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Japanese Coral Gardens

After several lovely days in the village of Mata Maka we decided to jump to another anchorage. We motored about an hour south with the hopes of stopping for a few nights at Anchorage #16. On our way there I was on the bow watching for shallow spots and I had my headset on so we could communicate. All of the sudden I turned my head and heard bang, bang, plop! My heart sank. It was the receiver for my headset. I was in a bathing suit and had it clipped onto the bottoms. Apparently that wasn’t the best spot for it as it flipped right out and landed in the drink. I was devastated! We depend upon these for excellent communication when anchoring and docking. Dan, of course, was so sweet about it even though I’m sure he was thinking a few not so nice things. LOL

Anyway, as we approached Anchorage #16 we realized it was going to be very unlikely we could get to it. The tide was out and the coral below us kept getting closer and closer to the surface as we neared the anchorage. We tried several different routes but just never felt comfortable with any of them. Even if we had been able to find a place to get through it could have been disastrous if weather came up and we had to leave quickly. Being the cautious cruisers we are we decided to go back to Anchorage #17 at Lape Island. There were a couple of mooring balls there and it was close enough to #16 that we could still dinghy to the reef.

Once again we had the anchorage all to ourselves so we sat back and enjoyed the beautiful, sunny day in paradise. We had planned to take a dingy ride around later that afternoon but soon we heard a vessel calling us on the VHF radio. Much to our delight and surprise it was our dear friends, Lutz & Gabi of SV SuAn. We left them over a week ago in Neiafu. They were heading south when they saw us on the AIS and decided to come join us. If we were going to have company we were certainly glad it was them. That evening we had sundowners and snacks on Dazzler and enjoyed some wonderful times once again.

The following morning we all decided we would dinghy over to the Japanese Coral Gardens. We’d been assured this was a most spectacular place for snorkeling. The issue is you have to hit it at the right time. You see the gardens are part of the reef that surrounds this bay so we had to wait until the tide was almost high to get over the reef. Even at that we had to drive the dingy into the oncoming surf to get to the outside.

We left a bit early that morning so we stopped at a beach just inside the reef and checked out an abandoned resort. It look like it would have been a lovely place if they had kept it going. Apparently the builder started it and then took the investor’s money and fled. Such a shame to see how devious and evil people can be over money.

We found Nemo here in Tonga!

After exploring the ruins we left there and went to another spot to snorkel a bit while we waited for the perfect time to cross the reef. This spot was very beautiful and the reef seemed to be very healthy. The water was shallow and warm and we saw lots of beautiful things. One of my favorites is the purple-blue colored starfish called the Blue Sea Star. You see them all over down here. Dan spotted these amazing giant sea stars called the Cushion Star. And, he found a beautiful cone snail shell that he brought up to me in the dinghy. He told me to only handle it by the sides because if the animal was still inside it is highly poisonous. I’m just curious, when my man hands me a highly poisonous shell in the middle of nowhere, should I be concerned? Needless to say we deposited this little creature of terror back into the sea because I wasn’t taking any chances that the critter might still be inside. I will say, however, that it was an exceptionally beautiful shell so I had to get a picture of it before we sent it home again.

Several hours into our day the time was finally right to make our attempt to exit the reef. Yes, this is when you hold your breath and hope for success. If you hit the incoming surf wrong it could flip the dinghy over and the last place you want to be thrust into the water is on top of sharp coral heads. At best you’re going to be bounced around bit. Yes, you have to time the exit just right.

We sat in our dinghies and watched and waited until it looked like the timing would work. Lutz & Gabi went first and while they launched in the air a couple of times we watched as they reached the other side. Now it was our turn. I was holding my breath and of course, the Go Pro. After all we had to have video of this. Off we went. The first wave was a bit bumpy but no all that bad but then we saw the next one coming. This time we launched into the air and when we came down we heard the prop hit a piece of coral. Forntuately Dan was smart enough to release the motor lock so the motor would come up if it hit anything. That lessened the impact on it. After a couple more waves we reached the outside of the reef. SUCCESS!

