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Adventures in Tonga October 28- November 15th 2006

The kingdom of Tonga is a string of South Pacific pearls stretching from 15 degrees south to 21 degrees south around the 175 east meridian.  The chain of islands spans of about 400 miles and is comprised of more than 150 islands. They are divided into three main groups: Tongatapu, Ha’apai, and Vava’u. About 40 of the islands are inhabited.

Tonga was discovered for the western world by James Cook in 1773.  It was on Cook’s second voyage to the Pacific that he found Tonga.  He was searching for the fabled southern continent and had just completed his first Antarctic probe.  He reached 70 degrees south before he was stopped by pack ice.  After the cold, hardship and depravation of the Antarctic, Tonga looked very good.  Cook was enamored.  He bestowed the name “The Friendly Archipelago” on what is now known as the Kingdom of Tonga. 

Cooks journal reads:  “We were welcomed ashore by acclamations from an immense crowd of Men and Women not one of which had so much as a stick in their hand”.  Cook had his men play the bagpipes.  In spite of the racket the islanders remained friendly.  Some young women sang “a musical and harmonious tune” in return.  A chief then conducted Cook and his men to a feast and kava ceremony.

Things have changed quite a bit since Cook’s time.

The crew of Mustang Sally was welcomed to the country by the Customs, Immigration and an Agricultural Inspectors.  As each came to the boat, they were friendly, businesslike and welcomed us to Tonga.  The necessary paper work was done and then we offered juice and cookies.  We gave them blank looks when they asked for rum and other favors.  But they seemed determined we should give them something.  Click here to see how we finally rid ourselves of the pesky the Tongan inspectors.

Vava’u is the major northern island group of Tonga.  It is the most cruiser friendly part of the country.  The islands are perfect for line of site navigation and the distances between the islands are short.  There are 20-30 lovely anchorages within a day or two sail of the main town of Neiafu.  The water is warm, clear and clean.  The area is remote and outback, but has sparse services and enough restaurants to be comfortable.   

After the very remote islands in the Cooks and Nuie,  Vava’u was a welcome change. Click here for a picture tour of Neiafu the capital of the Vava’u area of Tonga.

The Moorings Charter Company has a seasonal operation based in Neiafu.  While Neiafu is not a modern western port, you can find many conveniences.  For example – the Mermaid Bar!

The Mermaid Bar is legendary across the South Pacific.  It is a cruiser’s hangout with a reputation that is known over thousands of miles of Pacific Ocean.  Your first beer there is free for cruisers!  Good food, good music,  good friends, good cheer.  The Mermaid bar is tops with us.

The scuba diving and snorkeling is excellent in Tonga.  Click here to read about the diving and snorkeling in Vava’u Tonga.

The many shoals and reefs in the Vava’u area are easily spotted if you sail on sunny days with the sun behind you.  It is important to use the visual clues as the charts for the area are not very accurate.  Click here for a slide show of some of the Vava’u water side high lights.

We enjoyed our time in Tonga’s Vava’u and Hapa’ai island groups.  We sailed through the groups, stopping at remote anchorages.  We found some wonderful deserted islands, no bigger than a city block, but full of underwater wonders,  bright white sand, palms and lush foliage.  Click here to view a few pictures of the islands.

As we apprached the southern most group we stoped at the island of Minola.   Click here to see how beautiful Minola is.

The southern most island group, Tongatapu and the capital city of Nuka’lofa became a bit of a challenge for us.  In Nuka’lofa we re-provisioned and prepared for the 1,000 mile passage to New Zealand. The challenge was related to the political unrest and rioting. 

We struggled a bit to get crew for the passage to New Zealand but everyone came together in Nuka’lofa.  Learn about how we got rid of the crew blues by clicking on this link. 

Nukalofa is the somewhat gritty capital of Tonga.  The town is a little run down,  ramshackle and dirty.  But it has a beauty of its own.  Click here to see some pictures of Nukalofa. 

But what beauty Nukalofa had was besmirched by civil unrest.  The beautiful Tongan people have much work to do to clean up the mess. You can see some of the results of the violence here. Angela Krok took all the pictures in this slide show.

Sharon had invoked the ‘Princess clause’ in our contract and planned a 3 hour airline flight from Tonga to New Zealand.  She would relax,  see friends in New Zealand and avoid the stress of the passage.  Then she would work her way up to Opua.  Opua is the northern New Zealand port of entry where Mustang Sally would clear into the country. 

It would be a bit of a turtle vs. the hare kinda race.  Sharon on the 600 mph jets and Rae doing maybe 6 or 7 knots on the boat.  It turned out to be quite an adventure.  Click here for Rae’s story.  Click here for Sharon’s.

