Niue to Vava’u, Tonga

Tuesday morning we were up very early and headed into the wharf. The surf was running and we struggled to get out of dink and then winch him up to his parking space. Phew!

We were waiting for our whale watching boat to turn up and were very excited about this because they allow you into the water to snorkel with the whales in Niue. We were armed with swimsuits, rash shirts, snorkels, masks and fins only. The guys turned up and reversed their boat down the wharf, hoisted it up, and we took our lives into our own hands again getting into this big rib. The guys were a bit surprised we didn’t have wet suits on – we thought we wouldn’t need them as the sea seemed quite warm to us. Oh well, never mind.

Anyway…we headed out in the small rib which carried the driver, a French dive master, and four New Zealand tourists. We sat around in the bay behind the cargo ship for a while until they spotted a whale spouting towards the north of the island – so we whizzed off. We got to within about 200 metres of the whale and its calf and we entered the water…and swam towards her. Sadly she wasn’t up for company and quickly dived. Richard got a quick glance at her in the water as she dived and that was that. Never mind….

Back in the boat and we carried on searching and yes I was feeling a bit cold by now!

Again we spotted another mother and calf and we got really close but, the minute we hit the water, she was gone. The guide reckons the calf was very young and the mother may have been a first-timer as she was being very protective. It was lovely to see them despite them not hanging around long enough for a photo! We continued for a few more hours looking out for fins and spouts but, sadly, that was it for the day.

To make up for it the guys took us snorkelling into a chasm instead. This was great – we got pushed through the narrow hole in the rock and then got sped along by the waves. The noise when the waves hit the back of the chasm was like thunder it was so loud. We thoroughly enjoyed this little adventure and we saw two sea snakes as well – they are venomous so glad they didn’t come too close!

On the way back to the wharf we were told to wait for the barge to unload before approaching the dock. We tied to a mooring ball and sat chatting for a while. Then it was time to go and the boat would only reverse – no forward motion at all!!! They couldn’t fix it – a cable had broken apparently – so we were rescued by a local fishing boat who took us ashore. When we returned to the wharf the surge was huge and we decided it was too dangerous to try and get dink launched….so we had a meal at the Indian and chatted to other cruisers for a while. Was a nice way to spend the afternoon.

Wednesday and we were up early and into town. Thankfully the sea conditions had eased considerably and this view out to the anchorage shows the flat calm sea.

This was going to be a shopping day….and I had plans on making an appointment at the local hairdressers as my hair was completely wild and out of control! Well, of course, sod’s law and all that but the hairdressers had closed that day for two weeks for their annual holiday. Damn….

Exploring a little further we were interested to see the memorial to the citizens who had lost their lives in World War 1. Amazing that this tiny island in the middle of nowhere gave their young men to join the Commonwealth nations. The sad story is that many of them actually succumbed to western illnesses which they had not been exposed to before.

We stopped off at the benches outside Niue Telecom and paid for some wifi and caught up on line for a while. We chatted to the skipper and first mate of the boat (the crew of 10 we met in Palmerston) and there had been some sort of mutiny with complaints from the crew to the owner – so they were trying to work their way through all that as well as some engine issues and running out of cooking gas. Seems like everyone has trouble with their crew at some point or another….

After our internet fix we provisioned up at the supermarket and visited the duty free shop for a beer top up. Heavily laden we returned to dink in the now torrential rain and got absolutely soaked! We were, however, pleased that the swells had reduced a bit and got back to Morphie safely where we had a quiet night on board.

Thursday we had planned to go diving in the afternoon – but the boat wasn’t fixed – so that was cancelled. Was a bit disappointed but what can you do?!? So we just had a lazy day on board in the rain. We were treated to some whale action out to sea during the day to make up for it though.

Friday morning we headed into the wharf to meet customs to do our exit clearance. Overnight four boats had turned up so they were redirected to the customs warehouse and that is where we ended up – to be processed after they had cleared in. This took a while…..and then we were taken to the customs office where we finally received our papers. We were given a lift back to town so we stopped at a local restaurant famous for its fish and chips only to find out that, at 12.30 pm, they had sold out!!! Disappointed but never mind we tried the chicken burger / steak sandwich instead and it was excellent. We thoroughly enjoyed it.

We headed back to the wharf and returned to Morphie. We got dink up on the bow and the outboard onto the rail and did engine checks and other pre-passage preparation and had a pretty lazy day generally.

Saturday morning we slipped the mooring at 7.15 bound for the Vava’u group of islands, the northern area of the Kingdom of Tonga.

The passage was very light winds so we ended up motoring for quite a while. We enjoyed being at sea and watching the island appear before us after a 250 mile passage.

During the time at sea we passed the international dateline so we lost a day and went from being 12 hours behind to 12 hours ahead UK time. We are also now officially Golden Shellbacks. Woo hoo – thanks Neptune for the honour!

