu Villas are fully stocked with food, so we turned on the lights are prepared some noodles. We ate dinner and tried to read in bed. Before we knew it the WB’s were everywhere. They fly, don’t bite, but love to crawl on you, and can get through screens. We had hundreds of them in our room and in our bed. The WB’s made for a very difficult night of sleeping.
May 8th: Woke up that morning with all the WB’s gone, I think some of the ants in our place carried them away. Tour day; we started with Birdman George (BG) and his Eco-Tour. BG told us to stay out until 10 pm and the WB’s will be sleeping, we formulated a plan for this. BG showed us all the birds on the island (his bird calls were dead on), weaved plates out of coconut leaves, and gave us fresh coconut milk to drink. He showed how the islanders used candle nuts and a bunch of other plants on the islands and what there uses are. Next tour was with Marshall and the Kopeka cave tour. This tour was great, seeing the beautiful caves inside the dense jungle was great. The Kopeka Bird that lives in the cave is one of only two birds in the world that use sonar. We were lucky and saw & heard lots of birds (when the birds sonar is “on”, they make an unnatural clicking sound). The Kopeka bird is only found on Atiu and only in that one cave. After the cave tour, we went to our one and only Tumano. A Tumano is where mostly male islanders drink a local beer made with sugar & oranges – they pass one cup around and discuss the day’s events. The Tumano was a great experience and that is where my wife and I found out we were known as the Sugarmooners. Ended up the evening with a great dinner at KK and drank a few beers with good o’l BG and his wife. When we went back to our villa after 10 pm, we only used a flashlight to get ready for bed - worked like a charm, no WB’s
May 9th: Did a coffee tour, which was ok. The best part was tasting all the coffee at the end of the tour. Our flight to Aitutaki was delayed, no problem, just hopped on the scooter and continued to tour the beaches (this is when I took my surf goats pictures). At 2 pm we said goodbye to Atiu and off to Aitutaki.
Misc: People were so so friendly on this island. People were waving to us right and left while driving though town (we were 2 of only 5 tourists staying on the island). The island was so lush, from the balcony at Atiu Villas I would sit and watch white turns (birds), swirl down this lush, green tropical valley all the way to the ocean. When Captain Cook visited Atiu in the 1700’s there were 5,000 people on Atiu. In the 90’s there were 1,200 people on it. The population now is about 580. Air Rarotonga has a great triangle fare that we booked (all one way) – Rarotonga to Atiu then Atiu to Aitutaki and finally Aitutaki to Rarotonga, saves you from doing round trips to each island.
May 23, 2006 9:02 PM
23Final Days in Paradise
Cook Islands May 2006
May 9th: Arrived in Aitutaki around 3 pm after catching the perfect Atiu to Aitutaki flight. There were only 5 people on the 15 passenger plane. We got into the Etu Moana (EM) around 3pm, beautiful property, great views. Everyone who has been raving about this place is correct. Immediately upon arrival at the Etu Moana, we signed up for the Samade island night, which was a good thing. I mentioned in the Atiu report that our flight was delayed about 2 hours, but people coming from Rarotonga to Aitutaki were delayed much longer and some barely got on flights (one couple got in around 6 pm and could not go to island night because it was sold out.). Air Rarotonga was not spoken of very highly, but we had no issues with them. Island night was good, like a luau Berry Bonds style (on steroids). The food was ok, buffet style. I listened to Shully and grabbed lots of the Ika Mata which was excellent. The baked fish and pork was not good. We had a whole Etu Moana table with 3 couples of honeymooners and 2 couples celebrating anniversaries. My wife and I stayed, while everyone skipped out as soon as the show ended. While all the EM couples were stuck in line waiting to go home and pay, we listened to the band, who was quite good, and relaxed – it was a good choice (we made it home by 11:30 pm).
May 10th: Relaxation day. We thought about signing up for a lagoon cruise, but hung out to read instead. Good choice because it rained around 11am and was overcast all day. We went to Café Tupuno with 2 other EM couples that night. The food was excellent and we loved the atmosphere. This was my favorite place to eat on Aitutaki, although I heard good things about the Pacific Resort Restaurant. Yes, there were a few cats – but I ended up playing with them and they were never on the tables or counters.
