I came from Vanuatu to Tonga via Fiji. At the time, the only open borders nearby were Samoa and Tonga. Originally, I was going to go to Samoa, but Samoa plane tickets were sold out, so I came to Tonga. I was worried about a huge volcanic eruption in Tonga, which happened a year ago. But the person who runs the local hotel said everything was normal.
If you look at the map of Tonga, the islands are all spread far apart. About 100,000 people live in Tonga, and about 200,000 live abroad. The people of Vanuatu, the country I traveled to previously, were Melanesian, but the Tonga I was traveling to is Polynesian. Compared to previous Vanuatu blog post, you can see that people’s appearance is different. Melanesians look a bit like Africans, Polynesians look a bit like Southeast Asians.
This was the box I got from Australia. I had been on more than 4 flights with this box. So the box was tattered, but I taped it and continued to use it. I took a photo at the airport to celebrate for arriving a new country and moved with the hotel car.
I started CrossFit in Vanuatu to stay strong to control my mind which became empty often since Pandemic. When I looked for it in Tonga, there was a CrossFit gym near my accommodation. I woke up at 5:30 in the morning, prepared, and set out.
A middle-aged woman hotel owner told me early morning could be dangerous to go out. But when I saw the road, there were people going to pray at dawn and others walking on the road, so I felt safe. It was less than 5 minutes if I ran.
After CrossFit, I sweat a lot, and most of all, it was good to be motivated because it was a group exercise.
Breakfast was also included in the accommodation, and it was really nice to eat while looking at the scenery outside. I bought this book because it was sold at USP University in Fiji only for 50 cents. It was a story that anonymously released what happened to Solomon Islands women in the 1970s and 80s.
There were many stories; Forced marriage, a woman who graduated from college was denied to get married due to her high education, a girl left her local boyfriend after meeting a western man, three friends went to the island to get wood and almost got kidnapped by a man, a girl finished college with the help of a missionary and became a teacher, etc.
Tongan banknotes. Prices in Tonga were similar to Fiji or slightly cheaper than Fiji.
On the way to downtown, I saw locals selling fruit next to the road.
Contrary to news reports around the world saying like Tonga disappeared after a volcanic eruption, Tonga returned to normal. But it was difficult to find a follow-up report on the tranquility of Tonga.
In the city, I could see a place where a bookstore and a PC room were operated together.
There was also a CD store, and there were quite a few Korean movies, music, and dramas.
It was the largest supermarket in Tonga, and there were many New Zealand products. Of course, there were also Australian products. I had noticed almost all supermarkets in Tonga, including the countryside, were run by Chinese.
There were a fruit and vegetable market and also a handicraft shop next to it.
Next to the market, locals enjoyed playing checkers.
On the way back to the accommodation, I saw the children playing water rugby.
There was a place where a street market was held on weekends, but most of them were selling clothes. The interesting thing was people moving slowly in the car and looking around. It looked like an American drive-thru. In Tonga, I had felt every house seemed to have at least one car.
I got to know a Tonga Tourism Organization employee and was invited to go to church. In front a girl was shedding tears as talking about what happened during the volcanic eruption. Although Tonga had now recovered to normal life, the shock at that time still left a big scar in people’s hearts.
In Tonga, as in Fiji and Vanuatu, many people have converted to Christianity. In the West, where Christianity spread their religion to the South Pacific, the number of devout religious people has decreased compared to the past, but the South Pacific still tries to live as a very sacred religious person. So on Sundays, most of the shops were closed to go to Church. Personally, I really liked that it was very quiet on Sundays in Fiji and Vanuatu.
But Tonga was far more devout, so every stores were closed on Sundays except hotels and three restaurants. It closes the door thoroughly enough to give the feeling that whole world has stopped.
When I arrived in Tonga, I found out that there was a humpback whale tour. It was US$200 for a 7 hour tour and Tonga was one of the few countries where you could swim with humpback whales. It was a pretty expensive tour, but it felt like a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
There was a humpback whale tour company near the accommodation, so we took a boat there. On that day, a total of 12 people applied for the swim and were divided into 3 teams. We rode the boat for about an hour. Afterwards, we tried to find a humpback whale while circling the area. When we spotted a humpback whale, stopped the boat nearby and turned off the engine. Afterwards, when the three teams each had their turn, we had to swim to the humpback whales, and it was a very physically demanding tour.
When humpback whales appeared, we must jump right into the sea without having plenty of the time to prepare. We had to swim like crazy to catch up the guide trying to go near humpback whales, but most of the humpback whales had swam away and disappeared. After I repeat this 3-4 times, I wondered what I was doing.
One time a humpback whale jumped in the distance and it was really cool. I couldn’t swim with the humpback whale yet until afternoon. After having a simple lunch, we circled around again, and when I heard the call of my team, I quickly put on my equipment, jumped into the water, and swam like crazy.