On Tuesday we motored around the north end of the island and then worked our way towards Neiafu enjoying spotting the caves, blow holes and small islands as we passed. We found the horrible customs dock and managed to tie up – very worried about our capping rail on the concrete overhang on this commercial-sized dock. Was not happy about being forced to do this…. We managed to get Morphie onto a big tyre hanging down and with fenders next to the tyre we kept ourselves away from the edge and tied up.

We walked to the customs warehouse – got permission to walk to the ATM to get some Tonga Pa’anga as we have to pay fees in local currency – and went back to the warehouse. We took a seat and waited….and waited….and waited. In Tongan culture it is considered bad form to be impatient or show irritation so I did my best to smile and behave! Finally we were visited by the Agriculture people; the Health people; the Immigration people; and the Customs. All with dozens of forms to complete. This whole process took about three hours and, apparently, we were lucky as this was considered pretty speedy!

We returned to Morphie officially cleared into Tonga and managed to get off the dock without any trouble despite being pushed on by the wind. Phew – glad that was over! We motored along the shore and found an empty mooring ball in a huge mooring field and picked it up. We got permission from the owner over the radio and we were set. Yay we’ve arrived! We had a few cold beers and watched the fruit bats flying into the trees and had an early night.

Wednesday morning we were up reasonably early after a very still night on board – felt just like being tied to a dock. We had breakfast and got dink off the bow and the outboard back on. We went ashore and walked around a bit. We were pleased to note a number of bars and restaurants and look forward to trying them out another day. We walked passed the church and found a hairdressers – at last – but the Chinese guy didn’t speak a word of English so gave up on that. We then found another hairdressers so I made an appointment with Tonga’s version of a wee wee for Thursday morning. We also found the laundry. Woo hoo….couple of jobs off the list. We then visited Digicel to buy a local sim card – by far the cheapest way to get internet – and were delighted with the £18 for 5GB for 60 days package. Pretty slow dial-up type speed but hey it means we can get online onboard for the first time since I can’t remember when……..

We also found a butcher and managed to get some pork chops and a ham ordered so we are now completely provisioned up all the way to New Zealand I think – will just buy fresh vegetables and dried staples as we run out. Tongan (largely Chinese-run) supermarkets are pretty basic and all carry different things so apparently you have to visit them all and buy what you see when you see it. So should be fun. Guess the meat is organic considering how many pigs we saw wandering around in people’s yards….check out these two cuties!

We are determined to swim with humpbacks before the whales and their calves start migrating to colder waters again so we booked another trip for Saturday.

Wednesday night we headed into town – our first night out for a very long time. The anchorage here is safe, Morphie is securely tied to a strong mooring ball with two pennants for each side of the bow, and the dinghy dock is not very far away. We did a mini pub crawl on the way – the streets here are very dark so we needed to be a bit careful in terms of trip hazards – and found the Bounty Bar. We had made a reservation so sat outside and chatted for a while with some Norwegian and Danish cruisers. Then we went inside and took our seats. I was surprised that some of the young girl tourists were showing shoulders and knees as this is can get them fined – guess the authorities turn a blind eye most of the time. But, to be honest, I’m happy wearing longer trousers – particularly at night – as it is really quite chilly!!!

The girlie show was funny with transvestites dancing and singing along to popular tunes – and they were very imaginative in how they collected their tips from some of the punters. There were a lot of young US Peace Corps around who were pretty drunk and a young guy was set up for the full works from the older dominatrix-type showgirl.

During the show we were joined by Bailey who is a school principal at one of the out islands and a few rum punches later we were new best friends LOL.

The evening finished off with dancing and more drinking…and we finally left about 12.30 am… Was a great evening!

Thursday morning I was up reasonably early but, OMG, I had a bad hangover. And I only drank beer – honest!   Anyway, we headed into town and I took myself to the hairdressers while Richard dropped the laundry off, and then he took himself to a local cafe for a full English breakfast, copious amounts of coffee and felt much better for it. In the meantime I had my hair dyed and cut by Sonia – another transvestite – who told me about life in Tonga as a gay man. He said that although they were allowed to live their lives openly it was illegal to have sex with another man so any relationships had to be conducted in secret and they live in fear of the police knocking when they have a ‘friend’ round. I was surprised by this after our experience in French Polynesia where ‘wee wees’ are treasured members of the community. Sonia said this was driven by the church – there is a strong Catholic contingent plus protestant, Mormons and Seventh Day Adventist communities here in Tonga. Sunday as a day of rest is particularly very important and there are very strict rules about what is and isn’t allowed – eg no swimming from the boat, no working on the boat and not allowed to hang washing up either. Shops are also closed for the day.

We are looking forward to staying here for a few more days before we head off to explore some other anchorages. As well as going whale watching we are also going to do a couple of dives if possible. Even though we will head out to explore this cruising ground we will still have to return to Neiafu to secure our onward inter-island clearance before we can go to the next group of islands in the Kingdom.

Bye for now