May 11th: Kia Orana cruise day. We chose that cruise because everyone was raving about them (originally want to take TeKeng). We were happy with our choice. We saw some of the survivor islands and one foot. We planted our coconut tree on honeymoon island (this is a little corny, but we liked it) and will check on it in a few years (if no more typhoons hit). The snorkeling was great and I loved to feed the fish. This day was perfect, finished off the evening at the restaurant in the Are Tamanu, Te Vaka. Food & service was good – although we were starting to get a little tried of eating out.
May 12: Rented a scooter and cruised the island. Tried to check out the Survivor camp, but security would not let us through. It looked like they are building a huge pier, but it was all the survivor stuff. There was a big land meeting the day before and one of the main roads was closed because of it. We were told Survivor hadn’t paid for use of the motu’s or something like that. I heard that the cooks have so many land issues, no way would I try to buy a property or “lease” there (even if I married a cook islander). Touring the island on the scooter was fun, had lunch at Samades, which looks amazing during the day, much better than at night. That night my wife and I enjoyed a sunset walk on the beach. Saw tons of minnows jumping right next to shore and an eel (very blurry picture of it).
May 13: Bad choice day, but good day to leave. Since we had a 7pm flight and had to be out of our EM unit by 10 am, what better way to leave the cooks than with another cruise. We went with the Aitutaki Explorer and Captain Lawton who we met on Atiu. Lawton is a great guy and lots of fun. The cruise would have been great but the weather was not cooperating. It rained almost the entire time. I’m generally always warm, but I was a little cold on this tour (and that meant the other 9 people were freezing). I would snorkel to warm up. Make sure to go out on the lagoon on a sunny day. If you’re not a big snorkeler, I highly recommend Lawton’s tour. The glass bottom is great, and even though it was rainy, the water clarity was better than when I went 2 days before. The fish Lawton cooked for us was excellent and because the other people on the tour did not eat fish, I ate a ton. Got back to the EM around 5 pm and took a long hot shower. Our 7 pm flight out of Aitutaki was not fun and I will leave it at that – major weather. The 11 pm flight from Rarotonga to LA was great and got in early.
Misc: Jim and Joann who own the EM were fantastic. A coconut hit our roof in the afternoon and Jim helped me open the bastard, drink its milk and eat its flesh. We did not look at the places like Ken does, but we did hear a few complaints about UnParadise Cove. The people of Aitutaki were very friendly. All in all, I don’t think I could have had a better honeymoon and I need to thank everyone on these forums for helping me plan it. On each island I knew exactly what to do and where to go. The most important thing, my wife had a great time and is already talking about going back for our 5 year anniversary.
A Warm Thank-You to Everyone Who Answered One of my Lame Posts!
- - - - Mike
Aug 21, 2006 10:30 AM
24Vanuatu Trip Report – Efate, Tanna & Santo
Just wanted to share my experiences about our 2 week trip to Vanuatu (late July to early August). Maybe too much info for you all, but oh well. A little background: My partner and I are in our early30s, like hiking, outdoor activities, adventurous fun stuff, but I am getting a bit more picky about our lodging. I consider myself the discerning budget traveler, don’t mind shared bathrooms and simple accommodation as long as it’s clean. I can’t stand to cook in a nasty unclean hostel kitchen though.
WEATHER: It was cloudy on Efate, in Port Vila, but still warm enough for shorts. The locals said it was oddly cloudy for all of 2 weeks. Still managed to get a bit sunburn. Tanna was much cooler, if it was breezy (as on the coast) you needed a light sweater if you weren’t right in the sun. It still was warm enough to go in for a dip if you were quick. Tanna is much warmer on the interior, but obviously the mountains (including the volcano) are quite cool. Santo had the hottest and sunniest weather, but we also had one day of complete downpour all day. The locals say the weather patterns are changing and it’s not as sure that the dry season will not be wet. I was never cold, and I was glad for the ceiling fan in 3 of the 4 places we stayed.
GENERAL TRAVEL TIPS:
Buses: Buses are not allowed to pick up people directly from the airport in Port Vila, but if you just take your bags about 50m down the road (out of the airport), there is a bus stop. 100vt/person gets you into town, as opposed to 1000 or 1500 for a taxi. It’s a bit harder to catch a bus out to Hideaway Island (or Benjor, near there) but after the 5th bus that stopped, we got a ride out there for 200v each. Buses are easy to get during the day, and even at night to some degree in town, but if you’re trying to get a ride into town later in the evening it might be difficult.
