Discovering Tonga

The last two posts were all text. They were written during our passage from Aitutaki, Cook Islands, to Vava’u, Tonga, using SailMail. SailMail doesn’t allow for graphics. We are now on a mooring in Port Refuge, the harbor for the town of Neiafu, and have a fairly good internet connection and can post photos. It’s raining and is forecast to rain all day.  “Raining” in the tropics is different from what we call raining in the temperate latitudes. Those of you who have experienced it know what this means. The goal today is to collect rainwater and fill the water tanks. Otherwise, we are spending the day below deck, reading and, yes, updating the blog. And this one will mostly be pictures. We hope you enjoy them.

On the passage from Aitutaki to Vava’u (say Va-va-oo):

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Some days were like this …

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and some days were like this.

Our "go to" sail when the wind went very light. It could keep us moving at 1.5 to 2 knots when the breeze was only 4 to 5 knots.

The seastar drifter: Our “go to” sail when the wind goes light. It keeps us moving at 1.5 to 2 knots when the breeze was only 4 to 5 knots.

Huge squall (thunder storm). We avoided this by altering course to the north (right, facing west).

And a few days were like this. You can see a large squall (thunder storm) ahead. We avoided this one by altering course to the north. We were actually quite fortunate on this passage; although we saw a lot of squalls with thunder and lightning around the horizon, we were able to avoid them or they simply missed us.

The Vava’u Island Group of Tonga:

Arrival was Saturday, so we passed the time until Monday anchored in Port Maurelle – a lovely bay around the point from the main town of Neiafu. Neiafu was where we would check in to Tonga.

The geology of Tonga surprised us. In contrast to the volcanic islands of the Marquesas and Societies, Tonga is comprised of sedimentary limestone lifted up above the sea. This results in flat-topped islands with no high peaks but steeply eroded cliffs at the shore line, and fewer beaches, but numerous caves to explore. The smaller islands look like muffins. One benefit of this geology for the Tongans is more arable land and good soil for crops.

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Looking back toward the entrance into the Vava’u Group from Port Maurelle anchorage. We saw several other cruising yachts moving between islands. We shared our anchorage at Port Maurelle with about a dozen other cruising yachts.

The beach at the head of Port Maurelle bay.

Yet another pretty beach. This one at the head of Port Maurelle bay. Interestingly, due to the geology of the Vava’u Group, there are not a lot of sand beaches. The real beauty is said to be underwater, where the coral and limestone uplift has created caves and so-called “coral gardens.”

This was taken in Port Maurelle, a lovely bay "around the corner" from Neiafu and where we anchored after arrival, while waiting for Monday morning to clear in to Customs. Phillip in his dinghy, his boat Ness in the near background. Alan's Zebedee behind. Betty Ann of Confidence, anchored nearby, swam over to say "hello".

We anchored near the boat Ness, a steel Tahitiana 31 with a gaff rig and no winches that we’d last seen in Ta’haa, Society Islands. Phillip and Ness hail from Port Townsend and have already completed one circumnavigation. Phillip rowed over for a visit. Betty Ann of Confidence, anchored nearby, swam over to say “hello” also.  Zebedee lies beyond Ness. She is a J. Benford design is a plywood sailing dory with a junk rig and no engine. Both skippers row their dinghies. We all felt at home together.

Philip of Ness and Allen of Zebedee, sharing Allen's boat-made 'wine.' Per Ruth, it is entirely drinkable. Both single handers have circumnavigated and are inthe Pacific for the second time. Phillip (from the US) will head back to South America, around the Horn and, eventually, to the US East Coast. Alan (from England) has plans that are fluid at the moment.

Philip of Ness and Allen of Zebedee, sharing Allen’s boat-made wine. Per Ruth, it is entirely drinkable. Both single-handers are in the Pacific for the second time. Alan, Zebedee’s owner/skipper, has also already completed one circumnavigation on Zebedee and is slowly working around on his second loop. Phillip’s plans are to backtrack from Tonga to South America, make his way around the Horn and, eventually, to the US East Coast. Alan (who is from England) has plans that are fluid at the moment: a true cruiser.

 

Neiafu:

Part of the entrance to the harbor at Neiafu.

Looking back through the entrance to the harbor at Neiafu. The entrance is marked and has a visible back-range, making it an easy transit for sailboats.

