Astra Blog: Vava'u Group, Tonga 26.09.08 - 05.10.08

Jeremy & Sally Paul
Sun 12 Oct 2008 09:02

Astra Blog: Vava’u Group, Tonga 26.09.08 – 05.10.08



Niafu, Vava’u


There is not an awful lot to do in Niafu apart from check-in with the authorities, but the weather was so terrible that we were kept there for a few days.  During this time, we were able to make several very thorough visits to the various establishments that line the waterfront.   These included ‘Aquarium’, a popular lunchtime hangout for yachties providing the most fantastic burgers and a chess ladder which kept George amused for a few hours (he finished 2nd).  Then there was ‘Bounty Bar’, a great place run by Lawrence, a very friendly and generous Englishman who mixes the finest (and most potent) Gin and Tonic in the world.  For late night dancing and of course the famous quiz night we made our way to ‘Tonga Bob’s’ run by Matt.  Astra and Zulu teamed up and although we did not win on points, we did win a round of drinks for the most original name: ‘Colostomy…it’s in the bag!’


Friday Evening Racing


Every Friday evening the Yacht Club in Niafu organized a yacht race around the cans in the bay.  Findlay, Pete and Phil were kind enough to invite the Astra crew to join them on Zulu for the event.  Due in part to a lack of local knowledge and the fact that Mystere had anchored in the middle of the course we did not have a good start.  However, the super lightweight and rapid Zulu soon showed her pace and despite being molested by a 47 foot catamaran (that was a little confused over the RRS) had overtaken 8 boats by the second mark.  Despite gaining on the leaders on every leg, we were unable to catch them before the end of the short course; another leg would have done it.  In the end we finished a very respectable third and retired to the Yacht Club for a celebratory drink.


Tour of the islands…Astra style!


On the 30th the weather finally allowed us to leave the anchorage and head out for a cruise around the surrounding islands.  Keen to get some snorkeling in having been deprived of it since Palmerston, we headed for the nearby Japanese Garden situated between the tiny islands of Mala and Kapa.  This was supposed to be a stunning coral garden with a huge variety of coral shaped like bonsai trees.  Unfortunately, although there were some good specimens, the coral here seems to have suffered somewhat. 


Wasting no time, we decided to move on to the next location on the day’s checklist!  Having had a light lunch under way we arrived off the north east tip of Nuapapu.  Fortunately, one of the guide books had been good enough to include the GPS waypoint otherwise we probably wouldn’t have found Mariner’s Cave; potentially one of the most exciting snorkel sites of the trip.  The only sign from the surface is a dark blue patch along the sheer rock cliff.  Jeremy backed Astra as close as he dared to the cliff (due to the vertical nature of the topography, this meant that we were still in about 70 metres of water despite being only 30 metres from the cliff!) and Ash and George plunged over the side to assess the situation.  The entrance is about two metres below the surface and then it is about four metres into the cave before one is able to surface again.  From the entrance it looks fairly formidable.  Ash, complete with dive torch and camera, was sent in ahead as it was judged that he had the best chance of getting back again on one lungful if it turned out there was nowhere to come up!  George kept an eye on him and followed close behind.  Fortunately, there was a large cave on the inside and the experience was well worth the ordeal.  As the sea is forced up inside the cave, the air is compressed, and as well as having to equalize your ears constantly, you are also treated to the interesting phenomenon of a fog forming each time this happens.  Sally and Jeremy were probably surprised to see them reappear as it does look quite ridiculous to suddenly see a snorkeler pop up from seemingly nowhere.  Then it was Sally and Jeremy’s turn to launch themselves into the deep (George went in again for good measure) for the cave experience.  Amazingly no crew were lost during the operation.


Once all were on board, we contacted Zulu and arranged to meet them just around the next headland for a bit of a snorkel on Coral Garden.  This involved ‘feeling’ our way up and down the reef till we found somewhere which was shallow enough, but not too close to the breakers for us to safely anchor.  It was worth the trouble; the coral was some of the best we have seen on the entire trip; the variety was quite astounding. 


With the sun making its way towards the horizon thoughts turned to finding an anchorage for the night.  After our efforts to follow Zulu into Hunga Lagoon were thwarted by a coral head which had grown up very quickly (five minutes probably), we decided to head for a more agreeable location to lick our wounds.  We had to pull out all the stops to get there before darkness but we just made it and finally anchored after sunset in Nuapapu.  Zulu, who arrived moments later in complete darkness tendered over and we all clubbed together for dinner on Astra.  The two crews feasted on yellowfin tuna, shrimps and pasta before heading to their bunks for a much needed rest.


In the morning, after Jeremy had finished cleaning the old pump from the heads and Ash had gone diving to photograph the keel modifications, we all went ashore to visit Popai Resort.  There were high hopes for a cold beer and a spot of lunch overlooking the bay.  Sadly it was not to be, as we made our way up towards the resort, it became abundantly clear that the place was deserted and had gone to ruin.  Apparently it has been closed for two years…not according to the guide books!  However, having set our hearts on finding a decent bar with a good view we departed and together with Zulu we made our way to Mounu Island Resort.  We were not disappointed: the friendly bar was set on a beautiful sweeping white beach (where Pete and George were able to finish their ongoing boules tournament) and a lovely reef for some post-lunch snorkeling. 


That evening we all made our way to Tapana Island where we had made a reservation for dinner at La Paella Restaurant.  It was slightly unusual to sit down to a Spanish style feast (complete with live music and singing) in the South Pacific but it was nice to have a bit of a change and there was no shortage of food!  Somehow we waddled or rolled our way back to the yachts to sleep it off.


In the morning, the weather started to deteriorate once more so we made a dash for Niafu; along with every other yacht in the Vava’u area!  On the way, Astra passed a trio of humpbacks (we believe they were mum, dad and calf), George got over excited and jumped over the side to try and swim with them.  As they were in the middle of a rather energetic display jumping bodily out of the water it is perhaps fortunate that George wasn’t quite quick enough to keep up with them.


Departure for Ha’apai


After spending a couple of days checking the weather, provisioning, refueling and saying our goodbyes, we finally checked out and headed for Ovalau Island at the southern most end of Vava’u Group for the night. 


At the unearthly hour of 0645 (05/10/08) we left Ovalau to head south to Lifuka Island, Ha’apai.  The weather behaved as badly as it has done on all our recent passages: the choppy three metre seas and 30-35 knots of wind ensured that we had a rather wet and bumpy ride.  However, close-reaching at 9.5 knots under double reefed main and 50% genoa we galloped the 70Nm in good time and were anchored safely in Lifuka well before sunset.