FROM THE LOG
An easy overnight sail of 180 nautical miles took us from Samoa to Niuatoputapu in Northern Tonga. It is a beautiful island with a secure lagoon anchorage and a splendid view of a perfectly conical volcano 7 nm to the north. The people here do not have much, except a million dollar smile. There are no restaurants or bars. The supply ship arrives every 3 months or so, but when we visited it was long over due, so the residents were short of everything. They were particularly desperate for gasoline and diesel fuel and we traded a couple of jerry cans for mangos, papayas, limes and bananas.
One day we hired Maleko, a local fisherman to take us across the strait to the Tafahi volcano. The shores are steep and there are no anchorages or safe landing places. The approach was not for the faint hearted: Maleko drove his boat in swells through the reef and we pulled it up on the beach during our stay on the island. The hike up to the summit 610 meters above sea level was pretty strenuous, but the view rewarding.
We first met Maleko when his daughter came out to Scorpio in the anchorage asking if we could produce some passport photos for him. Apparently previous cruisers had showed her the wonders of digital cameras. Consequently "Studio Scorpio" produced the (in my biased opinion) rather professional photo below and printed out a sheet of a dozen of them on glossy paper!
We were still cruising in company with the Swedish yacht Christina and American yacht Seeker. Christina's Christina had the good taste to celebrate her birthday in this excellent place and we had a very nice party in their cockpit. (BTW: Several of the photos of this report are taken by Jan or Christina).
The villages at Niuatoputapu and Tafahi do not have much to offer in the way of amenities, but there is no lack of friendly people, especially the children. The scenery reminded me of the Hobbit villages of the Lord of the Rings.
The strait between the island and the volcano is an excellent spot for whale watching. This time of the year the majestic Humpback Whales visit these waters to bear their young and mate. We could even see them from the anchorage and when we vent snorkeling we could hear their singing under the surface. On our way south we had some of them very close to Scorpio.
An other night sail, this time not as easy, later we arrived in the island group called Vava'u and anchored outside their main settlement Neiafu. The old King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV had died about a month earlier and our visit happened to take place at the time when the new king Georg Tupou V made his first visit to Neiafu. It was a big event one Sunday morning when he attended the mass in one of the churches in town.
Neiafu is a completely different place from Niuatoputapu. The town is popular with cruisers and it is also the base of a yacht charter company and several scuba dive shops and there must have been almost a hundred yachts around. The waterfront restaurants and bars that cater t o the cruisers are a constant source of entertainment and the action rarely ends before sunrise. Some sailors have really found themselves stuck here for months or even years.
We did not get trapped for long, however, and after a couple of days we anchored at a beautiful sandy beach a few miles outside of the town. The shorelines of Vava'u are riddled with caves and crevices. Three of them are unique enough to have achieved near legendary status. We visited two of them, Swallows Cave and Mariner's Cave.
Swallows cave is big enough to be entered by dinghy, but Mariner's is accessible only by diving through a tunnel from the outside. Because of the easy access to Swallows' there were the ubiquitous graffiti common to such sights, but at Mariner's there were none!
The entrance to Mariner's Cave was not easy to find, it is difficult to spot from the sea. When we finally found it, we anchored the dinghy on the outside and entered diving, using only snorkelling gear. It was a great experience, as you can see from the photos (remember to click on them for a blow up).
Our time was running short and we needed to proceed further south to decide on where would be our stepping stone for the leg to New Zealand, so we broke up the fleet with Christina and Seeker and headed for the Ha'apai Group. Until now we had been planning to cross over to Fiji from Ha'apai, thinking that we would get a more favourable wind angle for the final leg, even tough it would be a longer distance. However, many New Zealanders that we have met lately do not believe that we would gain anything by going the extra 400 miles or so and therefore we decided to instead clear out for New Zealand from the Tongan Capital Nukualofa (see the map above).
At the time of posting this report we are in Nuku'alofa, the Capital of Tonga, waiting for a suitable "weather window" to depart on the final 1.100 nm miles leg to New Zealand.