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Dive Review of Happy Ha'apai Divers/Sandy Beach Resort in
Tonga/Ha'apai

October, 2006, an Instant Reader Report by Sandy Falen, KS, USA
Sr. Contributor   (24 reports, with 3 Helpful votes)
Report Number 3082
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Reporter and Travel
Dive Experience
501-1000 dives
Where else diving
All over the Carribean, Fiji, Costa Rica
Closest Airport
Getting There

		

Dive Conditions

Weather
windy, rainy, cloudy  
Seas
choppy  
Water Temp
73   to 74    Fahrenheit  
Wetsuit Thickness
0
Water Visibility
70   to 80    Feet  
 
Dive Policy
Dive own profile
yes  
 
Enforced diving restrictions  
None  
Liveaboard?
no 
Nitrox Available?
N/A 
What I saw
Sharks
1 or 2 
Mantas
None 
Dolphins
None 
Whale Sharks
None 
Turtles
1 or 2 
Whales
>2 
Ratings 1 (worst)- 5 (best):
Corals
  4 stars
Tropical Fish
3 stars  
Small Critters
  3 stars
Large Fish
2 stars  
Large Pelagics
  4 stars
 
 
Underwater Photography  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
Subject Matter
3 stars  
Boat Facilities
N/A
Overall rating for UWP's  
3 stars  
Shore Facilities  
N/A  
Comments
No special setup, but crew was careful with equipment.
Ratings and Overall Comments  1 (worst)- 5 (best):
Accommodations
5 stars
Food
4 stars
Service and Attitude
4 stars
Environmental Sensitivity  
N/A
Dive Operation
4 stars  
Shore Diving  
3 stars  
Snorkeling
N/A  
 
 

Overall Rating

Value for $$
N/A    
Beginners
2 stars   
Advanced
3 stars    
Comments  
Sandy Beach Resort (www.sandybeachresort.de) is a gem  and a great value
for the South Pacific.  The bungalows are solidly built and well thought
out, with plenty of storage, a roomy shower with plenty of hot water and
good water pressure, and a mini-fridge. Each of the 12 cottages faces the
beach, with the covered front porch only steps from the waters edge. Beach
chairs are provided for each cottage, and bicycles are available at no
charge.  The beach is gorgeous, clean, loaded with seashells, and
practically devoid of people, given the minimal number of travelers that
make their way to Haapai.  Food was excellent, with a generous breakfast
that minimized the need for lunch (although snacks are available in the
afternoon).  Dinners were relatively upscale, and a little on the pricey
side at $45/person, but they served the best lobster Ive ever eaten
anywhere. Boris and Jürgen, owners of Sandy Beach, are friendly,
efficient, and graciously accommodating.  I did, however, find the site of
turtle shells and Tritans trumpets decorating the walls to be disturbing,
given that both are endangered and scarce in Tongan waters.  Down the road,
at the tip of the island, is Matafonua Lodge (www.matafonua.com).  It has
the same ownership as Sandy Beach, but is a lower-priced alternative, with
basic cabins, shared facilities, and an open-air, casual restaurant with a
killer view of the sea.  Managers Dave and Sally were warm and welcoming,
and I enjoyed their hospitality as well as their food  and more than a
couple Royal Bitters (one of Tongas local brews).

Happy Haapai Divers (www.tonga-dive.com) is located on-site at Sandy
Beach, and was just a short walk from my bungalow.  The staff was fun and
friendly, but the weather just wasnt cooperative during my stay.  Tongas
islands are flat, and there is very little shelter from the wind -- the
diving is more weather-sensitive here than any place Ive traveled. For two
days after my arrival, high winds prevented the dive boat from going out. 
I was able to do some shore diving (suiting up on my own front porch and
walking to the waters edge for an easy sand entry), and although the
conditions werent great, there was always something to see at the bommies
right offshore.  The winds were still blowing on day three, and we only
managed one boat dive before heading in again.  Because Tongan laws
prohibit working on Sunday, the dive boat cant go out  although I was
able to shore dive.  Tonga has some beautiful reefs, and although they
werent as fishy as I would have hoped, the coral was generally lush and
very healthy.  My favorite site (once the wind died and we were able to get
in two boat dives daily) was a series of rolling, white sand hills and
bommies.  Dives are not rushed, and I was able to freely dive my own
profile, with most dives running more than an hour.  The surface interval
was highly civilized, with hot coffee and tea, fruit, and cookies.  The
boat crew was fun and eager to please.  My visit coincided with the end of
the humpback whale season, and when whales were sighted, the crew was happy
to spend some time following and watching them.  We attempted one in-water
interaction, but mother and baby humpback kept their distance.  

Topside time was mostly spent reading, walking the beach, or visiting with
my international neighbors (I was the only American there).  I went to
church on Sunday with Jürgen and several other guests, and thoroughly
enjoyed the Tongan ceremony and the incredible music. The hotel staff and
other local villagers put on a traditional singing/dancing ceremony one
evening.  I took an afternoon walk to the nearby village of Faleloa, where
the friendly locals were more than happy to let me take their pictures. And
an 11-km bike ride to Pangai provided exercise and beautiful scenery the
day before I headed home.

I flew Air Pacific from LAX, via Nadi, Fiji, and on to Nukualofa (Tongas
capital), for an overnight stop before a short and scenic morning flight to
Haapai.  Let Boris at Sandy Beach arrange your domestic air and overnight
hotel, if required.  For my 7-hour layover in Nadi, I got a dayroom at
Raffles Gateway Hotel, right next to the airport.  Its well worth it, for
the chance to take a shower and a nap between flights. Get some Tongan
currency before catching your domestic flight (there is a currency exchange
counter in the Nadi airport).  While Sandy Beach and Happy Haapai Divers
will take your credit card, youll need cash to pay for your domestic
flight (approximately $140 USD round-trip), for any food and drink at
Matafonua Lodge, and for your Tongan departure tax.  At the international
airport in Nukualofa, I was able to purchase a few souvenirs (coffee,
vanilla beans, and local crafts).

Tonga is definitely behind the tourism curve, which is, in my opinion, a
large part of its charm.  The dive industry is also fairly young here; many
of the reefs are never dived, and many are inaccessible when the wind
blows. The potential is enormous, but if you go, be prepared to appreciate
your time spent topside.  While I was disappointed to not have gotten in
more dives, I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Haapai, and for a South
Pacific destination, Tonga is a steal. On Foa Island, there is no shopping
and no nightlife.  There is total relaxation, friendly local people, and
stunning natural scenery.

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Note: The information here was reported by the author above, but has NOT been reviewed nor edited by Undercurrent prior to posting on our website. Please report any major problems by writing to us and referencing the report number above.


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