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

 
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Happy Ha'apai Divers/Sandy Beach Resort, Oct, 2006,

by Sandy Falen, KS, USA (Sr. Contributor Sr. Contributor 24 reports with 4 Helpful votes). Report 3082.

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
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
UW Photo 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
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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