If you do have inter-island reservations (as we did: you get a 20% off your fare discount for showing international departure ticket), confirm your inter island flights before you leave for Vanuatu. I booked our inter island flights over the internet with the new Air Vanuatu website; I had an email printout that said reservation CONFIRMED; 2 days before we left I confirmed our int’l flights, but didn’t bother asking about the domestic legs. Air Vanuatu CANCELLED our domestic flights. Luckily there was still availability on all the days we had wanted to travel, though the flight times were not the same. There is a 200vt departure tax between the islands.
If you are not picky about where you want to stay, it may be worthwhile to book your accommodation when you get there. You can get some substantial discounts on the pricey resorts through Vanuatu Standby Accommodation (website below). Or you can prebook thru this website, but not be eligible for the discounts. The discounts are not as great for budget accom. We treated ourselves to 2 nights at a resort the last nights and I used them to book it. We could have had an over the water bungalow at Erakor for 16,000vt, usual about 26,000. If you go budget and stay at the bungalows, you can pretty much just show up (or call from Port Vila before hand). This would be cheaper than booking the bungalows ahead of time through the few websites or through a travel agent. I booked all the accom. (except for the last 2 nights) ahead of time, because it was the high season. In retrospect, it would have been cheaper to book the budget stuff after we’d arrived (see below for details). All accom. prices herein are for double occupancy.
People are REALLY friendly, but not in that we-want-your-tourist dollar, hard sell, give me money kind of way. It’s easy to ask directions, and you’ll be forced to, cause they’re aren’t really road signs. It’s worth it to take a look at the Bislama primers, it’s a fun language (LP sells a Pidgin minibook for AUS$10). As an English speaker you won’t have nearly any problems on these 3 islands, if you know a bit of French, you’re good as gold (almost all Ni-Vans who we came into contact with spoke pretty good English or French). Most places close up on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, so book your car/tour etc. outside of these hours. If you go to the outer islands, you should take doxycycline, malaria-prevention pills. You’re probably OK in Luganville and Port Vila, but anywhere else why risk it? It’s cheap ($10 for 6 weeks worth) and we haven’t had any side effects (it is an antibiotic so will interfere with oral birth control for the first 7 days).
Independent Ni-van owned Bungalow Info
This is a travel agency, but good info nonetheless.
Port Vila Press in English
To prebook accom. online
PORT VILA, EFATE
We stayed at the Travelers Budget Motel for 2 nights. (email@example.com (678)23940; fax 67823941. Manager: Jean-Michel Russet). Booked thru Van. Hotels online for 4700vt/night (see above for link). Very new, very clean, about 10 minutes walk into town. Far enough out of town not to have traffic noise, but as it’s a neighborhood, there was the usual dogs barking and roosters crowing. Very nice small place surrounding a rock garden, comfortable firm beds, clean shower (hot&cold) and bathroom; fridge, tea/coffee, fan & TV in room, even a fruit platter on arrival! A small outdoor kitchen is available for use, BBQ etc. I think they wanted to charge 100vt/each to use the kitchen. Breakfast available for 650vt/each. No view to speak of. A room where you actually want to spend in, it’s comfortable. 24 hour security. I looked at City Lodge from the outside, and it’s right down in town. Most of Port Vila looks pretty run down and I was glad we were not staying right in town.
When we returned from Tanna and Santo, we stayed at Benjor Beach club (www.benjor.vu), booked thru Standby Accom. We stayed 2 nights at a rate of 12600 per night (this reflects the in country discount). I have mixed feelings about Benjor. The room was really nice, spacious, we had just the basic 1 bedroom villa (no spa). Very spacious, TV w/DVD player (but you had to pay 300vt to rent a movie, I thought that should have been free). The room was beautiful, comfy bed with ample pillows, two good ceiling fans, fridge, coffee/tea, great tiled bathroom with sliding glass doors opening onto a small private walled garden area. Deck chairs & private deck. The restaurant was excellent, and visited by non-guests and locals as well (but still never busy – maybe 4 tables at most dining). The resort is a bit isolated, in that you can’t just catch a bus into town, you’d have to walk a good 2 kms to get to a main road to catch a bus. The only way into town then is by taxi (1500-2000vt) or if you’ve rented a car. They didn’t have bikes, which would have been great to ride down to catch the ferry to hideaway island. Their “beaches” are not sand beaches, it is really shell and coral. I liked the coastline, it was rocky and rugged and a 10 yr old boy would have a field day exploring. They had a nice area for wedding ceremonies. You can rent glass-bottom kayaks (2000 vt, unless included in your package).