By this time in the day I was pretty tired and my feet were swollen and hurting due to the four broken toes I sustained a couple of weeks earlier in Neiafu. I told Dan I’d stay with the dink while they snorkeled. I did say that if it was as amazing as everyone said then I’d get in. Within a minute of him being in the water he came up and told me I HAD to see this.

I donned my mask, snorkel and fins and slid over the side of Sparkle (our dinghy). WHOA! This is some really, really cold water! It almost took my breath away but within a moment I was looking down at the most beautiful underwater scenery I’ve ever experienced! There was just about every type, shape and color of coral you could ever see all in one place. Colorful fish were swimming in and out of the coral and I was in awe! I was so excited about what I was seeing that I completely forgot how cold it was or how much my feet hurt. The only difficult part of the snorkeling was making sure you didn’t get caught up in the surf. If you got too close to the reef the waves would push you right into it and we all know that wouldn’t feel too good.

We played there in the water as long as we could but eventually the cold did start to get to us so we got back in the dinghy. Fortunately it didn’t take long for the bright sunshine to warm us up. Now, we had to get back over the reef. The return trip wasn’t as bad because this time we were just surfing the wave. It was still a bit unsettling but we made it.

The rest of the afternoon we enjoyed in the cockpit of Dazzler having a few cold beers and discussing the sights of the day. One thing for sure is that the Japanese Coral Gardens are not to be missed if you ever get to this part of the world.

Until next time…

Jilly & Dan

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Meeting Chief Ladu

Well, after ten days in Neiafu we decided it was time to move on and see more of the Kingdom of Tonga. There are 70 islands that make up the Vava’u Group of which 17 are inhabited. This leaves a lot of room to explore. The anchorages are actually numbered and you can buy a chart that shows the best spots. Of course we generally like to go where there are fewer people but it’s that time of year when all the cruisers are making their way south to hide out for cyclone season so there are lots of boats everywhere.

We chose to leave Neiafu the weekend the Bluewater Festival began. This is a festival given by the folks of Tonga in conjunction with New Zealand businesses. It includes dancing, parties, races and lots and lots of talks from New Zealand businesses and their tourist council. It’s very similar to the Pacific Puddle Jump party that’s held in Moorea each year. While we would probably enjoy the dances and a few parties, it’s the mass of people and the “sales talks” from businesses trying to get you to utilize their services that we aren’t really into experiencing. So, we headed out while everyone else was headed in.

Our first stop was Port Maurelle. This beautiful little anchorage was the perfect place to spend a few days. There were a couple of charter catamarans there, which made for some fun and interesting people watching. It’s always entertaining to watch “part time” boaters try to anchor or catch a mooring ball. We keep saying one day we are going to make up large cards with numbers on them so we can act like judges in the Olympics.

We spent two days here waiting out some strong winds. One day we took the dinghy and headed out to explore the islands nearby. We found an absolutely beautiful, deserted island. The waters here are so clear and the colors of blue, green and aqua make you feel like your looking at a painting rather than something in real life.

After a couple of days here we decided to head to Anchorage #15, Nuapapu Island, the Village of Mata Maka. We’d read that the people in the village can always use a bit of help from anyone who is willing to lend a hand and we were hoping to get a chance to be of service. We arrived here to find no other boats in the anchorage. YIPPEE! Grape Ape was so excited he went up on deck and started dancing!

Grape Ape LOVES Tonga!

