Monthly Archives: May 2011

Vava’u, Tonga

Catholic churchOur position on Saturday 21st May

18 39.4 south

173 53.9 west

 We left Pangai Saturday 21stMay to sail overnight to the Vava’u group of islands.  We had a F3/4 southeasterly; perfect trade winds.  We motored out of the reef and hoisted the sails for an overnight sail.  There was a boat following us all the way and when we got into Neiafu, the main town in Vava’u, we discovered it was Riga II a Swiss boat we last saw at Big Mama’s in Nuku’alofa with Gaby and Richard on board.  We picked up a buoy in the harbour and went ashore to explore.  Sunday’s are reserved for going to church inTonga and absolutely nothing was open.  In the evening the big catholic church on the hill was broadcasting hymns accompanied by rock music across the Neiafu, it was bizarre. 

The market

Neiafu isTonga’s second ‘city’, but it’s still a sleepy little town of 6000 inhabitants.  It’s more colourful and appealing than Nuka’alofa.  The next morning we all headed back into town to look at the shops and found a wonderful local market selling lots of bananas, pineapples, papayas, long beans, peppers, tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, onions, and watermelons for very little money.  It’s possible to get potatoes but most of the locals eat cassava, which is a root vegetable similar to sweet potato, but a bit of an acquired taste. The ladies on the market stalls were very friendly and even though we were charged tourist prices it’s still very cheap ranging from T$1 to T$3 (35p to £1) a bundle.  Although it seems much cleaner here it’s still quite dirty.  There is a strange assortment of shops in Neiafu, many owned by the local Chinese community.  It isn’t possible to get all your shopping in one place.  I spend ages looking around them all to see what they have for sale and then go back to buy it.  They may have chicken in one of the freezers in one shop but that same shop may not have kidney beans or coffee.  The word ‘shop’ is a very loose term any way because some of them are little more than large garden sheds with very poor lighting and just warehouse racking for shelves.  MOT, who needs one of those

On walking further into the town we spotted this car, believe it or not its still being driven around.

Having my hair washed by a ladyboy

Gaby had the idea we should get our hair cut so we went into the local hairdressers where we found two ladyboys cutting hair.  It was ok but not as good as the hairdresser in NZ, the up side was it only cost T$10 which is about £3.50!

We spent a week in Neiafu catching up with washing, interneting and boat maintenance.  I spent a long time in the local internet café researching the possibility of flying back to the UK for a while to see everyone.

Kenutu beach

The anchorages around the Vava’u group are beautiful and we stopped at several but the best one was off the island of Kenutu, the most easterly of the islands.  It has quite a difficult approach through the inner reef amongst the coral heads but, with difficulty, we found the entrance after half an hour of looking and were rewarded with a spectacular scene of the ocean waves exploding around the ends of the island. 

Camomile anchored off the beach

The anchorage off the beach was well sheltered even though the island was on the edge of the outer ocean reef.  Beyond it was the South Pacific ocean with nothing between South America and us.  The island is overgrown brush and trees, yet the beach is very attractive.  At low tide the undercuts in the limestone are revealed.  We found a path leading from the beach to the other side of the island. 

Waves crashing on the cliffs

There was a superb view of the surf crashing against the high cliffs on the other side of the island.  We had heard the booms from the anchorage. 

Pirates hideaway

Someone had made a hideout on top of the cliffs, it looked a bit like the bases the boys used to make when they were young.

Bill standing on the edge of the reef

Back on our beach we walked out to the edge of the reef, it was an amazing feeling being that close to the crashing waves which spent their energy crossing the reef and ending up as mere ripples when they got to our toes.  We had the anchorage to ourselves for a further two days before we made our way back through the coral heads to the anchorage at Nuku beach.

Nuku beach

Bill snorkelling in the Blue lagoon

The BWR had a ‘pink’ party here last year for Charlie’s birthday when she 13, today it was deserted and it really felt like we were too late for the party. The sand was so soft under our feet as we walked around the island. 

We moved to the anchorage in the middle of the blue lagoon.  There seems to be a blue lagoon wherever we go but this one was truly blue.  The snorkelling around the edge was superb, so much fish life and colourful coral.

