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Tonga 2006

An uninhabited island in the lagoon at Nuiatoputapu

This is Tonga, and yes, this is a typical view as we drink our coffee on deck in the morning. We are in the Vava'u island group and there are dozens of little islands just like this one waiting to be explored. It is December now, and 2 weeks away from Christmas and most of the cruising yachts have migrated south to Australia or New Zealand. There are a few boats, like us, spending the cyclone season here, so much of the time we have pristine anchorages all to ourself, or to share with friends. During the busy cruising months over 500 yachts pass through Vava'u, and we are appreciating the quiet months before it gets busy again. Many foreigners have made Vava'u their home, or their base for a few years, and, like Apia in Samoa, it has a lively and social overseas community.

Frans gets some windsurfing in Apia, Samoa, a few days before we sail for Tonga.

Tacking into Neiafu harbour, Vava'u, and sailing the dinghy towards Tafahi volcano

Frans with a tuna caught mid-ocean (Johnny looks happy!), and Hannah, who also caught a good size tuna on the passage

We sailed from Samoa in September and Hannah and Johnny joined us for the passage south to Tonga (thanks for the pictures guys!). We stopped for a few days at Nuiatoputapu island, a 5 mile long island, half way between Vava'u and Samoa, and about 200 miles from each of these places. I love these out of the way places that are isolated lumps of land in the middle of a vast ocean. If you look at a chart of the Pacific, Nuiatoputapu (like many islands) is just a small dot, 200 miles away from the next group of small dots. But once you are there, anchored in the shallow lagoon, it is a whole world. There are whales breaching in the deep water outside the pass, horses slowly wandering along the beach, and children shrieking as they jump into the sea off the stone jetty.

the high street in nuiatoputapu, and the local transportation system

dylan, tongan children, teenage Tongan girls, johnny

The two Tongan customs officers who stamped our passports came onto the boat all dressed in black and wrapped with thick woven mats around their waists. The Tongan King had recently died, and this was mourning dress, obligatory for all Tongans. The clothing looked hot and heavy in the tropical heat, but the ladies didn't seem to mind. The official mourning period ended while we were in Vava'u and soon the bands began to play in the bars again, though several men and women continued to wear the mourning dress. Tonga seems to be going through a tough transitional period at the moment, with the Prince and the King passing away in close succession, and the later events this year, with the rioting that destroyed much of the captials business district. Here in Vava'u, 200 miles north of the capital, all is peaceful, but many Tongans are concerned for their relatives living in Nukulofa.

Dylan gets his first outboard lesson, and some friendly fish pass by

Hannah climbs the mast for a good picture

Nuiatoputapu was a world apart from it all, and we spent some days exploring the beaches, trying to find a track up to the top of the islands 'mountain', swimming, sailing the dinghy, riding horses and cooling down in the local freshwater pools. There were about 6 other yachts anchored here; one American couple who were now in their 60's told us how they had raised their two children on a boat. Another retired couple were there with their adult daughter (herself partly raised on a boat) and her two children. Families on boats are not such a rarity as one might think, especially when you are cruising and meeting them all the time! In Vava'u we met a man who had sailed around Cape Horn as a young boy with his family in the 1930s - this however was pretty remarkable in those days and the family had made a documentary recording the trip. We have yet to watch it, but are hoping to borrow a copy from some friends...

some quiet anchorages in the Vava'u group, Tonga

We are going to be here in Vava'u until April 2007. I have started a language course with a girl in town, and Dylan has been going to the local kindergarten. We have plans to haul the boat out and paint on some more antifouling in the New Year, a spinnaker to mend and other (never ending) boat jobs. Still time to fit in surfing and kiting and explorations to the many wonderful islands here, and time to make music with the new friends we have made.