MEDICAL REQUIREMENTS: The Kingdom of Tonga does not require any specific immunizations for entry from the USA. However, The Center For Disease Control has issued a set of recommendations for travel to Tonga. In general, any travelers to third world countries should be up to date on routine vaccines such as measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis(TD or Tdap), varicella (chickenpox), polio, Hepatitis A, Typhoid and your yearly flu shot. The Zika virus has been reported in Tonga and you may review more information at this CDC link. There may be additional travel recommendations, so we encourage you to check with your health provider and review the latest travel updates for Tonga (link below). Receive your travel immunizations 4- 6 weeks prior to travel for maximum benefit.
Please visit the CDC Travelers' page for Tonga for updates and suggestions before you travel. All medical precautions are the decision of each participant. You may also consult a travel clinic that specializes in immunizations and travel updates. In Santa Cruz County, we have Dover's Travel Clinic which has received excellent reviews.
Matafonua Lodge, Ha’apai Island Group: Triple occupancy Cabanas on Foa Island in the Ha'apai Island Complex catering to the eco-adventure traveler. Cabanas are steps away from a pristine stretch of white sandy beaches. Bathroom and shower facilities are shared by island guests. For more information and fabulous photos please visit Matafonua Lodge (all meals and triple occupancy cabanas included from August 5th and departing on August 8th).
The Hideaway, Eua Island: Double occupancy rooms on a mountainous island catering to the eco-adventure traveler. Rooms are basic with private bathrooms and showers. Whale watching can be done from the Hideaway's whale observation deck. For more information on accommodations please visit The Hideaway (all meals and double occupancy rooms included from August 8th and departing on August 13th).
Mala Island Resort in the Vava'u Island Group: Double occupancy rooms on a 20 acre private island catering to the eco-adventure traveler. Private bathrooms with showers. Secluded beach with excellent snorkeling just a step away from your hotel accommodations (all meals and double occupancy rooms included from August 13th and departing on August 16th).
Vava'u Villa in the Vava'u Island Group: Double occupancy "Glamping Tents" or rooms in the lodge catering to the eco-adventure traveler. Private bathrooms with showers. For more information please visit: The Villa (all meals and double occupancy rooms included for August 16h).
MAPS AND USELINK LINKS: THE KINGDOM OF TONGA
Tonga Tourist Board
General Info: Tonga World Atlas
Maps and Information on Vava'u Island Group: Vava'u
Maps and Information on Eua Island: Eua
Photo Credit: Kim Powell
GIFTS: People often inquire about bringing gifts for teachers or children we meet along the way. This is certainly not expected especially with the weight restrictions with our luggage. However, we have found a way around this (see the heading Arrival into Tonga below). If you have spare space in your checked bag, school supplies are in great need. Last year, we brought crayons and markers which were then divided into 45 small parcels and hand delivered to each child at school on Eua Island. They were thrilled! An email will be sent out prior to the trip to see if you have space for a box of crayons, pencils or markers. If you have a functional laptop or Ipad that you would like to donate to a school, that would be a tremendous gesture. Funding for school and electronic supplies are extremely limited in the villages we will be visiting.
LUGGAGE: A medium to large duffel bag is recommended. Hard-shelled suitcases are acceptable, but since weight is restricted, soft duffels are preferred as they weigh less than hard suitcases. Rolling duffels are approved but add weight. On our domestic flights with Real Tonga Airlines, each passenger is permitted one checked bag not to exceed 33 pounds and one carry one bag not to exceed 11 pounds. You will be charged extra baggage fees less than $1.00 per pound. However, if we all significantly exceed our allowed 33 pounds, there is a greater chance that our luggage may not arrive on the same flight we are on. You may review baggage restrictions at the RealTonga website. Technically, our charter flight to Eua asks for a limit of 22 pounds per person. We understand this is challenging since we are traveling with our dive equipment. Please try to keep your personal belongings to 33 pounds or less. We will pick up the extra baggage fees on our charter flight to Eua.
