22 Oct The Vavu’u Group, Tonga – Chapter 2
Wow, time flies when your having fun! It is very hard to believe that we have been in the Vava’u island group for six weeks. We have had a marvelous time and have spent the last week preparing for our passage to New Zealand.
We enjoyed our time in Neiafu harbor and other nearby anchorages. We regularly came back to Neiafu to stock up on food before heading back out. We also enjoyed the Bluewater Festival here in town, hosted by the Vavu’u Tourism Association, a couple local businesses, the Bay of Islands Marina and Whangarei Marine Group from New Zealand. There were lots of cruisers around and they offered fun and informative events. We raced a few times on sv Harlequin and had a blast. Sad to say goodbye to Conner, he put Sea Casa up on the hard, and is headed back to LA to work until the next season.
We tended to be in Neiafu, on quite a few Weekends. It is interesting to see how town changes on different days. There is a great open air fruit and veggie market, located on the waterfront. The best day is Saturday when they have a bigger variety of produce. I loved getting a fresh young cooled coconut to drink, when done with the shopping. We enjoyed stopping by Coffee and Tees, a coffee and t-shirt shop, that has a huge variety of T-shirt designs and a selection of t-shirts to chose from, to make your own shirt. Dick and I each got a couple, so now we have official sv Maia crew shirts!
While around town we saw a variety of local customs. We had the opportunity to view two funerals in which they have a marching band and mourners walking down the main street in a procession. We also were able to view the Tongan team spirit as on one Saturday, the Tongan team was playing Australia. The craziness began on Friday, as we saw people dressed up in red and crazy costumes. On Saturday there was a parade of trucks and cars with locals hooting and hollering, music blasting driving around town all morning. During the game on Saturday night we could hear the fans screaming while sitting on Maia in the anchorage.
Each anchorage we went to was beautiful, Port Maurelle ‘#7’, had a beautiful crescent shaped bay and beach, and the best snorkeling within swimming distance of Maia. We spent about a week in Port Maurelle, there were some strong winds blowing and it was nice and protected. We snorkeled a lot of different days and saw so many amazing things. (More specifics can be found in the previous blog post.)
One day we walked from the beach through the forest into the nearby village of Falevai Tahi, located on the SW tip of Kapa Island. We wanted to visit the school as Helen, (sv Night Tide) brought school supplies to donate. We had trouble finding the school, however a local women, Leiti, graciously walked us there. As we arrived, Leiti called out, we were greeted by Ella, the school teacher, three children and a couple cute puppy dogs.
They came out of Ella’s house located next door, to the one room schoolhouse and were all very excited and grateful for the donations. Ella showed us books that another boat had donated. Helen asked if there was anything in particular she would like for the school and Ella said she would like blocks with numbers on them for the younger children. We thought if we come back this way next year it would be fun to bring them to the school.
We spent about 5 days at Kenutu Island (anchorage #30). It is located on the eastern edge of the Vava’u group. It is sandwiched between Umuna island to the North and small, Lolo island to the south. To get there you navigate around the SE point on Ofu island, then up ahead you leave a large coral head to port, then you turn East and steer for the south end of Kenutu, being careful to avoid coral patches, and proceed through a narrow reef gap, where we saw depth of only 6 feet below our keel. This zig zagging to avoid the damaging coral heads and reefs, took all of our attention, which made getting into the anchorage that much sweeter.
As we neared the anchorage we could see about five boats already there. Over the radio we spoke with Muskoka and Manna who advised us of the best locations to drop anchor in the beautiful water located just inside the reef. The ocean waves were booming and bursting over the reef, a large blow hole was exploding amongst the jagged cliffs. Through the island passes you could see waves and water hitting the sides of the rock and splashing up, over and around.
We spent some time exploring the area. On our first afternoon our friends from Yonder; Carli, Rob and their young son Adrian, stopped by on their way to explore the small blowhole on the Southwest corner of Lolo island. Rob had been there 10 years earlier and had found a mostly hidden small blowhole. He was taking Carli and Adrian for an adventure and I asked if I could join along.
We anchored the dingy inside the reef and swell and hiked through two foot deep water to the spiny rocks. There was a blue and black sea snake slinking though the rock. Rob calmly told Adrian to stay a couple feet away and they started climbing, I followed and carefully made my way up the sharp and steep rock. Once on top we could look down about 20 feet into a cavern, that was about 40 ft by 40 feet around with a fairly flat landing. On the far side it dropped off and you could see water splashing up through, from the Ocean.
Rob climbed down first, Carli followed while Adrian and I enjoyed the view from above. Every once in a while waves would splash up through a small fissure and from the other side and fill the basin with a foot or two of water. The water exploding through the fissures were 10 – 30 feet tall. So awesome!
Adrian got up his nerve to join his parents below. Rob secured a rope for easier ingress and egress, however I chose to stay above, take some photos and watch the family enjoy themselves!
