On Wednesday, September 20, we officially checked into Tonga. We were in the northern island group, Vava’u, which is a paradise for cruisers. The group is made up of multiple islands, higher in elevation than the low-lying atolls of some island groups. There is one large town, Neiafu on the island of Vava’u, and then there are lots of small villages scattered around. There are dozens of places to anchor, either alone or with other boats. The town of Neiafu has much to offer if you have time to explore, and it is a gathering place for ex-pats and cruisers, along with native Tongans.
A main building in Neiafu in front of the small boat marina
That night, we had dinner at Mango, a restaurant on the waterfront that has a good-size dinghy dock. (The folks at Mango get a lot of business from the cruisers and they let us dock our dinghies there even if we aren’t eating there at the moment.) Dinner was with Yvette and Alex on Blue Beryl, but we also talked with Kristina and Chip from Second Set and Craig and Dawn and Jeanie from Russula.
The next day, we went to town again to explore. We started off looking for a bakery we’d heard about, walking away from the main town. Soon, a man stopped in his car and asked us where we were going. He then drove us to the bakery, and after we discovered that their goods were sold out, he drove us to a market that sold bread. It turned out that I had given him some rope the day before, down at the wharf. He repaid that kindness by driving us around.
After doing boat maintenance projects for the rest of the day, we had dinner at Kraken, another waterfront restaurant, with Blue Beryl and Szel and dozens of other boats. It was quiz night, run by the daughter of the owners, and everyone had lots of fun.
Yvette and Jeanne Socrates at Kraken on Quiz Night
On Friday, we went to town so Tom could shop for gifts. While he and Linda were at the public market, I went to Immigration to get letters for Pat and Johno so they could fly into Tonga without return tickets. I also extended my visa so it wouldn’t run out before our departure from Tonga. We had lunch at a shop that makes custom T-shirts and cooks nice goodies. Back at the boat, Blue Beryl and Szel stopped by to say farewell to Tom and then we took him back to shore to catch a taxi to the airport.
On Saturday, Linda and I went to shore to the public market and bought baskets, then had a late breakfast at Mango. In the afternoon, we went to the small boat marina to catch a shuttle to the boatyard. The owners of the boatyard were hosting the first event of a multi-day festival for the cruisers. We got a tour of the boatyard facilities and were treated to beer and sausages. It was a great time to see some old friends and to meet new people.
Sunday is a special day in Tonga, which is very serious about religion. You are not allowed to work or play. Linda and I stayed on the boat as required, but we did run the storm jib and the trysail up just to check that they were set to use. I have never used either of these sails, but they might be necessary on the upcoming trip to New Zealand. That night Blue Beryl and Szel came over to Aldabra for dinner.
One of the churches in Neiafu
On Monday, Linda and I started the morning at the market, buying baskets. We also did more boat projects before attending the opening dinner for the festival, which was at Mango. The food was good and it was a big social event for all the cruisers, making new acquaintances and renewing old ones.
Opening dinner at Mango
The next day, Linda finished packing for her flight back home. Then we went to the Basque Tavern for a festival-sponsored breakfast. We had just enough time to eat before Linda’s taxi came to take her to the airport. Like Tom, she had made many new friends on this trip and they were all sad to see her leave. After breakfast, representatives from various New Zealand businesses and government agencies briefed us on things we needed to know to enter New Zealand.
I spent the afternoon taking care of laundry, reorganizing the boat and doing a bit of shopping. Alex and Yvette had me over to Blue Beryl for cocktails because they thought I might be lonely. The three of us then went to Kraken for pizza night, another festival event. We got there pretty late so the pizza was almost non-existent. We ordered some food and started planning for the sailboat race scheduled for the next day.
On Wednesday, September 27, Alex and I went to the race committee meeting at Mango at 9:00 a.m. The race was to begin from Mango. Competitors were to run from the restaurant, get in their dinghies and go out to their boats. To speed up our start, one of our crew members, Daisy from the sailboat Traveller, was in her dinghy, waiting for us with the motor running. Alex and I jumped in and Daisy ran us to Blue Beryl, which was quite close to the restaurant. Alex had prepared Blue Beryl by removing the lines from the mooring ball and tethering the boat to the dinghies we had attached to the mooring ball. He just had to attach Daisy’s dinghy, unclip Blue Beryl and we were off. It was a very strategic start.
