This Saturday was one of the best in Ha'apai so far. We got away from the island, out on the sea in a boat, and wore swimsuits - we were able to just be palangis for a day and get away from Tonga while still being in Tonga at the same time.
We headed out in the morning with our friends who own the Fins 'n Flukes dive shop in town - all of us Peace Corps from the main island here and the three Japanese volunteers. One of the Japanese volunteers was doing part of his dive course, so we got to tag along for the boat ride and did some snorkeling and exploring. On the way out of the main island we noticed that Tofua, the active volcano about 30 miles west of us, was smoking a lot. So we'll probably have another earthquake soon. It took about an hour to get to Lu'ahoko island, it's a tiny uninhabited island just north-northwest of
us, near Ha'ano island. You can see it from our house, just a tiny clump of land. It was really pretty coming into the island, there's a big sandy beach on the south side, and Kao and Tofua volcanoes looked huge - a lot closer than from Lifuka. And the middle looked like it was clumped up higher with lots of trees and palm trees, and tons of birds were flying around and to the island. Birds are more rare in Tonga, you don't see a lot of them, so this island is known for the bird population and also reputed to have a lot of sea snakes.
Once we anchored a ways off-shore you could look down into the dark aqua water and see right to the bottom with all the coral and fish, it was probably about 20 or so feet deep, perfectly clear water! We jumped in and snorkeled around for awhile, there were lots of fish and coral. And Alicia, the one person who was terrified of sea snakes and was worried about Lu'ahoko's reputation, saw a sea snake in the water! None of the rest of us saw any. This was also the site that Sabine (from the dive shop) saw a large shark in about 1 meter of water snorkeling last week. Luckily we didn't see any. Brian (also from the dive shop) was hoping Brett would see one to get over his fear of sharks - mostly sharks are just as scared when they see humans in the water and they swim away. There are only two dive/snorkel companies in all of Ha'apai, so these reefs are really untouched, natural, and gorgeous. And not crowded like any tourist place, the locals only go to reefs to hunt/fish, and don't really come out all this way to uninhabitated islands to do so. Last week Brett and I were snorkeling on our reef outside our house, and some locals were there hunting huge octopus!
After snorkeling we swam up to the shore on Lu'ahoko and walked around the whole outside of the island, in about half an hour. The views of Kao and Tofua were amazing, and all the aqua water around the island. There was the one big sandy beach, then the rest of the way around the island there were rocky platforms. This is now the fifth island we've been to in the Ha'apai group, and the tenth island we've been to in all of Tonga.
On the way back we stopped at another reef to snorkel, Faka Osi, named so because it's the last reef out of the channel the boats go through. This reef was a lot deeper, and there was more of a current. We could still see a lot of coral, and tons of fish. Some areas dropped off from the reef to about 60 or 70 feet below us. But because it was so clear and we could see all the way to the bottom it didn't seem so deep.
We were out on the boat from early morning to late afternoon, it was so nice to get away for a day! And now this week we'll be leaving on Thursday for about two weeks down in the capital city, Nuku'alofa, for more Peace Corps training. I'm also the volunteer representative for our island group so we're going down a few days early for that meeting. We're both really excited to get away for a couple weeks, eat out at restaurants (they have chinese, italian, indian and more restaurants down there), do some shopping, and see everyone from our group again. Then right after that our friend Katie is coming to visit for a week from the US, so we're excited to have a visitor to show around!
More photos from this weekend are posted in the link to the right.