Another day at low tide we decided to venture over to the big blowhole, also located on Lolo. Laurie from Muskoka graciously offered to be our guide. We carefully dingyed over in the low tide and anchored the dingy in a small eddy and walked gingerly through the reef to the island. We climbed up and over through the spiny, sharp knife-like rock. Once on top we had a beautiful view of the anchorage and as we walked towards the blowhole could see the ocean swells on the other side. We climbed around and enjoyed exploring while waiting for the blowhole to do it thing. Finally we got a big spout that got us all wet! Down we climbed and decided to continue the exploration over on Kenutu.
Kenutu Island is covered with brush and trees, there is a small trail that leads from the beach through a canopy of greenery that leads up and over to the ocean side of the island. From there, the views are impressive as you look down 200 feet to the crashing ocean below. We explored a bit on the plateau, but chose not to follow the trail that leads further along the cliff.
One afternoon four of us girls; Laurie, Lisa from Harlequin, Julie from Manna and I got together to learn and play Canasta (a card game, I remember my grandma Gladys playing). We had a super fun afternoon, laughing, nibbling on snacks and enjoying each others company. At one point I had an epiphany, that this is the image I have of what you do when you really “retire”. I guess we have made it!
Our last day in Kenutu, Dick and I snorkeled on the reef near the anchorage. We saw lots of sea cucumbers, sea urchins and a variety of smaller fish. The water was a little cloudy, however when we started swimming towards Maia, I saw a Sea Turtle! As soon as it saw me, it quickly turned and swam the other way.
On our way back out through the pass (with only 6 feet of water under our keel!), we noticed a small boat anchored nearby, as we got closer we saw a diver pop his head out of the water. !#*~!*# This added additional stress to the already tense situation.
Our next adventure was to Vaka’eitu/ Coral garden (anchorage #16). This was easier to get to, but you still needed to be careful when entering the anchorage as there was a reef to cross. Using our B & G chart plotter and Navionics on the Ipads, we proceeded in without a problem. We were so excited to see sv Summer was still there!
The first afternoon I snorkeled with Laurel and little sister Maya at the reef near our boats. While I was swimming, Dick was visited by Rosalie in her kayak, one of the little girls (age 6-7) who lives on the island. She asked if we had any rice. Dick gave her a baggie full and would not take the money she tried to give him. Another day she came back and asked if we had sugar. I gave her a bag of brown sugar and noticed she quickly opened it and was eating it in her kayak on her way back home. 🙂
Our second day, we decided to have a beach day with sv Summer and see about swimming out past the reef to the “Coral Garden”. It is located on the ocean side of the reef. We had heard it was amazing. We first looked at low tide to see about swimming off the reef, but decided to wait. We contacted Conner and he recommended swimming out thru the surf at high tide. This was a little frightening to me, as I do not have much experience with surf. With Laurel and Dick by my side we did it and were treated to an stupendous array. The coral was very much alive and wherever we swam saw different colors and types. As for fish we saw a variety of Snappers, Fantail Pipefish, Moorish Idol, Threadfin Butterflyfish, Saddled Butterflyfish, Wrasse’s, Cornetfish, a swarm of Mexican Goatfish and possibly a Cabrilla (this one was hard to identify).
Two days later we went back to the Coral Garden and swam out at low tide, with our guides from Muskoka, Manna and Harlequin! We were treated to much the same variety, however Dick spotted an Octopus, and I got to see it as it crawled back into a rock hole. We had more time so we swam a large part of the reef. It was magnificent!
Our final outing was to Hunga Haven, (anchorage #13). On our way to the lagoon we spotted some whales (just for a moment). The lagoon is lovely, we had a sunny and calm day one. We had a fun snorkel outside the pass, however Dick was almost run over by a local boat that was overloaded with at least 20 passengers. (We heard a similar story by another friend, so if you snorkel in Hunga Pass keep a watch out!)
We left Hunga more quickly than expected, as we saw that there was a good weather window coming up for the passage to New Zealand. Back to Neiafu we went, one last time, to prepare for the journey Southward.
We decided to check out of Tonga in Neiafu, as we heard Nukalofa in the southern island group did not have as good provisioning options and purchasing diesel was difficult. In Neiafu, we shared a taxi and borrowed diesel jugs and went to the gas station. Purchasing fuel was simple and easy! Check out was easy also. They did require the yacht to be tied up to the dock (as it was a windy day, this was the most difficult part. Thanks to Rob and Adrien from Yonder, for being there when we needed you!) Once docked you walk to the two story building nearby, pay a small fee in the upstairs office, then fill out forms in the customs office. The customs official stamps your passport and you are ready to go!
We are a little disappointed that we never got further South in Tonga. We heard that the snorkeling in the Ha’apai group was fabulous! Also, more recently that Nukalofa has a Costco type store, a great coffee shop, good restaurants and purchasing fuel on the dock was easy. Maybe next season we will explore the rest of Tonga!