After we were settled in we took the dink to shore to see what we could find. Here would be a good time to tell you that in Tonga women are expected to adhere to a very modest dress code, especially on the remote islands. Knees and shoulders are to be covered at all times. Now when you live on a boat you spend a great deal of time in bathing suits, shorts and sundresses so I don’t really have much in the way of “cover up” clothing. And, since I was currently dealing with four broken toes I had no choice but to wear my tennis shoes.  Dan and I laughed hysterically as I tried to find an appropriate outfit that met their guidelines and went with tennis shoes. I must have changed four times and each one made me look like an old grandma. Finally I managed to find something that would work even though I felt a bit uncomfortable. But, as they say, “when in Rome” or this case Tonga!

The village was very clean and well kept and there was a dirt road that led behind the houses on the beach through the main part of the village to the church and the fale (meeting house). We approached the fale and found an older woman sitting on the floor inside on a huge mat. She was weaving this mat from palm fronds. We peeked in the door and she motioned for us to come in.

We greeted her in Tongan….”Mālo e lelei. Fēfē hake.”She replied, “Sai pe” and then started to continue on in her native language. At that point we stopped her and explained that hello was about the extent of our Tongan speaking skills. She laughed and then started speaking in English. Most Tongans speak pretty good English. The are required to learn this in school. This sweet lady’s name is “Dinghyie”. No, it’s not pronounced Dingy…it’s pronounced, (Din yay).  We spoke with her for a few minutes and then she directed us towards the beach to find the chief so we could ask for permission to visit their village.

We left the fale and turned left at the church. It is a quaint village church with the bell that actually hangs from a tree.  Just down the path from there is another fale. There were two men inside but no furniture. They don’t use it. They sit on the floor. One man came to the doorway and greeted us. His name is Maury. He was a kind looking fellow with a big smile. Dan explained that we wanted to pay for the mooring and also that we would like to donate some supplies to the village. Maury suggested that we come back later in the day as everyone was still sleeping. Too much Kava the night before. LOL  Well, we paid him the mooring fee and headed back down the beach to the wharf.

That afternoon brought with it significant rains so we decided we’d wait until the following day to go back ashore. The next afternoon we gathered the food, line and other goodies we had for the villagers and headed out. As we walked down the beach toward the fale we heard loud chanting and saw people scattered about outside of it. We approached a young couple sitting on a tree and asked where we could find Maury. The young lady said he was in the fale and that they’d be done with their ceremony in a few moments. It was a ceremony for the school children.

I stayed to talk to the young couple as Dan walked saw another older gentleman and went to talk to him. The girl asked me what we wanted with Maury and I told her we were here to donate items to the village. She and her guy friend started chatting in Tongan and then she told me we needed to see Chief Ladu, not Maury. She went on to say he would be coming out of the ceremony too. I thanked them for the information and went over to where Dan was standing. Maury had seen him and came out to greet him.

We stood there talking as Dan showed him the line and the bags of food. I then asked him, “Is Chief Ladu okay with us doing this? We’d really like to meet him.” There was a moment where I thought I saw a bit of nervousness in his eyes as the chief walked over to greet us and before we were done with our introductions to the chief Maury had vanished. Hmmmm…

We introduced ourselves and Chief Ladu welcomed us to the village with a huge, kind and warm smile. Dan presented him with a gift of Kava and asked for permission to stay at the anchorage and visit the village. He kindly gave us his approval. We spoke to Chief Ladu as well as the local schoolteacher for quite sometime. It turns out Ryan, the schoolteacher, works for the Peace Corps and has been in the village for two years. He was set to move to his next assignment just two weeks later.

In our discussion with them we learned that only the young children attend school on the island while the older children are taken via boat to Neiafu each Monday and gathered up again on Friday. They spend the week there going to school.  We told Ryan we also had some pencils and other school supplies we would bring back the following morning for the children. He was especially excited by the fact that we had glow-in-the-dark bracelets, beach balls and frisbees. He said the kids would love them as they don’t get much in the way of toys down here.

Chief Ladu and Dan spoke at length about the village and their needs. The chief was very pleased with the food and line we brought. He did ask Dan if we could help out with some money so they can repaint the bottom of the boat they use to transport the children to Neiafu each week. Dan didn’t have much in his pocket but gave him what he had.

