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Travel: Part 2 The Secrets of the Islands Beyond Nukalofa Sandy Beach Resort
by al armiger

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tonga_2007_027
Juliet a pretty and typically German, tall blonde, was there to greet us. She quickly had us into the courtesy van, across the causeway to Foa Island and down the narrow road through villages of houses, huts, shanties, churches, schools, pigs, goats, horses, and people. Villages we would have to visit later, to observe and capture more detail.

The already narrow road reduced to a single lane track toward the northern tip of Foa, beyond which was yet another island a couple of hundred meters across the pristine blue water. This water surged up from the depths of the Tongan Trench over the coral plateau and through the gap defying all but the strongest of swimmers to make the crossing.

But the waters away from the gap on the western side of the island were tranquil and turquoise and bathed a long stretch of white sand beach. This was where the twelve fales of Sandy Beach Resort nestled amongst the trees along the dunes just 50 meters back from the waters edge. They were of plastered concrete block construction with their own en suites, fridge and a front patio with a view to the beach.


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tonga_2007_034
The restaurant, bar and office were at one end of the resort and it was here Boris, yet another handsome German, welcomed us and gave us an induction us into the resort, its geographic position, its philosophy, its facilities and services available.

Boris and his athletic father Ju`rgen Stavenow ran the resort together with the aid of a couple of local ladies who multitasked as cooks waitresses and chambermaids. Ju`rgen was happy to arrange and lead activities from escorted walks to kayaking excursions around the island and was a walking encyclopaedia of local information. The woven mat that he wore to church suggested that he was held in some esteem locally as well.

There were also bicycles available which we would use to ride some 14 kilometres into Pangai Township, stopping at several villages for many photo opportunities along the way.


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tonga_21
Set three course dinners with a choice of either ‘land food or seafood’ as Boris put it, were available at the restaurant. He would do special meals on request and graciously accommodated a North American lady who insisted on a diet of raw vegetables for the duration of her stay. A visit to the early morning markets at Pangai, always scant of such western vegetable produce, should have convinced her just how resourceful Boris had been.

Breakfasts were either continental or cooked and comprised an array of fruits, yogurt, cereal, toast, conserve and eggs. You were encouraged to take doggy plates from this spread for lunch.


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tonga_1
At the rear of the resort was Oceanblue Adventures Happy Ha`apai Divers who also ran whale encounters. That was a major draw card for us especially as it was the season and the humpbacks and their calves were in the region. Glen Edney the manager also skippered the 40 foot sailing catamaran Cat Knap. Its large deck made an ideal platform from which to observe and photograph the blowing, breaching, slapping and surging of these magnificent creatures. Before we set off Glen gave an informative briefing both about the boat and the whales. He was emphatic that show or no show would be at the whim of the whales and that respect for their space was of the highest order.

If they were receptive one would possibly get to snorkel with them too, but it was not to be the case for us. The whales we saw were a little shy keeping their distance.
We were not too disappointed though, as the inquisitive calf that we encountered had really put on a show coming right to the boat, until cautious mum called him to heel.


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tonga_29

On another occasion while scuba diving with one of Glen’s team of dive masters, we were able to hear a whale song underwater. This was the icing on the cake of one of several amazing dives in crystal clear undersea gardens of coral, crustaceans and fish ranging from the minute but brilliantly coloured tropical fishes to the gliding stealth like rays.

And then there was the dive at the arch, spectacular in itself but more so to penetrate the cave and its chasms beyond relying on the light of our torches to reveal the fearless crayfish walking inverted on the ceiling amongst rare sea snails. There would certainly be things to talk about over dinner tonight.