Sunday, 30 October 2016

Hanging Out in the Ha’apai’s ….. October 2016

15 – 27 Oct 2016:  Nukunamo to Namuku Iti, Ha’apai’s, Tonga ~ 20 15S 174 49W

20161015_182756Starry Starry Night

We were reluctant to leave the Vava’u Group of Tonga, it is a sheltered scenic area and such an easy cruising ground. 20161016_044443 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,PA241333 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. PA241323 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, PA201300not 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,PA241336 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. PA241320

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, PA241321acres 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,PA251381 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???? 


Tuesday, 18 October 2016

VIP Visitor in Vava’u ….. Sep & Oct 2016


19 Sep – 15 Oct:  Various Spots Around Vava’u ~ 18 42S  173 55W


Exploring the Outer Islands

From mid September to mid October we had a fabulous spell of weather except for just a couple of days when a frontal system came through, clouds rolled in and the skies opened.  During the rains the laundry was done, boats were given bubble baths, water tanks were filled to overflowing everything sparkled and then the clouds cleared and sensational clear days with light breezes returned, just magic.

We made the most of the settled conditions to leave Neiafu Harbour and venture a little further out and visit some of the more exposed anchorages   We had a marvellous few days anchored off Kenutu Island in company with Kinabalu, Confidence & Amarula.


This is one of the eastern barrier islands, it is fringed by reef and the water colours were exceptional.  We had beach bonfires, reef snorkels, island walks and a dingy excursion to find hidden caves and instead found the most hospitable Oz/NZ couple who proudly showed us through their amazing newly built property with one of the best views we have ever seen from a home, (plus they have the cave in their back garden!)P9221066We moved on to explore the Blue Lagoon and South Hunga Island, beautiful spots but disappointing snorkelling.   P9191024Recent batterings by cyclones and possible warmer water temperatures seem to have taken their toll on the coral around these parts, the vibrant live coral we had hoped to see was no where to be found, fish life was varied but not plentiful.

We snorkelled the reef at the Coral Gardens on Vaka’eitu Island, this was the best we saw in Vava’u, but still nothing special.  The highlight of our underwater snorkelling excursions was visiting Swallows Cave, the late afternoon sun sends shards of light piercing through the water down into the depths of the cave.  P9191009PA121249

Huge schools of small fish form tight balls, the light reflects off them and the inky blackness is a magical backdrop, IMG_8730you feel like you are floating in outer space surrounded by thousands of shiny silver torpedoes ~ quite something.

We’ve Got A Visitor

My sister Denise decided to fly up from Auckland and visit us for a few days, it was just going to be a quick trip to catch up with us and have a little peak at Vava’u.  Unfortunately it was made even shorter when her flight from Nukualofa to Vava’u was cancelled because there wasn’t enough wind to land!  Luckily she was able to rebook on the first flight the next morning so we just lost one night.

P9301132It was great to have Denise onboard, she came laden with all sorts of goodies – mainly that we could eat and drink, yummy.  We had worked out a short itinerary for her visit so off we went from Neiafu shortly after her arrival.  Skipper couldn’t resist raising all the sails in the perfect conditions and we had a wonderful sail down to Vaka’eitu arriving in plenty of time for bubbles onboard Balvenie before venturing ashore for the Saturday night Tongan Traditional Pig Roast.   PA011135  

Next morning us girls left skipper in peace to read the Sunday papers (the joys of modern technology!) and we did a walk over the island to a lovely long white sandy beach on the windward side, then we found a short trail across to the lagoon side to a tiny beach with lovely clear water where a few yachts were anchored off.  We had a relaxing dip in the warm waters and dried off in the sun, quite a treat for me, we rarely go ashore for a swim (just jump off Balvenie) and never sit in the sun during the heat of the day – it was lovely for a change!PA021143

Mid afternoon entertainment saw us racing friends on Tactical Directions and Ta-B as we all moved around to the beautiful anchorage at Port Maurelle, staging point for us all for our big excursion the following day.  Tactical Directions cheated and put his main up, instant disqualification – therefore Balvenie won!!

As the sun dipped over the horizon and reddened the sky we drank more bubbles and feasted on local fresh lobster, life’s good.

Swimming With the Whales – WowIMG_8759

Next morning it was an early start, us along with crews on Tactical Directions and Ta-B were all collected at 7.30am by Beluga Diving and off we speed on our Whale Watching day trip.  This has been on my “bucket list” for a very long time, and I understand that Tonga is the only country that actually allows you to get in the water with the whales to observe them.  It was an opportunity that just couldn’t be missed and we hadn’t spoken to anyone who hadn’t swam with the whales on a day tour in the past couple of months – but we were reaching the end of the season, so fingers crossed we wouldn’t be the first!.  Again we were blessed by excellent weather and calm seas, but unfortunately the whales wanted to play hide and seek with us.PA021159 It was a long day with several false starts.  We found whales but none of the mothers with calves were in a “resting state”, it seems they were all giving swimming lessons to their babies, after all they have a big trip to Antarctica coming up soon.  PA021188Our guides found a couple lying about, but as soon as we got in to observe them they shied away, gone in a flash.

