Minerva Reef

The sail from Tonga started beautifully with flat water, fair winds and blue seas, the colouring was continuous but the wind and sea state, as usual, did an about turn, humps from the south and lumps from the east made for some rock and roll, albeit at 9knts+ boat speed.
We are anchored in the middle of the Ocean! Seriously! We approached Minerva Reef at 11 am and entered through the pass to find a few other yachts (tourists, tch, tch 🙂 inside this stunning turquoise lagoon. It’s worth looking this up on Google Earth (the big green donut with sprinkles) someone apparently wanted to build a resort here and got as far as trying to create a sand Motu for the hotel, it’s gone, there would have to be easier ways to scratch a living, how were the visitors going to get here?? This place is beautiful but remote doesn’t begin to describe it.
The fishing on the way down was at last productive, it didn’t seem to matter what you put on the end of the line, the Mahi Mahi were up for it, we snared a beautiful 4 footer last night; after a scene resembling one of Tarantino’s earlier movies we finally managed to get him into the freezer, R.I.P. Mr. Blue, we will think of you every mealtime.
P.S. If you want to stun a big fish with rum, spray it in his gills, don’t I repeat don’t pour it down his throat……………….

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Off to NZ

I can describe the snorkel Virginie and I did yesterday in one word: WAW. We are in the Ha’apai island group of Tonga and the underwater life is some of the most spectacular we have seen on our trip. We caught up with Toucan and Phileas a couple of days ago and have since moved together to one of the many desert islands that are dotted all over the place. Yesterday Seathan, Bruce, Di, Nicolas and Oscar went for a dive and saw whales, dolphins and eagle rays. Meanwhile, Virginie and I took the kids tot he beach and went for an epic snorkel: we couldn’t believe our eyes and feasted on the lively multi-coloured corals and admired fishes we had never seen before.

We’re making the most of our last few days in paradise as a window came up to make the passage to NZ. Seathan came to that conclusion a few days ago after having studied the GRIBS for a few months now. It was reassuring to hear that Bob McDavitt, the local weather guru based in NZ, made the same assessment. I hope it will not be too lumpy a passage as this part of the Pacific is notorious for being rough…

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Our private island in the Ha’apai, one of the many stunning anchorages

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Virginie and I had a great snorkel…

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… while the kids played near the beach

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amazing corals!

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and another beautiful sunset!

The Blue Lagoon

We have cleared out and stocked up on provisions and diesel (enough to get us to NZ) but on our way out of Vava’u we sail past the Blue Lagoon and the kids want to say a final goodbye to their friends who live on Fofoaisland. We drop anchor in the Blue Lagoon on Saturday afternoon. The lagoon is as flat as a pancake; there is no wind at all. Normally it can be quite choppy in here so we are lucky. We are invited to an “end of season” party at Sue and Mort’s, an Australian couple who live on the island for 6 months of the year. It’s a potluck party: everyone has to bring a dish and the food gets shared around. There’s a mix of expats and locals who live in and around Hunga lagoon. It’s a great night that can only be described as a Tongan feast: plenty of food including a roasted pig, music, dancing and some Tongan singing. The next day it is time to think about leaving and after saying our goodbyes, we lift anchor in the early hours of Monday morning to sail the 60 miles over to the Ha’apaigroup. It’s a beautiful calm day with just enough wind to keep the sails up and we arrive in the afternoon with sufficient light to zigzag our way through the reefs into the anchorage at Fao Island. There’s nobody else around and we enjoy a tranquil evening. The Ha’apai group is Tonga’s central archipelago and includes 61 islands. We don’t plan to go ashore here but just enjoy a few peaceful anchorages until there is a good weather window for NZ, which looks like there could be at the end of this week.

 

The Blue Lagoon

  

view over Foelifuka and Foeata Islands

  

having fun in the Blue Lagoon

  

saying goodbye is never easy

  

art lesson in Ha’apai

  

replacing seals and bearings on raw water pump, prevention is better than cure!

 

Six

Yesterday Aeneas turned six! It’s his second birthday on this trip (last year we were in Fuengirola). It turned out to be a hectic day that started early to open presents. He was astonished to find Playmobil and Lego underneath the wrappers as they aren’t to be found anywhere in these regions. We had them stashed away since Tahiti! At 10am it was off to the fuel dock to fill up with diesel and provisions. There’s a great fruit and veg market in town and on Friday it is really bustling. The other shopping is less straightforward to obtain and requires running from one Chinese shop to the next to tick off all the items on the shopping list. Once everything was on board we returned to our mooring just in time to start the birthday party, which was organised by the local bar. They had baked a beautiful cake and decorated the place with balloons. Aeneas got lots of thoughtful presents from our fellow cruisers: a handmade personalised flag, someone’s favourite music CD, several nautically themed (compact) family games, a pirate game, a flags domino game, a seahorse necklace, and more! There were ten kids in total and they played hide and seek, went jumping off the pontoon and ate lots of cake. Aeneas had a brilliant time. To put it in his words: “The best day ever!”

early morning

early morning

plenty of fresh fruit and veg

the fruit and veg market, great provisioning 

plenty of fresh fruit and veg

plenty of fresh fruit and veg

boys

boys

Jerome and Alex gave Aeneas a personalised flag and a classical music CD - very thoughtful!