Customs dock. There is one short section that is low enough for sail boats. The rest of the quay is high, with huge black rubber fenders. Clearance officers will come to the dock to board your boat for inspection and paperwork, best done at high tide when access to and from the boat deck is feasible.

Customs dock. There is one short section that is low enough for sail boats. The rest of the quay is high, with huge black rubber fenders for ships. Clearance officers come to the dock to board your boat for inspection and paperwork, best done at high tide when access to and from the boat deck is feasible. We were lucky and able to raft alongside Echo Echo, a Beneteau 47.7, then Galatee rafted outboard of Velic. Five boats cleared in same afternoon, keeping the Customs & Immigration, Health, and Agriculture Quarantine (that’s; right three officials) busy all afternoon.

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Another view of the waterfront and commercial quay. The rip-rap enclosed small boat harbor (lower left) was funded and constructed by local cruisers for visiting yachts. The local fishermen didn’t have anything as nice, so it is now filled with local fish boats. There’s an asset management lesson in this.

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Street scene, downtown Neiafu.

Neiafu farmers' market, right next to the quay. The best-stocked farmers' market we've seen in the South Pacific so far. Especially if you want melons ...

Neiafu farmers’ market, right next to the quay. The best-stocked farmers’ market we’ve seen in the South Pacific so far. Especially if you want melons …  It was very busy Saturday morning. With the fish market right next door, Randy was reminded of the Filipino palengke.

We had GREAT ice cream cones from this small shop, and ate them standing in the shade while the cones dripped on the sidewalk.

We had GREAT ice cream cones from this small shop, and ate them standing in the shade while the ice cream melted and dripped on the sidewalk.

The Methodist church here in Neiafu. We were going to attend Sunday service, but Sunday morning was squally and wet, so we opted to stay dry below on Velic. Getting to the church entailed a row ashore and a 1/2 mile walk, and we didn't want to show up soggy and bedraggled at Sunday service.

The Methodist church here in Neiafu. We had planned to attend Sunday service, but Sunday morning was squally and wet, so we opted to stay dry below on Velic. Getting to the church entailed a row ashore and then a 3/4 kilometer walk, and we didn’t want to show up soggy and bedraggled at Sunday service.

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Schoolboys on their way to classes. Each school has its "uniform" color. The boys wear cloth tupenus in their school's colors with a white short sleeve shirt; girls wear cotton jumpers with whites short sleeve blouse. Notice that some of the older boys are wearing woven mat ta'ovalas. Both men and women may wear the woven ta'ovala,

Schoolboys on their way to classes. Each school has its uniform color. The boys wear cloth tupenus in their school’s colors with a white short sleeve shirt; girls wear cotton jumpers in the school colors with whites short sleeve blouse. Notice that some of the older boys are wearing woven mat ta’ovalas. Both men and women may wear the woven ta’ovala,

Mango Cafe; cruiser hangout

Mango Cafe; cruiser hangout over the water.  Good food, friendly staff, cool breezes, restrooms with TP and soap(!), free wifi, easy dinghy dock. With ambient temperature showers nearby it’s pretty nice living.

Cruiser party at the Aquarium Cafe

Cruiser party at the Aquarium Cafe, another popular place. Most of the Vava’u Bluewater Rally events were held at the Aquarium or at Mango (a whole 200 meters apart). This was a rally sponsored by New Zealand’s yachting industry to promote NZ, provide information about making the passage to New Zealand from Tonga, clearing in to the country, and services on offer there. Sailing is a really big deal in New Zealand and they do a lot of it. The Kiwi accent may be the most commonly heard English language accent in the South Pacific.

Staff at the Aquarium Cafe. "Malo 'Aupito" means Thank You Very Much in Tongan. Tapas cover to front of the cabinet.

Staff at the Aquarium Cafe. “Malo ‘Aupito” means Thank You Very Much in Tongan. Tapas cover to front of the cabinet.

View across part of the anchorage. Mooring bouys have been placed and help to protect the living coral below.

View across part of the anchorage. Mooring buoys have been placed in this deep bay, and they also help to protect the living coral below.

Parade!

Randy was delighted by this unexpected parade on his way back to the dinghy.

A parade with marching bands from the local schools. At the head is a man carrying the flag of Fiji. Why the Fijian flag?? Because the parade was in honor of Fiji Independence Day. Why are Tongans celebrating Fiji Independence Day? I guess they were just being neighborly.

A parade with marching bands from the local schools. At the head is a man carrying the flag of Fiji. Why the Fijian flag?? Because the parade was in honor of Fiji Independence Day.