ARRIVAL INTO TONGA: While RealTonga Airlines has a limit of 33 pounds for a checked bag, Air New Zealand and Air Fiji allow 50 pounds for one checked bag. If you have space and are willing to carry some school supplies to Tonga, it would be greatly appreciated. For those in the Santa Cruz area, we will be in touch prior to departure to see if you could add 5-8 pounds of school supplies to your luggage. We will deliver these items to you. Upon arrival into Tonga, we will gather up the school supplies and arrange for their delivery by Ferry to Eua Island. Our kind hosts at the Hideaway will help us coordinate this. You may also send some personal snacks on the Ferry to Eua island. Please keep this to a gallon size ziploc and write your name on the ziploc. i.e. Kim Powell’s personal snacks. Upon arrival to Tonga, the extra weight will be removed from your luggage before we board RealTonga where the 33 pound limit applies. Malo!
PHYSICAL CONDITIONING: In order to participate in our Tongan Program, you should be a strong swimmer, physically fit and comfortable in open water. You will need some level of upper body strength to hoist yourself up on the boat ladder repeatedly throughout the day. The whales are sometimes found resting in quiet bays or may be found conditioning their offspring in rough, choppy water. Some of our best viewing has occurred in these rougher conditions where wind chop, swell and mild currents are a factor. Most activities are optional and you may choose to take a day off and relax back at our accommodations. However, once you choose to join us whale watching, you will be on board the boat for most of the day while whale watching in Vava'u and Ha'apai. On Eua island, we may offer shorter whale trips, although we are hoping to extend our water time on Eua Island as well. Our experience has been that most everyone wants to maximize their time with the whales and accepts that our days on the water are full. You will rest well at night! Boat rides may be bumpy and jarring at times as the prevailing southeast trade winds occur this time of year. Please call us if you have any questions regarding the activities planned at 831 459 8548.
Your Blue Water Ventures guides will offer a variety of additional excursions each day for those who want to keep active. Join us snorkeling over coral reefs that flourish in front of both Mala Island and Ha'apai Island. On Eua Island, join your Blue Water Ventures naturalist as we explore and interpret the intertidal zone. The vast marine resources of Tonga from massive whales to juvenile sea hares are rich, varied and magnificent.
Blue Water Guides Exploring deserted islands of Ha'apai Island
CONDITIONING PRIOR TO YOUR ARRIVAL: Right NOW is a great time to visit a pool or salty body of water. For those who have not snorkeled in awhile, please get in the water! Practice doing sprints with your gear on. Try swimming at full strength for 1/2 the length of a 50 meter pool then gradually work up to sprinting the full length of the pool. Sometimes the whales approach us but often we need to swim quickly in their direction as instructed by our Tongan guide. Practice rolling over on your back and kicking vigorously with your head out of the water. Sometimes we swim on our backs and just kick towards the whales keeping an eye on them from above water.
SNORKELING GEAR: Please test out new gear prior to arrival. If you have purchased a new mask, you will need to clean it at home and then test it. Repeat cleaning until it is fog free. It will be frustrating to have a new mask fog up on our first whale encounter. Instructions may be reviewed here Cleaning your Mask. If you are using new fins, try them out! Some fins which have a back heel strap will fit more comfortably with a wetsuit booty or wetsuit sock. Fins that lack the back strap usually don't require a booty or sock. A visit to a local dive shop will help answer your questions on snorkeling gear. Be sure that your wetsuit fits comfortably while doing sprints and that your arms are not feeling too restricted.
IMPORTANT UPDATES ON SNORKEL GEAR: We have recently learned about the potential dangers in full face masks. Apparently, in some models CO2 builds up inside the mask leading to blackouts, potentially fatal. Here are just a few articles regarding the dangers of full face masks: https://www.scubadoctor.com.au/snorkelling-full-face-mask-dangers.htm With that said, Blue Water Ventures is banning the use of full face masks while we snorkel in Tonga and on all of our snorkeling programs. In Florida, there is very little physical exertion as we don’t even use fins and a few clients became light headed using full face masks. However, in Tonga we use fins and sometimes kick into some current or enjoy long snorkels. You may argue that you did your own research and purchased the top of the line full face mask. However, we can not assume this risk nor ask our guides to shadow anyone in the water who chooses to wear a full face mask. Full face masks can not be used.
