Saturday, May 2, 2009

Vava'U Group, Ha'apai Group & Tongatapu Group, Sept-Oct 2008

We arrived in Neiafu, Vava'U in the Kingdom of Tonga on September 1, 2008. Stayed around the various anchorages of the Vava'U Group for the entire month of September. Then sailed south to the Ha'apai Group. By about the third week of October we were in Tongatapu waiting for the right weather window for that dreaded passage south to New Zealand.

This was our second visit to Tonga. We had spent 2 weeks in Vava'U Group on a sailboat charter back in June 2002. That visit was 6 months after the devestating Cyclone Waka that hit Vava'U on December 31, 2001. On our first visit the islands were devoid of most vegetation. There were some 600 ft cliffs that were bare stone all the way down to the sea. This was very striking. We did not realize at the time that this cliffs were normally covered in various forms of vegetation. I was looking forward to seeing these stark cliffs again. Imagine my surprise when we turned south over the north end of Vava'U and there were no bare cliffs. There was various shades of green all the way down to the water's edge. Probably shouldn't say it, but it was prettier when the cliffs were bare stone.

This photo was taken looking outward from Mariners Cave, an underwater cave that is popular with tourists. This photo was taken by Michele on S/V FREE SPIRIT. We did not go into Mariners Cave.

Vava'U was lots of fun. Many dinners out and evenings of bar/band entertainment. Even managed to watch a couple of American football games at a restaurant. That was really a special treat. We went to a pig roast one afternoon and watched those little baby pigs twirling above the fire on the beach with sticks pushed through their little bodies. Looked so sad but didn't stop us from eating the little devils.

Sailing southward to the Ha'apai Group was quite an experience. There were whales all around us. Most were humpback whales but I saw a sperm whale broach and that is a memory that I will take to my grave. Majestic was the word that instantly came to mind. Nothing else could adequately describe how this huge mammal looked as its head and forward body shot up out of the water and then crashed down creating a big splash. No way to get a photo of this as it happened so quickly.

After we anchored in the first island at the Ha'apai Group a mother humpback whale and her very small new calf came swimming through the anchorage in front of the anchored boats. The calf kept broaching, time after time, while the mother stayed a little ways behind him. What a sight!

At another island in the Ha'apai Group we were invited into a typical Tongan family home for a "feast." This feast did not remotely resemble the real Tongan feasts that we had attended in Vava'U. This family was so poor they had little to eat, but they gladly shared with us what little they did have. Basically it was just taro cooked in a couple of ways, one bowl of which had some kind of unidentifyable meat. The bones looked different from any meat that I have ever seen. The only animals we saw on the island were dogs and pigs; no goats or lambs. This family had no electricity or refrigeration so the meat had to be local. I do hope we didn't eat a dog. But that is one of those things that it is probably best to not think about it.

Kelefesia is a gorgeous island. One of those paradise places. We anchored there for a few days and are glad that we got to see it on a calm day. The island has white sand beaches and is surrounded by reef and it is absolutely georgeous. But when the wind switches and comes from the south this beautiful little anchorage becomes untenable. The swell rolls around the reef and right into the tiny anchorage. I spent our last night there sitting in the cockpit in case the swell caused our anchor to become unset. At first daylight we weighed anchor and got out of there.

The most southerly group of Tonga is the Tongatapu Group. We sat anchored off Pangimotu island at Tongatapu for almost 3 weeks waiting for good weather for the passage to New Zealand. More and more boats arrived as the days went by, so there was lots of entertainment and socializing as we met up with old acquaintances. Big Mama's Yacht Club hosted a big Halloween party and she also hosted little game competitions several days. This is a great place for cruisers to hang out. One day a banded sea snake swam right past our boat. This is the first time I have seen a sea snake.

One day we took a tour of Tongatapu. Unfortunately, this tour did not remotely compare with the great tour we had on our previous visit back in 2002. They did take us to the old stone formation that marks winter and summer solstice. There are enormous stones that were quarried in Samoa and brought to Tonga on outrigger canoes back around 800-1000 A.D. These stones were used to build the burial grounds for the royal family. It still amazes me that they were able to do this. We also saw the 3-headed palm tree, the only one in the world. And the blow-holes lived up to our memories, but the fruit bats did not. The last time we saw huge fruit bats hanging from trees all around one house. This time the fruit bats were much smaller and were in higher trees. Not as impressive.

Sorry that we will probably never return. If someone is thinking of visiting in the South Pacific and can only go to one place, that place should be the Kingdom of Tonga. The food choices are limited and very basic, but the people are wonderful. They still wear traditional clothing every day; they don't just dress up for tourists. Tongans are very Christian. They are the most serene people you can imagine.

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