I was thinking of going back to the ship for the next team as I couldn’t see any whale. But suddenly under the me, there was a giant humpback whale. It is said that humpback whales swim from Antarctica to Tonga to give birth, and leave for Antarctica again after 3 to 4 months. So, I was embarrassed because the mother whale was nowhere to be seen. Just as I was worried that I might have gotten caught between the mother and baby whales, a huge whale appeared underneath. What I thought was a mother whale turned out to be a baby. I was really grateful to the humpback whale for such a wonderful spectacle. It was worth swimming all day.
After returning to the port, I saw the local fisherman was selling the fish he caught that day.
After whale tour, I started cycling around Tonga’s main island. There were so many nice big houses that look like this in the picture. I felt that People in Tonga were more financially stable than in Vanuatu and Fiji. It seemed that many people in Tonga send money by working in New Zealand and Australia.
I got permission from the locals for one night to pitch my tent in the front yard.
The next morning, I saw a woman selling a barbecue on the side of the road, so I stopped and bought a load of meat. In Tonga, there were many places that sold barbecue and fried chicken, so I ate them almost every day.
Upon entering the beach where the resort was located, it was unfortunate to see the remains of buildings collapsed due to the tsunami of the volcanic eruption.
Most of the locals’ homes only suffered flood damage, while resorts built on the beach collapsed. At the time, the border was closed due to the pandemic, so there were not many tourists and there were no major casualties at resorts.
This boulder was said to be the largest one in the world among the boulders driven by the tsunami.
It was nice that there were places that looked very nice on the sea in the middle.
After that, I couldn’t find the accommodation, but the night came. I asked a local family if I could pitch my tent, and I was invited to sleep inside. After that, the man asked me to show my passport and after that he asked me many questions. In Africa, I had been asked to show my passport quite a few times when trying to get permission for a tent for the night, so it was not an unfamiliar experience.
The next morning, I started riding my bike in the rain. I was so hungry, but I couldn’t find an open restaurant because it was Sunday.
I saw a lot of pigs raised by the side of the road freely. But I didn’t know why they didn’t sell pork barbecue. Pork seemed to be eaten only during family events.
I came to the most famous and important historical site in Tonga, but it was closed because it was Sunday. As I said before, even the most important tourist destinations were closed on Sundays.
I zoomed in and took a picture. It was a Tongan ruins built in the 13th century. It was said that the god Maui built it because it was too heavy for humans to lift. Come to think of it, it seemed to be the first time to visit historic sites in the South Pacific. I thought it was because natural disasters were frequent. So I felt the dignity of the surviving ruins.
Even if group tourists come, it was the same that they did not open the door.
Soon after, another site came out, but it was also closed.
In front of the church, I talked to a local person and he let me take a picture. Locals wore their own traditional clothes during events and worship.
I often saw Mormons while riding my bicycle.
During my world tour, I have seen that every country has its own burial customs.
Social issues that each country places importance on could be seen through advertisement signs. It is said that Tonga has a high obesity rate, but since I ate fried chicken and barbecue chicken every day while staying in Tonga, I was not in a position to say anything about that.
I often saw something like the sign at the top of the picture. I was not sure if it was a loan advertisement or an accounting advertisement, but there seemed to be many houses running something like this in almost every neighborhood.
In Vanuatu and Fiji, places like gas stations were open on Sundays, but in Tonga, they were very strictly closed.
After cycling around Tonga, I returned to the capital. No matter how slowly I cycled, the island was small, so I could go around it in two or three days only.
It was a pity that the humpback whale swimming was too short at the time, so this time I decided to go to a place called Vavau Island for trying it again. The boat that connected between Vavau Island and the capital departed only once a week, but was said to be canceled if the waves were rough. The problem was that I bought a plane ticket to leave Tonga in a week, so if the ferry is canceled next week, I would lose my plane ticket. I hoped that there would be no problems with the weather for the return.
seawater came into the boat front, fortunately, my bike was locked in a cage safely.
It took more than 24 hours, so I did some video editing on the way. If I had to pick one of the hardest things while traveling the world, I must say blog posts and video updates. However, after posting a travel journal like this, I can organize what I have learned and felt, so it is a must-do.
I fell asleep late night on the bench and woke up, but the ferry was quiet. As it turned out, the ferry stopped for a while at the halfway point. I tried to leave in a hurry because the proper food was not sold inside the ship, but it was already preparing for departure.
I had no choice but to buy snacks and coffee for breakfast and spend time reading the boos I bought in Fiji.
When I arrived at Vavau Island, the color of the water looked completely different from the main island that it looked a so beautiful place for the vacation.
Finally arrived at Vavau Island.
The fish caught and sold that day were seen in the port.
