Issue no. 45, February-March 1999

* Tourism News

Birth of an island

A new island emerged from the sea in an explosion of smoke and steam, about 30 miles to the north west of Nuku’alofa on January 7, following earthquakes felt in Tongatapu a week earlier.
The emerging island was first noticed by sports fishermen Harry Waalkens, his twins Carl and Richard (14), who were visiting from Auckland, and his brother-in-law Butch Riechelmann of Nuku’alofa. They had been happily boating right on top of the area -a favourite fishing spot- on January 5-6 unaware of what was happening below them.
"It’s in the area we call the Sea Mount, about 19 miles from Atata Island," said Butch. "We caught a fish there on January 6 and we thought the water looked shallow - there was a change in the colour from blue to green."
Harry said he was astonished when Butch pointed out the bottom. Only the day before he and the twins had stopped in the same area to free a fishing line that a shark had wrapped around the prop, and he knew the bottom had been beyond the range of his 1000-ft depth sounder. While they had been working to free the line Carl had noticed that the boat was in the middle of a large ring of bubbles coming to the surface. Harry suspected that the bubbles might be coming from humpback whales driving krill, "although I thought it was too late for whales," he said. "Then Carl asked me if it could be an underwater volcano - to which i replied ‘don’t be stupid’ - words I was to recall later. But Moby Dick or not, what we all agreed on was to get the boat well away from the ring of bubbles."
So on January 6, when Butch pointed out the bottom, Harry took a new depth sounding, "i stood corrected - the bottom registered at 300ft," he said. They trawled along and around the shallow area, which was about the size of two football fields, and after Harry lost a fight with a 33-kg yellowfin tuna, Butch caught a marlin and they went home.
Encouraged by the successful fishing, Harry and young Carl went out fishing again on January 7, but when they were about 12 miles away they noticed something was wrong. "We could see a dark column of smoke rising from the horizon with a large white area below - it looked like there was a ship an fire sa we speed towards it."
At five miles away it was clear that an eruption was occurring and Harry approached cautiously. "At 500 metres we could clearly see rock protruding from the sea as the white steam and smoke blew from the surface of the water, which was literaliy boiling, it was a remarkable sight," he said. "And the fishing was still good around the perimeter of the shallow area, we caught many yellowfin, one at 34 kg, and wahoo."
The following day they gave the coordinates of the activity to the Tonga Defence Services.
A photograph taken by the Air Wing of the TDS on the morning of January 12, shows a steaming island rising above sea level. But two days later, when a patrol boat of the Tongan Navy arrived at the scene with the Acting Prime Minister, Hon. Langi Hu’akavameiliku, and other officials, including geologist, Kelepi Mafi, the island had submerged to about a meter below sea level.
Kelepi said that an underwater volcanic eruption pushed to the surface lava and gases, "but in order for the foundatian of an island to be firmly solidified, it will depend an the cooling down process of the hot lava that has been pushed up to the surface of the sea." Kelepi explained that a slow cooling down process usually meant that a new island was being firmly formed, whereas a fast cooling process meant that foundatian rocks of the island would be porous and easily washed away as was the case with this latest volcanic eruption.

The phenomenon of jack-in-a box islands emerging and then submerging into the seas is not new for Tonga.
Kelepi said that the islands of the Kingdom of Tonga are on top of two underwater ridges, which run parallel to each other from north to south. To the west is the Tofua Ridge which runs for 300 miles and forms the bases for the volcanic island of Tafahi in the north to ‘Ata in the south. To the east is the Tonga Ridge which forms the bases for the main islands of Tonga - Vava’u, Ha’apai, Tongatapu and ‘Eua, which are raised marine volcanic islands and coral limestone islands.
Also running parallel to the east of the Tonga Ridge is the Tonga Trench, which at five miles deep is one of the deepest undersea trenches on earth.

Harry Waalkens returned to the Sea Mount on January 22 and said that hot rocks were still popping to the surface - he hauled one onto the boat for a souvenir, and although he burnt his hand in the process he didn’t mind. "It was awe-inspiring stuff and I guess the only time I was able to lay claim to having really discovered an island!" said Harry.

Tonga’s claim drowned out

A message drowned out and blown away: Tonga's countdown to the dawn of 2000 billboards were wrecked by Cyclone Cora on Boxing Day.

