Tonga Flag

Tonga Travel Guide

Western Tongatapu

Take the infrequent Hihifo or Nukunuku buses or ride a bicycle to Kolovai to see the Flying Fox Sanctuary, where countless thousands of the animals (Pteropus tonganus) hang in casuarina trees for about a kilometer along the road. Flying foxes are actually bats (the only mammals that can fly) with foxlike heads and wingspans of up to a meter across. Nocturnal creatures, they cruise after dark in search of food and hang upside down during the day. Legend says the bats were a gift from a Samoan maiden to an ancient Tongan navigator. Considered sacred, they may only be hunted by members of the royal family.

Just beyond Kolovai is the turnoff for the Good Samaritan Inn, 1.5 km off the main road. Farther west, behind the primary school at Kanokupolu, next to the entrance to Otuhaka Beach Resort, is the langi, or stone-lined burial mound of the Tu'i Kanokupolu, an ancestor of the present royal family. The stones to build this tomb were quarried at nearby Ha'atafu Beach, and a few partially cut slabs are still anchored to the bedrock at the water's edge, just where the access road meets the beach.

The marinelife at Ha'atafu is good because it's a designated "reef reserve" and there's a stiff fine for fishing. Ha'atafu is a palangi beach, which means there's no hassle about swimming on Sunday, but if you come for a picnic, don't leave any rubbish or you'll also be liable for a fine. A few of the resorts along this beach serves lunch or dinner to daytrippers. There's excellent snorkeling, especially at high tide—you'll see dozens of species of fish. Just watch out for an east-to-west current. Some of the best reef-break surfing in Tonga is here, also at high tide, but even then it's challenging due to the shallow water, and a protective wetsuit is almost essential equipment. On the plus side, the waves are only 100 meters offshore.

Hihifo buses from Ha'atafu head straight back to town, but there's no bus from Fo'ui to Fahefa. If you want to go on to the blowholes discussed below, you'll find it a pleasant five-km walk (or hitch) with the possibility of a side trip to Monotapu Beach.

Flying Foxes

Flying Foxes at Kolovai
flying foxes at Kolovai on Western Tongatapu

Flying foxes are found from Madagascar to the Cook Islands, with 55 species of the genus Pteropus living on different islands.

In Western Polynesia, Pteropus samoensis is a daytime feeder that roosts alone or in small groups in the rainforest canopy, while the nocturnal Pteropus tonganus lives in colonies of several hundred, either in the forest or in trees along roads. Its feeding flights begin just before dusk and many species of rainforest trees and plants depend on the bats for pollination and seed dispersal.

Flying foxes produce only one offspring per year and it's cared for by the mother for six to eight months. During the 1980s tens of thousands of flying foxes were slaughtered in Samoa for export to Guam, where they're considered a delicacy. Luckily this trade largely came to an end in 1989, when most island bats were listed as endangered species. Today habitat destruction is the gravest threat facing the animals in both Tonga and Samoa. On Tongatapu only one small tract of old growth rainforest still remains, although the surviving bats enjoy royal protection. In Samoa they are still hunted by villagers.

Continue to   Western Tongatapu: Hotels   »