On Tuesday, 6/17, we made the short hop from Port Maurelle on Kapa Island
to a lagoon (lagoon because the little bay is almost completely surrounded
by a coral reef) near Vaka'eitu Island. Nope, we're not sure how to
pronounce Vaka'eitu. The trip from Kapa Island to Vaka'eitu Island was
short, but not easy for the navigator (a job shared by Don and I). All of
these palm tree topped button mushroom islands tend to look the same and
there are so many of them that it is sometimes tough to tell which
particular island it is that you are about to run into. It doesn't help
that this is really the first place where our electronic charts have
proved themselves to be inaccurate. This area of the world has not been
surveyed in recent years, so the electronic charts are sometimes based on
surveys done fifty years ago - well before GPS. Several times, our charts
indicated that we were anchored on land. Going in to Neiafu Harbor, we
miraculously sailed over land to enter the harbor, if we believed what our
chart was telling us. This is not a place where an 'instrument landing'
is recommended. I think if we had attempted an instrument landing in the
dark, we may well have ended up on land - for real. We made it to
Vaka'eitu Island without incident, but our navigator conversations went
something like this:
Don: 'How is our course?'
Anne: 'I think it's ok, but I'm not sure which island that is in front
us...Sisia or Nuku or Fonua?'
Don: 'Let me see the paper chart.'
Silence while Don reviews the paper chart, glances at our electronic chart
which shows our position smack dab on top of Sisia, and looks at where we
Don: 'I think there might be an extra island out there that isn't on any
of the charts.'
Anne: 'That's possible. Lady Kay said they were confused coming in here
because there were so many islands.'
Silence while both of us review the paper chart, the electronic chart
which shows us sailing off of Sisia, and look at where we are headed.
Don: 'No, maybe that's Fonua over there and Lua'ofa in front of us.'
Anne: 'Yeah, maybe. And then maybe Langito'o and Lape in the distance.'
Silence while we both review the paper chart, the electronic chart which
shows us smacking into Fonua, and look at where we are headed.
Don: ' Yeah, that's it. There's no extra island. That's just Fonua and
Lua'ofa over there and Langito'o and Lape in the distance.'
Of course we have no idea how to pronounce all of these island names, so
we mutilate each and every one of them every time we attempt to say them.
If a true Tongan were aboard at the time, he or she would have cringed in
a big way every few minutes and might have preferred to jump ship.
Never-the-less, we made it and when we made the same trip in reverse
several days later, we had basically the same navigator conversation -
still thinking there might be a rogue island out there somewhere doing its
best to throw us off course.
The Vaka'eitu Island lagoon was very nice (picture 1 - the boat furthest
to the right is ours) and the island was pretty much deserted. There had
been a resort on the island at one point, but when we hiked up the trail
to the resort from the beach, all we found was a cistern system to catch
rain water and a few thatch roofed bungalows with no walls and no roof,
only the sturdy toilets remained in what used to be the bathrooms. The
island is very lush, as are all the palm tree topped button mushroom
islands, with flowers here and there like this one (picture 2).
We weren't completely alone on the island though. There were a group of
men harvesting coconuts when we arrived. There were about five of them
stationed on different parts of the hillside, all calling to each other
every so often in their soft Tongan language. We ran into one of them as
we hiked up the path to the demolished resort. He was using a stick with
a sharpened end to remove the hard husks from the outside of the coconuts.
Don asked him to show us how it was done and after one quick movement
that basically impaled the coconut on the sharp end of the stick, he pried
off the husk. Done. Somehow I think if we had attempted the same
operation it wouldn't have gone quite so smoothly. However, on the trip
from Niue, Mandy did show us how to crack open a fully mature coconut
using a winch handle. We figure this skill will really come in handy at
home. When we came back down to the beach after our hike, the coconut
harvesters had finished for the day and were hauling their 'catch' through
the water to their boat in burlap sacks (picture 3). The whole coconut
harvesting operation did not look easy.
We spent two nights in the Vaka'eitu lagoon and on Thursday (6/19), headed
back to Neiafu harbor so that on Friday we could clear out of Tonga with
customs and immigration, get the paperwork necessary for duty-free fuel,
fill up and be ready to leave Tonga at noon on Saturday for the four day
trip to Fiji.