Migrations 15
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25 June 2010 - 15 September 2010
Kingdom of Tonga (Tongatapu, Ha'apai, Vava'u, Niuatoputapu) and Niue

Written December 2010 – New Zealand

Image stolen from lydiakang.blogspot.com

This update was going to be called A WHALE OF A GOOD TIME.

Then it was YOU'VE GOT A FRIEND.

Not really. But you get the idea.

Sometimes it's hard to avoid clichés. Because, sometimes, clichés say just what you mean to say. That's why they became clichés.

Our season in the tropics was certainly not run-of-the-mill even though our plans this year were not grand. They didn't involve ocean passages of thousands of miles, or visiting completely uninhabited islands far off the beaten track. Our goals were to really get to know Tonga; visit friends there; to return to Niue; and to see, hear, and swim with, whales. So that is what we did.



The Kingdom of Tonga is divided into four island groups creating a chain about 400 miles long. Nuku’alofa, the capital city, is located in the southerly Tongatapu group. Northward is the Ha’apai group, then Vava’u, and finally, far to the north, Niuatoputapu. Each island group differs in geology, remoteness, and the effects of tourism and technology.

The Kingdom of Tonga. Niue is 230 miles to the east
and Fiji is 300 miles to the west.



We spent just one week in Nukua’lofa, the capital of Tonga. It's the big city with a population of about 25,000 (the entire country has just over 100,000). As such, the provisioning is good, but it's not exactly our cup of tea.

Crafts in the market. We didn't buy any of these
purses but they made for a nice photo.

Notice the list of food on this restaurant's
sign. Tongans call all fried chicken "Kentucky".

The Free Wesleyan Church was holding their annual conference which
included huge tents where attendees ate great quantities of food. Walking
by, we were invited to partake. It was quite the experience. The Tongans
manage to eat lots of greasy food (note the pig head) and maintain a sense
of decorum. Not so this
palangi (me). I'm a mess, literaly,  without a napkin.

We skipped out of town as soon as we could; heading first to the small island of Malinoa. We had to stop so Alene could do a cartwheel.

One of the first of many this year.



The Ha'apai group consists of reefs, islands, more reefs, and then some islands. There are also some reefs. Many cruisers sail right past because of... the reefs. We were determined to see all of Tonga, and we'd read that the Ha'apai bore great similarity to the Tuamotus—our favorite part of French Polynesia. We left Tongatapu in company with Isolde and Gabor on s/v Kestrel. After a fine, windy sail, we arrived at the island of Nomuka. It was early in the season and we were the only sailboats around.

We anchored at uninhabited Nomuka Iki (Little Nomuka) and explored a bit before
heading over to the village on
Nomuka proper.


 Says ADR: Nomuka



It's pretty easy in the Ha'apai. At least the "friends" part. Just sail to small villages and walk around. We met lots of friendly people—especially kids.



We were anxious to visit friends in Lifuka, the main village of the Ha'apai group. But we didn't want to rush. We stopped at five islands on our way north: Tanoa, Fonoifua, Fonuaika, Ha'afeva, and Lofanga.

The villages of the Ha'apai are very basic. Often there is no, or very little, electricity available. Basic homes, subsistence fishing, no television. The Tongans are somewhat shy but always polite. Very generous as well. We often asked if we could buy fruit and were never allowed to; always given a bunch of bananas as a gift. We usually carried fishing hooks and line to offer as our gift.

A sight you see everywhere: pandanus
leaves drying in preparation for making
ta'ovala (mats).

Of course Alene had to try out the beach
at each island we visited. (This is Tanoa).



Actually, in Tonga these days, sea cucumbers are hot. They are a delicacy in China, and Tonga has opened their seas to Chinese and Korean importers. I don't know a lot about the life cycle of the sea cucumber but it just doesn't seem sustainable to remove every single cucumber from the sea floor around the islands. It might create a problem when the sea cucumbers try to reproduce. I do know that sea cucumbers play an important role in the health of reef systems and are seriously endangered in many parts of the world. Again, humankind's insatiable appetite and greed is aiming to destroy another species.

After the cucumbers are collected, they are cleaned, soaked, boiled, dried on racks, dried in a smokehouse, and dried on racks again. All of this makes them look like hard dog turds. But some species go for US$50 per kilo.



