Posts Tagged ‘Tonga’

Candid Nuku’alofa

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Let us quickly manage your expectations: Nuku’alofa is no Papeete. The streets are not crawling with full head tattoos, beauty queens, or flamboyant purple mangomen, but we love the Tongans and are always on the lookout for a frame that says “I’m a Tongan.”


The sun was hot, and everybody had a plan. Youngsters were wading in the urban shallows…



grandpas were fishing…


hip young couples were lounging in the shady park…


and not-so-hip middle aged ladies were wrapping extra ta’ovala mats around their heads.


Other hip young couples were hanging out in the upscale cafe.

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A few hard workers were soaking pandanus leaves for future weaving.


Lots of people were spending the mid-day hours in the bingo shack,

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or watching a competition-grade checkers match in the covered market.

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There was also some shady texting and de-lousing.


The smallest shade loving Tongans wanted to be anywhere but the family vegetable concession.


By the time she’s eight she could be running the whole business (including the coconut bladesmanship) by herself.


The park was full of dishing office ladies,


and young moms.


The bus stops were full of hot people but no one seemed bothered.



By 1230 the streets were crowded with people loitering around on lunch break.


There were a few Tongans on the move: busy matriarchs…


serious schoolboys…


giggling girls…


pesky younger sisters…


kiekie skirt models…


and visa babies.

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21°08.00’S 175°10.00’W   07-Oct-10 01:45 UTC


Sunday, October 3rd, 2010

Kelefesia was an ancient gift island from the King to the ancestors of its current owners.

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It’s the finest gift island we’ve ever seen. There appears to be every requisite feature for island life here: excellent reefs, groves of coconuts, fruit trees, pigs, chickens, and even a self-managing island dog (read: skinny coyote).  Onesi, the current patriarch of the island, was quick to point out a shortage of cigarettes and whisky and sadly made his way back into the trees when we could not assist with his pursuit of vice. S was quick to point out that he should not forget to feed the dog.

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While Onesi spent the day alone on his island pining for a drink and a smoke, his family was offshore in a small boat looking for seafood.


The heavy surf that plagued us in Nokuma Iki was still in play, crashing into the reef directly behind us.

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The anchorage was a bit choppy but fine for a short stay.  A stern anchor holding our tail into the swell helped make things more comfortable.

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K ignored the pitching deck and arranged his cowry collection to gloat over them properly.

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(He can’t help it.  Lining things up in an orderly manner is a family trait that first manifests itself in early childhood)

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The Australian surfing doctors on the catamaran Morning of the Earth were excited by all the action and couldn’t imagine why we mono-hull folk were rolling so much.

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But we loved the unusual combination of layercake sandstone cliffs with the standard motu arrangement.   Sloshy anchorage aside, it was an island not to be missed.

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20°30.16’S 174°44.39’W   29-Sept-10 06:45 UTC

Nomuka Iki

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

The village of Nomuka is a regional center of the southern Haapai islands, but it doesn’t have a great anchorage so most people anchor on the little adjacent island of Nomuka Iki. Some people don’t really anchor but end up there anyway.

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K likes “chart anchorages”, anchorages that look good on the chart but have not been recommended or even mentioned in any other way. About half the time there is a good reason why they are not mentioned, but sometimes we end up in fantastic hidden spots.  Getting into a chart anchorage can be a stressful business, with K at his vantage position up in the rigging calling out course changes to S (“Port 5, Port 10, Port 90! Port 90! All Stop! All Stop!”) as we maneuver around the coral. When we get to a sandy spot K zips down to the deck on a rappelling belay and rushes forward to plant the anchor in the sweet spot. It’s a system that we’ve had a lot of practice at by now, and we’re at the point where we can drop a multi-anchor spread in about 20 minutes with remarkable precision and no marital stress (when things go well). 


We looked at several chart anchorages around the Nomukas and took the boat into some very tight pools in the reef with big surf pounding around us. None of them felt good enough to spend the night so we (K) finally submitted to the guide book and anchored next to a vibrant reef in the channel between the Nomukas – one represented by a nice big anchor symbol on the chart. But the tragic wreck of the Takuo nearby was a good reminder (for K) that safety must remain in at least the top 5 at all times.  

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Nomuka Iki was once a prison island but is now inhabited by free flying things.

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After weeks of trying to take pictures of these huge flying foxes we finally met one crossing overhead on its way to Nomuka.  Nocturnal, black, erratically flying bats rate close to jumping whales at the top of the photo frustration list.

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This patient Halcyon Chloris was glad to just sit in the dark jungley shade.

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With a favorable breeze in the offing we made a batch of banana cinnamon rolls and  prepared to sail for Kelefesia.

