We are finally at the bottom of Tonga, on the last island Tongatapu, waiting for a weather window to head south to New Zealand. This should be an eight day trip, although weather conditions can be tricky. We are hopeful that there may be an opportunity next week. Virtually everybody in the anchorage, by Big Mama’s, is heading south to New Zealand so there is much preparation activity and talk about weather. We have all had a fantastic time in the Pacific but it would be fair to say that a Pacific crossing takes its toll and it seems, like us, most boats and crew are looking forward to some first world luxuries. I mentioned the boats because we will have sailed 10,000 Nautical Miles, and that is at least 10 times and probably closer to 20 times the distance an average UK boat would sail in one season. This is on top of 10,000 NM last year. A Capella of Belfast is looking forward to some TLC in the excellent boatyards of New Zealand. There is a sort of “end of a really magical, good book” feeling. We have so many happy memories of an amazing trip but are very much looking forward to arriving in New Zealand, going home for Christmas, and starting a new part of our journey possibly to New Caledonia, Vanuatu and Indonesia next year.
Tonga is hard to describe. It truly ticks along at its own, very slow pace – it seems that virtually nothing tourist related happens here unless it is organised by an outsider. The very few, tiny beach resorts seem to be run by New Zealanders or Australians, and the shops by the Chinese. There are numerous aid projects sponsored by the USA, Australia, New Zealand, Japan and China.
In the capital – Nuku’alofa – the main activity seems to be Government. Culturally it is very different and it seems church life, family and community are the motivators for the Tongan people. Whale watching is really the only tourism activity and the people, especially the children, just seem happy to see us. The children always wave and say “bye” and if you stop they will nearly always want to practise their English by asking your name. Their confidence and smiley nature is really lovely.
We moved on from Vava’a and spent some time in the Ha’apai group of islands. These are atolls with lovely anchorages, clear water and great beaches. Sadly plastic waste and rubbish is an issue and there is no proper rubbish disposal system. As is the way in remote Tonga, life is simple – the houses are small and basic, there is a small but good cafe, some chaotic grocery stores, a little market run by the ladies, many large churches, and the pigs and piglets roam free. The world is even quieter on Sundays except for bells and impressive singing coming from the churches.
We finally decided to go swimming with the humpback whales. This is only done in Tonga. The humpback whales come to this area to give birth and nurture their young, before going back to the cold feeding grounds of the Antarctic. There is some controversy that swimming with the whales upsets their feeding patterns. Thus we were a bit reluctant; but in the end we felt that the whales really could move away from the swimmers if bothered. The general interest in whales by the tourists that this activity creates, probably does more good than harm in ensuring these amazing animals (and indeed the oceans) are better protected. It is quite an experience to be in the water with such a massive creature. Since then we have seen many whales swimming and breaching even very close to our current anchorage. This always creates excitement but a decent photo is hard to come by.
We thought we would give the Tongan feast another try. This was organised by a small beach resort. I do not think “feast cuisine” will ever be my thing and the best bit of the piglet roasted on the spit is the skin; the meat is very chewy. We were then, and I am afraid the word must be “subjected” to some traditional Tongan dancing for tourists. Julian described it as like going to a kindergarden nativity play – everybody is trying very hard, and there is lots of smiling. It was somehow very Tongan!
Nuku’alofa the capital is busier but not unpleasant and to date we have seen no pigs, but I am certain they are not far away. The anchorage is at least a mile from the town so we need to use the ferry to get there. Our outboard motor has broken so we are now using Krabat’s electric motor which Bill and Moira have kindly leant us. This outboard is quite fragile and really does not do long trips. Big Mama’s is a basic cafe/resort but the owners are very helpful with all things yachtie. This is important as there are no yacht facilities here and even refuelling is done by filling jerry cans unless you want large quantities when you can order a tanker.
Some final photos from Tonga.