CORAL SAFE SUNSCREEN: If you have had a chance to look over our website packing list, you will have noticed several brands of Coral Safe Sunscreens. There are many out there, some that claim to be safe but actually are not. A key ingredient to avoid is oxybenzone, harmful to marine life. Two brands that we personally like are: Raw Element and Stream2Sea, although there are other good brands on the market. Review this link for more details: Coral Safe. We truly appreciate your consideration of coral safe sunscreen to help reduce our impact on the fragile marine ecosystem.
CAMERAS: Photographing a massive marine mammal can be exciting as well as distracting! Sometimes its highly recommended to leave the camera behind and simply be in the moment! Your Blue Water Ventures guides will photo document your trip and we will send a photo link to you. Over the years, we have preferred the Olympus Tough Underwater Camera with the round lens rather than the square lens. Other clients have been extremely happy with the Cannon or Fiji underwater cameras. GoPro cameras work extremely well with their wide angle setting as whales approach you, but are less effective for distance. Be sure to review your equipment prior to arrival. We will gladly offer any guidance on your equipment that we can.
WETSUITS: While in Tonga, water temperatures will hover in the mid 70's so wetsuits are required for snorkeling. Some years are colder than others. If you tend to get cold easily, we recommend that you bring a 4-3mm full body wetsuit. Many past clients were comfortable with a 3-2mm full body suit while others got by with just their 3-2mm shorty wetsuit (arms included but to their knees only). Farmer John style wetsuits combined with a rash guard have worked well for many. A wetsuit hood would provide additional warmth if you chill easily. Wetsuits are available to rent on Vava'u Island and Ha'apai but not on Eua Island so please bring a shortly, Farmer John or full wetsuit to Tonga.
SCUBA DIVING: Certified divers may possibly arrange for a day of diving. Scuba diving is not included in the price of this trip nor do we make any arrangements for diving. We will update information regarding this option at a later date. If you are interested in diving, please send us an email.
ACTIVITIES INCLUDED: Snorkeling, whale watching, exploring by motorized boats, hiking through forest, intertidal exploration, natural history lectures, beachcombing, kayaking, cave exploration and cultural activities. Our longest hike will take us through several caves where moderate boulder scrambling skills are required with an easier route as an option.
Photo Credit: Kim Powell
SNORKELING WITH HUMPBACK WHALES: Regulations for viewing and swimming with humpback whales are strictly enforced in Tonga and can be reviewed here: Regulations During our first whale experience we will learn and practice proper whale watching etiquette. We can then apply our skills to our next location at The Hideaway on Eua Island. Kiko, one of the lead boat captains with The Hideaway has years of experience with the local whales and is known as the "the whale whisperer". We have the unique opportunity to visit three major areas where humpback whales reside and we have chosen what we consider the very best outfitters Tonga has to offer. Here's a link to one of our outfitters that provides a whale swim program
As with all wildlife sightings, the level of viewing and interaction varies and is dependent upon weather, sea conditions and the whales themselves. Sea conditions and interaction levels may vary greatly each day and even from one boat to the next, Whales make the choice to interact with us and to what level. On some days or a portion of a day, we may only view whales from above water. Such viewing can be exhilarating as the males form competition pods in pursuit of a female. We will follow guidelines closely and observe respectively.
SNORKELING CORAL REEFS: Your Blue Water Ventures naturalists are avid snorkelers eager to share information about coral reef ecology, invertebrate biology and fish behavior. We will offer informal talks and guided snorkeling excursions in addition to our outings to snorkel with humpback whales. We hope you will join us in the water as we explore and interpret this amazing ecosystem. Please bring your own mask, fins and snorkel that have been tested and are ready to go prior to the trip.