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20°16.55’S 174°48.48’W   26-Sept-10 06:45 UTC

Uonukuhahaki Island

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

This trip has certainly provided us with many unusual opportunities – like being able to say, as K recently did, “Hey, for lunch – let’s have barracuda sandwiches!”

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We caught this bad boy on the way from Pangai to Uonukuhahaki, and cooked the fillets in a sand pit on the beach.

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We’re clean out of banana leaves so we wrapped them in foil with garlic and butter and baked them in a crypt of hot rocks under the sand.  The leftovers made a wicked good barracuda salad with garlic and chives. We’ve both recently been reading an Anthony Bourdain book and have become a little food obsessed.

The uninhabited island of Uonukuhahaki is joined to its sister island, Uonukuhihifo, by an intertidal sandbar.


At low tide the sandbar was very popular, crowded with scores of terns,

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a few noddies,

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and a couple of tourists celebrating their wedding anniversary.


While S took a few minutes to reflect on what it’s been like to be marooned with K for the past 13 years…

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K chased some wildlife around the island.

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Some things are universal regardless of one’s species.  We felt great empathy for this fellow traveller as he made progress ever so slowly on his journey…we know how it feels.


Later in the afternoon, K had just popped up into the cockpit after a shower to grab a sun-drying towel when two Finnish kayakers caught him in the buff. It was alarming because Tonga is a very conservative culture for clothes. There are things we don’t expect that surprise us every day and new on the list is: Finnish kayakers 20 nm from the nearest airstrip on a remote out-island in rural Tonga while one is looking for a towel. Had we known they were Finnish right off we might have invited them to strip down and join us for a steam and a dip in an icy pond.  Alf and Patrick, who are on a 10 day paddling trip, seemed like our kind of people so we invited them to join us on the beach for a celebratory BBQ.

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K passed around a couple liters of his latest batch of brew, and made flatbread on one pile of embers and grilled lamb ribs on another.  Patrick and Alf had boil-in-a-bag chicken teriyaki (we think).  Under the pressure of our wheelbarrow full of fast-ripening Lofanga bananas, S made bananas foster for all for dessert (alas, we had no ice cream!).

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Alf and Patrick were delightful, fascinating company.  With the conversation covering such topics as mountain climbing rescues in the Himalayas, diving in 300 meter visibility under Antarctic ice, growing up in the Tribal Areas of Pakistan, waste management in Greenland, and Russian contract aviation, we chatted late into the evening.

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19°57.95’S 174°29.56’W   21-Sept-10 6:30 UTC

Among the Tongans

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

We hadn’t planned on going to Lofanga, but after three hours of bashing upwind into the 25-knot breeze and short-chop seas (and covering only 10 miles), we put off our plans of returning to Pangai and took shelter instead behind Lofanga’s southeast reef, in spite of the poor review in the guide book.

After snorkeling on the spectacular reef (we’re really lamenting the loss of our camera!) while being serenaded by humpbacks, we took a stroll along the beach.  There we met a fisherman named Moana who suggested that we might like the bay on the other side of the island better.  He agreed to show us.

Though we opted to stay put where we were, we ended up with an invitation to join Moana and his family the next day for their Sunday umu feast and church service.  We met him on the beach at 0700 Sunday morning and he led us down the main drag to his family’s home.

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Moana lives in a small traditional Tongan hut behind his parents’ house, and his brother lives a few houses down, so they share nearly every meal together.

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When we arrived, preparations were already in progress.  Moana’s mom Alofa and his sister-in-law Leialofi were sitting under a magnificent mango tree, assembling chicken lu (taro leaves stuffed with chicken, onions, and coconut cream).  An audience of the family dogs sat in rapt attention.

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The dogs were repeatedly shooed away if they got too close, but one little pup was especially insistent on keeping watch on the process.  He had the advantage of being a less conspicuous size than his elders.

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As we sat and watched the women, other family members brought us various appetizers, including fresh fruit and samplings of grilled pork and conch.

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Meanwhile, Moana worked to scrape the meat from 10 coconuts and made the coconut cream for the lu,

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and his father Onesi and brother Koaneti prepared the tubers.

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The pups didn’t hesitate to cash in on the spent coconut.

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There were a couple twists on last week’s umu feast on Matuku Island: Alofa used banana leaves instead of tin foil to wrap the lu in neat little packages, and tied them with fiber from the spines of the banana leaf.  Then she prepared one of our new favorite dishes – papaya filled with coconut milk.  The peeled papaya was nestled into a coconut shell and joined the rest of the feast to bake in the umu.