They invited us into the fale to partake in the ceremonial feast but we already had dinner made and declined. Looking back I wish we would have stayed but we plan on returning next year and hope to stop there again. Maybe this time we can actually do some physical labor to help out the village.

I asked Chief Ladu if he would mind if we got our pictures taken with him. He was so friendly and agreed without a moment’s hesitation. Ryan too our picture and then the chief reached in his pocket and pulled out an Iphone and handed it to Ryan and told him to take one of us as well. I about died when I saw that. Who would believe they’d have smartphones on a remote island in the middle of Tonga? After a quick photo session we bid farewell to Ryan and Chief Ladu and made our way back down the beach.

The following day we went ashore to take the school supplies up and drop them off. As we headed toward the wharf we saw Ryan’s dog way out on the reef. The tide was out and the dog was walking all over the reef. Of course I was concerned for his wellbeing but Dan assured me he was fine. And, he was right. By the time we tied up at the wharf the dog was up there greeting us. He ended up escorting us all over the island that morning. He even walked us back to the wharf to see us off when we left.

The village was rather quiet on this particular morning. We had been told they were taking all the young children to another island for some sort of school outing. We strolled along the beach and up the hill to the schoolhouse. It’s actually rather nice. The dwelling that Ryan calls home, however, is very, very meager and seems more like a hut than a house. God bless him for doing what he does.

The schoolhouse and on the right is where Ryan lived for two years….in a concrete hut!

On our way back we took one last stroll through the village where we saw Dinghie in the fale weaving away. We decided to stop in to say, “Goodbye”.  Once again she greeted us with that beautiful smile. I asked her what the mat will be used for when it’s complete and she told us it’s a ceremonial mat that is used for religious ceremonies, weddings and funerals. It is 20’ x 10’ and by the time it’s finished it will have taken her 3 months to complete. That’s working 6 days a week on it. Here in Tongan Sunday is a mandatory day of rest. They don’t even want cruisers working on their boats on Sundays.

Dinghie looked at out hats and then asked, “Are you the ones who donated the food to the village yesterday?” 

Dan replied, “Yes.”

She said, “Thank you very much. That is so kind. I got a can of New Zealand butter. It’s my favorite.”

Dinghie went on to tell us that after we left the village Chief Ladu went around to each home and let them choose one item out of the food bag. The smile on her face made me want to go back to the boat and get more food for them. To think a simple can of butter could be so appreciated.

We said, “Goodbye”to our new friend and as we departed she called out, “May God bless you and your travels.”We both left with huge smiles and full hearts.

Our stay in Nuapapu was short but wonderful. We do hope to return here next season and possibly spend a bit more time. But, for now there are many more islands to see in Tonga and we don’t have much time before we will need to be heading south to New Zealand for cyclone season.

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

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The Vava’u Group In Tonga

Well, we left Niue at 0420 on a Thursday and arrived at the entrance to Faihava Pass on Sunday just as the sun was peeking over the islands. The golden rays of the sun were dancing on the water and as we made the turn we looked off to the port side to find two whales playing near the shore. Just a bit further along we came across a pod of dolphin heading out of the pass. It was an amazing a beautiful welcome to the Kingdom of Tonga.

It takes a little over an hour to go from the entrance of Faihava Pass to the anchorage located in the Nieafu Village area. The landscape is simply spectacular. Everywhere you look there are mountainous islands rising from the sea. Some have sand beaches while others are pure rock. It’s almost indescribable.

