October 12, 2011

Tonga, Vava'u Group

Clearing into Tonga was another new adventure that started with tying up to the concrete sea wall in the main port of Neiafu. Next we followed the other cruisers clearing in to the customs and port captains office which was located in a big shed with a few old desks near the front doorway and in the back of the shed was pallets of imported goods waiting to be delivered. I filled out a few forms at each desk and then it was off to town to see immigration just a short walk up the hill to get the second stamp in my new pass port. The agent told me Daria would need a visa and it would cost 69 local dollars which he collected and threw in a briefcase. No paperwork was ever completed for this visa and she received the same stamp as I did and it left me wondering if we really did need a visa? Oh Well…
There were so many boats anchored here that we had met along our way and almost 100 other boats anchored in the bay south of town. After clearing in we left the wharf and dropped our hook next to Bob on Brave Heart who we had last seen in Western Samoa some 6 weeks earlier and did some catching up. In all there were 6 boats here that we had met in Suwarrow Atoll and it was fun to catch up with all of them.
Neiafu is the largest city in the Vava'u Group and has 19 restaurants and several grocery stores. At the main dock there is a open air market that sells local craft works along with fresh produce. The watermelons were a big seller and it was interesting how many people we saw carrying a big ol watermelon under their arm on their way home. It was strange that none of the local businesses were owned by Tongans? In most of the islands we been to, the Asians and Chinese run the grocery stores and the other businesses are owned by people that came here for a vacation and fell in love with the place and wound up staying in paradise. The food at most restaurants was pretty good considering what they had to work with from the markets and prices were reasonable.
The main attraction in Tonga this time of year are the Humpback Whales who come all the way up here from Antarctica to have their calves and to mate. Hmmm? humping humpbacks! We saw a few whales on our way into the bay off in the distance blowing a clouds of mist into the air as they surfaced. The Moorings and Sunsail have bases here to charted boats and looked to be doing a fair amount of business renting boats to Ausies and New Zealanders.
The first few nights we spent going out with our friends and then we loaded up on fresh veggies at the out door market and set off to explore the other islands. Vavau has over 100 islands and the Moorings came up with a great idea for their charter customers and gave the main anchorages numbers to replace the hard to pronounce names. It was fun to hear people say we are heading to 16 after we spend some time at 5 on our way to 30 which actually does make sense to me….
We spent our 2nd night at anchorage 6 with a few other boats That afternoon we took SD for another adventure over to anchorage 11 and met Oceans Dream a boat we first met in the Marquesas with Adrian and Jaki aboard from the UK. This turned into a afternoon of catching up and story telling about where we both had been in the last 1500 miles. Lots of fun! Just before dark we headed back home and had a nice dinner aboard Downtime.
Our third night we stopped at anchorage 15 which was close to one of the best snorkel sights in Vavau, The Coral Gardens. We anchored next to Neal, Ruthie and Corry on Rutea which is one of the boats we keep seeing this season. In the morning we drove SD over to the reef for a snorkel at the Gardens. All I can say is WOW!! what a variety of coral. There were countless different colors and varieties growing here and we spent over an hour in the clear 75 degree water enjoying the beauty of it all.
Next we took SD around the island to go looking for whales in the pass between the islands. On our way out I was thinking…were going out to look for 45 foot whales in a 15 foot boat? Is this a good idea? We were not so lucky this day and could not find any whales so we headed back to Downtime for some lunch. On our way back I noticed lots of what looked like birds flying around the point of the island so I turned that way to go see. As we got closer and could see better I realized they were not bird at all but giant flying foxes!! We had never seen so many bats, giant bats with a 3 foot wingspan!! I got flashbacks from the horror movies where they swooped down and bit your neck but nothing like that happened. These are fruit eating bats and this must be where they roost during the day. We stopped under one of the trees right where they roosted and it was fun to watch them land. They would fly strait for a branch and grab it with their feet and fall strait forward and hang upside down like all bats do. There had to be hundreds of them hanging in the trees with their wings wrapped around themselves napping.
