June 15, 2000-Three Faces of Tonga
We've stayed in Nuku'alofa, visited Ha'api, and now we are anchored in Va'va'u. These three areas of Tonga are each unique and each in their own way, enjoyable.
Tongatapu, The Sacred Island.
Nuka'alofa is the capitol of the Kingdom of Tonga and is on Tongatapu Island. It is the biggest town, yet hardly a city. It is flat, (not a hill to be seen), and spread out. You take a taxi to go anywhere in Nuka'alofa. We liked Nuka'alofa, its shops and services, the soft tropical air, and the easy going Tongan people. We took tours, went to Tongan feasts, and we got on email every day. This is also where we replaced our riging. Tongatapu and Nuka'alofa are good for provisioning and repairs, but they are not the prime cruising grounds of Tonga. For that you need to go north.
Ha'api, The islands in between.
After Tongatapu we sailed north, on the way to Vava'u, and had a few days at anchor in the Ha'api group. Here the islands are low and are isolated on a large Pacific Ocean, hardly within sight of each other. The anchorages are not sheltered and there are no real towns, just a few villages here and there. We saw no cars and there were no lights on after dark. The water is clear and the beaches pristine, but the Ha'api is pretty primitive-more so than any place we've been to, ever. We had WINGS anchored in crystal clear water at Uoleva Island, off a mile-long beach of white sand backed by coconut palms and other tropicals. The island stopped the SE trades and the point just to the south of us offered a little shelter from the SW winds as well and it was quiet there, no sign of mankind other than one tumbledown lean-to on the beach. We sat in the cockpit and enjoyed the peace. A couple of days later, at Ha'ano Island, we watched a georgeous sunset while anchored off another perfect white sand beach. The sky to the East was purple, brushed with scarlet, overhead a moon of shining guicksilver, and to the West...the sun was setting over Kao volcano, the one high island rising 1000 meters to lord over the rest of the Ha'api. That day we swam to the shore on Ha'ano and sat on the warm sand. Behind us, coconut palms waved gently. Between us and WINGS, riding serenely at anchor, there was a reef filled with tropical fish and colorful coral. In the distance across the bay we could see the church at the village of Ha'ano and panga's pulled up on the beach. Occasionally we heard the crowing of a rooster or saw a small ferry go by with Tongans who waved at us. It was very peaceful in the Ha'api group in Tonga.
Vava'u, Paradise Regained
It was a moonlit voyage that started at 11:00 PM (to time our arrival for daylight) that took us from Ha'api to Vava'u. We arrived there at noon. Vava'u was stunning. It is truly the most beautiful area we have seen in the Pacific. The land forms remind us of the San Juan Islands of Washington State, only there are palm trees instead of Douglas fir and there are way fewer houses. Mostly the islands look untouched. There are sheer rock walls topped by the impenetrable jungle foliage and in there are coves with beaches and there are coral reefs and tiny palm covered islands. The harbors are sheltered and the distances between them are short. The water is clean, clear, and filled with sea life. In the jungles ashore the tropical birds lend their exotic calls to the ambience. Vava'u is Tonga's cruising paradise. Here there are charter boats operating and many private cruising yachts, but it doesn't seem too crowded. The VHF radio however sounds like Mexico; constant social chatter.The main town in Vava'u is Neifau. It is a mix of old wood frame buildings with peeling paint and concrete block shacks, scattered along the hillside looking over a perfect and protected harbor filled with yachts of all sizes. Neifau is what you think of when you image a remote town in a third world cruising location. It is sleepy and primitive. The stores look like 1940's general markets and the goods available there fit right in with that time frame: canned goods and bags of rice. The bread comes from a bakery, not in plastic bread sacks with the ingredients and nutritional infomation on the side. The market has locally grown produce. Fuel is available when the tanker comes, otherwise, you wait. Along the waterfront there are a few bars catering to the yachties where you can buy margaritas,listen to Jimmy Buffet, and pretend that the world beyond the back door of the bar does not exist. It seems like you could stay here the rest of your life. Probably some do. There is a Friday night sailboat race in Neifau. We go out to the islands during the week and go to town on Friday for the race. This is fun.
We are glad we came to Tonga. It is the paradise we wanted it to be.
Fred & Judy, SV Wings, Neiafu