Vava'u, Tonga continued...
One day we were heading to a restaurant to cash in on one of our Regatta prizes - brunch at the Tonga Resort. What a great surprise as we were arriving to see our friend Graham in his dingy coming to greet us. Sitting on shore were our friends on Sympatica and Artemo who we hadn't seen in a long time. A great reunion it was. Also they happened to be bringing with them our school books from Bora Bora and a box from Grandma from Tahiti. Thank you guys so much for doing that.
One of the other big industries in Tonga is the whale boat tours. The whales come here every year from Antartica to breed and have their babies. Quite a few times we saw some mama whales with her calf and it was a surreal experience. They are such huge creatures, they are amazing to see in real life. This is something that we will never forget. Unfortunatley, some of the whale boat operators are known to get into tiffs with people that happen to be in the area at the same time. Luckily we never encountered any problems.
I think 14 year old Alex on Artemo can best sum up what happened here. Visit his blog to read all about it: http://saltyginger.blogspot.com/2010/10/40-people-3-boats.html
It was the most memorable evening in quite some time.
October 13, 2010 - Vava'u Group to Ofolunga, Hapai Group, Tonga - 61.60nm
We left the very protected water of the Vava'u Group and headed down to the Hapai Group where the anchorages are not nearly asa protected as well as the weather was starting to change and it was not nearly as consistent. However we did have a very nice spinnaker run down and we caught a delicious 18 pound Mahi Mahi. The first island we stopped at was Ofolunga. It was very picturesque but nobody lives on this island, and I can understand why, for some reason it was inundated with flies. It was so bad that you couldn't even go to the beach but the snorkelling was very good.
In the morning the wind switched so was now coming from the southwest causing a large uncomfortable swell so we hauled up the anchor. One night here was enough.
October 14, 2010 - Ofolunga, Hapaii Group to Pangai, Lifuka Island, Hapaii Group - 13.43 nm
Lifuka is the place where Captain James Cook dubbed Tonga "The Friendly Islands".
Once we were settled into the anchorage and checked in to the Hapaii Group we took out of bikes to do some touring around. We bought a trail-a-bike off of Tyee and Cari used it for the first time. It was great, we were able to go quite a distance - all the way to the end of the island and back - about 30 kilometres - and she did great. The one aspect of living on a boat is kids don't learn to bike. Both Andrea and Ryan were biking on two wheels by the time they were four. Cari has not seemed to pick it up because it's just not what you do living on a boat. Lifuka is very flat, so it was a great chance to do some biking and sightseeing at the same time.
We happened upon a sea cucumber farm run by some Chinese. Sea cucumbers are big business in China for their supposedly medicinal properties. You see them all over the beaches here in the very shallow water, very easy to catch, you just pick them up off the sand, and they don't give much resistance.
We also happened upon a group of villagers digging for a new well for the village.
October 16, 2010 Lifuka to Lofanga 13.43 nm
On the way to Lofanga we had our major whale sightings of all time. it was truly magical. We just kept seeing them everywhere - look there is one!, look there is another one!! We followed them in the boat for a ways, then would see another one and follow that one, we never got too close but it felt like it was just us and the whales out here.
Lofanga is a small island, with a population of 163. Unfortunatley, we never had a chance to go ashore. We thought we would go into the village in the morning however we were rudely awoken at around 0600 with swells coming into the anchorage and our stern was now facing the reef. We were totally unprotected as there was nothing to prevent the waves from coming into the anchorage, the fetch was getting bigger and bigger because this side of the island iscompletely wide open. So in a big squall we hauled up anchor and left. These are the times when you are very thankful that your boat is in good working condition and you know that the windlass works and the engines work etc. otherwise you can get into trouble real fast.
October 17, 2011 Lofanga to Ha'afeva Island, Hapaii Group - 12.09 nm
The squall ran it's course and by the time we arrived at Ha'afeva the weather was calm again. We walked around the village (lots of spiders through the path of trees but there are not supposedly poisonous, they sure look hideous!!!) and met the man who runs the local store. He had visited the States at one time and could talk English quite well. He invited us for lunch the following day.
Snorkelling on the wreck was very nice, the coral was great. We went in for lunch with Caleb and met his wife and children. His wife made us a great Tongan meal. Chicken in an umu, cassava and sweet potatoes, hotdogs, lamb in coconut milk in taro leaves and corn beef in taro leaves. The kids played all afternoon with their son and other island kids and then went back to boat got our bathing suits and played on the wharf. We learned alot about the village life and the locals. Caleb was very open about life on the island. His wife was thinking about trying to start selling baked goods during the Christmas season so she was needing quite a few items. She had never baked before!! - Imagine! So I gave her lots of baking supplies, like flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder and a few extra pans that I had. We still have lots of provisions!! I also wrote out my receipe for pancakes as she wanted to try to make them. It would have been nice to have her over and give her a baking lesson, she was so sweet, but it was time for us to leave!
That evening we were having a sundowner on our friends Nikita's boat when we saw three whales slowly make their way into the anchorage. They swam around for quite some time before they disappeared, what a way to end the day. Unfortunatley, I didn't have my camera so couldn't get any pics.
October 20, 2010 Ha'afeva Island to O'ua Island, Hapaii Group - 11.59nm
The weather was turning again so we decided to tuck into the O'ua Island lagoon anchorage. We didn't get there in time before a big dark squall hit, so we had to float around for about one hour until it passed so we could see enough to get in. The anchorage was very protected. This is the first time that we found our charts not to be accurate in this area.