Up to this point we had the anchorages mostly to ourselves but we were hearing more and more boats on the vhf as the ICA fleet gradually caught up with us.  We hadn’t signed up to join the rally until Fiji but we started meeting boats and joining in their activities.  A Tongan feast was arranged one evening, which started with a kava session.  Kava is made from the root of the ginger plant, which is soaked and strained, and then presented in coconut shells while sitting cross-legged.  It looks like dish water but tastes worse and has a mild narcotic effect.  Bill quite likes it but I worry where the water comes from it’s soaked in.  

A Tongan feast

The ‘feast’ consisted of lots of ‘dishes’ served up on bamboo halves with a suckling pig in the centre.  It was interesting trying new foods even though we didn’t recognise most of them. 

Traditional dancing

After we’d finished eating we were entertained by the local children with traditional dancing, which we all joined in with. Sharon from Larabeck had taken her violin and joined in with the band.  We had a wonderful evening.


We all joined in


Swallows cave

We spent over three weeks in the Vava’u group but before we returned to Neiafu there was one last spot we wanted to check out, Swallows cave.  Near the cave the depth is more than 40 metres so anchoring is impossible, there’s also a lot of coral around the edge so care needs to be taken.  We poked Camomile’s bow in as close as we dare to take a look but then Bill’s dropped the dinghy so I could go inside while Bill stood off.  The intense blue of the deep water was stunning.  It was very dark inside and sadly covered in graffiti although some of it dates back to whaling days and so has a certain historical value. 

Camomile close to the entrance

The stalactites were just visible among the mud nests of the birds.  Although it’s called Swallows cave they were in fact Starlings flying in and out.  It’s possible to swim around inside but it was scary enough being in there on my own without getting in the water.  There’s also an inner cave where it’s possible to crawl into but even though I haven’t seen the scary cave films there was no way I was doing that so I motored back out again.

We stayed in Neiafu for 3 days completing all the formalities, refuelling with duty free fuel and shopping for the next leg.  The rally arranged for us to do a mass clearance, which can be a problem with so many skippers together, but it gave us a chance to have some nice chats and start to get to know the rallies, who already know each other.  We left o.n 16th June

A rally checking out of immigration


The rally checking out of customs

The Eastern Ha’apai group, Tonga

Shell beach on Tatafa

Our position on Sunday 15th May

19º 52.8 south – one more latitude nearer the equator.

174º 25.8 west

Sunday 15th May was a nice example of a day doing nothing in the tropics.  We woke about 8am with the boat rocking quite badly in the swell.  We had intended to go to church with Peter from the plantation but there was too much swell coming into the anchorage to leave Camomile at anchor so we had to leave.  We left the same way we had come in the day before with our newly acquired fruit swinging in the new hammock Bill had set up under the solar panel.  We had bacon and eggs for breakfast as we watched deserted islands slide by.  

Rainbow over the reef

We anchored next to Tafata, which was uninhabited.  I baked some bread for lunch alongwith some flapjacks, although it was 33C under the cockpit.  We dinghyed over to the island and landed on the beach.  It was mostly composed of shells and coral and it glimmered in the sunlight.  We walked the two-mile circuit around the island, clothes were optional as usual, and it took about an hour.  I collected quite a few unusual shells just lying in the sand, beautiful shapes and colours.  On the far side of the island we watched the crystal clear water breaking over the reef and ending up in little ripples by our bare feet.  We had a little shower of rain, which resulted in the usual beautiful rainbow.  The island was covered in luxuriant green Hibiscus plants growing wild along the water line.  We noticed some animal footprints in the sand and a bit further along came upon a wild pig but he ran off when he saw us. 

Hibiscus trees growing on the beach

We continued onto the dinghy then flopped in the water to cool off.  Just as we were leaving Bill spotted this whales vertebra in the undergrowth.  We got back to the boat about 4pm for tea and flapjacks.

Whales vertebra found on Tatafa beach






This is Camomile anchored off the beach sporting her new solar panels that tilt to the sun. 

Camomile's new solar panels

We watched the local boats passing us overloaded with passengers from the neighbouring island on their way home after church.

