A paddle through paradise
There was a time when that primordial urge for sun, sand, and surf could be satisfied with a week in Hawaii or even Florida. But with the beaches of those traditional sun spots increasingly segmented into private patches of sand, isolated from the real world by high-rise hotels, the search for a summer paradise, like the search for untracked powder, leads us farther and farther afield.
But for those willing to go the distance, paradise can still be found in the Kingdom of Tonga.
The 170 islands of Tonga are scattered over nearly 400,000 square kilometres of the south Pacific but the total area of dry land is only 688 square km, less than half the size of Garibaldi Park. Only 40 of the islands are inhabited.
Strung out in two north-south chains along the edge of the Tonga Trench, the islands are in one of the earths most active tectonic zones. The western chain includes several active and dormant volcanoes, while the eastern islands are tilted blocks of oceanic crust bounded on one side by precipitous cliffs and the other by submerged, mangrove-choked lagoons.
Betty and I arrived at Tongatapu airport in southern Tonga thoroughly jet-lagged after long delays in Hawaii and West Samoa. While waiting for our flight to Vavau I spotted a couple of folk last seen in the lineup for Harmony Chair. Though we had never met it turned out that Davie and Brigitte, also from Whistler, had booked the same trip. Amazing the places you run in to your neighbours!
Our flight from Tongatapu north to Vavau in one of Royal Tongan Airlines twin Otters gave us a breathtaking preview of the incredibly clear turquoise ocean and the countless coral islets, shoals and barrier reefs where we would spend the next 12 days kayaking, camping, and meeting the people of the Vavau Group.
Its a short taxi ride from Vavau airport to the Tongan Beach Resort where we met the other five members of our group and guides George Gabara, a veteran kayaker from Bowser, B.C., and Maa Tonga, a knowledgeable, articulate, fun-loving local. We took a small boat to the nearby town of Naifu and spent the rest of the day doing what the Tongans do best just taking it easy, lounging under the banyan trees chatting with the locals who were curious and seemed genuinely interested in where we had come from and why we were here.
Before setting out on our journey through the Vavau Islands we spent a day paddling locally. About an hour from the resort we entered Swallows Cave by paddling through a narrow cleft into a dome-shaped cavern large enough to accommodate all of our boats, plus hundreds of nesting swifts darting about in the dim light.