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Date: 11 Sep 2012 08:00:39
Title: Tonga: Haapai and Tongatapu

Lat 21:08.24S
Lon 175:11.02W

We were meant to set sail down to the Haapai group of islands the morning after the feast and make a day of it, but at dawn there wasn't a breath of wind, so we decided to take it easy and spend the day cruising to the most southerly island in the Vavau group. It was overcast and fairly windy with lumpy seas going upwind meaning that our plan for a snorkel on a remote idyllic atoll didn't quite live up to expectations. Team McKensey didn't even make it off the boat as they were feeling a little green around the gills - oh dear - we hadn't even started our 60 mile passage to Haapai yet! We prefer doing passages at night as you don't waste a day, and with 4 people on board it's possible to get enough sleep not to feel too tired the next day. Unfortunately our passage was upwind all the way, and Mike was the only one who managed to keep his dinner below stairs. Not the best introduction to cruising for Suse!

Dad and Jamie will be amused to hear that we have a new biscuit champion on board. Dad has been relieved of his title (he previously ate an entire packet of Timtams in one night watch) and now Mike has stepped up and taken the crown. Most comedy moment of the week came when Archie emptied the pockets of his jacket that he'd lent to Mike for the crossing. Macca was well and truly busted, as Archie pulled wrapper after wrapper out from his jacket pocket! We were all in hysterics, especially when Mike claimed that eating was the only thing he could do to prevent feeling sea sick!

Mike becomes the new biscuit champion - that's 24 Oreo's, 18 crackers and half a bar of chocolate all consumed in one night!

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We arrived at dawn the next day and were greeted by a group of three whales, 2 of them calves breaching in quick succession. It was amazing and they were only in 18 metres of water so they were not diving down and we watched them for about half an hour. A great welcoming party!

Breaching whales greeted our arrival into the Ha'apai group of islands in central Tonga

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We spent Sunday anchored in a very welcome calm bay opposite a long sandy beach on the island of Uoleva. Predictably the boys went kiting and the girls walked along the beach and went snorkelling. Mike's kiting improved dramatically over the week - by the end he was even attempting a few jumps (much to Suse's horror while he's still trying to build up strength in his ankle).

Suse stretching her legs on the gorgeous sandy beach at Uoleva island

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The next day we had to complete check in/out formalities - a tiresome law of cruising in Tonga that you have to check in and out with immigration and customs between each group of islands. We arrived at the Mariner's cafe hoping for a good brekkie and some internet, but the place was completely closed. After waiting for at least an hour, they finally opened up and we could check the weather for the week. We had previously seen that there was a front coming through on Thursday and sure enough, we only had until Wednesday to get South to Tongatapu (the capital - a further 90 miles south of Ha'apai group). We decided, very reluctantly to bin the visit to the volcano, as it was just going to be too rushed, and we had heard that there wasn't really an anchorage there that you would be happy to leave you boat in for more than a couple of hours.

Instead we had a couple of days visiting other islands in the group - Ha'afeva and Nomuka-Iti. Mike and Archie honed their kiting skills, with Archie practically jumping over the whales in the bay at Ha'afeva! Suse and I walked across the island to the village on the other side, and spoke to a woman who proudly showed off her two gold front teeth! The village was very well kept, with piglets running down the road where dogs would normally be and all the women sat outside the health centre having a good gossip while all the men were working in one of the fields. At Nomuka-Iti I taught Suse to dive - after her first few breaths underwater she came up with "Jo, I don't think this is for me". Of course I wasn't going to let her get away with that and 5 minutes later she was 10 metres underwater and enjoying it!

A typical house in the village of Ha'afeva; complete with white picket fence

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Mike gutting the first and only fish we caught in Tonga! A skipjack tuna.

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In order for our passage down to Tongatapu to be bearable (and our biscuit stores intact!) we had to sail down on Tuesday night before the southerly hit on Wednesday. It was a fairly smooth ride and certainly a lot more comfortable that the previous passage. We anchored off an island called Pangaimotu, which is only 1 mile north of the harbour in Nuku'Alofa (the capital) but apparently very beautiful and most boats choose to anchor here and dinghy into town as the quay in town is infested with rats! Unfortunately the weather had turned with the arrival of the southerly and for the next two days it rained. And rained some more. This kind of marred the trip a little as it was Mike and Suse's last few days and we were boat bound. We played cards, drank some of the port and gin that they had very generously brought us and went to shore where there is a small resort with a restaurant and internet. Did you know that it is possible to motor 50 metres without a fuel tank or fuel hose in the dinghy?! And if you also happen to have forgotten the paddles, flippers made a half decent substitute to get back to the yacht in the pouring rain!!

On Thursday we braved the rain and went to look around the town, check emails, visit the outside of the Royal Palace, and bear witness to the rats! We had chosen to tie up to the wharf for convenience and had turned an ice cream box into a rat preventer which we put on both of the stern lines running ashore. Fingers crossed it worked! (it's now 4 days since we were there and no sign of any furry friends yet!) Nuku'Alofa is a funny mix of old and new - in some areas it looks very run down and third world, and in others there are brand new buildings selling surf brands and even a European style cafe.

The now uninhabited Royal Palace in Tongatapu (yes that's Archie and I in our matching Gill offshore gear. It's cold and wet down here!). The King now lives in a different palace away from the gawping tourists.

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On Friday the weather finally cleared and we took our bikes for a tour of the island. Mike and Suse rented some rather well loved pink beach cruisers, with rusty chains and no gears! We made it out to Captain Cook's landing place, a couple of caves (not a patch on those in Niue!) and cycled through many villages where almost without exception everyone waved and said Hi or Bye! All of the land was farmed and it seems that down in Tongatapu there is a better work ethic than we'd seen in Vavau. Everyone was really friendly and the island was much more enjoyable than we'd been led to believe by other cruisers, many of whom just stay in Vavau before moving on to Fiji. I'm really glad we made the effort to come down here.

Cycling around Tongatapu

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On Friday night we went to the legendary Billfish restaurant - or at least that's how the guidebooks describe it. We were the only ones eating despite a large number of Kiwi expats in the bar, and for some reason they had a guy singing love songs live at a painfully high volume. The food was nothing to write home about either, so we headed back to the boat for a few drinks, all a bit knackered from our 60km cycle and Archie and I knowing we had to set sail for Fiji in the morning.

Final night dinner at Billfish restaurant

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We had a great couple of weeks with Mike and Suse. It's so nice to have friends on the boat, and I especially enjoyed having a girlfriend on board to catch up on the proliferation of weddings and babies that fill my Facebook stream at the moment!

A couple of Suse's photo's from Vavau...

Hurling for coconuts on Ovalau beach where we had a campfire

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Macca enjoying a Maka beer in Aquarium cafe in Vavau

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