Commuter traffic Tongan style


We have 12-hour days in the tropics and the sun goes down about 6pm and is replaced by the moon.  I usually cook our evening meal after sundown when it’s cooler. There isn’t any TV or radio here so we live in a beautiful but silent world. 

Moon rise

So that’s our daily routine in the islands; tough life isn’t it!

Small boat anchorage off Uhia

The Ha’apai group of islands inTonga are not often visited by yachts and indeed we haven’t seen a single other yacht so far.  There aren’t any special features of tourist interest just beautiful beaches and a lush background of palm trees and calm blue water, everything that the south sea posters portray but the basic trappings of life that we take for granted in the western world is simply unavailable to these people.  The next day we took the dinghy across to the neighbouring island of Uhia. 

Houses grouped around a watering hole on Uhia

We wandered around the village, which depicts the simple life the islanders live.  Their homes are little more than garden sheds.  Unlike the Fijians the Tongans are very quiet and reserved.  If you greet them they will greet you in return but otherwise they keep themselves to themselves. 

Church on UhiaLadies preparing leaves to make Tapa cloth

We continued along the ‘street’ and came upon some local ladies stripping leaves preparing them to make ‘Tapu’ cloth.  They were happy to show us how they did it.  They were also running a little shop where I bought some eggs.  No egg boxes though they just placed them in a plastic bag.  I managed to get them back to the boat without breaking them. 

Surrounded by a storm

We spend the next few days visiting the islands of Uoleva and Pangai picking our way through the reefs to get to them.  On the way to Pangai we encountered a mammoth thunderstorm. The forecast was for showers but after we set off the rain started getting heavier and it quickly became a tropical storm. We tracked it on the chartplotter and thought we had avoided it, the pink areas are storm clouds, but it turned at the last minute and crossed our path.  The heavens just opened and it poured with rain.  It was difficult to see more than 50 feet in front of us so we stopped the boat because we were too near the reefs.  Fortunately it cleared within half an hour and we were back in the sunshine. 

Abandoned digger on Pangai

We continued to Pangai, the ‘capital’ of the Ha’apai islands.  There were several other yachts there so it was nice to have a chat with them.  We were hoping to get some supplies but the market had very little for sale.  There were a couple of little shops selling tinned goods but nothing fresh, I don’t know what these people live on.  We’ll have to wait until we get to Neiafu.  We wandered around the village and found this abandoned digger in someone’s garden. 

Internet cafe on Pangai

Further down the road we came across the Mariners café, which was run by a kiwi with his polish partner.  It had a basic wifi system so we were able to log on and obtain our emails and managed to skype the boys; they also offered good beef burgers, which we enjoyed.  We had thunder and lightening that night which made us swing around in the anchorage, the holding wasn’t very good so the next day we left the Ha’apai islands to head north to the Vava’u group of islands.




The Western Hapai group in Tonga

Waves breaking on the reef as we left

We left Big Mama’s on Tuesday 10th May but the wind was too strong to sail.  We motored around to the other side of the island next to the entrance to the reef ready to leave when the wind dropped.  We managed to get away at 5pm on the Wednesday.  We couldn’t leave it any later or we wouldn’t have been able to see the reef, it’s dark here by 6pm.  We motored over the edge of the shelf of the land into the deep sea, sails up, engine off – we were going to fast.   We only needed to sail at 4.5 kts so we could arrive in the daylight but the wind pushed us along at 6kts+.  We hove-to for 3 hours at 4am to wait for the sun to come up before we continued on into the reefs. 

This is why we don't trust the chartplotter!

Our position on 12th May

20º 16.63 south

174º 48.28 west

This photo shows why we can’t trust the chart plotter.  The green area is reef around the island, the red cross is the waypoint we were using to find a spot to anchor, the boat in the middle of the island is our position after we had ‘eye-balled’ our way in past the ‘boomies’ or coral heads. The island was about half a mile different from where it was supposed to be. 