"Tonga Where Time Begins" has been Tonga’s tourism marketing slogan for as long as anyone can remember, and its claim to be the first country in the world to see the dawn of each new day Is based on Tonga’s unique position in a bend in the International Dateline.
But Tonga’s claim to be the first country on Earth to see the dawn of the year 2000 Is like a voice in the wilderness. Tonga’s lack of financial backing and inability to mount a marketing drive means that such a claim cannot be turned into a profit-making tourism venture. And without a clear celebration plan it will be difficult to attract international tourists.
Now with only 11 months to go before the turn of the century Tonga’s claim Is being drowned out by the claims of other countries with aggressive marketing drives.
Fiji has further stressed its claim that the 180 degree meridian Is the line where each day starts and ends, and that the Dateline is merely an arbitrary line and does not have any international legal standing. They are screaming loudly that it will be at Udu Point at the Northeastern tip of Vanua Levu that one can actually take one step from today to tomorrow.
Meanwhile, this year the international television coverage of New Year’s Eve and the dawn, 1999 started with celebrations at Sydney, Australia, and ignored the Pacifěc lslands altogether.
If a first-sight millennium claim can only be substantiated with a big investment in the tourist ěndustry and an aggressive marketing approach to fill hotels, then we can only say that Tonga, where time begins, "has the right but not the might."
But what ever anyone might say there Is still no doubt that Tonga is the closest to the west of the Dateline, and therefore Is the first country in the world to welcome each new day.

Dance groups gather for launching of festival

The Kailao will be performed by dance groups at the Princess Royal Festival in March. Pictured above, is the Kailao of Tonga College.

Tonga’s first ever Princess Royal Festival is scheduled for March 22-27.

Simote Po’uliva’ati, the spokesman for the festival’s organising committee, said that seven groups af Tongan dancers from Auckland, Sydney and San Francisco had registered, and more were expected to do so before the February 28 deadline.
Also participating at the festival will be guest dancers from Fiji, Samoa, Cook Islands and from the Polynesian Culture Centre, Hawai'i.

Italian link for Tonga Visitors Bureau

GP Orbassano with Melenaite at the Tonga Visitor’s Bureau in Nuku’alofa

On January 14 a Memorandum of Understanding was signed by Tonga’s Minister of Tourism, Dr Masasso Paunga for the Tonga Visitors Bureau and G. P. Orbassano.
G. P. has lived in Tonga for a number of years, managing the Paradisland Holiday Marketing and he is also one of the shareholders in the Cafe Waterfront at Ma'ufanga.
The Tonga Visitors Bureau now has representatives in Auckland, New Zealand; Sydney, Australia; San Francisco, U.S.A.; and Lecco, ltaly. For visitors needing assistance and information in Tonga the Nuku'alofa office is located on the Hala Vuna seafront, in town.
Italian office's web site:  

* Tourism Project

New look for Visitors Bureau

Jenny Kalkin

The Tonga Visitor’s Bureau is being restructured to help it co-ordinate the industry and to liaise better witb government.
Extensions to its building an Hala Vuna will begin in February and are expected to be completed by the end of March, said Jenny Calkin, the director of a $3 million AusAid funded program to boost tourism in Tonga.
The contract has been let to Loumailie Constructions Pty Ltd. who will remodel the existing building and construct new offices at the rear. Jenny said that upgrading would also include new computers and the training of specialist staff.
The three-year tourism program was launched in September, and there are seven major projects in the pipeline.

Town improvement
Jenny said that a Town Improvement program had been formulated, and during December local committees were formed in Nuku’alofa and Neiafu. The Nuku’alofa committee is chaired by the Director of Tourism, but while he was away, the Deputy Chair person, Fuiva Kavaliku would be taking an active role in the committee.
The Neiafu committee is chaired by the Governor, Hon. Tuita. Once draft plans are approved, the work will start.
In addition to the town improvement programs, Jenny said that a skill based training program would start in March, with four pilot courses including Front Desk management; House keeping; Customer Service; and Meet and Greet.
The training of Tongan Guides will start in February and will run until Easter in Tongatapu, Ha’apai and Vava’u.
Jenny said that the marketing and the promotion of Tonga as a tourist destination was currently being carried out, and a journalist was being recruited to start pushing out press releases. They have about 1500 photos in stock, which can be made available to the media. New brochures and posters will also be printed. New Web Pages for Tonga were being created with dedicated pages for different events. "At the moment the focus is on sailing, and they wiIl be constantly updated", she said.
The development of Tourism trails will start in February, and there will be signposts and a brochure to help tourists find their way around.