Basically the room, restaurant and service was great, but the resort aspects were poorly managed: you couldn’t play minigolf (no turf or carpet, just cement, I saw a dead mouse on the course), the tennis court was dilapidated and cracked. The golf driving range wasn’t anything special. There were no deck chairs on the beach, though there were a few up at the pool (small, but well maintained). It’s very quiet (no roosters or dogs), mostly couples keeping to themselves. If you’re happy to relax, read, sunbathe and smooch, this is the place for you. It is NOT a good base for activities, unless you have a car, as it’s not easy to pop into town for a drink or even for dinner.
If you’re just going to Efate, there are loads of tours, etc., but we didn’t really check out many of the tours/activities available on Efate. We did do a few things:
Melee Cascades Waterfall. This is 1400vt per person minimum (200vt each way by bus, 1000 admission). I think ½ day tours want to charge you about 4000 to go, so it’s worth it to go solo. Beautiful little jungle walk up to some waterfalls and nice refreshing rock pools to take a dip in. We had the pools to ourselves. Relatively easy walk (2km maybe?), though water shoes might be preferable. Restroom and picnic area. You may have to walk a little bit on the way back to town before you catch a bus.
Coongoola Day Cruise: www.southpacdivecruise.com.vu, 25020 or after hours 23271. 7800vt/each, an all day affair, a nice relaxing way to get out on the water and visit some off shore island (Moso). The boat holds 50 people, but we had 4 others with us, once we dropped off the divers (and this was the high season!) Stops at a turtle conservatory, then on to snorkel (nice reef, nicer fish), then BBQ lunch on a great beach. The lunch was really good, I as a vegetarian came prepared with a pack lunch, but it was unnecessary, they had plenty of veggie side dishes I could have filled up on. Of course they have your morning/afternoon tea. After lunch a visit to a cave (not so flash), and another snorkel spot (again, really nice fish). If it’s a calm enough day, they use the sails, but we motored about since the seas were a bit rough. I was worried about getting seasick, and didn’t want to spend all day on the water because of that, but the boat was big enough. Even with the somewhat rough seas, the snorkel spots were pretty calm. A good bet for the quiet at heart.
Kava Bar (Nakamal). Try if you are adventurous and like your mind a bit altered. MUCH stronger than Fiji or Tongan kava (unless you are trying it in the resorts, where it’s watered down). This is an afternoon/sunset activity. Women are only welcome in the nakamals in Port Vila, not appropriate on the outer islands. We tried to go to Ronnie’s in Port Vila, bus dropped us off there on a Sunday eve., Ronnie’s was closed (lesson learned!), but he showed us the way to the Green Light Nakamal (in Bislama no less), where we partook. I had two small shells, my partner had 2 large shells and we were sufficiently ripped for a good 2 hours. They say it makes you sleepy, I wasn’t, I wanted to walk and explore in my dazed and confused state. An experience to be had, wouldn’t want to do it every day! Some places don’t wash the shells very well and you can contract Hep A so be careful (we were immunized).
Tanna is for the adventurous, unless you are staying at White Grass resort or a couple of the other higher end spots. We stayed for 5 nights, and it was my favorite part of the trip, our best chance for interaction with the local culture, and the real life in Vanuatu. It’s dusty, everyday I put the same clothes on, knowing I would get covered in ash on the back of the pickup truck. The people are really friendly, everyone waves to you. The village life is for real (not prepared for the tourists).
Transport & Accommodation
I pre-booked the Port Resolution Yacht Club thru Van. Hotels online. The prebooking was a mistake – we were charged 5700 for the bungalow. The going rate is really more like 4000/night (for two). One lady who had been there a few years before was paying just 1500/night! If you want to stay here, wait til you get to Efate, and call Weri on 68791, or try emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org. This is real bungalow style accommodation. Mosquito nets, thatched hut, real Robinson Crusoe. The generator gives light (a single bulb in your bungalow) in the evenings til about 9pm. There is hot water, but it’s hit or miss if you get any (I think it depends on how many have tried to shower). The showers and toilets (flush) are in a cement block and aren’t the nicest but are generally clean enough. Your bungalow may have a wash basin outside. You are a LONG way from anything (are there really stores in the village next door?) and there are no kitchen facilities for you so you are dependent on the wonderful ladies for your meals (of course you can supplement with store bought non-cook foods). Breakfast is included (toast and jam, we didn’t have eggs at any time). Lunch (500 or 1000vt) can be fancy (my partner got a whole lobster once), dinner (750vt) is usually rice with “curried” veggies and some piece of meat or fish on the side. COLD Tusker beer avail for 350vt. There is one other “restaurant” on the beach on the other side of the village, you must prebook, very good though, we had lunch there one day.