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While the dinner was left to cook, we changed into our “goin’ to meetin’” clothes and followed the family to their church.   Actually, Moana’s sister Eleanor lent S a church-going skirt and shirt after the ones she brought from the boat apparently didn’t pass muster. It turns out Moana’s family are the only active Mormons on the island.  Koaneti led the service and the family filled the well-maintained chapel with heartfelt prayers and hymns.  In typical island style they produced a joyful noise that belied their small gathering.

After the service,  Koaneti’s daughter Tomafa escorted S back home beneath the protection of a parasol. Tongans like to avoid the sun, we’ve read.

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Moana showed K the small hut where he lives.  S is pretty sure K secretly wishes he had such a ‘man cave.’

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In a short while the family reassembled for dinner inside Leialofi’s detached dog-pig-and-chicken-proof kitchen and dining shed.

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All the dogs were banished, the chickens were busy with spent coconut shavings, and the little piggy was tied to a shed, but the one cat made it in.

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The feast was scrumptuous and we ate til we could eat no more.

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The next day we came back to the family to see if K could help get their generator working.  Koaneti and his son Taofa helped as much as they could but then sat back while  K worked to diagnose the problem.

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Koaneti didn’t seem to hold out much hope.

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Unfortunately, while he did get the motor working, the 240 volt generator could only squeeze out a paltry 4 volts with the venerable Tecumsah 10 hp in overdrive. It was frustrating not to get the gennie humming but it was actually just a spare. The other one was running great, used mostly to power the SkyTV satellite dish for the all important NZ-Australia rugby match.

The pups lost no sleep over it, either way.

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Leialofi insisted we join the family for lunch.  They treated us to coconut fish stew and “Tongan chicken.”  S was very pleased to finally get to taste one of these home-grown birds.

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Before we left the family loaded us up with more fresh fruit than we could carry – oranges, papayas, bananas, lemons, and mangoes! And a SIM card for our cell phone.   Taufa gave S a lollipop from his stash (it was shaped like a foot).

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In fact, there was an escalating competitive gift exchange under way by the time we left. Eleanor won, hands down, when she gave S a huge Triton shell.

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Leialofi was keeping this little haymaker in reserve in case we came up with our own ringer gift. S was heartbroken to have to leave her new little dirt colored puppy in Lofanga.

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Truth is, we really couldn’t compete well with Tongan hospitality, but the family seemed to enjoy our gift of printouts of family pictures we took each day.

It’s hard to believe how fast people in this culture will adopt (or “familify,” per K) visitors.  It’s even more amazing when you consider the language gap and completely divergent lifestyles we have. This was our second Tongan foster family in about a week, and just as on Mutuku, they take their hospitality seriously. The most heartbreaking part is that the ladies always cry when it’s time for us to say goodbye (K is used to this but it’s new for S).

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When we were getting battered by choppy seas and head winds with no good anchorage in sight we suspected that our plans were about to change, and that we could be in for a serendipitous “experience”. What a shame it would have been to miss Lofanga!

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19°49.87’S 174°32.85’W   14-Sept-10 02:45 UTC

Some Tongan Whales

Monday, August 30th, 2010

We had a fine overnight sail from Luahiapo island in Vava’u down to the Ha’apai group of islands, 60 nm to the south.  As we approached the first of the Ha’apai islands early in the morning we were treated to the sight of humpback whales slapping the sea with their tails, and the sounds of their grunts emanating from the water.

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We’re trying hard to get a good picture of these whales but it’s not easy.

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There really isn’t much to see of a whale unless they breach. When this happens we stand slack jawed in the cockpit in awe of the force launching something the size of Bint al Khamseen 30 ft in the air. Until we receive the miraculous coincidence of flying whale, camera in hand, focus, shutter and reflex, then you fair reader will have to make due with blurry tails, whale bumps…

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… spouts

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and fin waving.

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The good news is that Tonga is absolutely rotten with whales and we have a decent chance of getting a good picture before it’s all over.  We see them every day and often  hear them singing when we are in the water.

K missed a great photo opportunity while trolling in the dinghy outside the reef off Meama island.

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It was a glassy calm morning, and minding his own business, he was, with images of mahi and tuna dancing in his head …

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…when a great whale surfaced 50 ft away on course to plow right under the dinghy.

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K and the whale continued to surprise each other for a hour and a half as they went about there respective tasks outside the reef.

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In full disclosure, the weak documentation was due in equal parts to fear, adrenaline, and the wrong camera. It’s a very humbling thing to be in a small blow-up boat miles out in the wide Pacific with a huge beast popping up here and there.  An experience not soon forgotten.

