Travel To Wallis And Futuna Islands
Every year my wife and I pick one country that is less travelled, remote from much populous travelled destination. We call it our off the beaten path tours. In the spirit of fun and adventure, we like to make or plan our own itinerary when we go to such remote places. Most of the destinations are small islands that lie on the South Pacific. We love exploring, from the tourists hubs, mingling with the locals, and discovering secluded sceneries and beaches. From Chicago we took an Aircalin flight via Fiji to take us to the Hihifo Airport in Wallis Island. This French Colonized country lies at the center of the Polynesia and Melanesia Isles. Most of its surroundings are made of limestone rock, clear waters, and lush vegetation. A hotel shuttle service fetched us at the airport and brought us to Hotel Moana Hou in Mata-Utu. We spent five days on this island and we were totally clueless what to see, feel and taste on this unknown corner of the world.
We started our tour in Mata-Utu Uvea, Wallis Island. It is the capital city and the main cultural and tourism destination of Wallis. We drove to the district of Hahake which serves as the political and administrative center. From here we visited the Mata-Utu Cathedral (lovely catholic church!), the King Uvea Palace and the French National Monument. While there we took a photograph beside a sign and the flag of Wallis and Futuna that says, “Welcome to the Remotest Island”. We were welcomed by charming locals at the Talietumu or Kolo Nui, this preserved site is located at the southern point of Wallis. It once served as an outpost for the Tongan Empire in the 17th century. We found many excavation sites and met the Italian archaeologist who works there. The entire fort was surrounded by protective walls with many access paths. We saw lots of old ruins, buildings and gardens. Our guide told us that this is where the early informal settlers or the cruel Tongans as they say erected a citadel and ate the natives of Waliis, since they were cannibals. After this we had lunch at a wharf restaurant near the King’s Palace that specializes on French cuisine. Then we passed by the post office to buy postcards and local stamps as souvenirs.
Later in the afternoon, we were invited to attend a Kava Ceremony and it was interesting to know the locals of Waliis are deeply rooted in their tradition and cultures. At night we watched Wallisan women perform a cultural dance called “The Plantation” at the side of the road. They looked happy meeting us and we danced along with them. No one speaks English around here, but we hired a local translator/ guide to accompany us on our tour. Back at the hotel we took advantage of its amenities; their food was a great mix of French and Polynesian Cuisine. The owners brought us to their family owned motu (island reef). They went with us on a boat to cross to the island reefs where we had a great swim and a little snorkeling adventure. We saw lots of uninhabited small islands along the reef atoll covered in greens. We rented their 4x4 Toyota and driver for our transport needs in getting around the island.
The next day we checked out the Lake Lalolalo, one of the attractions in Wallis. The lake is circular with simple and rough precipice dropping thirty meters high down to the inky eighty meter deep waters. It is very easy to find as the lake is right beside the road. Migratory birds are most often seen swooping effortlessly on this part of the island. We were warned not to enter the tropical rain forest jungle.
French wildlife conservationists are working on preserving this primary jungle on the island. From here our driver took us to a nearby lagoon, where we swim and had a great picnic afterwards. It was fun and we had a good swim of all the nearby lagoons surrounding the islands. The lake areas were perfect for bird watching. We also saw some wildlife around the forested areas surrounding the lake. I admired its rich biodiversity. Even the reefs are protected by wildlife conservationists. We secure permits before we are allowed to cross a reef. The French government is really working hard to protect this small island and its natural resources; maybe it’s why tourists seldom explore these islands. It is a nation that has all the signs of French influence but can still stand on its own identity. The quality of life is so costly on these islands, and I don’t see information boards to promote it as an ultimate tourist destination. At night we head back to our hotel to enjoy a relaxing massage at their spa.
The next day we took a one hour local flight to get us to the island of Futuna, the second largest island. From the airport, a 35 kilometer road circles Futuna, here the roads are concrete and well paved. Only the districts Ono and Nuku have catholic churches. At Point Oneliki, a small chapel stands above the spot where black lava once flow and reached the sea. The blue hole beside the chapel is a great place to swim. We checked out a small black sand beach just east of Point Oneliki. From there we immediately head off to the famous St. Pierre Chanel also called as Petelo Sanele in Futunan. It is a peculiar church with a steep tower erected to honor Polynesia’s first and only catholic saint (canonized in 1954). The towering church is located northwest of the airport. A large wooden statue of St. Pierre Chanel welcomes us at the door. The façade is in need of a new coat of paint, it is obviously chipping away on its original color. Though it is relatively small it has enough church pews to seat its faithful believers. The walls are widely decorated all throughout with white and brown tiles. As we toured the inside of the chapel, we found the relics of St. Pierre, and also the war club used to execute him. From outside we heard Polynesian women singing hymns of praises as they were dressed in their colorful national costumes. We were not as religious but it felt heavenly to be one with the people in singing praises for that Sunday church service. The people welcomed us with warm hugs and big smiles.
Our last day was spent at the third largest region of Wallis and Futuna, Alofi Island. We hired a boat to get to this small island which is uninhabited and measures only 51 square meters. We went snorkeling at the shallow lagoons the Alofiati offered. We saw thick colorful clusters of corals on its ocean floor, and a good variety of tropical fishes. A long row of thatched huts line the shores providing shelter for its visitors. Our guide catches some fresh fish and we have it grilled and boiled sweet potatoes to go with it. Electricity around this island is mostly provided by solar panels we found on one area of the beach. There are also facilities that provide kayaking, surfing, sport fishing, sailing and snorkeling which are equally enjoyed by a few locals and visitors like us. We also visited a small cave within the island called the Loka Cave; inside we found a shrine or monument dedicated to St. Bernadette, preserved on its original ancient state. We spend the rest of the day strolling on its soft sandy beach as we have a good view of large ships passing by the island of Wallis and Futuna.
It was truly an “off the beaten path” tour. We learned that the islands are more modern than we thought it would be, considering their isolation. The world should know a piece of paradise exists in Walis and Futuna. We were so happy to explore it on our own.