The town was small and cute. There were also many sail boats in the distance.
There was a cafe run by a foreigner for nearly 20 years. There was the list of typhoon which the cafe survived from. I wondered if one of the reasons why the South Pacific was difficult to develop was natural disasters cause it would cost a lot of money for restoration nearly every year.
I stopped by a tourism office to ask about humpback whale company lists and on the way out, I was lucky to see girls practicing a traditional Tongan dance.
Tourism was hit hard by the pandemic, and on top of that, the worldwide news that reported Tonga as if it had disappeared from the face of the earth made tourism worse. So at the time, it was difficult to find a company running humpback whale tours. Fortunately, I found one tour company, and there were a total of 5 people on our boat, so we were divided into two teams and were able to swim more than last time.
After a long boat ride, they spot a humpback whale, which excited everyone on board. Everyone hurriedly prepared and jumped into the sea, but the whale quickly disappeared from sight. After that, I climbed back into the boat and repeated it. The guide said that the whale didn’t want to swim with us and suggested we moved. For a moment, I had doubts about it. Were we stalking the same whale?
After that, we went to a place quite far away and I was worried because the waves were rough. Afterwards, we moved to a place where the waves were calm again and had lunch on the boat.
We moved again and there was another tourist boat already. And finally, it was our turn to jump into the sea, and the humpback whale was so still that we could see it closely. After two or three swims like that, the guide told us it was time to go back because the whales needed to rest now.
On the way back, I felt guilty somehow. I like animals. That’s why I don’t like zoos made for people’s fun, and I don’t like animal shows either.
The African Serengeti tour was similar to the humpback whale tour, but I didn’t feel guilty because the land was so enormous and I saw a variety of animals. My recent tour of swim with manta rays in Fiji was similar like this, but there were many manta rays in the area that we didn’t have to keep chasing them in a boat.
I realized there was a big reason why this tour made me uncomfortable. When I watched the humpback whale tour on YouTube, I didn’t think people were bothering the whales because whale seemed to be still. However, after having real tour, I felt that we were stalking whales.
Female whale swim 6,000 km (3,700 miles) from Antarctic to the South Pacific to give birth and raise calf from July to Oct. Whales eats up to two tons of krill a day in general. But there was no krill to eat in the south pacific, so female whales lose 25% of their body weight by the time they return to Antarctica. And I felt I am bothering this incredible hard journey.
The Tongan government regulates humpback whale tourism extremely strict compared to neighboring Tahiti and French Polynesia where many sail boats chase humpback whales without permission. I appreciated Tongan government for caring this much, but I was still not comfortable with it. So I will try to not go on a humpback whale tour next time if I get a chance.
By my standards, the African safari tour was fine. But some people might say no to an African safari tour, saying it’s stalking. This seems like a problem based on standards set by each person. So, if you want to take a humpback whale tour, it’s up to you.
As a tip, if you go to Tonga for the humpback whales tour, you have to tour 3-4 times a week to be satisfied and it would cost $200 to $300 for one tour. Even there is a chance you might not see whales if you are really unlucky. The most important thing is that you must be physically strong since you must keep jumping to open sea several times. (There was a person on our boat who couldn’t swim fast enough due to exhaustion at the end and missed seeing whales.)
On the way back to the accommodation after the humpback whale tour, I saw a local who was holding a funeral.
Before touring the island by bicycle, I went to the port to find out about the ferry schedule. Fortunately, this week’s ship would go without any problems and I got a chance to take the picture with Tongan official wearing traditional Tongan clothe.
Church in the village
Vavau Island was much more beautiful and pretty than the main island.
While resting on the beach, I was able to chat with the locals waiting for the boat.
It was a church in the countryside, and people hit the wood in front of it to inform the worship time.
I saw many sail boats on one side of the island, which was for keeping boats for a long time. There was also a toilet and shower, so people could here for a long time like a caravan park. Will I ever be able to afford a sailboat one day? haha
I left Vavau Island behind and took a ferry to go back to the main island.
We stopped the boat at the halfway point late in the afternoon.
I looked around the island I had missed last time and bought some snacks to eat.
Ship leaving the harbor at sunset
Late at night, I saw a boat standing in the middle of the sea. When I went out, I saw small boats surrounding us. They pulled boats from neighboring islands, exchanged goods, and loaded and unloaded people.
I was sleeping in the middle of the night and something ichy me. There were no mosquitoes, but I looked closely and caught a bed bug. Bed bug bites me in Fiji, Vanuatu and Tonga. However, unlike other continental bed bugs, South Pacific bed bugs are not a big problem because they can be recognized immediately when bitten and are not insanely itchy that they are just like mosquitoes.