The villagers were on the dock when we arrived sorting sea urchins, they told us that they eat them when they are low on meat. They asked if we wanted to try it - raw!, we all did (except me) and everyone reported that it was very tasty! One of the ladies who spoke good English gave us a giant clam. These people who really don't have much and here they are sharing what they have with us!
The village was no more than a mud pit, maybe if it hadn’t just rained it would have been different. There was one phone for the whole village in a little room on the road. It was a bit of a shock to us actually.
A couple of boys came by the boat and we gave them some stuff like a t-shirt, a baseball cap, some cinnamon buns and candy. They brought us some coconuts and pineapple which were so good. But then they kept coming back and asking for things over and over again.
October 22, 2011 - Ou'a Island to Nomuka Iki - 21.86nm
All the islands around the Hapaii are so close together that it is very easy to go from one to another in a short day sail. Nomuka Iki is a small uninhabited island just off Nomuka Island. Also on this near shore is the remains of an old prison and the wreck of the Takuo. The Takuo was a fishing vessel that foundered on Hakaufisi reef during a storm, and some of the men on board were lost. The hull later washed ashore on Nomuka Iki where it remains as a reminder of how treacherous these reefs can be. During the squall that blasted through while we were in Loganga, one of the cruising boats here ended up on the reef, not sure what happened but I think they anchored too close so when the wind spun around, they hit it, Luckily there were lots of other cruisers around who helped pull them off).
There is a nice beach on Nomuka Iki and you can go and check ou the Takuo on shore, there is good snorkelling here as well. It is so windy! The weather is getting worse and worse all week. The kids went out in dingy to retrieve a bag that we saw flowating by and almost couldn’t get back, very bad idea! It was still getting windier and wavier that I didn't even want to go out in the dingy, forget about it! So we decided to leave, what is the point?
October 25, 2011 - Noumuka Iki to Kelafesia - 18nm
We couldn't decide whether or not to go to Kelafesia as the guide book says to only go in settled weather but it would break up the trip to Tongatapu so we along with Anthem and Nikita decided to go for it. This was one of those memorable passages. The wind was blowing, the waves were big and there were these huge breakers that we had to negotiate close to the anchorage. However once we did get into the anchorage, things calmed down considerable, thank goodness as we were not sure how protected it was going to be. It was not a large anchorage, and surrounded by reefs. The three of us fit in quite nicely but not sure how many others you could safely get in.
Another really haunted thought in all of our heads was the sinking of La Tortue not just 10 days before. We met this young French couple at the regatta in Vava'u. They headed down to Tongatapu to pick up some friends who were going to stay with them for 2 weeks. As soon as they picked them up they headed back towards the Vava'u Group. Lucie on Tyee III has written about the whole story as they along with some other cruising boats went directly to Kelafesia to try to salvage the boat. Read about it here: http://www.sailblogs.com/member/tyee3/?xjMsgID=151889. It is a good reminder of how things can go wrong terribly fast.
We could see the mast of poor La Tortue sticking out of the water by the reef. We went over in the dingy to look at it and suddenly the motor died!! It was very windy and we thought that we were going to be the next ones on the reef. Luckily we got it going again and headed directly in the opposite direction to the beach!
Kelefesia is a privately owned island. It was a gift from the king to a Tongan family a few generations back. The owners do not live on the island year-round, but they graciously welcome boaters to anchor here year-round and roam about on shore at will. The first thing one notices about Kelefesia is its dramatic prominent bluffs. There was a fisherman staying on the island when we were there and he was very welcoming. He showed us around and explained what happened to La Tortue. He even gave us some of his fish that he was drying, all I had in my pocket was some rockets (Halloween is coming!) so I gave him about 10. He seemed happy enough, but I need to remember to carry around a bag with things that I can give away to the locals.
Although Kelefesia is a beautfiul island I didn't feel particulary comfortable in Kelefesia because of all these factors, so we stayed one night and the next morning took off for a different spot!
October 26, 2011 - Kelefesia to Nuka'lofa, Tongatapu- 47.8 nm
Well this is a busy anchorage 14 boats and counting, all waiting here for the weather window to go to New Zealand. We anchored in a anchorage called Pangaimotu near the establishment called "Big Mamas" run by a lady called Big Mama. We really loved it there, usually our most important parameter is how kid friendly is the place? And Big Mamas was a jewel. She loved having kids around to start so it was very relaxing for us. The floor inside is sand from the beach, there are puppies and dogs to play with, swings over the beach, an outdoor ping pong table; an indoor dart board, pool table, a beach. Also, she had good wifi and decent food. A win win for everyone!! One afternoon Big Mama organized a Halloween party for the kids and they had a blast.
We heard from many cruisers that they didn't like Nuka'lofa and they just get in and out of there as fast as they can. We always have the view that we need to check these places out ourselves and lo and behold we really like Nuka'lofa. We rented a car for one day and drove around to take in the sites. It is a really beautiful island with lots to see.
Nuku'alofa Town is the capital of Tonga with a population of just 30,000, the Royal Palace in the heart of downtown although it is not open to the public, it is even difficult to get a good look at it.
After checking the weather day in and day out, we decided October 31st was the day to go. "But what about Hallowe'en?" was the question in everyone's mind. Never mind, good old Captain Chris always thinking outside the box, said "We will do Hallowe'en in the morning!!" This was quite acceptable to everyone (except mom), so first thing in the morning, everyone was getting their costume arranged in a flurry of activity. Two dingyies headed out into the anchorage which was much fuller than when we arrived going trick - or - treating. One boat gave the kids a coconut and a cob of corn. You can never say cruisers aren't ingenious!!!