Last year we were lucky to make the acquaintance of Melaia and Sio when they were living in Nuku'alofa. They've since moved to Lifuka. That's where Melaia is from and her mother still lived there.

We had a WONDERFUL time visiting Melaia and Sio and meeting Melaia's family. Melaia is a fascinating person with a very interesting history. She spent many years in the USA and provided us with a very personal view of Tongan culture. We spent many hours sitting around talking... as well as too much time eating.

Hanging out at Melaia's Inspiration Cafe & Store which is under construction.

Melaia is starting an after-school
reading program so we brought her a box
of children's books donated from SCBWI
in the US and Wheelers Books in New Zealand.

We enjoyed meeting Melaia's 85 year-old mother Lesieli, and her sister Lavini.

Melaia and Lavini decided we should wear traditional ta'ovala (mats)
when we went to church to hear the beautiful singing.

Ta'ovala certainly emphasize the
ample proportions of most Tongan women.

We didn't just sit around and talk all the time—(though maybe we did eat all the time): Alene and Melaia made brownies, we had meals aboard Migration, meals at Melaia's, and picnics on the beach

Life in Tonga is very different. Sometimes
there is a pig snuffling around to pick up
the table scraps after lunch.

Some of the Ha'apai islands have sand bars joining
them at low tide. Locals go back and forth by
foot or horse.

Most anchorages in the northern Ha'apai offer an amazing view of Kao
and Tofua. Tofua, the low island, is an active volcano.
You can see the steam rising from the crater on its right side.
Just off of these islands is where the Mutiny on
the Bounty took place.

We spent 8 days with Melaia and her family: enjoying each other's company and learning a lot about Tongan culture. Knowing we would return in a few months, we headed to the most northern islands of the Ha'apai for some excellent snorkeling and diving.

The diversity of fish in Tonga is wonderful. We saw few large fish but nearly every time we got in the water
we came upon a species we'd never seen before. The bottom middle photo is of a clown triggerfish—one of
our favorites.

Our painted message on the bottom of
the boat was still doing it's job.



But it can buy a lot of nails, fish hooks, and hammers. What does that have to do with anything? Read on.

We had a great 55 mile sail from the Ha'apai to Maninita, the southernmost island in the Vava'u group. We spent a couple of days exploring this tiny bird sanctuary—on land and in the water. We even had a great night snorkel under a full moon.

Maninita's tight anchorage, notice the reef.

Here we saw our first zebra shark. If you
look carefully you can see that it actually
has spots like a leopard, When they're young
they are striped like zebras.

We sailed north among Vava'u's islands and met up with our friends Dick and Trish on s/v Geramar. Both are avid divers and we did a couple of great dives together.

This was the first time we saw so many
beautiful feather stars.

Near Mala Island, we had an excellent snorkel in what is called the Japanese Garden.

In the Japanese Garden the starfish
seemed to congregate just for us...

and Alene kept finding loaves of bread.

We hung out for several days but soon we knew we would have to head to town.

Sometimes we find little clues that
tell us when it's time to provision.

So off we went to Neiafu.

Neiafu is the main town of the Vava'u group. Some people love it. The provisioning is all right but there are too many boats there for my taste. And all the businesses are owned by palangi (white foreigners) which bothers me. It's also noisy. Hmmm... maybe it's not my favorite place.

It may be noisy, but it is also beautiful.

We saw some great Tongan dancing at one of the restaurants in town.


Thanks for asking. Our friends David and Mary on s/v Giselle (from Scotland) had visited the small northern island of Niuatoputapu last year just after it was devastated by a tsunami (the one that killed several hundred people in Samoa). Mary's sister raised some money from her Rotary Club in Scotland and Mary was going to bring supplies back to Niuatoputapu. But Giselle required a few extra months in the boat yard so they weren't able to return. Thus, they asked us to buy supplies in Neiafu and take them to Niuatoputapu.

That's why we are standing on the dock with nails, saws, machetes, and hula hoops. You can read the full story (written for the Kirriemuir Rotary Club) here. It includes some good photos.

After a couple of days of shopping,
we went to the Customs office for our
check-out papers. A cool coconut makes
waiting around for bureaucracy much easier.