What you pay for at Port Resolution is the remote and gorgeous location. It is set on a gorgeous cliff looking onto the port where a few yachties may moor their sailboats. You can visit the black sand beach and the hot water spring there, and two other white sand beaches (w/in walking distance) – one has OK snorkeling, the other has shallow swimming holes. You can walk into the village (which actually owns the Yacht Club communally) and down to the beach on the other side.
When we prebooked, we were asked if we wanted to book transport too – they quoted 9600/per person for round trip transport. I thought this was astronomical and refused to pay it. We arrived at the airport and were able to get on a truck who was going our direction and it cost us 2000 each one way, the same on the return trip. So a savings of 9200 vatu in total for the two of us. You can arrange transport if you let Weri know you’re coming for 2000vt/pp each way – DON’T book it thru Van. Hotels.
From Port Res, Weri will organize tours for you, just ask: We did in one afternoon a visit to a traditional village, the jungle walk (highly recommended!!) and of course the trip to Yasur Volcano. Yasur is close (maybe 40 minutes by pickup truck) so many tourists choose to visit it more than once. It IS pretty amazing.
You can also walk to Shark Bay to see the sharks, down the beach and out to Turtle Bay Inn (you can lunch here, but tell them you’re coming ahead of time). French-owned, and honestly not really much nicer accommodation than we had, but much pricier.
We did go to the Jon Frum Village Friday night, but honestly, there was just a lot of singing and dancing (which I’d seen in the village next to Port Res), and no one stood up to explain significance of what was going on or anything. I guess for 1000 vatu it’s worth it, but I really didn’t see anything that was Jon Frum per se.
You can go fishing with a local on a traditional outrigger canoe (1000vt/one, 1500vt/two people).
Tanna is really for the adventurous and those who don’t mind roughing it. Even if you stay at one of the “resorts,” travel is pretty rough. But I loved it and wouldn’t have missed it for anything.
After the rough lifestyle of Tanna, I was REALLY glad to arrive at Deco Stop Lodge (www.decostop.com.vu ) with ensuite room with HOT shower. Now here I was glad I had prebooked thru Van. Hotels online – we paid 8700vt/night (double room, dorm beds go for about 3800, and the hostess quoted a rack rate of 9400/night to others. This includes continental breakfast. Deco Stop was AWESOME. Full restaurant and bar (menu changes every night, Bfst (600-1000), Lunch (1000) & Dinner (1500 for mains 800-1000 for entrees); great bar snacks at happy hour, DVD/TV room with pool table and pingpong, and a pool and view to die for. Very relaxed atmosphere. Kathy, the proprieter and owner, is Aussie and is a divemaster as well. This place is really for the dive crowd (dive locker and rinse tanks), but I felt comfortable there as a non-diver as well.
Luganville doesn’t have much in the way of restaurants, a Chinese restaurant, a small café (now owned by Ni-vans, used to be kiwis), and breakfast/lunch place. Hotel Santo and the Beachfront Resort have restaurants too. Aore Resort (on Aore Island) has a really great menu, with strong cocktails to boot (nice place to go have weekend lunch or dinner). We went to Coral Quays (formerly Bougainville Resort) for dinner, used to be the best restaurant on the island, not so now – Deco Stop has more variety, taste and is cheaper.
The only place that looked halfway decent in town to stay was Unity Park Motel. Deco Stop is up the hill a bit (about 15 minutes walk to town). Coral Quays looked nice, but about 5km out of town. Aore Resort also looked nice, but you’re dependent on the ferry to come into town or do other tours, though you can dive straight from Aore.
My partner did 3 dives here, and I took the Millennium Cave Tour which I highly recommend if you like hiking and getting dirty. I was the only one on the tour, and I still had a great time, so I know it’d be really fun with a few more. Hike through a bit of mud, down some rickety ladders, through a cave with river running through it, scramble over and under boulders (very slippery), then finally float down the river on inflatable kiddie tubes, gorgeous scenery, really fabulous tour. Wear old sneakers or Tevas. Also visited a village and met the chief, I got the feeling if there’d been more people there would have been more said in explanation. If you’re interested, make the most of a dry day and do it. Two women wanted to do the tour a couple days after me and by then they’d had too much rain to make it passable.