Photo Credit: Kim Powell
SEA SICKNESS PREVENTION: If you are prone to sea sickness, we highly recommend bringing some form of prevention. Medications such as Bonine or Dramamine are usually effective although drowsiness or thirst can be a side effect. Many clients have been very happy with Scopalimine patches that requires a prescription. Your local pharmacist or physician can advise you. Many health food stores will recommend herbal remedies such as Motionease for sea sick prevention and we have found this brand quite effective. In the past, several clients have successfully used "sea bands" which employ a pressure point on the wrists rather than medication. Sea Bands have no side effects and can be purchased at most dive shops or online at Prevention.
CLIMATE: August-September is considered the end of winter which tends to be a drier and cooler time of year however in 2016 we received a great deal of rain during our stay in Tonga. We must arrive prepared! Lying south of the equator, we may expect pleasant though windy conditions with the persistence of southeast trade winds. Temperatures should be relatively pleasant with day time highs in the 70's and cooler temperatures at night into the low 60's. We could potentially experience cooler temperatures with the occasional Antarctic driven cold front combined with trade winds. We will need to be prepared for cooler temperatures while whale watching. More information on weather patterns in Tonga can be reviewed here: Climate and More on Weather. Good rain gear is required to protect from wind and spray when traveling by boat or a possible down pour. Bring a waterproof sun block/lip balm with a protection factor of 20 or higher.
Photo Credit: Kim Powell
INSECT REPELLENT: Mosquitoes and a few other insects will be encountered in Tonga. A strong repellent is a good defense against mosquitoes and other insects that we may encounter. A layer of lightweight, light in color clothing is an effective defense against insects. In recent years, clients have been very happy with a Eucalyptus Lemon Natural Repellent as an alternative to products with Deet. The skies are not black with insects. However, if you can't tolerate insect bites, a trip to a tropical region is not for you!
ELECTRICAL OUTLETS: Electricity in Tonga is 240 volts, 50 cycles, and the plugs are the heavy, angled type used in Australia and New Zealand. You will need a converter plug to recharge phones, cameras etc. There are many styles and types to choose from and you may find them at your local hardware store. Several digital camera batteries, recharging cords and extra memory cards are recommended while traveling. Here is a photo of the plug used in Tonga and a link to one of many options for purchase online.
WIFI CONNECTION: Your cell phones may work in some areas of Tonga, although phone calls back home can be expensive. We suggest that you call your provider to see what the fees are for calls, texting and international plans. You may want to set up a Skype account on a "smart phone" before arriving to Tonga.. Apps such as Facetime, Messenger and WhatsApp may work from our hotels as well. There will be wifi connection in the dining area at Matafonua, The Hideaway, Mala Island and Vava'u Villa Lodge, all four of our destinations. Connection speed may be slow and inconsistent. During previous trips to Tonga, the connection was working quite well at all four locations. Some of our hotels charge a small fee for internet access.
Photo Credit: Kim Powell
HOW TO REACH OUR GROUP: In the event of an emergency back home, our group can be reached at Ha'apai by email to "Nina" at: email@example.com. We can be reached on Eua Island at the Hideaway by email to "Natie" at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Mala Island at: email@example.com and the Vava'u Villa by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org
BY PHONE: The Matafonua Lodge on Ha'apai is: 011 676 697 66. The Hideaway on Eua Island telephone contact is:011 676 771 84 11, The Vava'u Villa telephone contact is: 011 676 710 10. The Mala Island phone is: 011 676 876 82 75.
A final email will be sent to you with more details on how family members may contact us in the event of an emergency back home.
DRINKING WATER: At all sites, you will be briefed on policies towards drinking water. Do not drink any water out of your hotel faucet. Water consumed during our trip will be purified and/or bottled.
TAKING SHOWERS: Our hotel accommodations will have running water but quick showers are advisable to conserve water use. Shower pressure may be low and water temperature may be tepid or even cold.
