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Meeting The Locals In Hunga

Grape Ape just loves riding in the dink when we tow it behind Dazzler!

We departed Neiafu and headed south just a little over an hour to the island of Hunga. We’ve heard it’s a virtual utopia so we’re pretty jazzed about checking this place out.

Of course nothing truly great comes easy and Hunga is no exception. The entrance into the lagoon is very narrow and the water is pretty shallow. In fact, you do NOT want to try this entrance unless you are very close to high tide and certainly not on a day when there is a big swell crashing through the narrow opening in the rocks. Nope, this one has to be timed almost perfectly.  

We’d been given instructions as to how to come in from Barry, the owner of the Hunga Haven Lodge. Fortunately there is very little swell and we arrived just after high tide. As we approach the narrow opening I’m stationed on the bow as usual. My sphincter factor is quite high and I’m holding my breath as we get closer. The water is very clear an you can see huge rocks and bommies all around and underneath us. Of course Dan is the epitome of calm. There’s a huge rock that sits right in the middle of the entrance. Once that is on our leftt we were told to turn to 115° magnetic. Dan makes the turn and I’m still very antsy up here. I keep asking him our depth. He gives me what’s on the screen in front of him but I know there’s an offset so we’ve actually got four feet in addition to that.

“Fifteen feet, eight feet, six feet”and then he stops calling it out. I can see the bommies crystal clear below us.

“What is the depth?”I plead. 

“You don’t want to know.”he replied.

I’m just waiting to feel a bump on the bottom of our beautiful Dazzler when I hear him through he headset…“Alright, should be getting deeper now. Yep, ten feet, thirteen feet, twenty feet.”

Finally I start to breathe again. That was almost as scary as entering Fakarava in the Tuamotus. Well, maybe not that scary but it was pretty gut wrenching for me anyway. As I look around, however, I can see that it was completely worth it. This amazing bay is like heaven on earth and better yet….we’re the only boat here! It’s like having paradise all to ourselves.

We locate the mooring balls in front of Barry’s lodge and before long we’ve hooked up and our enjoying a couple of anchor down beverages. AHHH! This is amazing! 

We put the outboard on Sparkle and headed to shore to meet Barry. We arrive and are greeted on the beach by his dog, Rocky. Boy, Rocky’s got the life. He lives on four acres of island splendor spending most of his days relaxing on the beach. Soon Barry walks down from his house to greet us. He’s followed by his cat, Emily. another furry friend who is enjoying the heavenly life. She’s a pretty cool cat too. I’ve never seen a cat hanging out on a beach before. Barry says she even fishes. She waits for the baitfish to come up with a wave and then jumps in and gets them. Now that’s pretty neat! Barry is very kind and spends twenty minutes or so telling us all of the things to see and do here. 

We leave and take a dinghy ride around the lagoon to see what we will do the following day. There’s snorkeling and shelling and a visit to the village and of course, just relaxing on Dazzler. Yes, we’ve got a lot planned.

The following morning we took the dink to the south end of the bay. There is a pass there that leads to the Blue Lagoon. No, not the same one from the movie. That’s actually in Fiji and we will visit it when we go there next month. Anyway, this blue lagoon is pretty awesome. It’s also pretty dangerous. There are reefs everywhere you look. People are known to sail into there and anchor but that’s not for us. If you had to bug out due to changing weather you could very easily run into one of those reefs and sink your boat. Nope, we try to be a whole lot more thoughtful about the places we drop our hook. It was dangerous enough tooling around there in Sparkle. We will NOT be taking Dazzler there.

We didn’t stay over there long because it was pretty rough and the tide was going out. The pass dries up completely when that happens. Neither of us wanted to be stuck there until the next high tide, nor did we want to have to try to carry the dink over the pass so after a brief ride along the beach dodging the reef we headed back to Hunga lagoon.

We headed back to the north end of the bay where the Hunga Village is located. We docked at the wharf and then walked up the very steep concrete road to get to the village. Boy, if ever you think you have it hard you should just stop to think of these villagers.  Their homes are nothing more than a square box like building. Many have no windows or doors and even those that do have to leave them open because of the warm, tropical weather. You can see inside them as you walk by and there is little to no furniture. Mostly they sit on the hard concrete floors. 

As we walked through the village we saw pigs running freely around and even saw a few sheep and some horses. We came upon a couple of guys working on a tractor. Tonga introduced himself to us and we stood and chatted with them a bit. He lives in Nuku’alofa and is just here on the island for a few weeks to help them do some repairs. He was very friendly so we chatted with him for ten minutes or so and then continued on our way. 

They have about 300 people living here and have something like five churches! Isn’t that impressive? The Tongan people are very religious. When we go to shore on Sundays, I have to have my shoulders and knees covered. They do not work or fish on Sundays and they ask that visitors follow that rule as well. While we see many cruises who fail to follow their dress code or other rules, we attempt to adhere to them. After all, it’s their country and we are just visitors here. We believe it’s only right to show the proper respect and it pays with the way we are treated by the locals.

