Tonga: Vava’u

So, I guess you cannot blame us for our radio silence of 1.5 month, given that our flight from Honolulu to Tonga had an engine failure and we made an emergency landing… After this near-death experience, we decided to quit our jobs, and travel the world! … Oh wait, we are already doing that!

Hmm, better truly switch off while discovering the Pacific then (easy as the internet is spotty) 🙂

Our adventure to get to Tonga started with a long flight with two scheduled stops. The first one was Christmas Island, also called Kiribati. It’s a small island nation, and from what we saw (see the photo below), there’s hardly any people or houses.


We stopped there for an hour while staying in the plane, then left for Nadi, Fiji. But then, while flying over the ocean…

Engine failure!

Giving your family panic attacks from our “just-in-case” emergency messages!

Emergency landing!

View of Samoa prior to emergency landing. Getting quite nervous…

Safe to say, this was not how we imagined our day would go…

The emergency landing went smoothly however, and none of the fire trucks standing in wait had to assist, fortunately.

And then we found ourselves in Apia, in Samoa. We went through customs, and shortly thereafter heard another plane would come from Fiji in 4 hours to pick us up. Yaaay!

So we took a selfie outside Apia airport to celebrate another country visited (and being alive), and waited for the plane to pick us up.

Picture proof: out of the Apia airport in Samoa, meaning new country checked off the list:P

We arrived in the dead of night in Fiji. Sleeping 3 hours in our accomodation, we then left it again for our flight to Tonga.

Fiji’s Nadi airport

No hassle this time, and after an uneventful two hours, we arrived safely in Vava’u, Tonga!

Coral reef on the middle of the ocean. Would sure love to dive there!
From the sky, you can clearly see the Tongan drop-offs. A few hunderd meters from shore the depth is already over a kilometer; great to see large pelagics like the whale


One of the tiniest airports we’ve ever seen!

We discovered upon unpacking our bags that we were robbed sometime during our flight of our razorblades and shavers we bought to last us for our whole trip. That seemed like an insignificant thing, however, after what we went through to get here;)

Happy to be alive, we chilled in our accomodation for the rest of the day.

The next day, we took the bikes from our accomodation, and decided to discover the small island that is Vava’u:

Piggies ruffling through the coconut peels & mud
All grave sites look colourful in Tonga; full of flowers, banners and pictures! And what a view to be buried here;)
The market place of Neiafu
One of a dozen churches on the small island
Drying tree bark, used to make traditional tapa tapistry

We ended the day by hiking up to the tallest hill in Vava’u, Mount Talau, for some views.




Tonga is a developing nation, in large contrast to the US, where we just came from!

The next day, it was our first day (out of three) of going on a boat to see & snorkel with whales. We were extremely excited:) This is why we’re here! It was a very rainy & windy day, and Jos even got seasick, but it was all worth it when we saw the whales!

We saw 8 whales in total that day. You can only snorkel with whales that don’t move around (too much), so you had to be a bit lucky as well. We were able to swim with 4! In the pictures the water looks merky, but that’s the GoPro focussing on the algae in the water… The first whale we snorkeled with, was actually a curious baby whale. She came up to us from behind, giving us a big scare. After a second, we realised we were finally swimming with a whale, and a baby even, and were extatic. The baby whale dove down quickly to her mother, but it was a great first encounter! The picture at the top of the page is this baby humpback;)

The humpback whale and her baby!


That evening, we had a local feast at our accomodation, featuring local dance, music and food. The roasted pig was delicious!


After a day of rest (Sunday is holy in Christian Tonga), we went on the boat again on Monday.

We saw 4 whales this time, and we able to swim with 3 (mum, calf and male escort). Although there was less rain than on our first day, we did have a rough sea and lots of wind. Fortunately no seasickness for Jos anymore due to new medication:)





At the end of the day, our boat shortly stopped at a reef so we could do a snorkle there as well. We saw many jellyfish, and also a lot of bioluminescence! While diving down, you could hear whales “sing” in the distance; pretty cool!

On our last day on the boat, we finally had some sunshine! With an open boat, this makes a lot of difference in comfort level;) We saw 12 whales during the day, but had trouble to find stationary whales to get in the water with.

Whale jumping out of the water! He was actually not so far away, but the GoPro’s wide angle lense makes him look very small;)

Almost ready to give up after 5 hours, we finally got to swim with 3 whales, 2 males fighting for a female one. The males were moving around the stationary female, so we got a good half hour of non-stop swimming with them!

One time the two males swam underneath us at full speed, and then you really see how powerful they are, and how they hold in when they are around us. The whales breach close to you, and you can hear them sing, feel their spray landing on your head, and the waves from their breaching impacting you. It was the best experience so far! A whale even swam right underneath Jos to breach in front of her:)


We ended our day at Swallow’s cave, a large cave partially submerged where huge (>100’000) schools of fish are taking shelter from the ocean. It was mesmerizing to watch the school move as one, and we thoroughly enjoyed diving through them!


On our final full day in Vava’u, we walked an hour to a beach resort, and spent the day chilling at the beach and snorkeling. The snorkeling was pretty good, and we saw many colours of seastars, clownfish, lobster, crab, anemone shrimps, and schools of trevallies and other fish. As if large pelagics weren’t enough, there’s plenty of other stuff to see here as well!

Our new friend Freddy! He loved the smell of our fish & chips we ordered at the resort, and then he followed us everywhere 🙂
Freddy strotting his stuff!

We had a great time in Vava’u.


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