Thursday, September 15, 2016

Tongatapu to Neiafu, Vav'au Tonga

Mark on deck at Felefesia Island

Coral head closer than it looks

Anne relaxing on cabin top

Scenery at Kelefesia anchorage
The days following our check-in to Tonga’s capital city of Nuku’alofa were a whirlwind of activity for us as we scurried about re-provisioning, getting a local sim card for our cell phone and getting reacquainted the whole island scene.  One enjoyable day was spent in the company of Peter, from the Aussie catamaran “Havachat”, and his crew touring the island by taxi van.  Highlights include a cave exploration and swim in a water-filled portion of the cavern and a stop at a rugged section of coastline where ocean swells collided with rocky cliffs producing blow holes that shot spray 20 feet into the air at regular intervals.  The turquoise water, gnarled volcanic rock and sunlit geysers of spray contributed to the dramatic and beautiful scenery.  Rather than a lunch stop at a more touristy cafe, our driver suggested a roadside, open air, “local” joint where food orders are placed with a young woman behind a counter and she turns back to repeat the order through a two foot square opening in a wall to someone working in who knows what kind of kitchen.  Without the driver’s encouragement, we probably wouldn’t have been brave enough to try the place but he assured us it was good and the steady stream of locals arriving to pick up their take-out meals seemed to confirm it.  Our group sampled a variety of menu items including fish, chicken curry, fried chicken and various greens.  Honestly, it wasn’t the best meal we have ever had but it was filling and gave us another close look into the daily life of Tonga’s residents.  A look that was perhaps a little too close came when, after lunch, Anne and Peter asked to use a bathroom and were directed to the restaurant owner’s house next door where they reported conditions that left us all wondering if the next 24 hours would bring on some serious lower GI troubles for us. Thankfully, we all came through unscathed.

Prior to beginning this sailing season, we hatched a plan to leave “Three Sixty Blue” on a mooring in Vava’u, Tonga for about six weeks in order to fly to the States for a family memorial service following the passing away of Mark’s mother.  Our time there would also be spent helping his sisters prepare her house for sale and give us a few weeks to enjoy some Northern Hemisphere summer time at our home in the Idaho mountains.  The plan necessitated hustling north through Tonga’s island groups in order to get the boat moored and prepped for our absence.  Fortunately, we had made arrangements with an American ex-pat couple who are former delivery skippers and have, for years, operated a floating art gallery in a protected bay with moorings.  They would baby-sit “Three Sixty Blue” in our absence.

We broke up the trip north to Vava’u with overnights at lovely Malinoa Island where we enjoyed the island all to ourselves and did a swimming circumnavigation of it sampling the surrounding coral reefs.  Another splendid day sail took us to Kelefesia Island, regarded by many as one of the most beautiful islands in the world.  That point would be hard to argue considering the spectacular, palm-covered topography, white sand beaches and crystal clear water.  In fact, the water was so clear that, even though anchored with sufficient depth above the coral “bommies”, we could look down on them from deck level and they appeared close enough to reach out and touch.  It was a tad bit unnerving to say the least.  A day was spent there snorkeling and reveling in the beauty as changing sun angles added even more character to amazing scenery.

With our departure date rapidly approaching we decided to leave the following day and do an overnight sail for the remaining 130 miles to Neaifu, Vava’u.  Following seas and winds aft of our beam insured a pleasant passage and by first light the next morning, we were threading our way through Vava’u's passes on our final approach to town.  Once in the harbor, we secured “Three Sixty Blue” to a mooring and headed ashore to check in and see what had changed since we were there in 2012.

Neiafu, Vava’u Tonga is a very busy place crowded with tourists once the migrating whales start arriving in July but by this time in early June it is still pretty sleepy.  On quick examination, we noted that a few of our old haunts had either changed hands, gone out of business or had yet to open for the season.  The usual Chinese stores were still the primary source of staples but the open air produce and craft market seemed to have a better selection. 

While in town and able to connect with internet, we retrieved an email from Fiji Airways informing us that their twice weekly flight from Neiafu to Nadi, Fiji connecting to the daily flight to Los Angeles had been cancelled on our departure date and that we were re-booked 4 days later.  That sent us into quite a tizzy since it would mean making our family memorial service nearly impossible.  This set in motion 24 hours of fairly frantic visits to a local ticket agent and numerous Skype calls and emails to the airline itself in order to move our departure flight ahead rather than back.  Our efforts were finally rewarded and our final 24 hours in Tonga were spent moving to our longer-term mooring in the Tapana anchorage, prepping for departure, packing and briefing the folks that would be taking care of our boat while we were away.  Whew…what a hectic couple of days!

Leaving “Three Sixty Blue” on a mooring in a foreign country rather than in a marina berth was a little surreal but we felt confident in the mooring tackle and, once we dinghied ashore to catch a taxi to the airport, we had to accept that we had done all we could to insure her safety and security.  As we boarded our taxi, we took a final look back at our boat sitting peacefully in the beautiful bay feeling as confident as we could that all would be well upon our return in 6 weeks.

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