I arrived at the main island early in the morning. The next day, I would take a plane to leave Tonga. So before leaving, I had an interview with the Tonga tourism office. There was news all over the world that an explosion bigger than an atomic bomb had occurred in Tonga, but I couldn’t find any recent news Tonga was back to normal now. so I decided to conduct an interview in person.
I asked what the impact was at the time of the volcanic eruption, how it was restored, and what the current situation is like. Unfortunately, not many people watched it. The saddest thing about few follower is this. The lack of followers means that I couldn’t help people when I really want.
There are some things I felt while traveling in Tonga. Tongan people were proud that Tonga had become an independent country, and above all, had great pride in that it had never been colonized. In fact, if you look at the South Pacific, all Melanesian countries are independent countries, and Micronesia is all independent countries except for Guam. However, most Polynesian countries ceded land to other countries.
Why didn’t most Polynesian countries become independent countries?
About 5,000 years ago, the aborigines of Taiwan spread throughout the South Pacific.
It first settled in the Philippines about 3,000 years ago, and then spread to Papa Newgia, Fiji, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu, where the people living here became Melanesian.
The people who sailed north and settled about 2,000 years ago became Micronesians.
People who sailed further east and settled about 1,000 years ago became Polynesians.
So I guess the reason most Polynesian countries didn’t become independent was because they didn’t live together for long compared to others. The point where the first humans in Samoa and Tonga started is between 2,000 and 3,000 years ago, and the settlement history is earlier than that of other Polynesian countries, and I think this has been a great help to stand as an independent country.
Looking at the migration history of the South Pacific like this, I wondered how the human race was scattered from Africa.
[Wikipedia Homo sapiens migration map (Kya means a thousand years)]
The first human, Homo sapiens, appeared in Africa 200,000 years ago. After that, they migrated to each continent, and if you look at the order, it looks like this.
Africa 200,000 years ago -> Middle East 70,000 years ago -> South Asia (India), Australia 65,000 years ago -> Turkey 50,000 years ago -> Europe, China 45,000 years ago -> Southern Russia 40,000 years ago -> Korea, Japan 35,000 years ago -> Northern Russia 30,000 years ago -> North America 16,000 years ago -> Central and South America 14,000 years ago -> Northern Europe, Far East 12,000 years ago -> Micronesian, Melanesian 5,000 years ago -> Polynesian 1,000 years ago
Why did the skin color change so much? Melanin protects DNA from damage from UV rays. Melanin is a dark brown pigment, so the more it is produced, the darker the skin color is. So, people living in the southern hemisphere, where ultraviolet rays hit hard, had dark skin colors, and people living in the northern hemisphere had light skin colors.
Human migration has been very slow, so sudden migrations can cause adverse reactions in the body. For example, Europeans from the Northern Hemisphere who settle in Southern Hemisphere, such as Australia, are more likely to develop skin cancer due to lack of melanin, and Africans from the Southern Hemisphere who settle in North America or Europe are more likely to develop rickets, a disease in which bones are bent or weakened due to excessive melanin.
On the morning of my departure, I went to CrossFit. I sweated so much that I felt alive and I liked it.
The hotel owner had two dogs. A three-legged dog was much more active than four-legged dog.
Sometimes I organized my medications like this. Cut the finished medicine, trim the remaining medicine tip so that it is not sharp, and put it in a bag.
It was much safer to carry in two layers.
Since I was constantly taking the planes in the South Pacific, I was able to box the bike in under an hour easily. I wanted to see other islands in the South Pacific, but I felt like I was about to go bankrupt because the cost of getting my bike on a plane every time was expensive, and the South Pacific countries were expensive. If I can afford it later, I want to visit various countries in the South Pacific and learn more about their cultures. I had many challenges mentally during the pandemic, but it was really nice to know a new continent called the South Pacific because of the pandemic.
While writing the blog, I realized an interesting fact. My first visit to the South Pacific was Rapa Nui Easter Island in 2012, where there are Moai statues. At the time, I did not fully understand Polynesia when I wrote about it on my blog, but now I can understand my 2012 post completely with my head and heart. Traveling to the South Pacific gave me the feeling of putting the last puzzle piece of the 7th continent, so I think it was a great fortune to know this continent.
At the end of 2022, I finally heard the news that the Taiwan border would open. However, I have to go through 4 flights in 4 days. The biggest concern would be whether the tattered box will survive. Since there was no proper bicycle shop in the South Pacific, I carried my bicycle with the same box, but I hoped that my bicycle box would survive well to the end.
❤️ Thank you for reading my long travelogue.
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===Videos about Tonga Trip from my YouTube channel===
Vlog about Going from Fiji to Tonga
Tonga Capital Tour
Tonga Bike Tour
Humpback Whale Tour Vlog
Vavau Island Bike Tour Vlog
Interview about the volcanic eruption in Tonga and the current situation now