Tonga's nature wonderland

Have you ever been down an English country lane? Or driven across the prairies of Kansas or been out beyond the Back of Bourke in Australia ?
If so, then you know a degree of isolation and the feeling being alone. But come to the island of 'Eua in the Kingdom of Tonga and isolation is taken to a new level of awareness.
It's not that there are no people; there are some. It's not that there are no cars; there are some of these too.
It's just that you experience an overwhelming feeling that you - and you alone - have just discovered the best kept secret of the Pacific: 'Eua.
And what a gem it is - rain forests, beaches, caves, rugged bush walks, a national park and scenery to knock your socks off ! Slowly, ever so slowly, 'Eua is starting to turn its gaze on to the world of tourism. It's not rushing head first into tourism; it's more like taking a gentle stroll, tipping toes in the water and finding out just how tourism can help 'Eua and how `Eua can help its visitors. Apart from the physical beauty of the island there are some marine attributes that will delight visitors.
All year there are dolphins playing around 'Eua and then from June to November there is a steady stream of magnificent humpback whales gliding past 'Eua on the way to their local breeding grounds.
These are whales you can see most days by sitting on land and looking there / or there and just out to sea.
Another marine delight of 'Eua is reserved for divers. It's a delight that many who have dived at the best spots in the world say that there is none better than the underwater caves of 'Eua.

We found a Cathedral !
By Herbert Keller, Deep Blue Diving, Nuku'alofa, Tonga

l've dived all over the world and I firmly believe that Tonga is definitely one of the world's best dive  spots. It has drop-offs, sea mountains, caves... in fact, it has so many dive sites that it fulfils every wish a diver can have. To most people diving in Tonga means Vava'u and Ha'apai, but as our present to the new millennium, we discovered a huge cathedral near the "forgotten Island" of `Eua.
The cathedral is about 100 metres long, 50 metres wide and 30 metres deep. The entrante is at 28 metres. You come into a big hall wish three largish holes on top. Light pours in as if a spotlight has been turned on. The last hole in the cathedral is nearly on the surface and directly in front of the 'Eua clif. . When you look up from the 28-metre mark to the hole you can see and hear the breakers. It is a natural spectacle and one that is hard to beat. In the end wall there is a 20-metre tunnel that allows you to dive up into a big cave which goes up almost to the surface and faces the ocean.
We have already found another two caves and still there are other tunnels are to be explored. 
On the way back to the entrance you pass sharks, groupers, schoolfish etc.
After leaving the cave you come to a drop-off full of all kinds of coral and coral fish. Schoolfish guide you back to the wall, where another cave is waiting for your visit.
'Eua, "the forgotten Island", is slowly waking up.

We like the difference !
By Jeff Hausla, president of the `Eua Tourist Association

One of the great things about 'Eua is that it is different.
It certainly is different from flat Tongatapu, it's nothing like Ha'apai and it could never be mistaken for Vava'u. In fact, 'Eua is one of these places that doesn't remind you of anywhere else in the world.
It is that differente that makes it such an outstanding place to live and to visit. You can find beaches, mountains, caves, farms, rivers, reefs, whales, dolphins, rugged cliff faces, lonely tracks, airports and guest houses all over the world. But 'Eua has all this in just one little package.
If I was to be driving you around I would take you first past the Royal estate to a place where a palace once stood. There we would look down the face of some extremely high rugged cliffs and just watch the sea birds soar.
I would retreat and leave you alone and let you really enjoy the solitude and the freshest of breezes blowing through your hair.
Then we would head for the National Park and set out on foot to find the waterfalls (they are great), have a quiet cup of coffee (Royal coffee, off course) before taking off to the caves. All through this area there are some really steep inclines and it is not a place for the family sedan.
The caves are really tremendous but to get the best out of them you need to be an experienced caver.
Before heading for the beaches we would try to a bit of bird watching. There are 13 land bird species on 'Eua and one, the koki, can only be found here. It's a bird that was introduced from Fiji and its brightly coloured feathers are used in handicrafts. It used to be found on Tongatapu, but not these days.
We would then take off for the beaches and maybe it will be the right time for a quick swim.
I have only shown you part of the island, use the rest of your time to explore at your leisure.

So what's there to do? 

If you want a holiday that includes an active night life, fine restaurants, places where the wine list itself is a highlight then by coming to 'Eua you have just come to the wrong place.
Holidaying in 'Eua is more like walking, swimming talking, listening and drinking in the atmosphere of the island. There are so few places left in the world like 'Eua that it should be appreciated for what it is and not for what it could be.
The tourism infrastructure is basic and it is basically restricted to a motel and a few guest houses. There are also plenty of places for campers but here too the facilities are restricted.
So, really, what is there to do? Well, how about a long hike through the National Park, through the extremely fertile farming lands followed by a swim in pristine waters. If you are an experienced caver then you may venture into some of the caves which go along for more than one kilometre and down for more than 100 metres.
What about doing some fishing off the rocks along with the locals or attending one of the many churches to hear some absolutely beautiful singing.
Or going out with local fishermen to see the whales and dolphins. There's also the opportunity to go bareback horse riding and to map out your own adventures.
'Eua is not a place where adventures are tailor-made for visitors but it is a place where visitors can go adventuring.
It's a simple place where you can simply do your own thing.

A bit of history...

It seems that Abel Tasman was the first European to sight 'Eua and in January 1643 he gave it the unlikely name of Middleburgh. Now 'Eua isn't in the middle of anywhere as Captain James Cook found out when he landed there in October 1773. Cook liked the place, called the passage through the reef to 'Ohonua the 'English Road' and jotted down the earliest written records on life in 'Eua and on its environment.
In his writings Cook noted that the south-west and north-west sides of the island, from the coast to about a mile inland, "appeared mostly occupied with plantations... the interior part were but little cultivated, tho' very proper for it; here we see groves of coconut and other trees and lawns covered with the finest grass, here and there plantations and paths leading to every part of the island in such beautiful disorder as greatly heightens the prospect."
Nearly 230 years later that "beautiful disorder" still "greatly heightens the prospect" of a wonderful holiday on 'Eua.

...and a bit of modern history

'Eua has a population of 5000 in about 800 households divided between 13 or so villages.
The capitai of `Ohonua, which has the wharf, the shops, the government offices and most of accommodation, has a population of about 1250.
The population is made of there groups:

  • the original 'Euans who are closely related to the peoples of Tongatapu
  • the people of the remote island of Ata who were moved to 'Eua in 1860 to protect them from the Peruvian slave traders

  • the people of Niuafo'ou who were evacuated to 'Eua in 1946 following a volcanic eruption on therr home island.

'Eua's society is very much a subsistence one but the extra agriculture and handicraft products find ready outlets in the markets of Nuku'alofa.



Produced for the Tonga Visitors Bureau by the Tongan New Zealand Official Development Assistance Nature Tourism Programme.

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