Today we’re moving on from Tongatapu to Vava’u. Before coming to Tonga I assumed Vava’u would be a nearby island. That’s usually how countries work, right? Island groupings within a reasonable distance? Well not really in this case. Vava’u is an hour’s flight away, about as far from the neighbouring country of Niue as from the Tongan capital. At least that somewhat explains why our tickets cost so much.
We set our alarms early enough that we have time to get up, return the car, and get to the airport for 10am. We’ve been told that Tongan flights don’t always leave on time. Sometimes they leave early if everyone is checked in, or get cancelled if not enough people book. We don’t want to take any risks so we plan to get there as early as possible.
We return the car, and I’m a little worried they’ll take note of the mud splatter from the accidental off-roading yesterday… but they give us the thumbs up and return our 200TOP deposit. Score.
While we’re waiting for the man with the money to return, his partner shows us a car that’s basically been totalled by a guy who drove into a fence. It’s now un-drive-able so I see now by comparison how a little mud splatter isn’t a problem.
We ring a taxi from the end of the driveway, but our rental guy jogs over and motions for us to come back. Ugh, he’s totally noticed. What are we gonna dooooooo?
He gets in the car and turns it on. I’m expecting him to point out a deflating tire or problem with the engine, but instead he asks us where we’re going and offers to drive. We’re heading to the airport which he seems less than stoked about (I think he assumed we were just popping into town) but insists on taking us anyway. So nice!!
The domestic airport is even more adorable than the tiny international airport we flew into. The arrival and departure gates are right next to each other, there’s a small cafe, and the check-in desk is just one lady on her own. They fill in the blanks to make up our boarding passes, and we go sit in 2 of the 15 plastic seats lining the wall.
There is a man in a reflector vest sawing a wooden sign in half, with his flimsy flip flop protected foot (alliteration!) to keep it still, as he saws towards himself. This man is about to lose a leg, or a testicle.
The plane to Vava’u is tiny. There are 3 seats on each row, and only about 20 rows in total. Like our flight to Tonga from Auckland, it’s only about 25% full. I’m happy it’s taking off at all. There are some laminated religious texts in the seat pockets….
We get a pretty epic view of the clear blue water surrounding tiny islands as we take off and land. The total trip takes less than an hour, and we arrive in humid, lush Vava’u just past noon.
So. We had planned to do this trip on a mega budget and stay in backpackers the whole time, making maybe one or two exceptions to stay in a hotel as a little treat. WELL. My parents are both wonderful and crazy, and treated us by arranging a resort in Vava’u, all the way from Canada. It all happened so fast that I barely looked at the e-mail confirmation, so we don’t even know what level of fancy we’re walking into.
One huge bonus is that the hotel guys are picking us up from the airport so we don’t have to worry about paying for a taxi. There’s someone waiting for us in the parking lot with a sign and we hop in his van. We drive for half an hour through an unbelievably beautiful, Jurassic Park-es que place, with that just-rained smell hanging heavily in the humid air. He takes us through the town, down a coastal path, and pulls over. He points to a boat and jokes that our captain is asleep on the roof. I’m sorry, our what? We’re getting on a boat? This boat? Are we going to an island? Aren’t we already on an island? Are we about to be murdered? It’s a surprise!
It’s funny how when you’re travelling you’re willing to just like…go places with strangers, and so readily allow them to hold your life in their hands.
We hop in the boat and go flying (driving? boating?) off. No idea where we’re headed or how long it will take. All we know is we’re now cruisin’ through clear blue waters, between small green islands, to a mystery destination. I thought Tongatapu was beautiful, but this is insane. So insane that I’m unfazed by the fact that it’s windy, cloudy, and drizzling a little. 10 minutes later, the engine shuts down and we approach a dock, where we are welcomed by a very smiley man who leads us up to a huge beach-side bungalow lobby for check-in.
