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Date: 26 Aug 2012 07:07:17
Title: The Tongan Caravan

Lat 18:43.31S
Lon 174:06.09W

As soon as we stepped foot in Neiafu, the main town in the Vavau group of Tonga, we bumped into the guys from Baten Anna, Slick and Obelisk who we had met in Niue! And so the touring Tongan caravan of our four boats set sail around these beautiful waterways and islands. The others were moving that afternoon to an anchorage not far away, so we spent a few hours in town shopping and internet-ing before joining them. The town here is not quite what we were expecting - there is a Moorings charter boat business here, as well as Sunsail and another charter boat company, so we imagined that the town would be relatively set up for it. It's not. It's quite a shock coming from the relatively affluent isles of French Polynesia, the Cooks Islands and Niue who are all supported by a developed country (the latter two are heavily subsidised by aid from NZ). In Tonga they are on their own and it shows. Shops are much more basic - small, dirty and with very few things on the shelves. There are no swanky hotels or bars, although there are a few nice restaurants by the water which do WIFI which is good for us. Outside of the town, the villagers that live on the island have very little, and survive on selling fruit and handicrafts to visiting yachties. Only some have electricity and fresh water. There are no swanky 4x4's here, or nice European food! There is however a decent fruit and veg market open every day although it's a little pricey. The town is also over-run with New Zealanders - either visiting in yachts or running all the restaurants and dive shops. Its a bit of a shame as there don't seem to be many Tongan businesses set up for tourists. I don't know whether they haven't tried to make it work or the Kiwi's just buy them out.

Anyway, despite all that, the islands are lush, the beaches are postcard worthy and there are whales in the channels! This part of Tonga is actually made up of one large island with multitudes of waterways running through it although it looks like loads of different islands, each island is actually just a pinnacle above the water and all the land is connected under the water. Thus there is a pretty constant depth of about 50 metres in all the channels, and there are lots of lovely bays and islets with good snorkelling. We've seen turtles and whales and lots of tropical fish - although they're not everywhere, you have to go looking, unlike some other places we've been. This area is in the cyclone zone and a lot of the coral has been ruined by past cyclones.

All of the anchorages are numbered to make it easier for all the non-Tonga speaking cruisers and boat charterers. There are a staggering 40-ish anchorages just in this group, so we are having to pick and choose where we go as there is no way we have time to see it all. The locals put on Tongan feasts in some of the anchorages and we were hoping to attend one tonight, but it turns out it only happens every other Saturday, not every week, and unfortunately we couldn't persuade them to lay it on for 8 of us.

We have been travelling around with Aileff, Emilie, Jesse, Bryan, Tim and Zach for the past 5 days, and have enjoyed trips to the famous Swallows Cave and Mariner's Cave as well as a campfire on the beach, a poker night and tonight is pizza night on Mystic. We generally all eat together on someone's boat and it's been great and very different to be so social!! We probably haven't been as active as we'd normally like, but we have got on with a bit of boat work - stripping the toe rail to re-varnish it at a later date, a bit of cleaning and finally the glue that Archie spilt all over the bow in Tahiti is nearly off!

Mike and Suse (our friends from Sydney) are joining us on Monday for 12 days which we are really looking forward to. We'll probably spend another 4/5 days here in Vavau group, before heading south to a live volcano in the Ha'apai group, before continuing south to the country's capital, Tongatapu.

Swallows Cave

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Swimming through "swarms" of fish inside swallows cave

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Posers

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Aileff and Emilie from Baten Anna

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We all took off on Baten Anna for the afternoon to see Swallows Cave and Mariners Cave (Bryan, Archie, Emilie, Tim and Jesse)

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Obelisk and Slick in front of a spectacular sunset

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Campfire in the bay at Port Mourelle - followed by some awesome guitar playing and some less than awesome singing!

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The coral gardens at Vaka'eitu

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At anchorage in Vaka 'eitu

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