06 September 2006

Vava'u Island Group

On Mooring Ball, Kingdom of Tonga, Vava'u Island Group, Neiafu, South Pacific

Ahoy from the future! We've crossed the imaginary date line. The date line is actually at 180'. But Tonga likes to be different. So we are a day ahead. Weird.

Tonga is "Cruisers Disneyland". That's what the captain says. We've been here almost two weeks and still enjoying all that Tonga has to offer.

Once arriving in Neiafu, the big town, all boats must pull up to the docks to check in. Sounds easy... but not so. The docks aren't made for sailboats, but instead the were made for big supple ships. So they are pretty high. In our fist week there were two serious accidents at the dock. One was cut up foot that resulted in many stitches. And another was an injury with 6 broken ribs. Ouch!

Team Sandpiper made it without injury. We waited patiently for the quarantine, immigration ,and customs folks to come down to the boat and check us in. The quarantine dude, George, was a real hoot. He made himself comfortable on several boats, eating cookies, taking bottles of rum, and drinking beer. We made it through the entire procedure with one less coke and a lemon.

After checking in, we grabbed a mooring ball, jump in the dingy, and we were off into town. Tonga is a nice breath of fresh air after visiting French Polynesia. Everyone speaks English, and food is cheap. We ate out almost every night our first week! I'd say 90% of the restaurants and businesses are run by cruisers that saw a great opportunity.

At one of the local hotels an American couple has set up a sheet to project movies on. We were fortunate to catch the double feature. "Tonga Bob's" is a cantina with homemade tortillas and a drag queen show every Wednesday night. You haven't lived until you've seen a Tongan drag queen show.

Most probably aren't hip to Tongan news. But the king is on his death bed and the kingdom is getting ready to grieve. One night, while having dinner, we overheard the owner say that the prince was coming in, so we had to get the scoop. She said he is here for one last final party before becoming king. The prince has eaten at her restaurant before, so she knew to get his special chair before hand.

He was several hours late for dinner. We had already finished our dinner. But I wanted to get a glance at the prince and future king. So we waited. I thought he would be dressed in traditional Tonga wear. But he wore a sport jacket, and he looks just like his father. Worth the wait, I thought.

Friday nights is the friendly yacht races. The boys tried this last Friday on our friend's boat Zafarsa while the ladies went to my favorite restaurant, the 'Compass Rose', for cocktails on the balcony to cheer our captains on. Well... the boat never even made it off the mooring ball. They raised the sail before untying from the ball, ran over the line, and got it wrapped around the propeller. The race was almost over by the time they got the line undone and the boat moored back to the ball. Reason number one why 'cruisers' shouldn't race.

Another hot spot in town is 'The Mermaid', both a restaurant and the Vava'u Yacht Club. It is a big cruiser hang out. Last night we all signed a 'puddle jump' shirt that they will hang in the restaurant for all to see. The town so cateres to cruisers that every morning at 8:30 they have a local net where the businesses broadcast short commercials of the specials for the day.

The Vava'u group of Tonga, where we are, is interesting in that you have over 50 different anchorages to explore, all within a close proximity to one another. It's so convenient to be able to go out for a few days, come back into town, reprovision, and then go back out again. This is exactly what we've been doing.

Our first week we went and explored Ofu island for one night. There we met a gentlemen named Moses. He's looking for someone to lease his land and open a bar. So if there is anyone out there interested....

The priest's son walked us along the beach with his friends, helping me collect shells. The next day we were off to Tapana Island. We made a reservation for 'La Pallea' restaurant, which we heard rave reviews about in a famous cooking magazine. The couple that own and run this retaurant were once cruisers from Spain. They settled here over 15 years ago. Excellent meal, great lively music, all in the middle of nowhere. Quite a treat!

Since islands and beaches are so close around here, it is a fantastic kayaking area. Finally!

We are currently out of town again, doing more exploring. We all met on Sunday for a day at the beach on Nuku. Sandpiper was then off to Ovalau Island, where our guide book promised whales. Our guide book was correct. We were greeted by a couple whales on the way to anchoring. But the real treat was while having sundowner's on our friends boat. Two whales swam by and we could hear them breathing. WOW!

Today we dropped anchor in the 'Blue Lagoon', explored in the kayaks, snorkeled, and are getting ready for a fabulous pork chop dinner. Meat can be purchased from 'Pete the Meat' out of his storage shed. The meat is from New Zealand, and I'm really looking forward to these chops. They were quite pricey, but are huge!

We will head back into town, either tomorrow or the next day, to reprovision. We will check out of Tonga and move the boat to one last anchorage for the 'Full Moon Party' before heading to Fiji. I can see how so many have made Vava'u their home. What an awesome place.

Notes From Ron.

  • Here is a good web page (with photos) about Vava'u Islands from a cruiser who visited last year. Here is another about the town of Neiafu.
  • Tom and Amy crossed the offical International Date Line and now are in tomorrow, one day ahead of the US. The IDL loosly follows the 180 degree longitude line, but it moves around because of the needs of the people who live near it. Amy is correct, Tonga sits west of the 180' longitude, and should be on the west side of the line. But they aren't. Why? I have no idea. It was decided back in 1884.
  • The Vava'u Islands Group are an amazing cluster of islands and channels. Look at this chart of the area to see what a playground it is for boaters.
  • The king on Tonga, Taufa'ahau Tupou IV, is known as the heaviest monarch on earth. He is in his late 80's, and weighs a reported 444 pounds. As of the writing of this blog, he is in a New Zealand hospital dying.
  • Here is a good article about the the king and his children that is worth reading.
  • King Tupou IV is best known in recent history for having earned $26 mllion with a scam where he sold Tonga passports to anyone with money.
  • He was then charmed by American Jesse Bogdonoff to be appointed Tonga'a official Court Jester, and to be responsible for investing the $26M the king earned from selling passports. Jessie promptly lost all the money in scams such as buying out the life insurance policies of AID's patients. Here is a good LA Times article written back in 2001 when the scandel broke. And here, and here, are some recent followups by the BBC.
  • The prince they saw is Tupouto’a, the crown prince. Tupouto’a literally means "Crown Prince" ,and he uses that as his name. He is sometimes refered to as Crown Prince Tupouto'a Tupou V. His full name is Sia'osi Taufa'ahau Manumata'ogo Tuku'aho Tupou. Interesting guy. He is a mid 50's playboy, educated at Sandhurst, and loves dabbleing in everything. Here is an article about him that is worth reading.

No comments: