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In Tonga Part 1 we took you to the Vava'u group in Tonga; a relatively easy and popular sailing area in Tonga. This is also the second northernmost group in Tonga. We had to skip the most northern group due to lack of time. A little south - about 70 miles sailing - of Vava'u is the Ha'apai group and we are taking you there now.
This group of islands is very sparsely inhabited by humans and very crowded by huge whales. There are not many sailors, according to our guides the reason is similar to the reason why the Tuamotus are quite calm; there are a lot of reefs and shallows. It is easy to moor your boat on a reef and the amount of well-sheltered anchorages is less. But ..... it is very beautiful! In the Ha'apai you will find a very diverse landscape. Whale season has just ended when we arrive, a few weeks before people swam here daily with whales from their sailing boat. Now there are still a small number and we only see 1, but up close and with a spouting fountain!
There are active volcanoes here, but also low islands with long white beaches with palm trees, mostly uninhabited. In this group we find a beautiful piece of coral garden close to a wreck, the coral is more beautiful than we have seen in ages! The Ha'apai is an absolute must in our opinion.
We experience something crazy: During a long walk on the beach we see a diving suit washed up right next to us after an hour of walking. Getting closer Ilona says: "That suit looks pretty good!", Followed a little later by "That's just the same as I have", and then very surprised "But this is my diving suit !!!". The suit later turns out to have been blown from the Detour, a mile and a half away, while we were walking. And the end result is that you will find something at a great distance from your boat while you did not even know that you had lost it ... And what is the chance that it is exactly right at that place when you are strolling around somewhere. comes rinse? Unfortunately, there were nowhere tickets for sale and there was no gambling palace nearby, otherwise we would certainly have tested whether by chance more improbabilities would manifest themselves ...
Even more Hooray, because on October 22 is Frans's birthday, traditionally a day with rain showers and autumn leaves. But this year it will be a completely different setting. We have now arrived at the 80 miles south island group Ha'apai. Coincidentally, one of the other cruisers got in touch with a local school and the embarrassing fact has been pressed that many teenagers here have never left the island, never seen dolphins let alone whales, while we are cruisers here with fully loaded boats come to celebrate and enjoy all the beauty. The plan was created to give something back to the hospitable country and to take some students with a few boats for a sailing trip.
The school is run by nuns and a nun will accompany each boat to accompany the average 16-year-old students. Of course we wonder somewhere in the back of our mind to what extent the nuns manage to keep adolescents in line and whether our boat will not fall prey to theft or vandalism, but at the same time we are now familiar with the honest and friendly attitude of the Polynesians and it seems like a great opportunity to get in touch with the local population. The surprise is nevertheless great: our teenagers go all out, bring a guitar, sing during the whole trip, bring food to hand out, discover it's my birthday and sing at least three times in different variations "Long will live French". Our nun also doesn't quite live up to the cliche that we have with nuns in the Netherlands: she comes on board smoothly with a bright pink iPad with which she is extremely agile to record everything, she plays the guitar and tells a hundred. Afterwards the students and crew of "Vaguebond" also come on board with us and we get a whole music, dance and singing performance on our foredeck.
To aspiring cruisers: it is highly recommended to do something like this, it is an indescribably beautiful experience for yourself and you also make the students really very happy with it. Here in the Ha'apai group there is really a lot of poverty, it is unimaginable but really true that the locals only very sporadically own a boat and therefore the vast majority of the children just never get to the sea while on living on such a very small island ... knock at a school or send us an email if you are interested, we can put you in touch with the nuns.
Ilona has baked a cake for the occasion and despite a not too wide range of available ingredients, it is a delicious cake. How does she do that?
We celebrate the evening part of my birthday with a number of other cruisers on the beach: A campfire is set up and everyone brings their own dish that is shared. The pleasant evening is a little too early disrupted by a persistent rain shower, but as a birthday boy on October 22, I am actually not used to anything else and it took quite a long time before the weather conditions necessitated a strategic withdrawal. But before we retire, Mark from sailboat Balvenie, who has been cruising the Pacific for some years, quickly demonstrates that the Polynesian war dance "Haka" is actually not that difficult at all.
It takes some getting used to again, but now we have descended so far from the equator that the temperatures at night sometimes drop below 25 degrees. Spoiled as we are now, we really have to resort to warmer clothing and so from now on we take a warm cardigan to the beach. It does cause us some concern before returning to the Netherlands that we are already getting cold at "only" 25 degrees ...
