Sunday, September 17, 2017

Terns in Tonga: the "main road" to Toafu lookout.

On the "main road" to Toafu Lookout
The Genial Polynesian Host (GPH) was apologetic. "It's too windy - the whale watching boats aren't going out". But never mind, we had our folding Tern bikes, and it was a 12km ride to the Toafu lookout, which according to the guidebook "affords an expansive ocean view" out over the islands of the Vava'u group in Tonga where we'd gone to escape the Wellington winter. The lookout was just off the clearly marked main road to Longomapu - what could be simpler?

After the Guest House's usual excellent breakfast of pawpaw and bananas (plucked from the luxuriant gardens) with toast and scrambled egg, we headed off. On the causeway leading out of town we were attracted by fish swirling in the water. We'd learned not to bike anywhere without snorkeling gear, so soon we were checking out some of the best fish and coral we'd seen on the trip, to the bemusement of the locals driving over the causeway.
Fish off the Neiafu western causeway
Unlike the main island of Tongatapu, Vava'u is hilly, so we had a short climb to the dairy paddocks and taro gardens around Taoa, before descending to the hamlet of Tefisi where a town meeting was in progress with the smoke from the after meeting lunch Umu drifting over the traffic jam. We paused to admire the multicoloured church, which looked like it had been inspired by a visit to Disneyland.
Tefisi traffic jam
Tefisi Church
After Tefisi, the map was very clear - there was a minor road skirting the freshwater Lake Ano, but the main road to the lookout and Longomapu was higher up on the hillside. At the intersection, the road sign was also clear - a thick black arrow indicating the upper road was the main road. We congratulated ourselves on our navigational skills and not being tempted by the no doubt inferior minor lower road. But after a while doubt crept in. The seal disappeared, replaced by increasingly deep mud wallows of the sort that give quagmires a bad name. Jungle grew in from each side, narrowing the roadway. Well - maybe Longomapu wasn't THAT big, and maybe the main road wasn't that "main".

After some time, we came across a van parked by the road side pointed the other way. We were relieved that it appeared to have successfully made it's way there from Longomapu, but concerned that it also appeared to be abandoned. But we were past the point of no return, so pressed on, our clothing and bikes accumulating a geotechnical library of the local soil types. Eventually the mud wallows became fewer, and we reached the lookout turnoff, along with a number of people to exchange "Malo e Lelei" with and confirm that yes, we were on the way to the lookout. We climbed up onto the plateau, meeting a taxi laden with palm fronds, gingerly skirting the deep ruts in the road. On the plateau, among coconut trees and grazing cattle, we found a spot that yes, gave us an extensive view out over the islands.
Panorama from Toafu lookout
By this time we were peckish, and descended to Longomapu in the rather unrealistic hope of finding a cafe with long blacks and panini. It was school lunch break, and after a bit of prompting the students led us to the local hole in the wall shop where they purchased popsicles and instant noodles, consumed as snacks directly from the packet, but we restrained ourselves to chocolate biscuits. The sense of isolation was reduced by the appearance of a cheery Korean lady in the latest active wear who had walked and hitched from town.
Biking into Longomapu
Students, Longomapu
For the return trip, we decided to risk the minor road along the lake. In contrast to the "main road", this was sealed, and ran close enough to Lake Ano to let us wash off some of the accumulated mud.
Fishing boat, Lake Ano
Back at the Guest House, we related the day's adventures to the GPH. "Yes, you were on the main road" he said. "The OLD main road - the lower road is the NEW main road, it just hasn't been marked on the map yet!"