The Storm Before the Cyclone - Wild Weather in Tonga Pre-Whale Season!

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Island life - a perfect paradise all to ourselves, crystal clear water steps from our bedrooms, falling asleep and waking up to a light breeze rustling through vibrant green ferns. The sun shimmering through coconut trees that are positively loaded down with sweet young cocos, just waiting for us to crack them open and indulge in their sweet, sweet liquid. Morning coffee sipped with your toes in the sand, watching whales blow in the distance. Every single day like this….right?

Haha! Island life is amazing, but there are definitely little quirks that you don’t immediately think about when you envision what it’s like living tropically. Yes, there are the bright white beaches and beautiful blue waters. But there is also a constant onslaught of mosquitos and flies, along with some very large arachnids that can somehow conjure new webs in what appears to be minutes, right across your normal path to the bathroom.

 Yes, the climate is generally warm, but there’s also the very real and persistent dampness that accompanies the rain showers and frequent winds. My clothes feel…moist. It’s been raining for the past two weeks, with the occasional break in the clouds of sunshine.

And the pig! The freakin’ giant pig that decides it wants to root around for food right outside my room every single night. I keep waking up to the sounds of it crunching down on the leftovers of my coconuts. I’m quickly learning my lesson about where and where not to throw the husks.

Falling in Love with Island Life in All of It’s Gritty Glory

And this is my island life that I’m stumbling in love with! I’m speaking reality, because I figured some of you might be curious what it’s actually like living over here. This is week one of my life in Tonga, and I honestly couldn’t be more excited to be here. 

Some of the lovely staff I work with:


It is a lot of work staffing an off-the-grid eco retreat, as Fi and I were expecting. We aren’t operating our whale swim tours yet, so we’ve been helping with prep work, getting the property ready for the guests that are starting to arrive. This means we’re painting signs, hanging solar fairy lights, raking up leaves and smoothing sand, organizing food stashes and tool sheds, cleaning up snorkel gear and paddle boards. There’s always something to work on. Daily tasks are a workout in themselves, which I’ve enjoyed. The other day Fi and I spent a couple of hours wheelbarrowing loads of fresh sand up to some of the guest fales (Tongan word for hut). My quads were objecting, but I love that feeling of physical exhaustion at the end of a work day. A job well done.

The Living Situation

Here’s the set-up for what our living situation is like here. Sea Change Eco Retreat is, as I mentioned, an off-the-grid holiday property on a remote island called Uoleva. It’s in the Ha’apai island group, which is quite a bit less populated than the main Tongan island of Tongatapu and the other popular tourist spot, Vava’u. This means we’re solar powered and have a lot of natural composting toilets, although there are also ones that flush to tanks. The owners are incredible - they’ve put in A LOT of work to make this place a reality.

Lauren Fritz at Sea Change Eco Retreat

Waste is a challenge to manage. There are no roads, no recycling or garbage trucks to come and clean up your messes. If something breaks, you better know how to fix it because there are no mechanics or electricians just waiting to make a home visit.

Food on the island is hard to come by and needs to be ordered from the main island of Tongatapu, minus the few goods we can pick up on the neighboring island of Lifuka (the main island in Ha’apai). The only things that really grow here are coconuts, and there are a few papaya and banana trees that have been planted. The chef is also working on a hydroponic garden system, which is really cool! I hope that flourishes later on in the season. 

Keeping Me On My Toes

It’s a thrilling rush, a constant adventure. It’s taking island living to a whole new level. The climate and activities remind me a lot of Hawai’i, but the creature comforts of life on Maui are long gone. It also reminds me a bit of the remoteness of San Juan Island, but with way less people and no regular ferry system. The only way to get to Uoleva is by boat, after you fly (or ferry) in to the main island of Ha’apai. 

There are plenty of sailboats and cruisers that come through, most from New Zealand, and anchor off the beach in front of Sea Change. I stare at them wistfully, waiting for my next sailing adventure. Did I mention how amazing the beach is? It’s a shell hunter’s dream. And the water is perfect for ocean swimming, calm and clear. It’s a great place to practice freediving. There isn’t any reef on this side, but there are plenty of accessible snorkel spots within a thirty minute walk to the other side of the island, or a five minute dingy ride to the north or south.

Just Waiting on Some Whales

The only thing we’re waiting for now are the whales! Apparently there have been a few sightings of juvenile males and what sounds like a competition group (they call them heat runs here). So they are starting to show up, but we all know that Mother Nature works in mysterious ways.

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