Monday, 22 September 2014

Tonga to Fiji

We arrived in Neiafu harbour on 25 August tying up to the customs dock overnight. The following morning we picked up a mooring just off the Moorings charter base, which meant a nice easy dinghy ride ashore and easy access to water and fuel.
Kika in the foreground at Neiafu

The view from our mooring
Tongans are big ,happy easy going people. They have a natural politeness and friendly charm that makes doing business and shopping a delight. The country has been an independent monarchy for over 1000 years. No one has ever invaded Tonga, and in the past they were regarded as the Vikings of the pacific, with an empire that stretched as far as Hawiii. The Samoans still haven't forgiven them.

The king and a few nobles still own all the land, however every male adult Tongan is entitled to lease 8 acres of land from the king at a peppercorn rent for life which means subsistence farming is the predominant occupation. 

They persue a very traditional way of life. Men wear long wrap around skirts and for formal occasions or if someone has died in the family you wear a piece of woven matting on top of the skirt (a ta'ovala). If you are very close to the departed person you wear even more matting. All the graves are beautifully decorated with colourful flowers and matting. Walking down the street the first thing you notice is free range pigs with piglets in tow. Both houses and cars are in a poor state of repair indicating low per capita income. Nobody starves , but there's not much money for extras and the country is poor.

After a day in town and a couple of good evenings ashore it was time for Richard to go home via Nuku Alofa and Los Angeles. As always he's been great company and everyone was sad to see him return to work where he is taking the Welsh government to task over their failure to run the health service properly.

We got ourselves sorted and went on a diving trip before Nigel left. Beluga diving were well organised and took us to a coral reef near an island. It was superb with walls of impressive coral down to 20 metres , numerous fish including reef sharks, caves to enter, and a split in the rock you could swim up. Water clarity was terrific and my only problem was using up too much oxygen. I had to share the dive masters tank towards the end. Dirk from Dancing bear who dived with us told me that as you got more experienced you stop panicking and breathe less.

We took one trip out to the islands with Nigel before he left. The routine is to stock up with supplies and then head out to the numerous anchorages in the chain of islands. Its easy sailing in sheltered water rather like going around the Greek islands. Our first trip with Nigel was to a place called Port Maurelle where there is a big sandy bay. We went together with our friend Bev from CoCo who was on her own, so I crewed for Bev on the way out and Colin skippered Kika. We had a lovely pot luck BBQ on the beach that evening with other cruising boats. On Mouranoroa an Australian catamaran the children on board had established a base camp and were camping overnight- just like swallows and Amazon's.  Our only difficulty was the logistics of getting hot food onshore in the dinghy as the beach fire was good for standing around , but not cooking.
In the morning we went ashore again and walked along a track to a village. There were numerous butterflies of different colours flitting across our path. In the village the only vehicle was a Massey Ferguson 165 tractor used to plough. On an island you just need a boat to get you into town or to go fishing, and it was lovely to visit a place where there were just footpaths.
Mum takes the kids for a Sunday morning walk
Most people were indoors as it was a Sunday, however we met some kids on the beach , covering themselves with sand, several families of pigs beachcoming and looking for crabs in the water, and a cheerful lady sitting outside her house scratching the belly of her favouraite sow who was lying next to her grunting contentedly.
Hands on farming
We returned to Nieafu and saw Nigel off the next morning. We will miss all the jokes and music( we've had some great sessions) .Nigel went home via Nuku Alofa where he drunk some cava and suitably relaxed, climbed the sky tower in Auckland, where he sent Bridget an email suggesting I had mortgaged Kika to pay for my champagne bill-some things don't change!

On Monday 1 September Colin and I went off to the Botanical gardens on the other side of the island run by Haniteli Fa'anumu and his delightful wife Lucy. Haniteli had always wanted to have a botanical garden and encourage a natural forest. However when he told his father his ambition the old man thought about it told Haniteli it was a noble idea. He also told Haniteli that Tongans would not see the point of growing weeds and packed him off to agricultural college. 
Haniteli with the odd-job man

Some years later after he had become minister of agriculture Haniteli began to realise his ambition inheriting some land and leasing more. On one half he left the natural forest completely undisturbed. On the other half he created a garden of every species imaginable with walkways so you can go and see them. Haniteli just wants to see what will grow naturally in Tonga so he doesn't use any fertiliser or mulch.
He showed us some breadfruit trees that Capt Bligh of the Bounty took back with him to the Caribbean. They hadn't got enough flour to feed the slaves on the sugar plantations and thought the breadfruit would be a good substitute. It didn't work. Captain Bligh had not asked the Tongans what they did with the fruit which was to dig a pit , wrap the fruit up in banana leaves and let it ferment for a few years in the pit when it becomes ready to eat.
Haniteli also uses the fruit from the nono tree as a general pick me up that most Tongans swear by. The secret is picking the fruit off the tree before it goes rancid. Fermenting it in an airtight jar and taking off the liquor.
Helpful cards along the way

We had a great time looking over the hugely varied garden and then had lunch with. Haniteli and his wife Lucy in their restaurant looking across the spectacular bay. It was most entertaining. Hanitelis's biggest fans are the Tongan Royal family. The Queen Mother is a keen gardener and makes regular visits . Haniteli still has pretty well developed political tentacles, naming a walkway after her. If you put up enough money he would be happy to create a new one just for you!