We arrive in the anchorage and through radio communications with some people Dan knows that are there we locate the Customs dock. There are already several boats tied up so we have to go to another dock on the wharf. This one, however, is not nearly as friendly looking and is quite honestly a bit scary. The tide is out and the top of the wall is about two feet above my head. There’s these large rubber bumpers attached to the wall but they would be far above the hull of the boat. We see a spot where a couple of the bumpers are missing and it looks like we can fit Dazzler there. We take a quick run by to make certain. We can get it but getting out will be tough as the water shallow within just a few feet of where the bow will be. I’m on pins and needles as we pull in. There so much that could go wrong here. Our fenders will barely be high enough to be between the boat and the wall. Add to this the swell is coming in and bouncing us up and down. Of course Dan’s calm as a cucumber and he slides Dazzler ever so perfectly into the spot. There’s some construction workers not the wharf and one nice young man comes over to grab the line for me.

With Dazzler safely tied to the wharf Dan grabs our documents and heads to ashore to find the Customs Office. I stay behind to keep watch on Dazzler and make sure we stay off the foreboding concrete wharf. Within a few minutes Dan arrives back with a stack of forms for us to fill out. As he fills them out I continue my watch. Soon one of the Custom’s officers shows up and we go over the formalities. Since it’s Saturday they can’t do all of the paperwork but we get enough done to allow us to stay in the anchorage and go ashore.

From here we have to find a place in the anchorage. Most of the boats here are on mooring balls but we can’t seem to locate a free one so we find a spot near the shore where we can drop the hook. It took a few tries as there’s a lot of coral and rock on the bottom but we finally get the anchor to set and of course, it’s time for an anchor down beer.

It’s not long before our dear friends, Lutz & Gabi of SV SuAn show up on their dinghy to say, “Hello” and offer us a ride into town.  We gladly accept their offer and head in to see what Neiafu has to offer.  We dock at the Mango Cafe and stop in for a beer or two. Then it’s off to explore the village.

It turns out that Tonga has some of the best cell phone and WiFi in the islands.  Digicel turned out to be a great deal. For $50 Pa’Anga (approximately $21 US) we could get 10 gigs of data and it was quite fast considering what we’ve become accustomed to in our travels. Of course in this day and age it doesn’t take long to burn up 10 gigs but it did allow us to check emails and do some surfing on the net. 

Provisioning in Neiafu was not as easy as we would have expected. It’s a fairly large village so we thought we’d be able to find most of the things we wanted but that was not the case. There are many stores, most run by Asian folks who seem to be pretty unhappy about being there. They weren’t very helpful or friendly. The Tongan people, however, were wonderful.

We went to the local fresh produce/craft market several times and there was this lovely older Tongan woman who was selling her crafts. She was adorable and worked very hard to teach us Tongan. The entire time we were there she kept saying, “Mālo e leila, Fēfē Hake” (Hello, How Are You?) Then she’d make us respond with “Sai pē, Mālō” (Just fine, Thank you). She was more concerned with teaching us Tongan than she was to sell us something.

We did seek out Kava while we were there. Kava is used in various types of island and religious ceremonies. We’ve been told it has a bit of intoxicating effect, however, we’ve yet to try it. It took some doing to locate it and when we did it wasn’t the root, rather the processed powder. Not knowing how much to get or what is proper to present to a chief when asking permission to visit their island Dan purchase a kilo of it. Well, it turns out that you would literally give about a half a cup so it appears we can please all the chiefs in Tonga!

We ended up spending 10 days in Neiafu. We actually hadn’t planned to do so but our brand new, four month old generator decided to stop working. Dan spent days and days tearing it apart and checking every component. He  finally decided it needed a new spark generator which we could not get until New Zealand. I’m not a huge fan of Honda right now I can tell you that!

But, we tried to make the best of our stay in this quaint village. Our favorite place is the Hideaway Bar. It’s a floating bar in the anchorage and is owned by a Canadian couple, Barry and Char. They only serve drinks and fish & chips. It’s a great place to hang out and enjoy the views. Plus, they are two awesome people. They also have their own meat store and sell excellent quality meats. We stocked up on some sausage, steak and other tasty treats.

Finally the time came to move on so we hauled anchor and began working our way south through the islands. 

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan