22 Sep The Vavu’u Group, Tonga – chapter 1
We are in Tonga, the only Kingdom in the South Pacific. It was dubbed “The Friendly Islands” by the early explorer Captain James Cook. We have found it to be so.
We arrived in the Neiafu harbor around noon on September 13. There was no need to call ahead on the radio. Once we entered through the Channel markers we saw wharfs up on the left. The closest one was the “Fisherman’s Wharf” also known as the “Customs Dock”, and had a few yachts and fishing boats tied up to it. Yachts are requested to go to this dock when checking into the country. Once you are docked with your Q (quarantine) flag flying, the officials will come down to your boat.
(The dock is located before the Cargo Containers. If there is not a space at the dock, it is recommended that you raft up to another boat. It is a high overhanging concrete wharf, best at high tide. If there is an international flight arriving, we’ve heard you may have to wait a while. 🙂
Check-in was rather painless. Once we pulled up to the “Customs dock” / “Fisherman’s Wharf”, the customs / Immigration official showed up within 15 minutes. There were a BUNCH (10-15) forms to fill out. While doing that, health and quarantine came by. We paid $60 US, as we did not have any of the local currency. It would be about T$100 (Pa’anga, local Tongan currency).
In addition, the customs guy asked for a donation for his daughters school, we donated $5 and then he negotiated a bottle of rum from us. As he was reviewing the paperwork, he asked , “Do you have any hard liquor?” Then went into a discussion about how he likes to relax after his 6 days of hard work, yada yada yada. (We also heard he got 2 bottles of hard liquor from someone else and several others said they donated fish to him. This is our first time an official has asked for something extra. We have heard stories from other yachts in other countries being put in similar situations.)
Every morning at 0830, there is a cruisers net on VHF channel 26. It is run by the local businesses. We enjoy tuning in most mornings to hear the weather and local information which includes events, boaters assistance, a buy (wanted) and sell section. We were excited as got a $100 scuba tank, regulator and BCD. (Will help with the ease of boat cleaning.) Another score was a large (1-1/2″) stack of free paper charts for Australia! We also
A volunteer group called Vava’u Radio also monitors channel 16 and 26 and are there to provide assistance to Mariner’s. During our stay we heard them help with a couple medical issues and a charter boat grounding. It is very comforting to know they are available if needed.
We were anchored in Neiafu harbor for a couple nights. It felt great to be at anchor in a calm harbor after our passage. Our first night I joined friends for dinner at Mangos, a restaurant located on the waterfront. It was fun to catch up with Helen, Ian (Nightide) and Conner (Sea Casa).
On our second day, we dinghyed across the bay and tied up on the end of a finger dock, in the small boat basin (the closest dock to town). We met a Yachtie couple from New Zealand on the dock who helped us get our bearings. The first order of business was to drop off garbage (T$5). As we still needed to get local currency, our new friends, graciously paid for our garbage and then walked us up to the main street and showed us around. We stopped at an ATM to pick up cash, went to the open air market and bought some lovely fresh produce, purchased Digicel sim cards for internet access, and a few other goodies including wine.
It is a cruisers paradise here in Vava’u. After two nights anchored in the main harbor, we moved over to Port Maurelle, anchorage #7 and met up with our friends on Muskoka and Harlequin. (We had Cream of Wheat cereal to deliver to Muskoka, that we had purchased for them in American Samoa!)
When we arrived at Port Maurelle a mooring ball was available. It was so much simpler than anchoring! A local came by and collected T$15 for the length of our stay. It has been windy for several days, but this bay is nice and protected.
We had a wonderful week stay as we enjoyed snorkeling, swimming, a little standup paddle boarding, socializing with friends, catching up on extra sleep and as always working on boat projects.
We snorkeled at a nearby cave our first afternoon, went to “Swallow’s Cave” another day and snorkeled close to the anchorage several other days. We marveled at all the sea life we saw, including a variety of angel fish, lobsters, lion fish, butterfly fish, damselfishes, sea cucumbers, jellyfish, surgeonfishes, blue starfish, nudibranchs, clownfish swimming amongst the sea anemone and egg sacks that looked like red poppy flowers. We also saw a crown of thorns starfish, which is absolutely beautiful, but unfortunately has caused widespread damage to coral reefs.
One afternoon as we were working on a boat project on deck, I look out on the bay and saw a whales spout. We jumped in the dingy and motored over to the vicinity of where we had seen the spout. A whale watching boat was also there and we had an enjoyable 20 – 30 minutes watching a few Humpback whales swimming around, coming up to the surface and diving back down. It is magnificent to see their massive humps and their beautiful tails as they make their dive down.