Many cruising yachts miss the Tongan Ha’apai group of islands and what a shame that is. They are an idyllic South Pacific paradise and one of the nicest cruising rounds we’ve visited in 10 years of sailing. Our time there was spent visiting deserted anchorages and local villages, meeting friendly islanders and snorkelling in crystal clear water. Tonga has been a fantastic wind down time for us after the long Pacific crossing and given us time to take stock before the final leg down to New Zealand…we hope to be underway tomorrow.
The Ha’apai group is notorious for its shallow ground, numerous reefs and coral heads used to be called the Dangerous Isles for that reason. It deserves its reputation and navigating here certainly had its challenges. While our charts were mostly accurate, there were uncharted areas so we had to keep a good lookout. Given the stunning water clarity, eyeball navigation was straightforward as you can see in the photo above..the coral is clearly obvious.
The Ha’apais are low lying therefore offer little protection from anything other than prevailing trade winds so we kept a wary eye on the weather. Highlights were yet more close encounters with whales - we often had to alter course to dodge them – and some interesting expeditions to local villages to trade for fruit. The locals are incredibly shy and often hide from foreigners as they are not confident with their language skills. We had to be persistent but it paid off and we met up with some lovely islanders.
Our Timaru friends Gerald and Susie Morton flew to Pangai in the Ha’apai group to join us for a few days. In advance we ordered lots of sunshine, light winds and plenty of whale encounters. The weather Gods duly obliged and we had hot cloudless days. The whale encounters didn’t get any better than in stunning Nukupule when Susie and Gerald woke one morning to the sound of whales. They raced on deck to see two right beside Bandit…just checking us out.
Nukupule was a magic spot. We were the only boat in sight and the snorkelling was the best we’d had in a long time on pristine colourful coral with lots of fish. The tiny palm tree clad island was ringed with a beautiful white sandy beach and it was fantastic to be able to share this piece of paradise with good friends.
After Gerald and Susie left we worked our way down the Ha’apai chain stopping at Ha’efeva, O’ua and Nomuka and then Pangiamotu, off Nuku’alofa. We’d heard negative reports about Nuku’alofa but couldn’t understand why. The provisioning was fantastic, we found a wonderful coffee shop (flat whites – joy of joys!), a great bar for yachties 200m from our anchorage (Big Mama’s) and, best of all, fast internet on the boat. What’s not to like?
Our English friends Tom and Susie from Adina were anchored beside us so there was some serious socialising to do before they headed for Fiji. We had several meals on Adina, drinks ashore and dinner on Bandit – phew! As always, it was a farewell tinged with sadness. The camaraderie amongst the cruising community is something we will miss enormously. The day before they left we went on Adina to the boat harbour dock while they fuelled up. Obtaining duty free fuel here is an exercise in patience and tenacity. The fuel comes in drums which have to be pumped – fine until the pump stops working. Kiwi ingenuity soon had a siphoning system in place and Adina’s tanks full.
Seasoned sailor and good Marlborough friend Alastair Shanks flew into Nuku’alofa yesterday to do the 1000 mile leg down to Opua with us. It will be fantastic to have someone of Alastair’s experience on board. We hope to be in Opua mid October (all going well). You can check our daily progress on our other blog – www.blog.mailasail.com/yachtbandit or email us at email@example.com – but please, no attachments as email comes through a satellite phone.