Deserted beach at Nomuka

We were anchored next to an island called Nomuka Iki, it was about a mile long and less than a mile wide.  The island was deserted and we had it to ourselves.  We walked along the beautiful beach leaving only our footprints.  The water was beautifully clear and we swam and snorkelled around the boomies.

School on Oua island

Our position on 13th May

20  02.77 south

174  40.90 west 

Friday the 13thand we were out sailing, hopefully all will be ok.  We started off sailing but the wind gradually died and the motor was soon on.  We headed for an island called Oua, it’s surrounded by a lagoon, which is encircled by reefs.  Despite 2 of the 4 marker buoys being missing we managed to find the entrance and found a nice spot to anchor. 

The children on Oua island

Up to this point we hadn’t been to a Tongan village so we dropped the dinghy into the water and motored over to the jetty.  I had a bag full of lollipops and each time we saw a child we gave them one.  Word spread quickly and we became like Pied Piper with a string of children following us wanting to practise their English and their hand stands.  The children were keen to show us their school.  There was only one room but it was very colourful although it lacked the very basic things our school children take for granted.  The Tongan people appear to be very poor.  The adults in the village were very quiet although they smiled politely as we passed.   The children followed us back to the jetty, doing handstands all the way.  They have a wonderful free life, roaming their island freely.  During the evening the adults passed us on their way out of the reef to fish, they are happy to wave but don’t come to chat like the Fijians did last year. 

The chartplotter can't be relied upon again

We left the next morning crossing a clear open channel that wasn’t on the chartpoltter, again it can’t be relied upon.  A pod of porpoises came to escort us out of the reef; they are smaller than dolphins but jump higher out of the water – except when you get the camera out!

The porpoises escorted us through the reef

Beautiful rainbow but it means rain is out there

The next island was only a couple of hours away so we motored to it.  We had a beautiful rainbow off our starboard side while we were travelling along but that meant there was rain around.

The main street on Ha'afeva island

Our position on 14th May

19º 56.4 south

174º42.9 west

Ha’afeva has a beautiful lagoon anchorage on the west side protected by its surrounding reef.  It had an easy entrance with a marker beacon – that was a first.  We anchored near the jetty that had been partially washed away by a recent tsunami; they have regular storm surges in this area in the cyclone season.  The village is on the east side, which is a pleasant walk from the anchorage – we didn’t notice the mossies until later.  The main street was fairly well kept although there were pigs roaming around freely.  We found a little shop and bought some eggs and bread.  We walked around for a while chatting to the children, the lollipops were popular again. 

Peter with bananas from his plantation

On our way back to the boat we met Peter who owned a plantation.  He offered us some fruit and disappeared into the bush to get it – emerging with half the tree!  There were so many bananas on the stalk that we said we wouldn’t be able to eat them but he insisted we take them.  We also had some fresh lemons and a papaya.  He carried the bananas back to the jetty for us which we put in the dinghy and took them back to the boat, he wouldn’t take any money so we gave him some cigarettes, a couple of beers and a t-shirt which he seemed happy with.  We sat and watched the sun go down over the volcanic island of Kao 25 miles away.  

The tip of Kao 25 miles away

Our week in Nuku’alofa including my Birthday

Our position is
21 07.5 south
175 09.7 west
Nuku’alofa, Tonga

The Royal palace

Tonga is made up of four groups of islands each one a day sail apart. The distances would be the equivalent of Dover, Portsmouth, Falmouth and then Cork in Ireland because the last group are a couple of days away. Most of the larger islands, Tongatapu and the Ha’apai group are raised coral limestone while the Vava’u group and the Nius in the north are volcanic. The whole chain sits on the edge of the Tonga trench which, at it’s deepest, is over 9000m deep and some of the islands are just tips of volcanos. The Tongan people are Polynesian and they live in close net communities. Tonga is the only Pacific nation never to have been controlled by foreign powers and is the last remaining Polynesian monarchy. We had made land fall in the Tongatapu group and Nuku’alofa was their capital city.

The Royal tombs

It is the centre of government and the king and his family live there. Our first impression was that it was a bit dirty and run down. Many of the people live in little more than tin shacks.
We spent our first weekend relaxing and catching up with our sleep. We went across to Big Mama’s Sunday evening for a beer but were driven back to the boat to escape the mosquitoes.