The race was quite fun. We sailed with Alex, Yvette, Daisy, Kim and her daughter Liz from the sailboat Tranquility, Fred, who would be crewing on Blue Beryl after Yvette flew to New Zealand, and me. We sailed very well and it was a lovely day for racing. We were passed by two or three very fast racing monohulls and a couple of very fast catamarans, but we were pleased with our performance. At the end of the race, we motored to Mango and Fred jumped off and swam to the restaurant to log us in. Later that evening, we attended an after-race dinner at the Basque Tavern, where lots of fun prizes were given. Daisy and I left at a reasonable hour, but a lot of other people made a late night of it.
On Thursday, September 28, the festival activity was an all-day culture event. We were taken in buses from the main town of Neiafu to the other side of the island. There, the Tongan tourist organization had prepared a beach party. We helped prepare some of the food before it went into the Umu, the underground fire. We visited with fellow cruisers and local Tongans, and we were treated to singing and dancing by local children. There were also competitions that the cruisers participated in, such as spear throwing and juggling. The event was a fundraiser for the library, which offers all kinds of activities for the local children. These children performed at the event.
Preparing the Umu
Preparing the food that will be cooked in the Umu
The children at Culture Day
Dancing at Culture Day
Boys dancing, the money being put in their clothes goes to the library
The next day, I went to the Falaeu Deli and ordered prepared food for the passage to New Zealand, to be picked up before leaving Neiafu. I then went to a few small markets and found some food provisions before returning to the boat to bake banana bread. That night we attended the closing dinner for the festival, at Kraken, which included a live auction that benefitted two local charities. It was a roaring event with lots of participation.
Wild night at the charity auction
On Saturday, September 30, Alex, Yvette and I went whale watching. The other participants included one cruiser and two couples that were visiting Tonga by land. While out on the boat, we saw many whales spouting and breaching in the distance. And one whale breached right next to the boat. But it wasn’t until later in the afternoon that we got into the water to swim with a mama whale and her baby. We were divided into two groups of four and we each got to get in twice. The experience was magical.
Swimming with a baby whale
That night we had dinner at Mango with Bob and Sarah from Rhapsody, to celebrate Sarah’s birthday. While we were there, Mike and Daisy from Traveller, Craig and Dawn from Russula, and Thomas and Daniel from Saorise stopped by and joined us.
On Sunday, October 1, I left the mooring ball in the Neiafu harbor and followed Blue Beryl outside of that bay and over to Port Maurelle, a bay not too far away. After Alex and Yvette had anchored, Alex came over to Aldabra in his dinghy and helped me drop my anchor. It was nice to get out of town and to be in a more remote bay. That night we had a delicious potluck on the beach with a few of the boats.
The next day, Yvette and I went to shore to explore. We walked to one town and then doubled back to another. We didn’t meet very many people but we did stop by a small resort and talked to the owner and the chef.
Tuesday was a cold and windy day with some rain. I changed the oil and the oil filter in the diesel engine. Alex came over and put a block on the mast for a halyard for the storm jib. Later, Alex and Yvette and I went in their dinghy to see Swallow’s Cave and one other nearby cave. That night we had pizza on Blue Beryl with Bart and Kim and Liz from Tranquility.
On Wednesday, I discovered that my foot switch for my anchor windlass wasn’t working. Alex came over to assess it, and rigged up a toggle switch that bypassed the foot switch. He then helped me pull up the anchor, and both boats left Port Maurelle and went over to anchorage #16. (For convenience, most of the anchorages in the Vava’u group of Tonga are numbered.) It was very windy and rainy there, but that night, a lot of the boats in the anchorage had a progressive get together where they gathered for 30 minutes or so on each boat for cocktails and snacks. I had already planned to cook dinner for Alex and Yvette, so we stayed on Aldabra and had a nice dinner.