For those planning visits to Tonga in the future, we highly recommend Vava'u and Haa'pai - but suggest minimal time in Nukalofa and Tongatapu.  It will take some time to clean up the political and physical mess.




 NUIE      October 19th - 26th 2006

Nuie must be the most yacht friendly place in the whole Pacific ocean.  We arrived just after dawn and worked our way south down the western side of the island toward the anchorage. We were pleasantly surprised to see three or four boats in the anchorage already, some were friends from previous South Pacific stops.

We found a mooring over top of a corral formation that looked to be 10 feet underwater.  WRONG!  It was 40 feet deep.  The water is so clear here that the eye is fooled.  There are no rivers running off this coral island and rain water is trapped in an underground lens.  So there is very little silt to dirty the water.  The water must be the clearest in the whole Pacific.

The friendly people from the Nuie took us in, toured us around the town and made sure we had everything we wanted. 

Nuie is a beautiful island with a touch of sadness.  Nuie is an independent country – in free association with New Zealand – similar to the Cook Islands.  But 20,000 Nuieans live off the island.  Only 1,500 remain. 

The island was devastated by a hurricane 3 years ago and many of the damaged houses and business still bear the scars.  It is incredible to sit at the top of a 60 foot cliff and think of the power it must have taken for the waves to ride right up that cliff and run down the road to smash everything it touched.  Like in the picture at the right.  Those cement pads used to be homes.


We went scuba diving with friends on Nuie.  We had to scuba because of the clarity of the water.  First we ‘swam’ with the dolphins.  This consisted of hanging off the dive boat with one hand, while your face and mask/snorkel are in the water.  With the other hand, you point toward the dolphins so the dive boat operator can stay in proximity.  With the clear water the dolphin viewing is astounding.

After the dolphins we headed over to Snake Canyon.  How spooky is it to swim among hundreds of poisonous snakes?  As long as you don’t step on one, or frighten one they will leave you alone.  I was very glad to have my buoyancy totally under control.  But what a unique sight to see these hundreds of snakes, swimming up and down and lying on the bottom.  Wow!

Dive on Nuie.  The waters there are spectacular.  A world class dive site.


We ran into friends we met in Bora Bora and again on Palmerston Island - Hans and Kari from Norway.  Hans and Kari rate as the cruising couple with the coolest tattoo's in all of Polynesia.  Check out Kari's leg on the right.  Very sexy tattoo Kari!


We rented a mini-bus and did a tour of the island.  One of the coolest things on the island was the grotto shown at the left.  It is hard to tell how cool it is from the thumbnail picture, so click it to zoom in.  The palm trees are growing in a grotto about 100 feet down!  The ocean crashes against the thick rock wall but does not get in. 

We had a picnic down there!



While on our way to the grotto we skirted the west side of the island.  We were stunned by the power of the breaking waves.  The wind had been blowing hard for about 5 days and the wave were driving spray at least 200 feet in the air!.  The picture on the left is distorted by the spray getting on the camera lens.



After the picnic we went to see some sea caves.  The picture at the right shows the gang resting up after the climb through the caves , down to the beach and back.

Nuie has a very interesting dingy landing.  Because of the island shape,  which includes a fringing reef there are no natural harbours.  So to compensate,  Nuie has cranes that pick up your dingy and pull it right out of the water.  That is pretty neat but it takes allot more co-ordination to get a dingy into the water and underway with a crane than it does to get underway from a dock or beach. The picture on the left shows seven of us to launch our dingy. It can be done with one or two, but many hands sure makes it easier.



The Wreck of Umi

We were just getting into the swing of Nuie, when much to our dismay, we heard of a yacht wrecked on the east side of the island.  Alas, the yacht turned out to be a couple from Vancouver and the boat was Umi.  We had made their acquaintance in Tahiti and became friends on Aitutaki.  Now their boat and home was on the reef.  Click here for the story of Umi.



The Cook Islands

The Cook Islands fulfilled our preconceived notions of what the south Pacific should be.  The generous and friendly people,  the unbridled enthusiasm of the dancers.  the beautiful tropical islands and the un-sophisticated purity charmed us. We delighted in the innocence and beauty of the islands.

The Cook Islands are spread out over many miles of the south Pacific ocean.  The island groups are situated about 500 miles west of Tahiti and about 1600 miles north east of New Zealand.  The Cooks Islands are independent but in a loose partner ship with New Zealand.  

New Zealand looks after matters of international finance and defense.  The currency of the Cook Islands is the New Zealand dollar.  Interestingly, Cook Islanders are citizens of New Zealand but New Zealanders are not citizens of the Cook Islands.

The islands are geographically split into two main groups – the Northern Cooks and the Southern Cooks.  The islands are isolated and remote.  They are the  Pacific paradises we dreamt about before we left Canada.  The islands seem untarnished by modern conveniences or decades of tourists.  The Cook Islands are like shinning new diamonds shimmering in the sun.  Our route took us through the Southern Cooks, with stops at Aitutaki and Palmerston atolls.

