I vote holiday!

Just back from a week’s holiday blissing-out in Tonga, on a postcard-perfect tropical island surrounded by coral.

Fortunately this meant I missed the end of the Australian Election (yay!), and got to vote early (highly recommended – much calmer and less fuss than doing it on polling day) so as to satisfy Australia’s compulsory voting requirement (and avoid the fine if you don’t vote).

Our flight to Tonga was delayed by 3 hours, as an 83-year-old on the plane’s inbound flight had died half way through the flight, so a number of ambulances and police cars pulled up at the gate when it arrived and the passengers were not able to leave until the paperwork had been processed. This meant we arrived in Tonga at about 1 AM, and got a boat to the island in the middle of the night, and arrived at about 2 AM.

Our fale (Tongan word for hut or house) was great; it used a traditional design largely open to the tropical air (good) and the mosquitoes (bad). Lots of space and privacy though. Map of Fafa island. There was no Internet, no phones in the room, no newspapers, no radio, no TV … love it! And the food was superb – there was fresh delicious seafood every day – especially lobster and fish – all locally caught daily from the surrounding ocean, and often cooked in coconut milk and served with rice. I gained about 2 kilos in a week!

I have to confess to being a total wuss when it comes to deep water and big sharks (I should never have watched Jaws, or Open Water). However, I deeply enjoy snorkeling coral reefs, and seeing smallish sharks in the wild. So when Rebecca saw a 1-metre Blacktip reef shark attacking a school of small fish a few metres out from the shoreline, I just had to go in and see if I could watch it up close. So put my mask and fins on, and swam out about five metres and stopped in the middle of the school of fish. The water was cloudy from all the sand stirred up in the water from the waves on the shore, so I spent about three minutes carefully looking to the left, looking to the right, looking straight ahead, before concluding that it wasn’t there any more, and swimming back in. I stood up and yelled “It’s not here any more – sorry, no shark!”… And then I noticed that Rebecca was wildly pointing and hopping up and down with frustration, and she told me that just after I had swam out, the shark had done a big circuit around me, and then had stopped dead in the water a few metres behind me with its dorsal fin sticking out of the water, and had just studied me for a few minutes as I was looking around, and had then swam off when I started turning around to swim in. And who says sharks don’t possess a sense of irony?

Then on the daytime flight back to Sydney, we had a great view of the North Minerva Reef. I forgot to take a photo: sorry! However, this reef looks fantastic, and also rather out-of-place. It’s roughly 500 kilometres of open Pacific Ocean away from the nearest land, surrounded by pure deep blue ocean, and then in the middle of the open ocean there’s this circular reef all by itself, with no land or islands anywhere to be seen. The quality of the diving and snorkeling must be amazing – with that much distance to the nearest land the visibility would be stunning, and there would be no pollution, and hopefully few enough visitors to keep it pristine. The pilot described it thus: “The Minerva Reefs are a great place for yachties to be when the weather is good. However, you really want to avoid it when the weather turns bad”. Sounds interesting – if I ever get a chance to go there, I think I’ll have to do it!