Because Tonga is a kind of gathering point for cruisers fleeing the cyclone season, we meet many old friends. Including the crew of Enchanter, a South African-Australian couple we had previously met at Tahuata in the Marquises. We have some nice days with them again and they tell us that they anchored at an uninhabited island where they were the only ones for weeks and the anchorage is therefore soon called "Nudy beach". We also go there, but we are there in the company of "Vaguebond", so despite the fun, the nudy aspect is not fully realized, but it is still a nice ending to the tropics. Closing the tropics indeed, because after "nudy beach" the carefree cruiser life is over. The destination is for Vaguebond, except for a short stopover at Minerva Reef, New Zealand. For us, it is now pretty much over: we have not cleared out yet and will do that at Nuku'alofa, where we will also "refuel".
Photo series Ha'apai group
In terms of landscape you can compare this group with the Ha'apai, but there are a lot of people living there, especially on the main island. This is Tonga's main group, the place to be if you like crowds. To be fair, the people here are very pleasant to deal with and more open than in the other parts of Tonga that we have seen and you can eat out very tasty and inexpensive! We notice that it is really poor, but there is a positive atmosphere. A really striking fact is that it seems to be very safe (b); despite the great poverty, nobody here locks their dinghy and nevertheless nothing is stolen. That is often different in places with many people and great poverty.
Customs clearance is easy and we do it on the same day so that we can immediately buy tax-free diesel. They do not have a real gas station here, but you can buy a 200 liter barrel of diesel at the local refinery, which they then place in front of you, complete with a hand pump. After checking the fuel level, 200 liters are just what we can still store on board!
The anchorage at Pangai motu on Nuku'alofa is also called "Big Mama" because of the sailors cafe with the same name on the adjacent beach. The entire anchorage is dominated by the approaching departure for New Zealand: Boats are inspected by the crew, supplies unwanted by New Zealand are donated to the local population, the last fresh products are bought on the way.
In retrospect, it turns out that there are many products that are now allowed to go to New Zealand. Rules have been very relaxed with regard to egg and dairy products. The mayonnaise that we have already bought in Tenerife and still had plenty in stock, we could have taken with us to New Zealand. We have to laugh at ourselves, who takes so much mayonnaise all over the world ?!
Besides stress about the weather and whether or not to report a nice weather hole soon, there is also a lot of partying here at Big Mama's, it is a pleasant affair with one party after the other. Cruisers who have to wait for parts find that because of all those parties a lot less bad than they would have thought it normal.
Ilona checks the stays, also at the very top of the mast. The engine gets a good overhaul and in the meantime we are mainly concerned with studying the weather. Fortunately, we are not alone in the latter: The high and low pressure systems that follow each other in rapid succession just above New Zealand are the talk of the day in the cruiser community: there is a shortwave radio in which a New Zealand meteorologist explains the effects of the current fronts and low and high pressure areas, we receive e-mails from Bob Mc Davitt, the New Zealand meteorologist and of course we discuss all the information with the now 30 other boats that are waiting for a reasonable "weather gap" to Minerva Reef or directly to New Zealand.
Time is running out as the cyclone season officially starts on November 1, but a suitable weather window is being postponed again and again. The high pressure areas don't have enough pressure, there is either no wind or the wind is coming from the wrong direction, or a front is approaching with nasty gusts and strong showers. The boats that were already on the way report discouraging situations with uncomfortable seas, days of calm in the center of a weak high pressure area or, on the contrary, wind with gale force on the transition from a high to low pressure area. The number of boats at the anchorage is only increasing and in the period since we arrived there have been hardly any departures.
Meteorologists dutifully point out that from now on there is a chance of tropical cyclones. The net behind us is closing but the net in front of us does not open yet. Like many other boats, we decide to divide the trip to New Zealand into two parts by anchoring on a shallow ocean depth: Minerva Reef. This is something like the Wadden Sea Region, but without the Wadden Islands: at low tide, sometimes something comes out of the water, but at high tide you are anchored with nothing but the ocean around you. The advantage is that you can wait for a weather gap here for the complex crossing to New Zealand, which has been shortened by more than 250 miles and therefore becomes a bit more transparent. On a beautiful November day we therefore set sail with destination Minerva Reef.
Day Tonga, day Tropics with your delicious coconuts, warm seawater and beautiful (underwater) world ...