There is a considerable “brain drain” from the Cook Islands to New Zealand and Australia.  Employment is difficult to find in the Cooks and pay scales are much higher elsewhere.  Also life is very slow in the Cook Islands.  The excitement of the big city draws many young people away.  Immigrants from the South Pacific islands are called ‘coconuts’.  The ‘coconuts’ often have difficulty fitting in to the busy NZ and OZ after the idyllic life style on the islands. 

It was also surprising to find that Mustang Sally is considered a yacht.  In the Cook Islands and westwards Sharon and I are known at yachties and our boat is a yacht!  Wow!  We are stepping up in the world!


Palmerston Atoll   October 8th - 16th, 2006

Sharon and I agree that this was our favorite South Pacific Island experience.  The most perfect paradise with hospitality that far exceeded anything else in the South Pacific.  All this hospitality from a poor island people with little in resources except fish and huge hearts.

A little over one hundred years ago, a man named William Masters, brought his three wives to Palmerston Island to live and establish a home.   Now, with a population of over 50,  most every family name is Masters.  The islanders have to carefully select their partners to avoid genetic problems and the men often go off island to seek a mate.

Bob and Tupou Masters were our hosts on Palmerston Island.  Bob came out to our boat every day and ferried us through the narrow pass in ther reef to his island home.  Once at his home, Bob and Tupou would treat us to extraordinary meals.  Palmerston Island has the best Parrot fish in the world.  Beautiful fish, beautiful light white meat – oh so good.  On special days, after lunch, Bob’s lovely daughters,  Tiai and Goldeen danced underneath the palm trees to the Bob’s guitar stylings.  

Afterward we would go for a walk or go snorkeling or look for projects where we could help out the people.  I helped the school with their computers.  Sharon was always helping around the kitchen and husking coconuts or mending fishing nets.  Hans and I helped Bob, put together a new moorings.

While we brought fresh bananas and papayas to Palmerston and helped the people where we could,   as the people were so musical, it would be fun to write a song about them.  So I did – click here to view the song and lyrics   The words of the song are true to life!  Although the song wasn’t exactly a hit with the adults, the kids thought the idea was cool.  I did manage to teach Bob a few rock and roll licks, which when combined with his expressive body language, brought reels of delighted laugher from the kids.


We can’t thank the people of Palmerston enough for making our stay so delightful.  Alas, early one evening, the prevailing easterly wind changed to the west.  This put us on a lee shore – a dangerous situation for an ocean going boat.  So, we had to vamoose in the early evening.  We used our VHF radio to say good bye, but did not get those warm hugs we all wanted.

Click here for a tour around the most beautiful Atoll in the Pacific.




Aitutaki   (pronounced I-to-tack-ee)   October 3rd - 6th, 2006

This gem of the Pacific is a picture perfect atoll.  Visually the water and reef are quite stunning - similar to Bora Bora.  But the lagoon is shallow and loaded with corral heads.  Sailing inside the reef is a challenge that those without local knowledge should avoid.  Navigating the shallow and narrow pass was challenge enough for us. 

The ˝ mile long pass led to a tiny harbor with enough room for maybe ˝ dozen boats, if they carefully anchor and stern tie.  I have long had dreams of being anchored in the tropics and stern tied to a palm tree.  But in Aitutaki we stern tied to a wrecked barge as shown at left.

Every night except Sunday on Aitutaki,  the people would gather to dance, sing, and feast.  And boy-oh-boy did they dance.  The dances were not the polished perfection of French Polynesia.  But - they were much more fun. 

Aututaki dancers come from all young age groups.  Five or six years old, all the way up to twenty or more.  Older participants organized, played the drums or guitar,  or sung their lungs out in the choruses.  

The smiles, enthusiasm and genuine warmth of the performers convinced us that they were having even more fun than the watchers.  Click here for a visual parade of a few of the darling Aitutaki dance teams.

The latest go round of the ‘Survivor” TV show had just finished filming on Aitutaki.  After the “Survivor” crew finished up,  the British offering in the same vein – “Marooned” was in the process of being filmed.  We met some of the production staff on a tour of the Island.

Hey boating friends!  Wadaya think of the vessel on the left?

We also visited a marine research station.  The station is supported by international grants.  Two of the stations goals are to increase the turtle population and make the giant clams self sustaining in Aitutaki waters. 

We toured the island on motor scooters – having barely passed our drivers test for Aitutaki.  The drivers test consisted of answering one question – “What side of the road do you drive on.’.  The correct answer in Aitutaki – the LEFT. 

Click here for a slide show of the island.




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