Thursday, 16 July 2015


Tonga Friday 29 May to Tuesday 8 June

The journey from Niue to Tonga was relatively short – 3 days and 260 miles. After the first day the wind dropped and we motored overnight before the wind filled in again and we were under sail.

Main street in Neiafu
We timed our entrance to arrive at 9am on the Friday morning to avoid entering at night and tied up at the Neiafu wharf (the capital of Northern Tonga group of islands) to go through customs and immigration.  That was all painless and 1 hour later we were heading off to pick up a buoy off the main town of Neiafu which are surprisingly are provided by Moorings/Sunsail. This is a very popular cruising group with lots of charter boats sailing round the 30 odd islands in this part of Tonga.

One of the many shops we visited

The town was much poorer than many of the places we had visited, being an independent kingdom and not reliant on aid from New Zealand or France like many of the Polynesian islands. We bought provisions for a few days so that we could head off to some of the more remote islands, going into 4 or 5 shops to find things since they are all small not as well stocked as the other islands we had visited.

Off to Visit the Islands

Main road through the village
Saturday afternoon we headed off to a small island with a population of just 120 people. The village is pretty much self-sufficient and sell fish to the mainland to get money to buy items like rice they cannot produce themselves. No cars, no mains electricity but they had 5 churches! We were invited to attend the church service the next morning and join in the Kava ceremony before the service – the chief of the island, his advisors and the preacher were there and as a special concession allowed 

Village Chief at Kava ceremony
Catherine to attend (normally a men only affair). We sat on the floor crossed legged while the chief drunk the Kava first and then everyone else was allowed to drink. We had four bowls of Kava while we chatted about island life. All very friendly although not all spoke English.

The church service was an hour long with the preacher getting very passionate in his address, waving his arms about and giving the impression the sermon was about hell and brimstone – it was in Tongan so we did not understand a word but he was very animated. The Kava may have helped! Although there was only 20 people in the church, the singing sounded like 100 people, all singing in perfect pitch we great loud voices and singing different parts in harmony. It was a great experience.

We were never going to be fluent
Afterwards, the local primary teacher showed around the school and gave us some lessons in Tongan. That afternoon we went back to the boat and Chris, Catherine and I were overwhelmed with tiredness and slept for a couple of hours. A side effect of the Kava.

Street seller on the island
The next day we headed off for another island, going outside of the reef and back into the group of islands further north. Not for the faint hearted since the reefs are not well charted, some are missing off the chart as are isolated rocks. We anchored off another village with 150 people and spent the next day exploring the island, walking along the shore on a deserted beach.  All very beautiful and very relaxing.  Unlike the journey to the next island the following day when we decided not to go outside of the main reef since it was rough outside and take the short cut through a pass between two islands – as per the pilot book. It was all going well with Catherine and Chris on the bow looking out for reefs and rocks until we came to two boats in the pass – one anchored and other aground in the middle of the channel after hitting an unmarked rock. So we retraced our steps and went back the long way.

Our next anchorage looked perfect, just outside of a village although a little tight between the reefs. Unfortunately the wind turned south which put us just 10m away from a reef behind us while at anchor. I decided that it was too close for comfort so we upped anchor and went round the corner to the next island and tried to anchor as night was falling. After 5 attempts (no other boats were in anchored here which should have told us something), we headed off across the bay to where all the other boats were. By this time it was dark but as luck would have it there was a buoy and it was free so we tied up and had a few drinks and a BBQ.

Back to Neiafu

We had to go back to Neiafu for a group dinner on the Tuesday night which was such a good evening. All the food was local cuisine with traditional dancers providing the entertainment. Dancing followed late into the night with the staff joining in and looked like they were having as much fun as we were. 

We may have overdone the gin and tonics during the night, we were certainly one of the last to leave along with Andy and Emma (no surprises) and we were all a little slow the next morning for our visit to the Botanical Gardens.

Making cloth from bark
I use the term Botanical Gardens loosely since it was a collection of plants and trees spread in a somewhat random fashion throughout the garden. The most interesting part was where they showed us some of their traditional skills – making clothes, rugs and other items from the bark of a tree (which is a painstaking process),  use of the coconut tree not only to make coconut milk but also using the leaves for roofs, windows and doors.

Traditional dancing
A Tongan lunch and more traditional dancing followed (not as good as the night before) and we headed back. A group of us including Catherine and myself (Chris stayed on the boat) meet for dinner in the Aquarium café that evening and we had fried red snapper and chips. It was one of the best fried fish I have tasted.

Off to the Islands again

On Thursday we headed out once more into the islands to see some of the remoter parts of Tonga. We anchored in a bay with two other boats – we did feel it was crowded given we often had the anchorages to ourselves. We were invited over for drinks to one of the other boats and took half a bottle of gin with us. None came back we had a great night. A couple from New Zealand who were on the ICA rally and another couple (Paul and Susie) who were from Dartmouth who did the World ARC last year and left at Fiji to go to New Zealand for a year. They were about to another ICA rally going to Thailand.

This gave us an idea. Rather than go to Australia with the World Arc where we would arrive at the end of July, we could join the ICA rally to New Zealand which arrives in November. It would give us another month in Fiji, three extra weeks in Vanuatu and we would visit New Caledonian. They were so enthusiastic about New Zealand we decided we would look into this as a serious option. And the Thailand rally next year would be a very attractive option.

We spent one further night at anchor before stopping off at the Blue Lagoon on our way back. A very tricky entrance, with narrow passages between the reefs but well worth the effort. We walked around one of the island surrounding the lagoon which we uninhabited but the views and the variety of trees were well worth it. The other island had a resort on it but when we went there for a beer, it had closed down.

Getting Ready for the Next Leg to Fiji

So Friday night back to Neiafu again so that we could attend the briefing on getting to the Lau Group in Fiji which would be another tricky entrance wending 15 miles through reefs to get to the anchorage where we would go through Customs and Immigration. This was a special arrangement since boats cannot normally check in other than the main islands 100 miles further to the west which would mean sailing east again back to the Lau Group against wind and the current. Not a good option so consequently very few boats visit these islands.

Chris and Catherine in the market
Local market
Saturday was spent shopping, visiting another 5 or 6 shops to try and find what we could buy for the next 10 days. Chicken was easy to get but other meat and vegetables were next to non-existent, even in the very vibrant market. So we bought what we could and we will have to be inventive in our cooking.

Our regular cafe overlooking the harbour
Sunday was a day of rest with nothing open and apart from visiting the church we spent the afternoonon the boat playing our last games of Crib with Chris which Catherine won. That afternoon we discovered that our gas bottles filled with butane would not work with our gas regulator – so no means of cooking! Using the gas regulator from the BBQ, and with the help of the Moorings maintenance team, we managed to fit the BBQ regulator to our gas supply just in time to go through our scheduled clearance time on the Monday morning and leave by lunchtime.

Chris left us early on Monday morning to start his journey back to England after 5 months. Chris was a good sailor, very practical and helped fix many things along our journey. And there had been many things to fix! He was also a great cook and a mean cribbage player.

So now it is just Catherine and I sailing the rest of the way to New Zealand.

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