On Thursday, we took my dinghy to a beach near the reef, then swam through breakers to get to the outside of the reef. It was a pretty challenging swim and I got winded. I was wearing the wrong fins for pushing through waves and strong current. Once we got to the other side, it was beautiful, but we didn’t stay that long before heading back to the beach. As we were getting ready to head back to Neiafu, the resident of that island came out with some papayas, and then Yvette and Alex went to his house for a visit. After they came back, Alex helped me pull up my anchor. I then drove by his boat and he dived off Aldabra and swam to Blue Beryl while I continued out of the bay. They passed me at one point and I then pulled out my jib and sailed on a broad reach most of the way back to Neiafu. I rolled in the jib when I turned the corner to head to the mooring balls. I followed Blue Beryl until they picked up a mooring. They then called on the radio to let me know that Jamie from Szel was in his dinghy, holding a mooring ball for me. I motored over to him and he helped me attach my lines to the ball.
On Friday, Johno arrived from the airport by taxi in the early evening. We took his luggage back to the boat and then met up with Szel and Blue Beryl for dinner at the Basque Tavern. Johno was tired from traveling so we left around 8:30. Alex and Yvette stayed quite late and had lots of stories for the next day.
On Saturday, October 7, Szel and Blue Beryl left Neiafu, bound for the Ha’apai island group and then south to Tongatapu. Johno and I went to the market, where he bought baskets. (Linda and I have spread our addiction for Tongan baskets to Alex, Yvette, Tom and now Johno.)
Just a small representation of the Tongan baskets that have been acquired
We went to the Falaeu Deli and picked up our order for prepared food. Then we got 120 liters of diesel fuel. We did this by tying the dinghy up to a dock, carrying three jerry cans each up a long, step set of stairs, walking through someone’s yard, and then walking up the road a short way. After the fuel station worker filled up the cans, we went inside to pay. The matriarch of the business was not going to have us walk those jerry cans back to the stairs. She had her son pull the car around and put our jerry cans in. He then drove us back to the house and helped carry the cans down the stairs. What looked to us like a two-hour ordeal took about 20 minutes, thanks to this very kind Tongan man and his mother. This kindness is something that happens more often than not in Tonga. Our last stop for the day was the T-shirt store, where we had lunch.
On Sunday, the day of rest and not walking around town, we cleaned the foot switch for the windlass and Johno reinstalled it. We also changed the watermaker filters. The rest of the day was relaxing and at the end of the day we had sundowners on Rhapsody and then dinner at Mango.
On Monday morning, we joined Sarah and Bob of Rhapsody for a whale watching trip. Also on the trip were Bjorn and Annelie from MaricX and Jim and Perry from Yuva. Our experience was similar to the previous whale watching trip. We motored for hours before finally getting in the water with a mama and baby. The baby seemed delighted to play with us. And the mama would stop and rest and let us entertain her youngster. Another great encounter with migrating whales.
Along with many images in this blog post, Johno shot this video
Although it was spectacular, and we did not seem to harass the whales, I think that will be the last time I participate in this activity. On one hand, the Tongans are very respectful and restrained with the whales. Still, we followed them in a boat for hours before they stopped to play. I have to think that they would be happier if left unmolested. We all had dinner together that night at Kraken.
On Tuesday, October 10, we checked out of the Vava’u island group before trading a couple of bags of dried beans for produce. (New Zealand will make us throw out the beans when we get there, so we wanted to put them in good hands. The woman we traded with was very happy.) Then we went back to the boat, untied Aldabra from the mooring ball, and headed out of the bay. We motored over to Mariner’s Cave where Johno jumped in the water and I stood off with the engine running on Aldabra. Johno swam, looking for the opening to the cave, but the tide may have been wrong and he did not go inside.
We then motored south to anchorage #40. It was in front of a small island with a reef, but very exposed to the high winds. It felt like we were in the middle of nowhere, although another boat came in and shared the spot with us. At 4:00 the next morning, we pulled up the anchor and motored around a rather large reef area before putting up our sails and pointing south toward the Ha’apai island group. It was a good sail, a close reach with wind in the mid teens.