Tales from Tonga

The life of the Queen, or Olovaha as she was then, in Tonga was shrowded in mystery for me. All I had was the old image of a postage stamp and a fascinating story about a sinking. This wasn't much for 10 years of service so I decided to try a little research to see what I could find.

Starting with 2 websites, Planet Tonga and Matangi Tonga Online, I posted some requests to see what would happen. Results so far have been encouraging! Comments are posted below direct from the emails received. The sinking incident sounds quite terrifying!

A huge thank you to those who have taken the trouble to write.

From: Mary Lyn Fonua

Date: 27th February 2008

Mary is Managing Editor of Matangi Tonga

We sailed on the old ‘Olovaha from Vava’u to Tongatapu, in 1972 or ‘73, through the heaviest seas I have ever experienced. Everyone was dreadfully seasick and we sat up on deck because it was so hot and smelly below. When the ship went down into troughs the swells were above us. I don’t remember being frightened – I was too ill, but I felt quite sorry for the mothers with babes in their arms.

The ship had a sideways roll that made me think it wasn’t made for the wide open seas. I remember people commenting that the ship was airless down below because she was built in the UK and not suited for the tropics. We disembarked at the crumbling Vuna Wharf. I think the old ‘Olovaha was probably one of the last ferries to berth there regularly.


From: Leigh Harkness

Date: 29th February 2008

Leigh lived in Tonga at the time, teaching at Tupou College


The Olovaha was severely damaged in mid 1977.

It was going north from Tongatapu when she started taking on water.

It was a dramatic event because the small ship that came to her rescue only had Morse code and so messages between the ships were relayed over the local radio station so that everyone in the country was up all night listening to the communications.

Passengers were bailing the ship out.  They were hearing reports that the water was up to the crews cabins. etc.

Eventually, they tried closing the engine water stop cock and that stopped the leak.  Apparently, the leak was in the engine cooling water system.

The ship was towed to Ha'apai where it settled on the sand.  Later it was taken to Fiji. Tonga could not afford to fix her so they sought a loan from the German Government. The German Government offered to fix the ship or build them a new one.  Tonga decided on a new ship.  So, the last I heard of the Olovaha was that it was in Fiji


From: Sione

Date: 1st March 2008

Sione kindly wrote from Bethesda, USA. Message left in the guestbook.

Olovaha has been the most famous and useful in the modern history of Tonga. I was young but I remember so many times I stand at the wharf waving to relatives leaving Tongatapu to outer islands of Haapai and Vavau.

My dad was working as an accountant for the government owned shipping company that runs the Olovaha. It is beautiful ship with lots of great memories. I especially remember when so many people, almost overcrowded on the decks as they wave. I will talk to my dad to get more information about Olovaha.

I never ride on it but it was always a topic at home.



From: Tupousolo

Date: 5th March 2008

Tupousolo wrote from Suva, Fiji. Message left in the guestbook.

The first time I ever travelled anywhere, I sailed on the Olovaha from Lifuka, Ha'apai, an island about 100miles from the Tongan capital of Nuku'alofa.

My village people wanted to present gifts and perform traditional dances at the Tongan King's daughter's wedding in June 1976. I was so excited about getting on the Olovaha, because I'd only ever watched it from the beach as it sailed past my village on its way to the wharf at Pangai (the main town of Lifuka).

I don't remember much about the actual trip, but I always treasure the memories of my first trip on the legendary ferry.


From: Claus

Date: 7th March 2008

Claus wrote from Damstadt, Germany. Message left in the guestbook.

Took the Olovaha from Nukualofa to Vavau in late 1979 during a severe tropical storm.

The 'eighteen hour' trip took actually close to three days because the crew had to find and rescue a catamaran first that had lost it's sail/ mast in the storm.

With 300 + people aboard (cabins for fourteen if memory serves me right) that turned out to be a rather wild experience. I do have fond memories of the Olovaha and the South Seas.

Great to find the link for your site on the Matangi Tonga pages!





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