Jerome and Alex gave Aeneas a personalised flag and a classical music CD – very thoughtful!

the cake

the cake

party time

party time

sunset view from the bar over Neiafu

sunset view from the bar over Neiafu

Halloween in Hunga

Seathan met Boris, Karyn and their two boys in Neiafu town last week and they invited us over for a Halloween party on their remote Tongan island. It sounded fantastic so on Friday we head out of town in that direction together with Philéas (more kids!) and sail to Nuku island where we anchor for the night and enjoy a wonderful swim, snorkel and evening on the beach with campfire and guitars.

The next morning, on Halloween, we sail to Hunga and enter the Blue Lagoon at high tide. As expected, the bay is too roley and doesn’t offer enough protection for an overnight anchorage so we turn around and make our way through the narrow pass into the very well protected Hunga Lagoon. This lagoon is completely enclosed, bar a small passage. You can only enter at high tide and even then we only have a couple of metres of water under our keel and have to watch out for the numerous coral heads close to the pass.

Soon after we are settled on a mooring Luca and Felix appear on the beach. They show us the way to their home, which is a 15-minute walk over the hill through a dense forest. Karyn is English and has organised traditional Halloween games for the kids: apple dunking, face in flour, wizards/dwarves/giants, broomstick spinning, and a treasure hunt to find the treats. The neighbours have also turned up in fancy dress costumes. Two of the local boys are dressed as natives and Aeneas thinks they are real cannibals.

It’s a great evening but there is still the walk back to the boat to be considered. It is a dark night and even though we have torches it is as scary as a Halloween night can get: imagine walking through a dark dense forest full of spiders and strange noises, huge bats flying over your head and creepy crawlies under your feet… We make it to the boat and happily put our heads down on our pillows.

Philéas leave the next morning and another boat turns up: our Belgian friends on Florestan. The next few days are filled with play-overs both on the boat and at the house. We are also treated with a lovely dinner on-board Florestan.

Boris and Karyn have built a very special place from scratch using local materials, mainly coral and wood. They run a guesthouse (check it out on tongabeachhouse.com) and organise whale watching and other excursions. They have recently featured in Kevin McClouds’ Escape to the Wild series. It’s worth having a look at the Tonga episode (you can find it on youtube). There are some great aerial shots of the Blue Lagoon and of course of their amazing house.

On our last night in Hunga, Karyn invites the four of us over to stay in the house. It is the first time since Ibiza (more than 12 months ago) that we have a night on land. I don’t sleep very well and miss the gentle rocking motion of the boat that usually sends me to sleep…

Now we are back in town and caught up with a few boats that arrived here in the last few days and haven’t seen since Tahiti or Bora Bora. The Pacific is large but the cruising community is surprisingly small!

Next on our list: organise a birthday party for Aeneas who will be six on Friday! Luckily we have stocked up on toys in Tahiti and hidden them in one of the many hiding places on-board. Aeneas doesn’t know this of course and is worried what to expect after having seen the shops here …

the anchorage near Nuku island

the anchorage near Nuku island

Nuku island

Nuku island

Phileas and Rehua

Phileas and Rehua

entering the pass to Hunga lagoon

entering the pass to Hunga lagoon

Rehua going through the pass

Rehua going through the pass

Hunga lagoon

Hunga lagoon

Hunga lagoon

Hunga lagoon

traditional Halloween games

traditional Halloween games

wizards, dwarves and giants game

wizards, dwarves and giants game

the other team

the other team

hot dogs!

hot dogs!

chatting by the fire

chatting by the fire

the beautiful guesthouse

the beautiful guesthouse

view from the balcony over the Blue Lagoon

view from the balcony over the Blue Lagoon

Karyn and Boris' private beach

Karyn and Boris’ private beach

BFF

BFF

A week in Vava’u 

We left Neiafu last Monday, after a very disappointing rugby game, to explore the islands in the Vava’u group. What a beautiful trip it has been: small islands dotted all over the place in easy reach so one can hop from one scenic anchorage to the next in a few hours. The weather has been good too, so it was back to our daily routine of school and boat jobs in the mornings and snorkelling and exploring in the afternoons. And a day off on Sunday!