As we walked through the village we met another man, Vaha. Vaha is one of the island elders and the minister of the main Tongan church. What a wonderful guy! He was missing half of his bottom teeth but he had an infectious smile and such kind, brown eyes. Vaha has lived on this island his entire life. His parents did as well. His grandparents lived on an island not far from here. There was a volcano on that island and many years ago it erupted. They and six other families made it off the island in outrigger canoes. It took them two weeks to get here to Hunga where they started this village and lived out their lives. You look around and wonder how they do it, you know, live like this in today’s world. But then you realize that you don’t miss what you don’t know and you see that all the technology and things people think they need mean absolutely nothing. It’s about family, friends and a quality of life that is not full of stress and chaos.

The villagers all work together for the good of the people there. All of the concrete roads in the village were laid by these people. It’s pretty impressive to know they did this without the use of heavy equipment. Just the steep road leading to the village from the wharf had to take several months to complete. Vaha said they all pulled their money and came up with $200 Pa’anga each month. They ordered concrete supplies from New Zealand and when they came in, the families worked together to build the roads.

Vaha also told us that here in Tonga when you turn eighteen they give you eight acres of land. That’s all you will ever get as far as help from the government. There is no welfare, food stamps or anything like that. You get the land and it’s up to you to figure out a way to make money and/or live off of that land. Foreigners are not allowed to buy property in Tonga. They may lease it but are never allowed to own it. The USA could learn a thing or two from them. 

We stood there talking to Vaha for about a half an hour. It was really cool to get to know him and learn about the village history. When we are talking with the men of the village I stay pretty quiet. Those of you who know me must understand how truly difficult that is for me to do. But, here it’s a man’s world and while they will talk to you and are very nice, the men do most of the talking. After all, Tonga means “land of men”.

From there we came back to the boat for a bit and then headed to shore to catch up with Barry. He and his wife, Linda, have lived all over the world. They have the resort for sale and are going to be moving to Mexico next. 

Out here it’s hard to get things and what you can get is pretty expensive so they take things like used engine oil. They use it to treat wooden fence posts to prevent them from rotting. The locals may also use it in their tractors and things as well. Dan had just changed the oil in Dazzler’s main engine so he took the 5 litres of old oil in to give it to Barry.

While Dan and Barry dealt with the oil and were chatting I decided to talk a little walk along the beach. When the tide is out here the reef becomes exposed. Emily, the kitty, followed along like a dog. She meowed and walked close to the exposed lava rock along the edge of the beach. When I reached a point that was out of her comfort zone she started howling at me. Finally I circled back and she calmed down. She started rubbing up against me and purring so apparently she was pleased that I didn’t go further. 

I saw some really cool things here. First, this area is flooded with sea cucumbers. The black ones and green ones look like giant slugs. I don’t care much for those but here, for the first time, we saw these ones that literally look like sea snakes. In fact they are called Snakefish Sea Cucumbers. They are really cool looking once you know they are not actually snakes. Also, in the crevices of the reef where little pools of water were left behind when the tide when out, there were thousands of Brittle Starfish. Literally…there were thousands of them! Dan came over when they were finished chatting and picked one up for me. I wouldn’t touch them until he told me they are not poisonous. I don’t take chances out there. There are too many things that can kill you and we’ve been warned that we don’t want to go to a hospital in Tonga. You could leave in a body bag! LOL

From there we headed back to the blue lagoon end of the island. The tide was way out by this time so the entire pass was dry. We beached the dink and walked along the edge of the island. After about five minutes we came to this large opening in the lava rock. There’s a huge cave there. There’s a very large fire ring inside. The locals no doubt use this for ceremonial events and probably the kids come to hang out here as well. 

Along the walk we found some of the coolest looking shells. Some were the cone shells that you have to be so careful of here. They have a critter inside that will send a barb out when it feels threatened. The venom from it could kill you pretty quickly. It’s a shame because these shells are so pretty. We’ve only found a couple of very small ones that didn’t have critters inside. We kept those but leave the others alone for obvious reasons. We also found beautiful sand dollars. They aren’t the flat ones like we’re used to seeing in Florida. They are the puffy ones. We collected three of them as well as a couple of other cool shells before we left the beach. 

After our afternoon walk at the lagoon we came back to Dazzler and relaxed in the cockpit until dark when my awesome man made me steak burritos with the leftover steak from last night. It was really such a wonderful day here. We had a great time.

Tomorrow we will be leaving this tropical oasis and heading out to see yet another part of this fabulous country. Make sure you check back to see what we find next!

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

P.S. If you’re ready to make a life change and would like to own a piece of paradise, The Hunga Haven Lodge is for sale. He’s got a lease on four acres of heaven! Let Barry know you heard it from us! For more information, CLICK HERE!

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2 thoughts on “Meeting The Locals In Hunga

  1. Made my day reading about Hunga. Now I am going to drive on the 5 and 405 to Huntington Beach in the traffic and get on Trinity Rose with a adult drink and dream about Hunga. Thanks

    1. At least you have a boat to enjoy. Of course the traffic part sucks but it’s all good. Enjoy your weekend.

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