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This is a the same collegiate band that played for us at the closing party of the Vava’u Bluewater Festival at the Aquarium on Saturday night. Wonderful.

Getting into the spirit.

The main banner of the parade…

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Getting into the spirit.

And taking the opportunity to do a little advertising in support of local businesses.

And taking the opportunity to do a little advertising of local businesses.

This is the red and white flag of Tonga. The other flag you'll recognize.

This is the red and white flag of Tonga. Why the US flag also? We don’t know, but we’ll attribute it to a spirit of friendly inclusion.

Participants getting blessed. We don't know whether the parade stopped at each church in Neiafu; the photographer just happened to be standing near St. Joseph's so was able to get this shot. This is the church overlooking the harbor and is close enough that we can hear singing from onboard Velic. Lovely.

Participants getting blessed. We don’t know whether the parade stopped at each church in Neiafu; the photographer (Randy) just happened to be standing near St. Joseph’s so was able to get this shot. This is the church overlooking the harbor and is close enough that we can hear singing from on board Velic. Lovely.

Performance report: 150 liters, or about 40 gallons, of fresh, clean rain water collected. All water tanks full.

 

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6 thoughts on “Discovering Tonga

  1. Randy and Ruth,
    Whatta trip! Both actual and virtual, for some of us former island hoppers. We lived in Suva 1971-73; while I served as communications “consultant” for 20 island communities.
    Having just moved in Dallas into an apartment from 37 years in the same digs, we have had to sort through (and sadly “recycle”) lots of slides and papers, but memories are strong and lasting.
    We were part of the first anniversary celebration in Fiji of their Independence 1971, as well as the 1972 South Pacific Festival of Arts, when several hundred island representative participants celebrated the variety of cultures from many island communities, including Niue, Cooks, Tonga (brought a Tongan shipload of 800 dancers, artists, and about as many cattle, with many taro for their meals, taking over the whole of Suva Grammar School for two weeks of housing.
    Norma and I were in Rarotonga during Holy Week, 1973, when the inaugural full jet flight from NZ was part of a week-long celebration, with High Commissioner and other dignitaries honored, with us as tagalong “VIPs.”
    Then my successor in the Christian Education and Communications office until 1979 was Ta Makirere from Aitutaki, now retired in NZ. I also spent several sojourns in Tonga, so all of your observations felt familiar.
    Very best wishes to you-all, Bill & Norma Matthews

    Like

    • Bill
      It’s wonderful to hear from you and Norma. I am having fun seeing the South Pacific islands from the eyes of a MK (missionary kid). We’re so pleased that our sharing our blog is reconnecting us with so many long-time friends and family.
      Randy

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  2. Ruth and Randy, I eagerly look forward to your photos and blogs. I am very much enjoying traveling with you! Carl loves ‘revisiting ‘ many of the places he has been and telling me of his experiences. Thank you. Ellen N.

    Sent from my iPad

    >

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    • Ellen,
      Thank you for the kind and encouraging words. We’re always glad to hear that folks are reading and enjoying the blog. An interesting note: Lots of bicycles in French Polynesia, and motor scooters. Very few here in Tonga. We ponder over the differences.
      Randy

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  3. Randy and Ruth, I am enjoying this SOOO much! Thank you! And your visit to Aitutake caused something good to happen for ME! I dated my visit there from my set of records I had kept while with the Pacific Conference of Churches based in Suva, and while going through them decided to see if they are worthy to be archived. The upshot: they are wanted by the Burke Missionary History Library of Columbia University, South Pacific and Oceania Collection. Their significance lies in the fact that during my three year time, 1980, ’81, and ’82, Pacific Church leaders were supporting independence movements and were pressing for more information and action regarding U.S. and French nuclear testing, the impact of international resort hotel tourism on Pacific Island culture and economy, and the impact of big business in the islands. As coordinator of the Church and Society Program, I was privileged to be a participant, and often the organizer of the related meetings and other events! All the very best as you continue your fascinating journey! Uncle Dave

    Liked by 1 person

    • Uncle Dave,

      What a great story you have to share. We’re happy to share what we can. To hear that our small story can bring about positive ripple effects is very encouraging. It is interesting see the movement toward civic self-governance and cultural identity continue. As a retired public employee, and “parkie-alum” I am fascinated by those efforts that take hold, and others that fizzle.

      Randy

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