Oct 06

Tonga can be fun too!

Tag: fun activityJonathon Haradon @ 8:57 pm

(refers to events on September 5th and 7th)

Swallows cave and Mariners cave in Tonga were amazing.  Along with exploring these two caves, the last three days we were in Tonga we also snorkeled what is widely regarded as some of the best coral reefs in all of the Vava’u island group, and I hiked/bushwacked to a deserted beach (barefoot as it was a spontaneous decision after swimming to shore).  So our last days in Tonga were busy and packed with fun.

Swallows cave is a enormous 50 foot high entrance in a limestone cliff at sea level on the northern tip of Kapa.  The dinghy fit easily and with it, we explored all the recesses of the cave we could.  The water was crystal clear and you could see the bottom with crazy limestone towers and arches, albeit completely bereft of life.  The urge to explore continued to pull and we tied up the dinghy to some limestone and continued walking back into the cave.   Scrambling/climbing skills proved useful to avoid a bit of water.  Midway through the cave it opened into an enormous cavern which had a small opening to the sky.  Long ago, important chiefs would lower down guests and food 100 feet through this small ten foot wide hole and hold feasts.

After exploring the recesses of the cave as much as we could, we arrived back at the dinghy.  It was time to explore the water, which we did after only a tiny bit of hesitation due to the four foot long sea snake we had seen on the scramble back to the dinghy.  Sea snakes are, apparently, quite venomous, though their mouths are too small to bite you.  I’m thinking, surely they can get their mouths around a pinkie finger or something?  Wouldn’t that be awful.

Under water was perhaps even more beautiful, limestone pillars jutting up 30 feet from the bottom, arches and tunnels had formed underwater.  Towards the entrance was beautiful, and we took many pictures of us silhouetted against the bright sun.

The next day, we went out to the coral gardens west of the reef between the islands of Vakaeitu and Nua Papu, which will enjoy its own post.  The day after snorkeling, on our way out of Tonga, we stopped at Mariner’s cave on the northern point of Nua Papu, a 1/2 a mile south of the narrow pass between Kitu and Nua Papu.  For some reason, we decided to go through this narrow pass.  Our charts show it to be 97 yards wide, a football field, which might seem like plenty of space when our boat is only 4 yards wide.  97 yards felt like 97 feet as turbulent water mixed about and strong currents pushed our tiny boat around.  I can’t throw a rock 1/2 a football field, but I just knew I could easily hit the shores with even a modest try.  Yet through this narrow pass we engined our way.

We then slowly motored the 1/2 a mile along the coast of Nua Papu, looking for the coconut tree on the ridge line and the dark orange patch on the vertical cliff face that would mark the entrance to Mariner’s cave.  Mariner’s, you see, is not visible from above the surface of the water.  You must swim under water through a tunnel in the limestone and surface again inside the island to find Mariner’s cave.  At the correct spot, the water was a dark hue of blue, and you could faintly see the outlines of the limestone entrance underwater.

Matt and I jumped off to explore, while Karen stayed aboard and motored about.  The cliffs drop off sharply into the water and plunge straight down for over a hundred feet.  There was no anchoring to be had anywhere near by, so someone would have to stay with the boat.  We poked around the entrance diving down into the water just to look at it first.  The entrance stretched from six feet under water to fifty and was another thirty feet wide, creating an enormous underwater passageway.  And as we swam through, you could turn to face up and watch your bubbles pooling on the limestone underwater, most scurrying across the surface finding their way to the air’s edge on either side of the passageway, some becoming trapped there in tiny crevices.

After a fifteen foot long swim, the longest fifteen feet I’ve ever swam underwater, we emerged inside Mariner’s cave.  It was much darker than Swallows, an eery blue light coming only from the passage way from where we came.  With our dive flashlight, we scanned through this much smaller cave and found little more to explore through like Swallows.

To Matt’s glee though, clouds were spontaneously forming inside the cave.  When the surge from the ocean outside rises up, the water inside the cave rises as well.  As their is no other entrance or escape for air, the volume available to the air decreases.  This increases the air pressure and causes water vapor to condense out of the air and effectively form a cloud.  The mist would slowly build as water surged in and what was once visibility dropped from the hundred feet or so across the length of the cave to only a few feet as everything faded, hidden in the mist.  With a quick snap though, when the water turned and began to draw out, the process reversed, but instead of the slow building of mist, it quickly snapped away.  This repeated itself with every surge, though the random larger surges of the ocean created the effect more spectacularly.

We exited, and just for fun, I swam back and forth through the passage way from oceanside into the cave and back a couple more times.  I then rejoined the boat, to allow Karen to go through the caves.  And with that, at around 2 pm, when all we really wanted was a beer, we began the five day passage to Fiji, saying goodbye to a Tongan experience that was extremely frustrating but ultimately rewarding and unforgettable.

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