The island group of Ha’apai is only visited by a handful of tourists each year, and yet it has the beaches of travel posters and catalogues. This is a place where it easy to find kilometres with deserted, white, palm-fringed beaches, and absolutely impossible to find an Internet connection.
Landing in Ha’apai was exciting. The island is pretty narrow, so the runway runs from coast to coast. The main road actually crosses the runway, and has to be closed just like a railway crossing when a plane arrives.
As soon as had got lunch in the capital Pangai (population 2846) we immediately took off for the deserted island Uoleva. Pacific Monthly magazine (or something remotely similar) gave Uoleva the best beach in Tonga award in 1998. And it is not difficult to see why. This is the stuff travel catalogues are made off. Just the two of us, and three other people on the entire island. And we even got lobster for dinner.
The next day we had a chance to dive with a guy called Roland. He looked a bit like the “Iron jaw” baddie from an early James Bond movie. Tall, blond, tanned and really strong. The Lonely planet guidebook says that: “Some readers have found diving with this organisation a little too adventurous…” And I can see why. For one, Roland was the only one on the boat. That means that the boat was simply anchored, and everybody jumped into the sea. There was no one left on the boat to go and pick up the divers if they surface somewhere else. On the first dive there was a bit of sea, and the current was really strong. We nearly drifted away, and had to struggle to swim back to the boat. There was a British girl with us that got so scared that she decided not to go in the water again. However, the second dive was much better. Diving here was better than in Vava’u.
Afterwards, we caught a local boat going south to ‘Uiha. It was a bit confusing, because we didn’t know where we were going, and the local people on the boat where not too communicative. In the end, we hitched a ride on ‘Uiha to go to the Esi’o’ma’afu homestay.
Esi’o’ma’afu had the best write-up in Lonely Planet, but we didn’t find it all that special. The husband of the lady who now runs it died late last year, and I think that made a big difference.
‘Uiha was just about to get electricity. As soon as the generator is built, they are going to have a really neat system to pay for the power. No large unexpected electricity bills in Tonga, no. After they build the electricity plant people are actually going to have to buy prepaid power cards (just like phone card), and stick that into a box whenever they want electricity. Good idea, or what?
In the end we got away from Esi’o’ma’afu and caught an early plane to Tonga’tapu.