Thursday, April 25, 2019

Tonga : A  Hop, skip and a jump through the Ha’apai’s

28th – 30th October 2018

One thing that I failed to mention in the previous post was that if you are planning to stop anywhere in the southern island groups you need to obtain a “domestic clearance” for customs in Vava’u before you leave. It seems a silly rule, but the rules are the rules.
Up at sparrows our anchor and chain rattled  into it’s locker at 0600. We figured we didn’t want to get caught out with a lull in the wind as we sailed down and make landfall at Nukunamo in the Ha’apai as darkness fell.

The sixty mile run was not a big one but the weather can be very fickle at times. It’s not uncommon to be slicing through the water nicely at speed and within the blink of an eye the breeze gets lighter and lighter, then stops and then ends up on the nose. We knew from our charts that our chosen anchorage was surrounded by fiberglass crunching  reefs, so we needed to be well hooked and settled by 1700 latest. Anything earlier would be a bonus.

The trip down was uneventful. The haunting sounds of whales songs kept us company along the way and we wondered if the family of three we saw from time to time were the same ones we’d swam with the previous week. These giants, just as cruisers do, also have agendas of when to hit the blue highway south.
We made our anchorage with an hour or so of good light, found a nice sandy patch in 23ft of clear water, settled in for an aperitif and watched the sun slip slowly beneath the horizon. Ahh, does life get any better?

Pangi on the island of Lifuka is the largest town in the Ha’apai  Here there are schools, several small supermarkets mostly run by Asians, a couple of cafes and a customs and police officer. 
A small airport and regular ferry service links these scattered islands to the rest of Tonga.

The Chinese Government pour a ton  of money into this island nation and one wonders what they get in return. Many signs around town spell out sponsered programes, one being that they paid for the footpaths to be built. 

Obviously the master builders had no idea of how large many Tongans are as the width of the footpath is only big enough for single file walking and that's for people of our size. The companion has to walk on the road.  Chinese overall are a fairly thin. race so that may have been their thinking. It's either that or they just assumed that all Tongans have cars and never walk anywhere.
Not quite the usual type of Customs building,

This was funky little place to hang out

Our stroll through town didn’t take long. We located the friendly customs officer who checked  us in and out simultaneously. Very user friendly given there was no cost involved. Next up we stopped for a refreshing beverage at the Mariners café and met a few others who’d also sailed down from up north, 
The main topic of discussion was that of an evolving weather front which had the potential to become rather nasty in the next few days. Something to keep our eyes on for sure given that in these  islands there is very little protection from any weather that comes from the western quadrant.

 With town ticked off we decided to find a more remote anchorage for the evening and mooched a few miles south to Voleva island.
A beautiful white sand beach greeted us as we turned in through the  break in the reef and entered the flat water of the horseshoe shaped bay. It was so lovely that we stayed two nights here. A lay day was on the cards for the following day with a little swimming, reading and just chilling out. Haa! Oh no, not on your nelly. Unbeknown to us the float switch on the bilge pump buried under our forward starboard bed had failed . As the water level inched higher it eventually reached our bilge alarm which sprang into life, screaming it’s lungs out and scaring the you no what out of us.

Last swim in the tropics at Voleva Island

No rest for the wicked it seemed. Now it’s not a five minute exercise to get under that bed and investigate the goings on. Many, many storage tubs as well as a chock-a-block stand alone freezer need to be moved first. But it all happened systematically with an air of calm. 

Liam spent hours cramped under the bed passing buckets of salt water to  be disposed of right back to where it came from. He replaced the now dead bilge pump and relocated the alarm to a lower position as added insurance of an earlier warning which equates to less ingress of water. With that chore finished it was  finally time for that swim.

By 1600 that afternoon, with the threat of the strong front arriving, we felt it prudent to pull the pin on our stay in the Ha'apai's and head off 160 miles further south to Tongapatu where far better weather protection awaited.
It was a hard decision to make as we’d already earmarked  several other islands and bays to visit. 
Such is that of making plans in this nomadic life we lead.So it was goodbye to this scenic group of far flung islands as we headed off into the sunset along with several other boats.

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