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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

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The Rock

The tiny island nation of Niue is a large upraised coral atoll commonly referred to as “The Rock”. With a total land mass of just over 100 square miles and a population of around 1600 people you wouldn’t expect much to be here and you’d be right. There’s a handful of restaurants and shops, one large supermarket and just one petrol station in the entire country. But, what it lacks in some areas it more than makes up for with its stunning scenery and super friendly people. It’s like being in small town USA where everyone waves at everyone and will help you with whatever you need.

They even have a Code of Conduct list for visitors to let you know what they expect while you are visiting their country. Our personal favorite on the list is #3. Too often in our travels we run across people who complain that things are not the same as in their home country. Well, if you don’t like it don’t travel. The whole point of traveling is to experience new and different people and cultures. At least that’s why we do it.

Another successful dinghy lift at the wharf.

One interesting thing about Niue is that because it’s a huge coral rock there are no beaches where you can beach your dink. Instead they have a self-service lift where you actually lift your dink up on the wharf and park it like a car. This was certainly interesting. At first it didn’t seem like such a big deal. Dan fashioned a lifting bridle and we were ready to go.

Well let me tell you this. It was not as easy as it would first appear. No, the issue wasn’t using the lift itself. It was the swell that came crashing into the reef and the wharf. If we were doing this at high tide the stairs were under water and the swell was bouncing us up and down like we were in a bounce house. Oh no, this was not for the faint at heart by any stretch. The good thing is the concrete steps had a metal grate attached so that they weren’t so slippery but still it was treacherous at best. And, no one wanted to fall in the water as we’d seen several large sharks swimming around the wharf. Fortunately we didn’t take a dip in the drink but we did hear of other cruisers who did. Of course if you came in or left during low tide it was pretty easy so after our first trip in at high tide we timed our arrival and departure at the wharf for low tide. And, we never went to town or left town after dark. No one wanted to try this at night.

We read in the compendiums and other travel guides that there is a fee for the mooring balls in the anchorage. They were particularly well kept and since the seabed here is mostly coral, using a mooring was definitely the best option. We understood that the fee gets paid to the Niue Yacht Club. Now this is where it gets interesting. Apparently a year or so ago the formal office for NYC was closed. We even had one cruiser radio us and tells us this and said because of that you don’t have to pay for the mooring. Given the great condition of these moorings we were pretty sure he was wrong and yes, he was wrong. Right on the main road in front of the wharf there is a small plaza of sorts with several restaurants and shops. There, as plain as the nose on your face, is a banner that reads, “Niue Yacht Club”. Hmmm….I guess this cruiser was either too cheap to pay or just couldn’t read the sign. Anyway, the banner was standing right outside of Gill’s Indian Restaurant so we decided to go in and inquire. Just as we expected there is still a fee for the mooring. You sign in with Harry, the owner of the restaurant. You pay for the morning when you leave but if you want a key to the showers at the wharf then you give him $5 NZD (New Zealand Dollars) and he sends you down the street to the tourism office where they give you a key. The rate for the mooring was $20 NZD per day and was well worth it. 

Since they don’t have buses or other public transportation we rented a car for the week we stayed in Niue. This allowed us to travel around the island and explore. In order to rent a car in Niue you actually have to get a Niue Driver’s License. It’s not really a big deal and it’s more of a keepsake than anything else. You go to the police station and pay a fee. They take your picture and pop out a license. Of course with Dan’s background he always likes to chat with his fellow brothers and sisters in law enforcement. The young man that we met that day was very nice and Dan asked if we could bring back a CHP patch to trade with him. He agreed so several days later we returned. The funny thing is that they didn’t have a spare Niue PD patch in the station so what did they do? They actually got out a pair of scissors and cut a patch off of an existing police uniform! It was awesome! Dan’s Niue patch still has the blue edge of the shirt on it. 

A funny side note here is that in Niue they have a very tiny jail located outside of town near the grocery store and golf course. Yes, they actually have a golf course on this tiny island. Anyway, we heard a rumor that the jail currently has one prisoner and get this, they let him play golf every day! When we went to the station to exchange patches I asked about this and the officer confirmed it.  I decided if I ever have to go to jail this is where I want to be. 

One of the highlights of our trip to Niue was meeting Rupina of the Kololi Motel. She’s a friend of our Kiwi friends, Sean & Donna. They told us we just had to look her up. Rupina is an absolute sweetheart! She even allowed us to do laundry at her hotel and when we weren’t back before it started to rain she took it all off the line and threw it in her personal dryer at her house. And if that wasn’t enough she sent us away with a huge bag of fruits and vegetables and a pareo for Jilly. Yes, she’s amazing so if you’re ever in Niue and need a place to stay don’t look anywhere else. Go to the Kololi Motel!

At the Hikulagi Sculpture Park. It’s a living sculpture garden where people add to the sculptures and everything is made of things that would normally be sent to the dump.

Much to our delight our dear friends Lutz and Gabi of SV SuAn arrived in Niue a day after we did. It’s aways such a nice thing to meet up with friends along the way. The four of us spent a great deal of time together. Since we had a car we explored the island, found great lunch spots and just generally played tourists. By the way, if you like a good fish and chips then this is THE place to get it. It’s the only thing I ate when we ate out. Here they make it with fresh caught Wahoo and let me tell you, it was AMAZING!!! Haven’t had better even in the UK.

They have these things called Sea Tracks. Sea Tracks are paths that lead to interesting spots on the island. Some take you on beautiful hikes through the woods and others are sandy paths that lead to the beach. All of them lead to something worthwhile to see. Perhaps my favorite spot was the Limu Pools. What a beautiful place to view the ocean. 

One afternoon while sitting in the cockpit I looked out and saw a mama humpback whale with her calf playing in the anchorage about a quarter of a mile from Dazzler. Niue is known to be a spot with lots of humpback whale activity and we had seen some in the distance a few days earlier but this was a real treat. I made a cocktail and sat in the cockpit for almost three hours just watching the two of them. It was a fabulous show and it was one of the highlights of our stay here. 

We spent a week in Niue and it is definitely one of our favorite spots in the South Pacific. Like I said in the beginning, there’s not a lot here in the way of restaurants and shops but the landscape is simply spectacular and the people are too!

Until next time,

Jilly & Dan

We put together a short video so you can see more of this amazing place. Click on the photo below to be taken to our YouTube Channel where you can watch “The Rock” as well as other videos from our travels.