9th to 24th October
One of the very many joys of a sailing way of life is constant closeness to the delights and beauty of nature. You can see thousands of sunsets, of dolphins, whales, birds, shells, stars, fishes, beaches, reefs and ocean colours, moods and forms, and never ever see too many. I never cease to wonder at the fabulous range of sights and creatures. Not that it’s always so beautiful, charming and benign of course. So I should add: the power, the anger, the magnificence, the challenges, cruelties and conflicts – the endless diversity of our natural world. Our photos tend to home in on the pretty and beautiful bits of nature though, and here are a few from Tonga ….
After visiting eight or nine different anchorages in Tonga’s Vava’u Group of islands, Henrietta and I had a look at the forecast…..
….and had a boisterous well-reefed sail south about 70 miles to the Ha’apai Group.
I gather there are about 60 islands hereabouts in Ha’apai, but not many inhabited or accessible by yachts. Anyway, I don’t have a lot of time and very few boats stay in Tonga for the cyclone season – none in Ha’apai. This area of the Pacific is prone to cyclones. A few years ago in 2014 Cyclone Ian destroyed over 80% of the homes on Lifuka, the main Ha’apai island, and I’m told not a leaf was left on any plant. (Wind peaked around 150 mph and gusted to 180 mph; we cannot even conceive of such raw brutal crushing power.) Most boats seem to have left and gone to New Zealand already. As usual, Henrietta’s near the back.
As well as sailing boats heading south, the humpback whales do too. After having their babies in these sheltered waters over the winter, they swim to their summer feeding grounds in the Antarctic. And one of the attractions for visitors is whalewatching or swimming with the whales, and small low-key resorts cater for this small band of tourists. They often seem to combine whale-swimming with yoga, reiki, spiritual oneness, meditation, massage and knowing the inner-self sort of stuff. I love people like that.
I started writing this while anchored off an especially gorgeous island, Uoleva, about two miles long with perfect shell sandy beach, lush wavy greenery, uninhabited save for three of the tiny resorts I’ve mentioned – though ‘resorts’ is a funny word for the few huts or tents involved. Most are almost deserted or closed now the season is over.
After spending time talking with the enterprising American woman, Patti, who ten years ago rented the land at the south of the island (foreigners cannot buy land), planned, designed, built and now manages Serenity Beach Resort, I thought you could see her website www.serenitybeaches.com . The neighbouring resort “Sea Change Eco Retreat”, owned by New Zealanders is managed by a UK/Tongan couple www.seachangetonga.com . I’m not vouching for either of these but just point them out as contrasting alternatives to the increasingly sanitised, homogenised and deodorised chain hotels of Tahiti or Bora Bora.
And in a world of unconventional and unusual folk, there’s Magda, an attractive, clever, forceful and interesting Pole, who for ten years has owned and managed the Mariner’s Cafe and Bar in Pangai, (and also her Tongan husband and young son.)
It’s a pretty little bar/restaurant, bordered with flowers, with assorted scattering of unmatched tables and colourful plastic chairs, beneath a corrugated iron roof, lined with international flags and burgees – and the food is very good.
I spend a lot of time chatting with people; for many, both Tongans and foreigners, seem extraordinary, and otherwise with so much time on board alone churning my solo thoughts, I might become strange!
A historical note: this is the island group where, in April 1789, Fletcher Christian and his fellow mutineers offloaded Captain Bligh from the Bounty. William Bligh and his loyal 18 seamen then sailed their open whaleboat about 4,000 miles to Timor, Indonesia. Our modern day voyages are chicken-feed when you think of that.
Alas! My month in Tonga is nearly up, and we cannot renew Tongan visas here in Ha’apai so I’d better head off south to New Zealand in a few days. (UK is not part of Schengen so we don’t get the automatic three months of other Europeans.) Just waiting a while till wind forecasts look more friendly. It’s about 1,200 miles to North Island – but we can stop and anchor at a reef on the way if we feel like it…..