15 – 27 Oct 2016: Nukunamo to Namuku Iti, Ha’apai’s, Tonga ~ 20 15S 174 49W
We were reluctant to leave the Vava’u Group of Tonga, it is a sheltered scenic area and such an easy cruising ground. But time marches on, we needed to start heading south to the next island group within Tonga. We don’t enjoy one night overnight passages, but the distance from Port Maurelle in Vava’u to Nukunamo in the Ha’apai was around 70 miles, just too much to do during the day in the forecast light winds so we opted for an overnighter which should have taken about 14 hours.
We cleared the last Vava’u Islands as the sun dipped over the horizon and drifted along under full sail in a gentle zephyr of a breeze, the seas illuminated under a bright balloon of a moon. We don’t remember ever having such beautiful conditions overnight for a windward trip, not a splash of salt water over the bow, some evening whale song serenaded us, dawn whale sightings enthralled us. We had to do too many tacks to lay our course and we ended up sailing 96 miles and taking 23 hours, but for perfect calm weather sailing, it simply does not get any better!
The Ha’apai Group are very different to their northern neighbours the Vava’u’s. They are small coral atolls most are fringed by golden sandy beaches. Nearly all have a village ashore, and small passenger boats move regularly between the islands.
The distances between the atolls vary from a couple of miles up to about 20 miles but they all feel quite remote. Pangai, the biggest town has around 600 people, there is a small airport, ferry terminal (otherwise described as an office in a disused container!), a couple of Chinese run mini markets, the Mariners Cafe and a handful of government offices – this is a sleepy laid back part of the world.
The surrounding waters are strewn with reefs and the anchorages feel rather exposed. This is an area to cruise in light winds from the east and clear skies, but this is not a perfect world and unfortunately we had our share of less than ideal weather .
All Change as the Winds Change
For a few days after our arrival the winds changed to the west then south west and the clouds rolled in, not the ideal conditions to search out calmer anchorages through the reefs but we moved as we needed to and found some lovely spots along the way at Tatafa and Uoleva Islands.
We were in a small gaggle of international boats, countries represented were NZ, Australia, Holland, France, Belgium, Sweden and Scotland. Beach bonfires were common place late afternoon, weather permitting, a fun time was had by all.
Burst of Blue Again
Clear skies returned, islands and villages were explored and snorkelling excursions were undertaken but the underwater world we found here was rather disappointing, it was great to see some live coral again and there were fish around but they were few and far between.
We had another perfect sail in flat water heading due west towards the spectacular volcano of Kao. Kao’s perfect cone rises boldly out of the ocean to a height of 1046m, its neighbour Tofua is larger but flat at 500m, however Tofua is still active and smoke wafted out of it almost continuously during our stay. It must a been one seriously big bang and fireworks display when it blew its top off.
At Ha’afeva we wandered across the island to the village. The interior was quite different to what we expected, well fed cows grazed in the shade of trees and are kept for milking, pigs and chickens roam free through the village, acres of land are cultivated for gardens (pig free) and we were offered the chance to buy much needed fresh supplies - papaya, bananas and spring onions were available.
Off we went on a walk in the hot sun to our vendors garden to get the produce, what he failed to mention was that it was about 30 minutes each way and we ended up with a stalk of about 200 green bananas, 2 green papaya larger than rugby balls (all still green with no signs of ripening) and enough spring onions to supply the whole anchorage. Lets hope the fruit ripens so we can eat some before we get to NZ!
In the village there was quite an assortment of properties, the three above were all inhabited, the middle one being the best on the island, can’t imagine how the other two might have survived the recent cyclone, maybe they actually rebuilt these with all the bits that blew away!
There is a large Mormon Church and School and it seems several of the villagers now live and work in Utah, the money they send home basically supports their extended families completely. We had lunch with one of the locals, his brother lives in Salt Lake City and he flies to visit him in the USA every year. Auka and his wife provided lunch for 8 of us and didn’t want payment but appreciated a few bits and pieces we could offer that were not easily available here. We have found people with very little are the most generous.
The few days of glorious weather we were experiencing was about to change, no wind and cloud cover were forecast for the foreseeable so we decided to use the last of the wind, do a long day sail and head south to Tonga’s Capital Nuku’alofa.
Would This Be Our Last Landfall Before New Zealand????