The port at Vava‘u is small and pretty. The tiny town is less than a stone's throw away and visitors can easily wander through markets to a few mall street blocks. There is a more tropical feel to this island than Tongatapu and the humidity is more obvious.
|The wharf at Vava‘u|
|St Joseph's Cathedral|
|Inside St Joseph's Cathedral|
Our driver didn't speak a lot of English but seemed to know where tourists might want to visit. We were treated to "Tongan air conditioning"; the sliding back door of the van didn't close and it was very hot so our driver just pushed it the whole way open and left it there. (No seat belts either, so we just held on tight.)
We drove up and down a hill and stopped next to a bridge to look at this lagoon. I didn't quite catch the story or significance of the lagoon but the events of the next few minutes will ensure I won't forget visiting it. After jumping back into the van (with the Tongan air conditioning wide open), we needed to back off the bridge, which the driver did by reversing a hundred or so metres. He then answered a mobile phone call but didn't let it interrupt him. Tonga must be the only place in the world where we could legally sit inside a van with the door wide open while the driver did a one-handed u-turn on a bridge and talked on the phone.
|Lagoon near the bridge|
It turns out our passenger was a Swiss national who had been living in Vava‘u since visiting many years ago. He married a local Tongan woman and they had returned to Vava‘u after living in Europe for a few years. His English was excellent and he pointed out various landmarks along the way. He also made an unbelievable offer.
"So, you ladies are on the cruise ship? What's the coffee like on board?" he asked.
"Pretty bad," was our honest answer.
"I have the best coffee at my place. Do you drink coffee?"
Do we ever?!
"I have the beans sent from Italy and make coffee using rain water. Come and have coffee with me - free of charge, of course."
At this stage we thought he may have been involved with a cafe in town that looked quite upmarket but didn't really take him seriously. "Sure, that would be good," we replied noncommittally as we drove up a hill towards his home, dropping him off along with his groceries. So much for the coffee.
Our next stop was at Veimumuni cave and fresh water pool. Used as the bathing place of local villagers as recently as 30 years ago, the source of the water is unknown. Even though the mouth of the cave directly faces the ocean, the water does not originate from there. Our driver insisted that 20 women could fit in the cave at once, but we weren't prepared to see for ourselves.
Within moments, our host had emerged from the house carrying some indoor furniture. He set up a table and four chairs underneath a giant mango tree in the front yard while his dogs checked us out as visitors. His wife joined us ("I was in the shower when I was told to make coffee because we're having guests!" she said) and we chatted for a few minutes before the coffee arrived in beautiful espresso cups - and it was the most delicious coffee I'd tasted since leaving Wellington. We sweetened it with icing sugar as there is no sugar in Vava‘u, despite Tonga producing so much sugar cane. Sipping coffee in the shade of a mango tree in a stranger's front yard is an experience I'll never forget.
|The best coffee in Tonga|
|Vanilla pods ready for drying|
|Vanilla pods are spread on racks and left to dry in the sun|