Our last day on Santo we wanted to see Champagne Beach and blue hole. We hate bus tours, so wanted to rent a car, but none were available. We hired a taxi instead for the whole day – worked out well – the roads are rough and again no road signs. We tried to go to the Loru Conservation Area, went to the village, got a guide, started walking and the heavens opened up and it rained ALL DAY. We cut our walk short, went on to Champagne Beach (beautiful even in the rain), and the Matevulu Blue Hole (big and deep, but there is another blue hole with better fish life (bring your mask & snorkel), ask around about it, plus the other one is free). Also went for lunch at Oyster Island – a must if you like seafood very French, HUGE portions go and stay for a couple of hours.
There’s not really any bars in Luganville so do your socializing at your hostel/hotel or in Port Vila.
Please ask any questions, I’ll try and answer them!
Jan 1, 2009 1:56 AM
25I posted the following on Dec 30 2008 for a New year's greeting. Someone suggested I add it to this FAQ post, so here it is:
To those who haven't visited the region yet, let me make Seven Suggestions for island travel:
1. Plan your air routes out carefully. In recent years air travel routes have changed. The east to west flights in the South Pacific are almost gone, so it's tough to visit, say, Fiji and the Cooks and Tahiti. Most visitors will have to go in and out of Auckland NZ. Tongan domestic flights are always changing. Fiji is still the place to be if you want to fan out to other places. Try to include island countries on your int'l ticket to save lots of $$$.
2. Unless you have more than two weeks or so, just pick one country to visit: The cost of int'l flights has of course gone up, as have domestic flights. Even so, don't try to see seven countries in ten days, or even two or three. Pick one out, go to some remote places in that country as well the most touristy areas, and you'll still have a great time.
3. Some research is good: As always, try to read up on local customs and the culture. For example, bathing suit (or lack thereof) rules in Fr. Polynesia are a LOT different than in Tonga and Samoa! Tipping can actually be offensive in lots of places.
4. Usually avoid the big three topics: Try to avoid discussing politics, religion---and land issues!! (unless they bring up these topics---then tread carefully)
5. Travel advisiories are often ridiculous: Coups can happen anywhere, (esp. in Fiji), but they rarely affect tourists. One can read "travel advisories" about almost any country, usually issued by large countries like the US. But most places are pretty safe when it comes to crime, as long as you don't leave your digital cameras and wallets on the beach when you go snorkeling, etc. Paradise just ain't paradise all the time.
5. Health advisories may also be overdone: but these should be checked out a bit more. Dengue outbreaks should not deter a trip, for example, but they should make you be careful to put that DEET repellent on when visiting.
6. Only need a beach??? If you just want to loll on the beach during your vacation, consider just staying at a resort in your home country, rather than spending the $$$ for overseas flights to stay in an anonymous resort in the islands.
7. Explore local villages etc. If you visit the islands, try to meet some locals, it's not hard to do. Most are warm and friendly, esp. to tourists.
I'm sure the regulars here on the TT will have other suggestions, these are just a few general ones that quickly come to mind.
May 22, 2009 11:29 PM
26Some links to websites with information on the Kingdom of Tonga
Matangi Tonga is a good source of news and links:
Also, Planet Tonga is an important link for members of the Tongan diaspora:
Edited by: bendigo
Mar 30, 2010 4:11 PM
27Tonga is amazing!
If you are seeking a destination that is uncommercialised, authentic, adventurous, & breathtaking, Tonga is for you. We are proud that Tonga is one of the few places in the world that has still not been affected by mass tourism & commercialism. We do not have the big hotel chains, McDonalds, etc., BUT we do have a pristine country, absolutely no crowds, adventure sports & activities, and an amazing culture that is authentic (and not just a show for tourists).
We are definitely off the beaten path, and that is exactly what makes TONGA so special.
If you would like to learn how you can have a "once in a lifetime" adventure, here are a few websites on Tonga:
Tonga's the real deal!
'Ofa 'atu and hope to see you soon!
Aug 21, 2010 6:44 AM
Dec 16, 2010 4:27 AM
29We are still missing Jetstar and New Zealand-origin Pacific Blue flights (possibly called Polynesian Blue)
It appears the mods have deleted both of my previous update posts, even though tall the information isn't in Tilos' above.
Los AngelesBook now
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Los AngelesBook now
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From US$149.00 per night