NIUATOPUTAPU (cliché needed)

It's about 165 miles to Niuatoputapu from Vava'u. We had a solid 20+ knots of wind and arrived in 25 hours. Niuatoputapu has a narrow pass, but the beautiful lagoon has room for many boats. Good thing as we were surprised to find 14 boats anchored here. The winds had been southeasterly for some time and, since most boats were heading south, no one had left.

A SMALL RANT: Most cruisers (not all, thank goodness) call Niuatoputapu New Potatoes because they don't want to take the time to learn how to pronounce it properly. It's new ah toe poo tah poo—not that hard really if you take the time out of your busy schedule to practice it for maybe, uh, one minute). If you are a cruiser planning on visiting, please learn to say the name of this island properly. It is just plain  disrespectful not to do so. You've learned to sail in storms, repair all manner of boat parts, fix your toilet, and navigate through reefs. Surely, you can learn to pronounce the names of the places you visit.

Niuatoputapu is much closer to Samoa than to the capital of Tonga. It is, and feels, very far removed from the rest of the country. There are about a thousand people on the island spread over three villages. Until recently, very few boats stopped here but it has become quite popular in the last few years, especially for boats sailing from Samoa to Vava'u.

The island is sill recovering from the 2009 tsunami that killed 9 and destroyed a great part of the villages. One of the first things we wanted to do was deliver the supplies we'd brought from Vava'u. Read the entire story, and see more pictures here.


Still a lot of temporary housing and rebuilding on the island.

Wherever we walked, kids followed us around. They were great. Though occasionally asking a few too many times for lollies (conditioned by other cruisers), they were still fun to talk to and play with.


We had some interesting weather while we were there. When it finally settled, many of the boats left for Vava'u.


When things settled down, we unfolded the bikes for an island circumnavigation. We love our bikes!

Ready to set off.

The Royal Swimming Hole... really!
Beautiful, clear, fresh water.

An ancient kava pounding machine.

"Let's see. The schedule says the plane
is due to land on Friday... that means we have
two days to get off the runway..."

The extremely rare Equus Octopoda.

One of our favorite finds when exploring:
red seeds. They look just like Red Hot candies
and it is impossible to pass by without
stopping to collect them.



Niuatoputapu's neighbor, four miles north, is Tafahi: a perfect cone-shaped island 560 meters (1,840 feet) high. It begs to be climbed. We talked to one of the locals, Niko, about guiding us up and decided that we'd take everyone interested over on Migration and tow Niko's small fishing boat so he could shuttle us in through the small break in Tafahi's reef.

We set off with 14 aboard: 11 cruisers, Niko, Niko's brother who was returning to his home on Tafahi, and one of the local police officers who needed to follow up on a case on the island.

The first boat of passengers arrives.

Shelmy and Isabelle from s/v Wakataitea
enjoy the perfect sail over.

Friendly locals at the single village on the island

Niko was the perfect guide. At
several stops while we caught our breath,
he climbed palms to gather coconuts.
Then deftly cut off the tops so we could
quench our thirst.

Waiting for our coconuts.

Success! The view from the top.
L to R: Alene and I, Isolde, Gabor, Niko, Hans-Gunther, Kristina, Andy, Ute, Isabelle, and Shelmy
from the boats: Kestrel, Y Not, Panika, Lopto, & Wakataitea

We came down the other side of the island along this steep slope offering stunning views to the east.

Launching the boat to return to Migration.

With a boat full of cruisers, we had enthusiastic crew.

We even caught a wahoo on the way home.


Our social and activity calendars filled up quickly on Niuatoputapu.

Scuba diving & snorkeling outside the reef.

Delivery service: gifts sent from other cruisers to their friends on the island.

Delivery Service 2: More of the SCBWI books
for the school library.

Local potlucks and playing music. That's Mike & Mary from s/v Carpe Vita.
We last played music together in Bahía Concepcíon in the Baja in 2006.

We had some visitors aboard.

We brought in our projector and Honda generator and showed a movie
and some cartoons for the kids. They loved the old Donald Duck cartoons.

The Niautoputapu Men's singing group held a concert. Wonderful!


    VIDEO: Niuatoputapu Men's Choir (1:20 - 5.0 MB)  


And I gave another school presentation. It was quite a challenge working with one of the teachers who translated my talk, and one of my books, into Tongan. Many words didn't translate well.


The last thing we did before we left was hike to the northeast point of the island. This is where the tsunami first hit. It was sobering, to say the least.

