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Finding the Avatar Tree

On our third day visiting Tonga (last July), we decided to go searching for the famous Ovava Tree on the Forest Plantation and Eua National Park hike. Our host Naite from the Hideaway dropped us off at the start of the Forest Plantation and sent us on our way with a hand drawn map of the area.

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With the map in hand, we headed past a small dam and through the forest about 20 minutes before we spoted the turn off that led us to the incredible Ovava tree. One of the two Big Ovava trees found on Eua, this giantic tree’s scientific name is ‘Strangling Fig Tree’. Starting as a host tree in the centre, as the tree ages, it sprouts new roots and vines in mid air that hang down and eventually reach the ground. These vines become an extention of the tree, helping the tree expand in size.

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It’s age is unknown exactly, but it is thought to be over 800 years old. Eua is the oldest island in Tonga at 40 million years old, and is home to the largest trees in the South Pacific.  It’s branches were a climbers dream so Jordan took to the skies, climbing up pretty high up into the tree.

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It’s size was just unbelievable. The sprawling branches seemed to grow in all directions and it was difficult to tell where the main trunk of the tree began. It seriously looked like something out of the movie Avatar and had a striking resemblance to Home Tree.

We climbed down the side towards the base of the tree and found a cave system where a river was running underneath. As we looked up we noticed the giant blow hole that reached the surface, giving a glimpse of the top of the Ovava tree from below.

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Such a cool place to explore, we could have spent all day there, but we were running out of time since we had spent the morning in a failed attempt at swimming with the humpback whales. We explored more of the branches of the Ovava tree before heading back up to the surface to make our way through the rest of the plantation.

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We headed up the muddy 4-wheel track through the forest towards the Lokupo lookout. The map proved to be a bit of a challenge to read as much of the path had overgrown making it difficult to navigate. Despite doubting ourselves on many occasions as to whether we were on the right path (or completely lost in a strange jungle), we eventually found ourselves at Rats Cave.

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Although there are no actual rats in the cave, it got it’s nickname due to the short tunnel that resembles a rat hole. At the end of the tunnel there was a small hole (which we decided not to enter) that dropped about 6ft into a cave that clung to the side of a cliff overlooking Eua National Park.

Just a few minutes away we took a moment to enjoy the few at the Lokupo lookout over the lush Eua National Park. The largest rainforest left in the Kingdom of Tonga it was easy to see why Eua was the best ‘eco-tourism’ location on the islands. With little light to spare, we retraced our steps through the labyrinth of pathways through the forest towards the pick-up point back at the beginning of the plantation.

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Back at The Hideaway, we enjoyed our last beautiful sunset on the beach. With our fingers crossed, we went to bed hoping for better luck with the whales the next day.

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Unfortunately despite our skippers best efforts, yet again our attempt to swim with the whales just didn’t pan out. We thought our luck had turned around as we ended up getting in the water with a baby humpback and it’s mum right away, but it only lasted about 30 seconds as they were on the move and dove down too deep for us to follow. We  spent the next 6 hours on the boat, chasing after the whales but they just weren’t interested in stopping today. This was one of the rare occasions where things just didn’t work out at all as we hoped. Our entire reason for visiting Tonga was to swim with the whales, but with 2 long days of failed attempts, and no more days left in our visit we had to bite the bullet and hope we can return again someday to try again!

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