The Captain’s crayfish wrangler Paul Miller, recently returned from Tonga. He found a cave where he reckons old free divers go to die (or, at least, he wants to). Paul shares the 10 best things he found on his trip.
- LIFE’S SIMPLE PLEASURES
Tonga reminds you that you don’t need much to be happy. The local people are the happiest I’ve met. They need nothing more than the company of friends and family, a good feed and a roof over their head. Self-sustainability is a way of life, not a fad, and they’re not that impressed by wealth or power. I guess Captain Cook didn’t call them the Friendly Islands for nothing!
- THE CONSTANT THRUM OF THE ISLANDER
Tonga is filled with the sounds of industry humbly toiling away. By day, you can hear the rhythmic beating of palm fronds to make grass skirts and baskets. Roosters crow and dogs forage around the feet of giggling kids. The sound of water splashing or outboards humming is never far away. PlayStations are replaced with pig-wrangling accompanied by squealing kids and shrieking dads. In the evening, singing and laughter can be heard from the direction of the Kava hut.
- CAVE DIVING
If there’s a free-divers’ heaven, then I’ve found it. On the south end of Tonga lies an underwater cave as big as a house. Bolts of golden sunlight burst through the water creating an underwater ‘snow globe’ of vivid blues and greens. Time stood still in that cave – it was one of the most memorable diving experiences of my life!
- 40-METRE VISIBILITY
If the water around Tonga isn’t the cleanest in the Pacific, then it must be a close second. The average visibility is 30-40 metres and it feels like you’re floating through space. It’s the ultimate feeling of relaxation. You can even dive the harbour for wrecks, the water is that clear.
- SIGHTS YOU DON’T SEE EVERYDAY
Tonga has a knack of delivering something spectacular on every dive. On our last trip we experienced a school of 30 sailfish swimming just three metres from us – and a whale and calf came so close we had to swim away to get the right perspective on the photo. On the same trip we saw schools of hammerheads and dived with dolphins.
- I NAMED MY OWN ISLAND
It’s not everyday you name your own Island. ‘Paul Island’ is a volcano that emerged from the Pacific Ocean less than 12 months ago. The locals gave me the privilege of naming it because I was one of the first people to climb it. The eruption shook through the surrounding islands and today it still bubbles away although the crater is filled with water. Thankfully no-one was hurt. The view from the top looking down to the surrounding islands wrapped in cobalt blue water could be a scene from a Hemingway novel.
- CLOSE PROXIMITY
Wear your speedos on the plane because Tonga is only five hours from Sydney. You can leave the eastern seaboard of Australia in the morning and be diving world-class waters in the afternoon. The dive sites are so close to shore, you don’t need to spend days cruising in dank live-aboard boats to find the good water.
- A GOOD BED AT THE END OF THE NIGHT
I stayed at the roomy Blue Water Lodge, managed by Rob Torelli. He’s a nine-time Australian spearfishing champion so knows a thing or two about diving. Not surprisingly, he has a schmick boat, The Blue Water Explorer. It’s fitted with a look-out tower, naturally and crewed by locals who are pretty handy in the water themselves.
- NATIONAL PRIDE
The Tongans are a proud people; like most Pacific Islanders, but only Tonga has never lost its sovereignty to a foreign power. It might have something to do with the uninterrupted succession of hereditary rulers from the one family. Maybe they just know how good the diving is and don’t want to spoil it!
- FIND YOURSELF
There’s not many people on the sprawling 177 Tongan Islands, which sit about a third of the way from New Zealand to Hawaii. It’s easy to find solitude without loneliness. Which begs the question: why am I telling you? Guess I’ll see you in the cave.
Plan your trip
Fly: Flights ex-Sydney with Virgin Australia start at about $400 one-way. Flight time is about five hours.
Free diving & spearfishing: Australian Open Spearfishing champ Rob Torelli runs Blue Water Hunting International, which specialises in spearfishing, whale swims and free-diving trips in Tonga. spearfishingtonga.com