Happy Haapais

Fri 5 Jun 2009 03:21
Position,  18.39S   173.58W
It's now two weeks since we left Nukualofa, the capital of Tonga, and apart from paying some fisherman about 12 dollars for 4 lobsters (tails deliciously grilled on our new bbq) we haven't handled cash until today when a lack of fruit, vegetables and eggs drove us into the town of Neiafu in the Vava'u Group.
The contrast between the Haapai, with its low atolls and toatal lack of development, is striking. The Haapai experience was wonderful but always risky with lethal reefs, many of them uncharted, and a complete lack of all weather anchorages. We could only travel from about 10 in the morning until 3 in the afternoon when the reefs were most visibleand with me perched up in the bow searching for rogue 'bombies'--not the most relaxing kind of navigation. Usually we would take turns with our American friends on Harmonie to pick our way through the reefs into an anchorage. Some of our anchorages were at inhabited islands while others were long sand cays--perfect for long walks. The snorkelling was pretty good in most places, and anywhere else in the world there would have been luxury resorts in these remote, pristine locations. The very few resorts we saw were definitely in the backpacker to feral category. The local people were always delighted to meet people off boats and were very generous in giving us papayas, coconuts and lemons. As usual most churches were represented--on the island of Haafeva there were at least four churches for a population of about 100. In every case the Mormons had the biggest most modern buildings and fishing boats.
We were pleased to see a strong presence from Ausaid wherever we went, often in the form of fish havens. Wherever we walked in the villages we were accompanied by locals. Horse back riding was a popular form of travel though some of the school children had pretty flash bikes--probably brought by relatives living in New Zealand. We loved talking with the school kids who werenot the least bit shy, but most didn't speak much English. they were very 'unpushy' and never asked for anything which was surprising in places where everyone has a subsistence lifestyle.
In the Haapai there were never more than three or four yachts in an anchorage, and mostly just ourselves and Harmonie. So what a contrast it is here in Vavau, a 10-hour very bumpy trip up from our last Haapai island. This area is hilly, green and lush with dozens of safe anchorages within a short distance. It is one of the cruising meccas of the south-west Pacific with dozens of yachts from allover the worldm any of them en route from Panama to New Zealand or Australia. There are several funky bars and at least one good restaurant. The only thing that has changed since we were here a year ago is that part of the town has burned down, including our favourite Bounty Bar. Evidently some boys were trying to burn a bees nest using a can of aerosole spray, and they suceeded beyond their wildest dreams, destroying much of the town. The place is full of characters, many of them long-term cruisers.
One of the most interesting people we have met is a Queensland diver who looks like the twin brother of our ex business partner, Kevin Weldon. This guy spends most of the time up in the Solomon Islands in his home-built steel yacht, salvaging World War 2 wrecks and ammunition--a very handy chap to know. His stories of the anarchy in the Solomons included several episodes where his yacht has been boarded by machete-wielding locals whom he was able to repel with a flare gun--and more. Thank God this part of the Pacific is so free from violent crime--well so far,any way.
It was a treat to visit the local market this morning and stock up on pineapples, papayas and passionfruit as well as sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers and green peppers. My Devonport mobile garden is still thriving and the envy of many. The new Storyteller does seem to have become party headquarters,and I counted 13 on board the other night. The 63 foot American-built blue motor yacht that was next to us in the Viaduct is up here and we had homemade sushi on board her the other night. She is so glamorous it made our new boat seem quite humble by comparison. In fact it made us feel quite frugal.
The weather has been rather grey and cloudy the past few days, but beautifully warm. 
Our plans are to loaf around the Vavau for a week or so, then if the weather is ok head north to the Niuas (aka new potatoes) about 100 miles from here that are very rarely visited.
Noone has had much luck fishing recently--only some very small tuna which we have thrown back. The trip up from the Haapai was too rough for even seasoned fishers to attempt. I hope our next blog will record more positive results.
Ann from Harmonie has been our official photographer and I plan to send a duplicate set of her photos while we have Internet access here in Neiafu.