* Ha'apai Adventure

Conquering Kao

Above the clouds by noon on the summit of Kao Kao, as seen from Tofua's crest

To be on top of the volcanic island of Kao - at 1046m the highest point in Tonga - was "a very special moment", for Darryl Coppedge, an American Peace Corps volunteer, one of 13 hikers who scaled Kao on December 18.

Kao, with its conical shape rising steeply from the sea in Tonga’s Ha’apai group, offers a slippery-looking climb to a peak, which is often hidden in a patch of cloud. There are no beaten trails to follow on this seldom-visited island.
While Darryl thought that standing on top of Kao was a special moment, another member of the group, Stephen McGinley, thought that swimming in the fresh water crater lake on the neighbouring volcanic island of Tofua was "a memorable experience".
Stephen said that Tofua had so much to offer, "just being in the fresh water lake, and looking at the volcano smoking away there with the surrounding landscape of dried lava of different colours made me think that I was on another planet. Then looking down toward the lake with those tall pine trees you could be somewhere in the States, then on the other side of the lake the rain forest reminded me that I was still in Tonga."
The twin volcanic islands of Kao and Tofua are separated by four kilometres of sea. While Kao is considered to be extinct, on Tofua the crater Lofia still rumbles and puffs out smoke. Captain Cook reported volcanic activity on Tofua in 1774. In 1854 the king, Tupou I, ordered the inhabitants of Tofua to move to the safety of the island of Kotu to the Southeast. The last big volcanic eruption on the island was reported during 1958-59, and since then the crater Lofia has continued to be active.
Darryl’s and Stephen’s adventure to Kao and Tofua was organised by two Peace Corps volunteers, Jessica Krykakis and Molly Loomis, and was the highlight of their Christmas holidays.
The group of volunteers and friends left for Kao by the MV Pako, a boat belonging to the Ministry of Education, which they chartered for $ 1,000. "We each paid $80 for the boat plus some sipě and cabin crackers for the crew," said Darryl.

Intrepid climbers: Valerie, Jessica, Lindsay, Justin, Darryl, James

They left Pangai at 8 a.m. "The fun began when we tried to land at Kao about noon, it was awesome, we had to approach the island in an aluminium dinghy and jump onto the rock as the dinghy was popping up and down in the waves."
Stephen said that after landing they spent the afternoon setting up camp and swimming, "it was eerie stuff snorkelling around there and seeing how the island drops off suddenly and disappears into the deep blue sea."
Darryl said that before dawn the following day, they began their ascent on Kao, "there was no track and we had to find our way through the thick bush, following along a ridge from the southern side of the mountain." Darryl said that it was relatively flat at the beginning until they entered thick bush about a quarter of the way up, which covered most of the ridge. As they neared the top they pushed their way through thick ferns as high as their shoulders, but fortunately there were no poisonous insects to worry about. ‘The only wild animals that we saw were the wild pigs."

Halfway up Kao, Joe rests and soaks up the view

Stephen said that of the seven girls and six boys in the group only two had any mountain climbing experience - and they were the first to reach the top. "Joe Marcotte and Justin Cowies (see cover) made it in two and a half hours, but all of us made it to the top in under five hours."
Darryl said that they thought getting to the top was going to be the hardest part, but they did not take into account fatigue and the heat, "and was hotter on the way back, and some of us got a bit disoriented and got lost in the bush, and took longer to find the way back to the camp.
By 5 p.m. the group was ready to leave Kao for Tofua, "and getting from the rocks on Kao into the dinghy was even more tricky than trying to land on Kao."
They rejoined the MV Pako standing offshore, where they found the crew had caught three two-metre long sharks close to where the group had been swimming the previous day.

Another difficult landing on Tofua Snorkelling in the swells
at the Kao landing spot

Stephen said that landing on Tofua later that evening was difficult and it was a great relief to get ashore to the old village where they camped for two nights. The village was deserted but they used some of the facilities there to cook some fish given to them by the crew of the MV Pako, and to have showers. While in Tofua they hiked to the mouth of the voicano Lofia and then down to the lake. On the following day they went through the whole process of trying to get back onto the MV Pako and then headed for Pangai.
If they have another chance, would they do it again? Only to Tofua, but not to Kao," they said.

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Your Guide to Tonga
No. 43, August-September, 1998
© Vava'u Press Ltd. 1998
Printed by Universal Printing Press, Fiji
Published by Vava'u Press Ltd., Taumoepeau Bldg.,
Room 8/11, Fatafehi Road, Nuku'alofa, Tonga
P.O. BOX 427, Nuku'alofa, Tonga, South Pacific
Telephone (676) 25-779 Facsimile (676) 24-749