We met two other kid boats and had a lot of fun. One of the boats had to leave after a few days but one stayed and together we explored several anchorages, uninhabited islands, crazy caves and stunning underwater sea life. There have been plenty of play-overs, sundowner drinks, guitar sessions and it’s been good to practice our French again. I also did my first cave dive near Port Maurelle, which was very cool!

On Thursday we stopped in Tapana to eat at a Spanish restaurant, which was recommended by Spanish friends. And wow, it wasn’t just a great dinner but a real experience. The “restaurant” was a wooden shack on the hillside of a small island. The owners – Maria and her husband – arrived here from Valencia with their yacht twenty-six years ago. There was no menu; we just had to sit down, pour ourselves a drink (we had to bring our own wine) and relax. The food was amazing: delicious tapas kept coming one after the other followed by a large paella. After dinner a curtain in the corner of the restaurant was swept aside and a band was revealed. Four guys, Maria herself, a dog and a goat were on stage and some uplifting Spanish tunes came next that got everyone dancing. Aeneas became the drummer for the night and we all had a great time.

The next morning we said goodbye to Toucan, who headed west, and we headed east together with the other kid boat. We stopped in an anchorage close to Neiafu to pick up some fresh fruit and veg and then explored another nearby island: Kenutu. On Sunday morning we all headed ashore, machetes in hand to cut our way through the dense bush. We found a trail and walked to the other side of the island where we were rewarded with amazing views of the surf crashing against the high exposed cliffs. On the way back to the dinghies we walked across the coral reef, as it was low tide. After lunch we all went snorkelling and explored a huge area of staghorn corals with a surprising amount of fishes hiding in every little corner. The kids did some surfing on the SUP pulled by the dinghy (and the adults might have had a go at it too). Not bad for a Sunday!

On Monday it was back to school. We explored a couple more anchorages and will be heading back into Neiafu tomorrow to stock up on supplies and diesel and to check out before heading south. We would still like to explore the islands in Southern Tonga and would also love to stop in Minerva reef on our way to New Zealand but of course everything will depend on the weather. We are watching the forecast carefully and want to make sure we pick the best window. The sail from Tonga to New Zealand can be rough (comparable to the Bay of Biscay) so we need to time it carefully, and we will. 

our lunchtime anchorage today

  

little islands everywhere

  

fifty shades of blue

  

three on the SUP

  

staghorn coral

  

tide’s coming up

  

walking across the reef at low tide

  

Kenutu island

  

crazy tree

  

lookout

  

the restaurant on Tapana island

  

inside the restaurant, the goat is not on the menu

  

Aeneas joins the band

  

Nuku island

  

Athos

  

Port Maurelle

  

SUP and hammock are ready

  

Swallows cave snorkel with friends

  

Swallows cave

  

off to explore the caves

  

on the lookout for reefs

 

navigating to the next island…

Vava’u, Tonga

Named the “friendly islands” by James Cook in 1773, the Kingdom of Tonga consists of 176 islands of which 40 are inhabited. The islands in the Vava’u group are raised and mountainous coral islands where some of the other islands are more low-lying and many are of volcanic origin.

After 5 days of seeing nothing but grey sky with frequent drizzle, the sun finally comes out on Sunday. And how different this place looks! We have been in Neiafu, the capital of the Vava’u island group, since Tuesday. There are many yachts in this extremely quiet and well-protected anchorage making the most of the restaurants, bars and shops while waiting for a good weather window to head over to New Zealand. Seathan even manages to watch the rugby game live this morning (at 4AM) in a local bar.

We catch up with friends we haven’t seen since Tahiti including a couple of kid boats. Neifau is “yachtie-friendly” and the locals even run a cruisers’ net every morning on the radio with announcements, weather info, local business promotion, etc. It feels a bit like we are back in the Prickly Bay… We don’t want to stay here any longer than necessary (especially now that the rugby is over for us) so today we’re heading out to explore the nearby islands, do some swimming and snorkeling and enjoy the sunshine!

the first few days are grey and overcast

the first few days are grey and overcast


On Sunday the sun finally comes out!

On Sunday the sun finally comes out!


pigs crossing the road, a typical sight

pigs crossing the road on a quiet Sunday afternoon


fruit and veg market

the fruit and veg market

Welcome to tomorrow!

We’re in Tonga! To use the words of our kiwi friend Mark: welcome to tomorrow! We crossed the dateline on the way here and had to turn our clocks forward 24 hours. The 250 NM crossing was windier than the GRIBS had predicted by a factor of 2. Instead of 15 we had 30 knots! So we got here faster than expected and yet again had to stand off all night to wait for daylight. There was complete cloud cover (it rained constantly) and zero visibility. Feels like home really except that the men wear skirts here, oh … hang on: that’s kind of familiar too 😉