Mid afternoon, just as we were giving up hope, we found a resting mother with a playful calf.  In we got as quick as a flash and we spent about half an hour lying in the water watching these giants.  The mother was stationery but the calf moved around, roaming off to have a look around and check us out then returning to mum to report.

Unfortunately the visibility wasn’t great, but the shear size of these ocean wanderers, even as babies will be etched in our memories forever.   There was much excitement as the mother rose for air, PA021190suddenly this giant below us became a mega giant just a few feet away as we all scattered to get out of her way, now that was quite a moment and left the adrenaline pumping for the entire journey home!

Next day it was back to Neiafu for Denise to catch her afternoon flight home.  It had just been a short stay but we fitted lots in and had a great time, thanks for coming Denise and experiencing a little slice of our life. 

Festival Time

PA071205I picked up a nasty bug and was flat on my back for several days while the annual Blue Water Festival activities carried on around me.  Mark raced onboard Tactical Directions in the “Round the Islands” Race, with a gun boat and best crew it was no surprise that they took line honours, well done.

I made it to the final event, the prize giving. It was a great evening with a local school band set up in the carpark providing the music.  They were just great and all under 15!  Tactical Directions picked up the top prize, spot prizes were handed out to nearly everyone, a fun night was had by all. PA071201

More provisioning for fresh produce was done, everyone was talking about leaving.  Some were going to Fiji, some directly to New Zealand, others to Minerva Reef, a few were heading north to the Marshalls.  All were getting ready to leave soon with the cyclone season approaching. 

We had one final big gathering in Port Maurelle, a farewell bonfire for sundowners.  Vava’u has certainly been a special place, we are all sad to leave.

Time To Think About Heading South To The Ha’apai Group


Friday, 14 October 2016

A Taste of Tonga ….. September 2016


07 –18 Sept 2016:  Neiafu, Vava’u, Northern Tonga ~ 18 39S  173 58WP9160962

Flat Waters Again – Yippee

Arriving into the sheltered waters of the Vava’u Group was such a treat after the exposed anchorages of Palmerston and Niue. Loads of islands, big and tiny litter this area, protected by substantial islands to the west and reefs to the east.  Some islands are steep sided and drop straight into the deep waters, others have sandy beaches and shallow ledges for anchoring, the variety is vast. 

P9150960Our first impressions of the main harbour area and town of Neiafu weren’t great.  It was a grey day, it turned into a grey week, the harbour was very busy with cruising yachts, buildings in town were well worn, “free range” chickens and pigs roamed around and there was rubbish lying everywhere, (not a rubbish bin in sight, so no hope).  It was such a contrast to quiet and orderly Niue and Palmerston and super clean French Polynesia.  We had arrived in the ramshackle Polynesia islands we remembered from the first year of our circumnavigation, no EU or NZ money propping up the local economy here.P9150961

Impressions Change

As the days passed by and we got through the latest list of boat jobs Neiafu grew on us.  Everyone was so helpful, sail repairs were completed speedily, the ladies in the open air market were delightful and welcoming, the school children had a one day sponsored clean-a-thon and the streets were clean ~ for a day!     Several businesses are run by ex pats ~ cafes, bars, laundries, whale watching tours and tourist accommodations.  They work in harmony with the locals, and although I wouldn’t go so far as to say Neiafu has a cosmopolitan feel to it, its a functioning small town with an interesting blend of people. 


P9170984The Sun Returned

After days of gloom and cooler weather the skies cleared and the temperatures rose about 10 degrees.  I did the walk to the top of  nearby Mt Talau in company with David and Betty-Ann on Confidence, modest houses lined the road all in need of a paint job but most in a tidy state, small gardens were well fenced to keep all the roaming pigs and chickens out, children safely played on the streets and ran to us to practice their English, beaten up cars passed at a snails pace so they didn’t fall apart as they hit a pot hole ~ life ticks over here at a friendly & leisurely pace. P9160967 

The view from the top of Mt Talau was outstanding, hardly a cloud in the sky and we could see for miles.   When we arrived from Niue on that gloomy morning it had felt like we were going up a river to enter the inner harbour in Neiafu.  But now from high up we could clearly see all the islands, bold blue waters breaking up the clusters of gorgeous green islands, sandy golden fringes dotted here and there.  It was all there waiting to be explored.

With all our jobs completed for now we stocked with fresh produce, let our mooring line go, rolled out the headsail and drifted off in flat water down to Port Maurelle.

What an Introduction To Cruising Around Vava’u