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!)We moved on to explore the Blue Lagoon and South Hunga Island, beautiful spots but disappointing snorkelling. Recent 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.
Huge schools of small fish form tight balls, the light reflects off them and the inky blackness is a magical backdrop, you 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.
It 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.
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!
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.
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. 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. Our 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, suddenly 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.
I 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.
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