Tonga - this is more like it!

Rumpelteazer Pacific Crossing
Robert Holbrook
Fri 2 May 2008 19:29




We left Niue early on Sunday morning and motored or motor-sailed West towards Tonga, 230 miles away.  Winds were light - 4 to 10 knots from astern – but we managed at one stage to sail happily under spinnaker alone.


Our plan was to arrive in Vava’u in daylight, late afternoon, on Tuesday 29th (which was really Monday 28th as we would lose a day when we crossed the International Date Line on Monday).  The only way we could do this was to fire up both engines during Sunday night and increase speed to over 8 knots.  But the port engine failed to start – Robert diagnosed an electrical fault, and it was dark, so we reluctantly accepted that we would now need to ‘lose’ 12 hours so that we arrived in Vava’u in daylight early on Wednesday morning.


When daylight returned on Monday morning, the problem with the port engine was sorted – wire brush applied to corroded fuse box – but it was too late to make up speed for an arrival that afternoon.  As the wind built we had some great sailing, with the wind from the south and south east, but as we were now travelling too fast for our daylight arrival in Vava’u the next morning, we took down the mainsail and sailed under jib alone throughout the evening and a rain-squally night.


We saw the loom of Vava’u, the largest of the most northerly group of Tongan islands, at 1am on our port beam.   At 6 knots, we were still going too fast, so we sailed up down outside the entrance to Neiafu, the main town of Vava’u, from 4am until dawn broke after 6am.


In Neiafu we were given a great welcome by another yachtie who helped us moor on the quay, gave us the low-down on what to do and where to go, and lent us local currency to pay our customs dues.  We were visited by important people from Customs and Quarantine and were then free to pick up a mooring in this beautiful harbour and go ashore.


The Tongan culture is quite conservative.  The guide books warned that skimpy clothes or shorts are not acceptable on shore so, suitably attired, we set off to explore.  The locals were full of smiles and friendship as we visited the shops and bought veg and fruit in the big covered market.  We also checked out the renowned Mermaid bar, ‘home of the Vava’u Yacht Club’, where we were welcomed with a free drink and then had a leisurely lunch.


We then entered paradise proper!  The islands in the Vava’u group are spectacular – vertical cliffs rising out of the sea, topped with palm trees and dense green foliage.  Many of them are tiny, some inhabited, but all totally unspoilt.  At any one time you can see a dozen or so of them spread out around you over the very blue sea.


We anchored in the corner of a delightful bay on the south east of Vaka’eitu island and spent a blissful night with stars and a clear sky overhead.  On Thursday we went snorkelling on the reef between Vaka’eitu and Nuapapu island,  and saw amazing colours including bright blue starfish. 

We motored to another anchorage in the lee of Sisia island for lunch, and then set off around the north side of Nuapapu to explore the famous Mariner’s Cave – an underwater entrance to a big cave under the cliff-face.  Despite the helpful efforts of a Tongan fisherman in his outrigger canoe, we failed to locate the Cave, and set off instead for the island of Hunga with its huge, almost totally protected, inner lagoon.


As we anchored, late in the afternoon, in the lagoon, a local inhabitant – Vaha – paddled over to greet us and we entertained him on board with plenty of beer and fascinating chat.  We agreed that he would be our guide the next morning.


Today, Friday, we got up early and went ashore at 7.30 to meet Vaha.  He showed us around his ‘plantation’ – the oldest male child gets 8 acres of Hunga to cultivate – and loaded us up with coconuts, bananas, papayas, pele (a salad vegetable) and yams. Small children stopped to talk with us, and we saw pigs and cockerels everywhere around us.


Friday is our ‘clear out’ day, when we need to get laundry done, buy provisions, refuel Rumpelteazer and deal with Immigration and Customs before leaving Tonga tomorrow.  So we are now back in Neiafu with errands to do and are off to Mala island this evening for a Tongan Feast with traditional and fire dancing!