Tonga Hunga Haven and a truly remarkable day

Tue 18 Oct 2016 20:53

Hunga Haven and a truly remarkable day.

As we came in the day before yesterday we followed another yacht and watched her progress using AIS on our tablet. Her name is Sonrisa, a Catalina 40 built in 1980 and she is registered in Las Vegas, maybe because sailing is, at the best of times, a bit of a gamble. We had a lovely evening with Andrew and Lesley on board yesterday but let me start at the beginning.

I am a nosey parker, I know I am, I can’t help it and sometimes the trait has its uses.  I was standing in the saloon first thing yesterday having just committed the blog to the computer, reading the Betty Crocker cake mix box and thinking of course her cakes are ‘Super Moist’, as the box said, there’s half a cup of oil in them! When I heard Barry’s powerful outboard motor whizzing across the lagoon. He appeared to have a few people on board and they were making rapid progress, then suddenly they stopped. Folk started leaning over the stern and then I noticed they tilted the motor forward so the prop was out of the water. Then heads started turning towards us and their home behind on the shore. One person stood in the boat and gave the classic alarm signal of waving arms.

I clicked on VHF Channel 26 and called up Cindy. We went down to Channel 13 and I told her what I had just seen. Our outboard motor was still clinging to the pushpit rail so I explained we would be able to give them a tow in a few minutes, but by the time we were ready Andrew was already off in his folding dinghy. First he delivered Barry’s guests to another beach and then returned to the stricken metal boat and by the time we were making our way to them he had Barry and Clement in the boat moving along behind him at a good speed.

We rowed ashore later to do some hiking and while chatting to Barry who seemed to think the culprit was the gearbox that had suddenly shed its oil, we offered him the use of our dinghy. Slight problem Rob pointed out was that the outboard motor was back on the pushpit on Zoonie. So we rowed back , picked it up and tried again. As the tide was falling and to keep the dinghy afloat Barry tied the painter to his continual line that keeps his boat afloat and retrievable from the shore, and we left him to it.

Hunga’s own jungle was part human created and part ancient. We wandered along the narrow human path, through the derelict banana plantation around a giant mango tree with piles of split coconuts lying around the base and sensed the past activity of humans eaking out a living from fruit and copra production. We were trespassing on their history. The Tongan Crown banishes people from their land if they can get someone to pay for a lease on it and it looked as if that had happened here. The odd item of rotting clothing, the soles of discarded shoes and a tent partially buried in a pit were sinister to behold.

The land rose gently toward the track that led along the ridge of this section of the volcanic caldera. We gathered fallen orange limes but didn’t see any bananas. Rob seemed to think that each palm produces one crop and then dies, maybe that’s why there were none left.

The track was easy walking and we started to hear the waves crashing onto the windward shore as we approached a metal gate that looked more like a bed head. Beside it was a stile of two logs standing on end either side of the wire fence. On the other side was one of the five cows Barry had told us about. The fence was to keep them in, not us out. He also mentioned a bull. “Is it friendly,” I asked.

“Oh I don’t think you’ll have any trouble from him, he has his females with him.” The prospect of no fence between us and a bull gives me the heeby geebies having heard about numerous deaths in the UK caused by people walking across fields with aggressive bulls in them, but I was prepared to give it a go, bulls can’t climb trees.

This little feller looked shy and moved away from us, so that was fine. We kept looking around for a dwelling of some sort but all we found was a horizontal branch over which a wet suit, tshirts, shorts, a pair of floral leggings and a snorkel and mask were dangling. They looked as if they had been there for a while, so why hadn’t someone come back for them? Weird.

The ocean started to appear through the foliage and we knew we were near the beach but suddenly we saw, huddled together, a few cows and the biggest black and white Holstein bull I have ever seen. “Oh God,” I appealed. Bully looked at us as we walked nonchalantly past, but continued chewing the cud. A brief glance over my shoulder and I saw he was no longer remotely interested.

We walked carefully down a widening red soil track onto the sand and into another world, the world of millions of years ago.

Once upon a time this island had been a high and live volcano, as it died it sank maybe a centimetre a year, not much more. Eventually the rim of the hole at the top of the volcano was at sea level and it filled to form the lagoon. Sea creatures, molluscs, corals and the like grew, thrived and died forming the hard and razor sharp limestone rock that makes up the shoreline today. Some of it has been laid down in sedimentary flats of rock one layer sandwiched on top of another and filled with coral fingers and shells.

All the rock pools on the shore and in raised up pools in hollows formed from wave action showed activity of some kind. I won’t bore you by mentioning the species that we have seen before which we saw in plenty here, instead we found some new ones.

An anemone nursery of tiny ones totally protected from the crashing waves and yet refreshed with seawater on every high tide. Neon tetras, like the ones you would buy at an aquarium in the UK. A live sand dollar that I have only seen before in the Caribbean. A mussel shell at least 8 inches long and big coral growths on ancient pink bi valves. A live ammonite shell, its resident spitting out water and bubbles. Gnarled and contorted trees determinedly clinging onto the water retaining crevices in the limestone rocks.

But most extraordinary of all were the Jurassic hovercraft. Chitons. A small colony of these oval shaped mollusc with their overlapping platelets on their backs and a rim just like the skirt of a hovercraft. I recognised them straightaway from my biology studies at school, but I have never before seen one, let alone a group of five in the wild. And this was a wild place.

No evidence of man, it was as if we had walked through a jagged limestone time warp and any minute we would hear the roar and feel the vibrating ground as a dinosaur of some kind stomped slathering from the woods onto the beach only to see us running for our lives. This took no imagining, the scene was set all around us.

We didn’t want to leave, we sat and drank our water, posed for a selfy and took our reluctant leave because our tummies were empty and by the time we got back to Barry and Cindy’s house we would be thirsty again.

The dinghy was still away so we did some exploring along the beach opposite Zoonie as it was low tide, before paddling Barry’s orange plastic kayak back to Zoonie and two glasses of welcome water.

A few minutes later while I was cooking fish, pasta, sliced and fried aubergine and onions with a touch of tomato paste and lime juice, which we demolished quicker than it took me to type this, Barry came alongside and swopped boats. He declined our invitation aboard for a drink as he still had work to do so we were left to finish our meal. Cindy had kindly offered us two hours of free internet on the boat for our morning’s rescue service so Rob set that up while I cleared away. 

Then we went to visit Andrew and Lesley on Sonrisa at their invitation and got to know them over the beer we had taken and their rum punch accompanied by Andrew’s corn, freshly popped in coconut oil and warm home-made chocolate brownies. They shone a torch on Zoonie’s hull to guide us home.