CLOTHING AND LAUNDRY: Loose fitting cotton or quick drying nylon work well in the tropics. Jeans add weight, take too long to dry out and are not recommended. Laundry is done by hand as needed by each participant. You may also plan on dropping off a few items to be laundered on Thursday (Day 6) as we arrive to The Hideaway on Eua Island and ready for pick up by Friday or Saturday. You may also drop off laundry on Saturday (Day 8) for pick up by Monday afternoon (Day 10).
APPROPRIATE DRESS: For the most part, the dress code is causal throughout Tonga. However, on several occasions we will ask that you wear t-shirts with sleeves (no tank tops at these sites). If you plan to attend church on Sunday or the Tongan feast later that day, a skirt, sarong or dress is required. Please review the packing list for more details on what to bring. Most Tongans are devote Christians and attend church every Sunday. Guided activities are not permitted on Sunday but tourist are welcomed to join the Tongan's at church followed by a traditional feast that evening. By dressing appropriately, we are respecting the cultural norms of the Tongan people. Please follow all suggestions we offer on the packing list.
FOOT WEAR: A light weight hiking boot or sturdy tennis shoe with good tread is required for our spectacular hike on Eua Island. During this hike we may encounter sharp rocks on the trail and some rough terrain so Keens or other sandals will not be permitted. For Beach time: One suggestion is to wear the same booties you plan to wear with your fins while exploring intertidal areas or stretches of beaches and bring a light weight pair of flip flops rather than the heavier keen style sandals. Flip Flops are a fine choice for around our hotels. In summary, your head guide plans to bring 3 pairs of shoes: one pair of hiking shoes, surf booties and a pair of flip flops. If weight permits, she may add her Keens.
Vava'u Island Group Photo Credit: Kim Powell
LOCAL CUISINE: Most meals are Tongan in style and are an intricate part of our cultural experience. You may anticipate chicken, pork, fresh seafood, local fruit, yams, taro, coconut, pastries and breads. Vegetarian meals can be arranged upon request. We recommend that you bring your favorite snack to supplement the 3 meals that are provided. We will supplement with Tongan snacks but healthy choices are limited. Please specify any dietary restrictions or allergies on the waiver form that will be sent to you.
PASSPORTS: Everyone is required to have a current passport for entry into Tonga. Please make sure that your passport is current at least 6 months past your date of arrival into Tonga. In other words, your passport can not expire before April 2020.. It usually takes 6-8 weeks to process a passport. For information on obtaining a passport, please visit: http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html Most post offices provide the service to process US passports.
MONEY: US dollars and credit cards will be accepted in some areas of Tonga. Foreign credit card charges in Tonga add 5% in addition to any foreign transaction fees your bank may impose. We can exchange US dollars into Tops at the airport upon arrival. We have several hours at the airport before we catch our domestic flight. Currently, 100 Tops equals $45 US dollars. Currency can be calculated at: Money Exchange.
Small denominations (20 bills or less) are recommended since you will receive the Tongan Top dollars in change. The only costs you are responsible for while in Tonga are: personal liquor, snacks and any unscheduled excursions by boat or otherwise you wish to take. Certified divers will need to make payments for any dives they make. An airport departure tax should be included in your Air New Zealand or Air Fiji ticket but traveling home with some emergency cash is recommended.
TIPPING: It is customary to tip our whale watching guides and boat captain after a day on the water with them. We have included this in the total price of the trip, but you may contribute to our tip pool if you wish. There is a possibility that we may have Tongan Dancers perform. Please bring a stash of crisp one dollar bills as it is the custom to stick bills onto the well oiled skin of Tongan Dancers. All other tips to hotel staff, restaurant servers, drivers and other cultural performers will be taken care of by Blue Water Ventures. If you feel as though your Blue Water Ventures Assistant guide has served you well, please consider a tip for her that the group collects up at the end of the trip. As is customary in hotels you may choose to leave a small tip in your room for hotel room attendants each morning. US dollars are fine, but no US coins.
ILLEGAL DRUG USE: The Tongan government has very severe penalties for the use of illegal drugs. Do not bring illegal substances into Tonga or purchase/use them during this program. Products containing CBD oils or THC are illegal in Tonga and should not be brought through customs.