We sit down in front of two young coconuts with twisty straws and a fresh picked flower garnish. We’re given an extensive introduction with info about the island and the activities available during our stay. The island is tiiiiiiiny. There is a village just a 10 minute walk from the resort with a population of 50 people, and 2 slightly larger villages on the southern side…which take about half an hour to walk to. There are no roads, no shops, no bars, just forest trails and beaches.
The white lines on the map are not roads, but forest trails. I’m surprised Google even picked that up.
Our host brings in the chef to ask about our dietary preferences and restrictions. We’re like “uhhhh…we’ll eat anything”….but is there street food somewhere? They go over how meals work on the resort, and it becomes clear there are no other options on the island. We look over the menu and both start to silently panic when we see 130 TOP for breakfast.
That’s 85 NZD/60 USD per day, my people. That’s too much for ANY breakfast, ever.
We try to play it cool but I’m realizing Dad had no idea we’d be this remote when he booked us into this paradise. We assumed we’d do our poor backpacker activities all day and come home to a private beach and luxury room… so what’s the plan now? Silver lining: I’m about to lose 10kgs over the next 4 days.
We smile and nod like we’re cool with the food sitch but I’m pretty sure the owner knows we’re dying inside. He shows us around the property and to our sea-view bungalow, which has a large deck with sun chairs, two big double beds, and a waterfall shower head in our own private bathroom.
Obviously the view is the most spectacular part, and I’m calm for a second, before I remember we can’t afford to eat. The last thing I want is to message my parents and be like wow thanks so much for this epic gift…but also I need you to pay for my meals now.
We look back over the food menu and realize 130 TOP is actually the inclusive price for breakfast, afternoon cake, a 3 course dinner, as well as tea and coffee. Okay. Not so bad. That’s still about 4x more than we’ve been spending, especially with our breakfast included in the hostel price in Tongatapu, but we also won’t be eating deep fried bread balls here.
We forcefully forget it all for a bit and take the glass bottom kayaks out for a spin. Well, we try. The wind is too strong and I’m being blown every which way so I turn back. We then take the free snorkel gear, but again, the wind is making the water choppy and I’m not gonna lie, I’m on edge after hearing about venomous water snakes and lion fish during our welcome chat. There’s also murdery centipedes on the island, but at least those can’t swim.
We give up on activities and enjoy our afternoon cake, which is banana bread. I realize being here is a little more isolated than any of us had expected, but it’s also epic. We had planned to fork out a little extra cash for a nice place to stay anyway, so spending that money on private island chef meals instead seems suitable. Maybe we’ll skip breakfast, and see if we can do just the main instead of a 3 course meal.
We sit down for dinner. Me, with my hair as wild as ever, having not been washed since we were in New Zealand on Monday, and Chesney, in shorts and a t-shirt. The other guests staying in the 4 other bungalows don’t come dressed overly fancy but don’t exactly look like we do. I didn’t even bring a nice top in my 28L pack.
A basket of home made bread comes and I’m 99% sure this is the first course. The owner mentioned something about lobster bisque so I’m expecting soup as our main. When the bisque arrives in a cocktail glass I start to worry we’ll be poor AND starve here, but then our dishes are taken away, full sized cutlery is replaced, and I realize there is still a main course to come. The bread was just bread. Awesome. A gnocchi style dish is served with fresh fish, tomatoes, cucumber, eggplant, and a basil garnish. Delish.
For dessert there is coconut custard with finely diced watermelon cubes, and I’ve come to terms with paying for these incredible meals. It’s such a treat to be able to do something like this so unexpectedly on a backpackers vacation.
Dad asked me not to give he and Mom a “shout out” (he even put the term in quotation marks himself) but too late, thanks so much for hookin’ us up fam.
Tomorrow we’ll be swimming with whales, which is what we came to Vava’u for in the first place. Our host set us up with it almost immediately after we arrived, and when he says we’ll be going with the best tour operator in Tonga, I look around and feel like I have good reason to believe him.