Tongan church

Monday morning was my birthday. It would be hard to beat the fantastic time I had last year pearl diving in Manihi with our friends from the boats Lucy Alice and Enchantress. We caught the water taxi into town and firstly started at the bank changing our NZ dollars we were going to spend in Niue into Tongan Pa’anga, we have to stay now. The pavements here are awful and while walking into town I managed to fall over, one minute I was walking along, the next I was on the ground. I only grazed my arm and leg a bit but I had gone over sideways and twisted my back, I didn’t realise how badly until later. We continued into town to the Digicell shop to set up our communications (usually the first thing we do). My English mobile isn’t working here because a local network has hijacked it because they don’t have Vodafone here so I’ve turned it off. We bought a sim card for our other phone so we have some contact with the outside world. We then spent the next hour and a half waiting in the shop while their technical team ‘investigated’ our USB plug-in modems to see if they would work in Tonga. The final answer was ‘no’ so that was a waste of time. We managed to find a nice cafe called Friends cafe serving lunch which also had a wifi network albeit very slow. We managed to log into our internet account but no messages – you must have all forgotten it was my birthday!!

Tongan Quik fit

We walked around the market to buy some fresh fruit but by this time my back was starting to seize up. After a further mile back to the harbour to catch the water taxi I could hardly walk. I got back to the boat feeling very sorry for myself when our new friends Michael and Sharon from the yacht Larabeck arrived with a little cake, I was so pleased. They joined us for a drink and Bill managed to rustle up a few candles. We had a little celebration but as birthday’s go it won’t be etched on my memory.
Tuesday it rained heavily and we stayed on board so I could rest my back. Bill put the canopy up with his new water catcher system – that stopped it raining.
Wednesday we went into town on the water taxi with Michael and Sharon to get some stronger pain killers for me and some treatment for Michael’s ear infection. We took a taxi to a recommended pharmacy where a nice young New Zealander was working and he gave me some strong anti-inflamatories which have proved to work very well. We all went back to the Friends cafe for lunch (it’s a little oasis selling real coffee and NZ style slices) and to log on but the internet is painfully slow. I would love to post some photos but it’s too slow to support that.

30 year old ship wreck surrounded by beautiful fish

Thursday we went across to Big Mama’s and took a slow walk around the island to try to keep my back active. If you put our position into google earth you will see a large ship wreck next to us. It ran aground 30 years ago and hasn’t been removed. It now has coral growing on it and lots of fish swimming around it. We swam from the beach and snorkeled over it. It was amazing to see all the fish.
Friday was another quiet day resting my back which is now a lot better. The wind has dropped and it’s really hot, 33C in the cockpit under the sun canopy. The mossies have found their way over to the boat so the mossie nets are in.
Saturday is Market day in town. There’s a market every day but Saturday’s was much bigger. I enjoy wandering around the stalls looking for fruit and veg. Things like pineapples, papayas and bananas are really cheap but apples that are imported are more expensive. I also managed to get some peppers, beans, tomatoes and carrots. At the moment we are the only white people here but the stall holders are very friendly and make us feel welcome. We heard today that the ICA rally finally managed to get away from NZ and 25+ boats are on their way.
Sunday everything stops here. Nothing is open and the locals all go to church. It’s also Mother’s day here which makes me feel sad because I miss my boys so much. We snorkeled the reef behind us which had an amazing amount of fish on it. Another boat has arrived and we went over to welcome them and have a chat.

The bar at Big Mama's

Monday was our last day at Big Mama’s, although the wind is now too strong to leave today the forecast is good for tomorrow. We went into town to check out with customs. We are accustomed to waiting hours in customs houses but luckily he wasn’t busy and processed us straight away. We took a taxi into town (my back was still a bit fragile for too much walking) and had a last lunch in our little cafe.

Rebuilding the jetty with Camomile in the background

Although we’ve been here a week we haven’t been able to venture far across the island because of my silly fall but Tongatapu looks a bit flat and uninteresting, hopefully the Ha’apai group will be nicer. Our Tongan mobile is 00 676 8490588

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