19°45.70’S 174°31.90’W   31-Aug-10 05:05 UTC

Neiafu, Vava’u Island, Tonga

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

The town of Neiafu is tucked up in a long sound at the heart of an archipelago peppered with limestone islands.


The channel to town was painted in our favorite colors.


We spent a couple of days wandering the dusty streets of Neiafu, waiting for clear weather to explore the islands. The day started with a provisioning stop at the bustling produce market.


While the very hippest of Tongans like their veg…


… the bigger ones are always ready for a fish sammich.


Island life can be a little mind numbing when your day is spent moving watermelon.


We saw a mix of western wear and traditional Tongan dress. Actually the lad on the far right is not in a dress but a traditional school uniform.



The suburbs were overgrown and shady. Just the kind of place for a smiling Comfort Pig to take a nap.


Or watch the tourists.


All matters of pig society were under the bright watchful eye of this wise old boar.


Life in these parts appears to be a struggle to prevent the jungle from reclaiming the homestead.


This venerable chap was doing his part.


The Vava’u Club was in slow decay…


but the good people at S.A.S. Finance were aware of this and are standing by to help with that second mortgage or car loan.


While houses erupt and then return to the bush in a regular cycle, familial memories run deep here and the lost are not forgotten.



There was nice view of town from the top of a hill. We were glad not to be tied to the wretched container dock, clearing customs with Dreamcatcher.


It was time for us to leave and we saw ourselves as a proud speck in the universal fraternity of seafarers who share the common struggle to get underway.


It’s an ancient fraternity including Noah, Lord Nelson, Dreamcatcher, Bint Al Khamseen and these Tongan seapups.


18°39.00’S 173°59.00’W   04-Aug-10 03:45 UTC

To Tonga

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

We reluctantly said goodbye to Niue after only six days.  We would’ve liked to stay longer but we wanted to get to Tonga and get ready for K’s brother David and his wife Marian who were flying in to join us in Nieafu.  But before we left, we had one more get-together of our friends from Fine Gold (Leisha and Greg) and Dreamcatcher KM (Karsten, Jarrod, Floss, and Ben).  K treated them to some Jordanian soul food: homemade lamb kebabs, hummus, and khubbuz (pita bread), topped off with an offering of his fine home brew.

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Early the next morning Karsten treated us to a round of his delicious cappuccinos aboard Dreamcatcher before we set sail (this cruising life’s tough at times). 


After saying “Ta-ta for now” to Karsten and crew, S demonstrated an alternative technique for disembarking from a tall yacht to a short dinghy (much soggier than the usual method).  K thought it looked fun so he joined her for a quick dip.

We had a good two-day passage with plenty of breeze and reasonably well-behaved seas.  Just before sunset on the second afternoon, one of the control lines on our wind-vane chafed through.  The line runs through the dark, cramped, nether regions under the cockpit, but we were back underway in less than an hour thanks to this dollar-store doodad (officially known aboard Khamseen as “the grabby thingy”):

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We counted ourselves lucky that the line broke while it was still daylight and before the winds picked up – with gusts to 30 knots.  The windy conditions provided a great opportunity to give a trial run to the reef points K installed in our staysail.  We’re happy to report that the shortened sail worked great! 

We were in for several surprises when we reached Tonga.  First, a low gray rain cloud rolled in as the morning sky lightened so that, except for being a few degrees warmer, the islands of  the Vava’u group more closely resembled the San Juans back in the Pacific Northwest than a tropical paradise. Second, we discovered we’d unknowingly crossed a dogleg in the international dateline overnight and we’d lost a whole day!  And third, not all customs docks are set up with a small boat in mind. 

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Vava’u’s dock doubles as a container ship dock with huge rubber bumpers jutting out from it like gaping, solar-panel-eating teeth.

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We had a hair-raising time trying to pry ourselves off the quay against the 20-knot wind on the starboard beam and did indeed come within millimeters of peeling off the vulnerable panel – several times – on those rubber teeth during our attempts to get away.  It seemed nothing short of miraculous that we still had all our panels intact as we headed for the anchorage in front of town.

We spent several days getting to know the town of Nieafu (“nee-AH-foo”), hanging out with the Dreamcatcher folks (who arrived in Tonga shortly after we did although they left a Niue day later), and preparing Khamseen for David and Marian’s arrival.  

We’d been looking forward to this reunion for many months, and it showed.


That night we were all invited to a farewell happy hour on Dreamcatcher (photo by Karsten), where Floss had made a half dozen plates of hors d’oeuvres, including wee small bite sized beef wellingtons.The following day they sailed for Fiji.  We were sad to see them go but are really glad for the time we had together.


18°32.42’S 173°59.05’W   3-Aug-10 08:00 UTC