Stormy Skies in Paradise

Mon 25 May 2009 05:08
Position 19.57S  174.42W
After the partying at Pangaimotu, the 'royal' island off Nukualofa, we headed north on Friday for the fabulous Haapai Group, probably one of the loveliest and most unspoiled cruising grounds in the world. There's been only one fly in the ointment, though--there's almost no shelter from the West, and we've become mixed up in that huge weather system that has caused such havoc in Queensland and NSW this week. For the second time in a week we've spent a sleepless night on anchor watch as the weather has refused to do what has been forecast, leaving us exposed in big seas, surrounded by coral reefs, with waves too rough to allow us to lift our dinghy. It's not all bad though as I write this from our comfotable pilot house with a stunning view of the local village, a glorious sunset and coconut palm-covered atolls all around, not to mention a couple of volcanoes, hopefully dormant, rising up from the sea.
 As with everywhere on the coast of Tonga,at low tide the pigs go fishing in the shallows. The islands have bountiful supplies of papyas and bananas and in the Haapaii group the Mormon church seems to be the centre of village life. A Tongan friend confided to us that many people join the Mormon church to benefit from their scholarships to university in Hawaii, but on their return to Tonga revert to the Catholic and Wesleyan churches!
Tonga must be one of the world's few remaining feudal systems, with the royal family and nobles highly revered. There are also more churches per head of population than we have seen anywhere, including Malta. The whole economy relies on remittances from Tongans working overseas and one of the most prized possessions seems to be an All Black jersey.
There's so much to explore here, so we just have to hope that weather will clear up in a couple of days' time so that we can go ashore and mix with the local people, not to mention go snorkelling over the surrounding reefs.