Like all good politicians he was a likeable old rogue. We discussed cannibalism and in his view it was a bad Fijian habit the Tongans picked up -in other words move the bad news somewhere else. After a few more beers Lucy took us back to the boat. She's a great cook and caters for parties of up to 80 people there herself so she's starting a Tongan cookery school for Yachties.
The shoreline of the botanical gardens.
Hanitelis, the proud founder of the gardens

On Tuesday 2 Sept, Colin ,Sally and I set off early in the morning in the whale watch boat, a powerful launch powered by two 400 HP four stroke outboards . It was run by an Australian Andy and his Tongan partner Izzy who was the expert on swimming with humpback Wales. These magnificent creatures come up from Antarctica at this time of year to calve and mate again before returning to the Antarctic.  We were looking for females with their calves. The calves drink around 40 gallons of milk a day from their mothers and put on weight at a rate of 75 kilos per day. Mum loses about half her body weight feeding the calf.
baby whale playing with belly up

It wasn't long before we saw one breaching. Andy then manoeuvres the boat nearby but not too close so the whale can get used to the sound of the engines and when she is relaxed 4 snorkellers slip quietly into the water and try to get round to the front of the whale where she can see you. We tried this 5 times but every time the whale decided she didn't like it and turned tail. Once they do that its impossible to catch up with them.
Finally in the afternoon we came across a relaxed mum who stayed. As we snorkelled towards her you became aware of a vague white blur below you. This enormous creature emerged from the depths almost suspended vertically so you could see the white of her underbelly and pectoral fins with crustaceans on the fins and small fish feeding on them. Her calf was right by her nose and quite playful. Its an eerie feeling as this gigantic laviathon looks you in the eye and just decides to leave you alone. If it had other ideas you wouldn't stand a chance. A quite extraordinary experience.
and as seen from below...mum was close by. An incredible day.

For our last few days we set off again for the islands. We cleaned the bottom of the boat in Port Maurelle, there was quite a build up of weed but with three of us working on it it didn't take too long.
After a night next to our Irish friends from Laragh who came aboard for drinks, we anchored the next day off a small island called Lape and went to the village . Only 26 people lived there, mainly older people and children, as there was no real employment apart from selling handicrafts. The only people in the village from outside the island were the teacher and the pastor. The small primary school which took children up to the age of 11 was getting a new lick of paint from David, chair of the parent teachers association.
A good learning environment

He invited us over to his island that evening for a Tongan Feast with his family. We were warned off by the island head man Colio, who said David hadn't got a food safety certificate, however David seemed a nice man and we changed anchorage and went anyway.
School is finished
So we had pals on the beach

After a bit of snorkelling across some Staghorn coral where Sally spotted an Octopus we went ashore at 5pm to join David his wife Hedi and their lovely children for a feast on the beach just below their cemetery where Davids parents and Grand Parents were buried. David got his guitar out, which I accompanied as best I could on the fiddle and two of his daughters did a traditional Polynesian dance.
His two lads stoked up the fire, and a poor 3 month old suckling pig was skewered on a pole , covered in coconut juice to glaze it, and roasted over the fire with the lads turning the spit. Hedi turned up with a load of other goodies and we had a great meal.
The pork was very fresh indeed

Over a few more beers David told us that there were goings on at the other island Lape. An old man who lived near the beach had married a wife who was much to young for him . Colio had been caught my being a naughty boy by the pastor and David knew all about it as he was deputy pastor. Colio was not a happy man having his authority undermined, and was conducting an economic war on David and his island.  A paradise version of East Enders!
David already had 11 children and he admitted his wife would be too tired to have any more, so when Colin kindly took him and his son over to Lape with the rest of the food in the dinghy,  Colin was a little surprised to receive a request for some Viagra. There might be more to the tale than meets the eye!
David plays and sings for us

On our way back to Neifu our paths crossed with a large hump back whale and her calf who put on a great show of aerial acrobatics. As kika was under sail we hove to and stayed with them for 20 minutes.
We had a close encounter!

Back at Neifu there was the usual palaver of going round different government and customs offices to get clearance to leave. An additional complication was to find that 2 gallons of salt water had leaked all over the engine and into the  engine drip pan. I thought it was a leaky salt water trap initially , however after greasing the trap I found a much more significant leak where the coolant salt water entered the exhaust hose. It had perished the rubber exhaust hose and gone through some pipe underneath as well as corroding a large jubilee clip away. With no exhaust spares Colin and I used some special epoxy putty and tape for mending holes in pipes and exhaust fittings and nipped up a new jubilee clip into it. The next day the repair looked solid and was dry as a bone on running the engine. Dave from Laragh says it will be better than the original fitting!

We left Tonga at 9.30 am on Tuesday 9 September bound for Savu Savu in Fiji. We all felt much richer for the experience of staying with these generous warm hearted people. What they lacked in material wealth, they more than made up for with strong family and community lives often centred around very active churches. The sense of unbroken tradition going back many centuries,carried out in a lighthearted and cheerful way makes Tongans who they are.
We've had quite reasonable 15 knot average Easterly winds for the first part of this 450 mile passage . On Wednesday evening we caught a large Dorado which we towed for a bit at 6 knots before handlining it in. Seems to tire the fish out and prevent it fighting too much as it reaches the boat. The filleting tecnique Pete taught us works well and it was in the pan before you could say jack Robinson. As we approach Fiji we are acutely aware of a string of reefs, some of them uncharted that make these islands a hazardous place to visit. We will be going at night through the Nanuku passage arriving in Savu Savu at first light Saturday morning which will entail heaving to if we are early. Unfortunately this will mean paying the customs ,health and immigration people overtime rates, no doubt to their great joy!
In the end we needed to motor the last few hours as the wind dropped and arrived late on Friday evening and sneaked our way up a crowded river in the dark with no moon, to pick up a mooring. We awoke on Saturday morning to the sight of real tropical jungle on one side of the river and a morning chorus from all the parakeets. We received instructions from the marina to go back out to the anchorage and await the health quarantine people and customs who take spraying the boat and the regulations quite seriously , but its great to be in a stationary boat and have a full nights sleep.

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