When we arrived back at the anchorage there was another boat, Merkava that we also first met in the Tuamutos with Mark and Uka aboard from Canada and Japan. Mark is a retired stuntman and he and his wife had just been dive certified and have made over 30 dives in Vavau! They invited Rutea us over for sushi that night and the next few days we all dove together. It was all SD could do to haul five sets of dive gear and our first dive was a cave dive on another island. Mariners cave is a 50 foot deep dive in which you swim into the side of the mountain and into the cave. After this cave we swam a 100 feet or so to another cave which was just a little smaller. The first cave was just so so but the second had a ball of 6 inch silver bait fish that had to number in the thousands! I had seen this on TV but never this many fish in one place in my life! I swam right into the middle of them and was suddenly surrounded by shimmering silver fish so thick I could not see out. A totally amazing experience. The next morning we went to a coral mound in the pass between the islands for another dive. Again we saw lots of interesting corals but the highlight was a 8 foot Leopard Shark that I spotted just lying in the sand. This was the first Leopard shark we had ever seen and he just laid there letting us watch him rest. Theses sharks are half tail and are not dangerous bottom feeders unless provoked. They are tan and brown with spots patterned like a leopard. Finally he had enough and swam slowly away leaving us all amazed.
The next day we drove SD out to The Blue Lagoon which really was very blue indeed! As Daria would say. The water inside the lagoon is very shallow with white sand on the bottom, the sand gives the water a turquoise color that turns to royal blue as it gets deeper. We did a photo shoot on one of the islands and then went out looking for whales. The whales tend to be in 1 to 2 hundred feet of water during the day and come in closer at night. We were two miles out on a perfect day and within an hour had spotted our first whales. You first hear them come up for air when they blow a big breath out spewing water into the air. Then you watch what direction they are going and try to get in front of them guessing where they will come up for air next. They usually take two breaths and then go down for another 6 to 7 minutes before resurfacing. It took us a while to get the hang of it but finally two of them came up just 100 feet away, a big mother and her calf. We shut of the motor on SD and just waited and within a few minutes the calf curiously came over to us just for a minute and then swam back to his mother. Even the calf was much bigger than SD and we felt lucky to have been so close to this magnificent creature. Another great adventure in SD!!! I wish after this whole trip is over I could get SD's viewpoint of this all…..It would be a heck of a story!
Later that afternoon Daria, Mark and I took SD to town to watch a movie one of the cruisers had made for the BBC. We took our portable GPS to get us home in the dark and made the 7 mile trip back from town in total darkness with just a small sliver of the moon in the sky. Very cool!
The movie turned out to be 20 years old and the sound went out during the last 5 minutes of it so I have no idea what it was even about? It was a social event though and at least 60 cruisers showed up and we all had a nice dinner afterwards at the Balcony Restaurant.
On Saturday we drove Downtime back to Neiafu to clear out and to top off the veggie refrigerator. We anchored at anchorage 6 again on out way south next to Larry and Kim on Magenta. That night we All hopped in SD and had dinner at the Spanish restaurant at anchorage 11. This little place put on quite a show. First you are met by the local talent, a Billy Goat who wonders around the place the whole time you are eating along with two year old puppies that were very playful. After dinner the curtain draws and the owners breaks out the guitars, drums and maraca's and sings a few songs. The meal was tapas (several appetizers), gazpacho, and paellia for $50 local, not bad.
The next day we headed farther down south and took one last adventure with SD to see the islands we missed. Driving around this paradise it is not had to understand how people can fall in love with this place, it is simply beautiful! We stopped and snorkeled at a few reefs and after one of these Daria asked if she could drive. We switched places and within 5 minutes of her behind the wheel I felt a big SLAP On my chest! What the heck was that!! It really stung! I looked around and saw a 8 inch squid laying in the back of SD squirting ink all over the place! If Daria had been sitting there it would have hit her right in the face!! Lucky for her she was driving! We invited the squid over for a calamari lunch, mmmm!
Our next adventure will take us to the Ha'apai Group
Until then Live your dreams!
Peace! Capt. Pedro and Daria
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