Over a square mile of the island used to
look like this: dense forest.

Now it looks like this.

The wave uprooted hundreds of trees, pushing them against the forest and
creating a huge wall.



Anyone who's read Migrations 13 knows how much we loved Niue. Last year we spent two weeks there and it wasn't enough. We were determined to return. Unfortunately, Niue is West—upwind—of Tonga. We actually left Niuatoputapu heading back to Vava'u. But after several hours it seemed to make sense to try for Niue. We cranked in the sheets and pounded upwind. Luckily, we were fortunate to get a period of relatively light trade winds. The seas laid down and we had a fairly pleasant 3-day sail.

Since we'd been here before, we didn't mind arriving at 2 AM in the dark. How exciting it was to be back. Like meeting an old friend. And we even had a warm Welcome Back message from Commodore Keith of the Niue Yacht Club when we checked our email in the morning.

Migration back on a mooring in Alofi Harbor, Niue.

The morning also revealed s/v Navire moored nearby. We'd briefly met Kiwis David and Janet in Nukua'alofa and had looked forward to getting to know them. But our paths had diverged for several months as they headed north to Samoa. All the other boats were unknown to us as they had arrived from the east. We quickly glommed on to David and Janet and became fast friends. Together we visited the school for the Friday morning assembly. One class leads the assembly with songs, poems, and stories. It was very enjoyable—except when we were chastised by the principal for applauding after a hymn.

Cleaning up beforehand.

Assembly leaders—a big day for 4th grade.

Being back on Niue was a delight. People were friendly, we had a great many plans for adventures above and below the water, and just walking along and looking out to sea is always enjoyable. Because Niue is a raised atoll, one has a much higher vantage point than the usual low lying Pacific islands. This creates nice views of the coast as well as a long horizon over the sea.

The coast of Avatele Bay.



Last year we joined the Makefu Women's Weaving Group for a morning of more or less effective lessons. Alene wanted to try her hand again at Niue weaving. She rounded up three other woman, I dropped them off, and they went at it. David and I chose to partake only of the lunch portion of the day.

A work in progress...

Betta models the almost finished product and Alene
shares a joke with Eva.

Lunch on the new plates we brought
as a gift for the weaving club.



Niue has a local NGO dedicated to protecting the marine mammals in the area. Oma Tafua held a benefit night and we, along with a host of other cruisers, decided to attend.

Waiting for our ride. This photo demonstrates
the age-old adage "Cruiser guys don't wear solids".

The evening consisted of a costume contest, dancing, music, and several educational presentations about whale research.

I don't agree with all the regulations Oma Tafua is promoting
to protect the whales, but their hearts are in the right place and
they sure have a cool poster.



One reason we were heading to Vava'u instead of Niue when we left Niuatoputapu is that we had been in contact with Ian and Annie of Niue Dive and they'd told us that there just weren't many whales visiting Niue this year. What a bummer! The previous two years had seen a bumper crop of whales. As we left the pass at Niuatoputapu, a mother humpback and her calf swam right past us. We thought this might be a good omen and hoped that when we arrived in Niue, so would the whales.

We were not disappointed. A few days after our arrival, whales swam through the mooring field three mornings in a row. We grabbed our masks and snorkels and jumped in. That's me in the first photo! Being in the water with a whale is exciting, humbling, and awe-inspriring.

(Photos by David Mason of s/v Navire



Once a year, each Niuean village has a Show Day. We would call it a fair. Tuapa's Show Day coincided with our visit and we didn't want to miss it. The helpful lady in the tourist office warned us that the food would be gone if we didn't arrive early. "How early?" we asked. "Oh, by 7:00am."

We'd rented a car with David and Janet so we headed out together. We didn't arrive before 7:00 but there was still food available at 8:00. We diligently purchased our plates from one of the many stands set up. What was being served? Huge portions of fish, pig, sausage, and, of course, taro. We sat down and ate it while it was hot. What a strange breakfast, we thought. Then noticed that all the locals took the plates (which are served wrapped in foil or plastic) to their cars, then retrieved them to eat at a more reasonable hour—like lunchtime!

The mayor starts things off while the villagers look on.

There are some nice crafts on Niue. This tapa was not at the Show Day
but I'm including it because it is one of the most beautiful we've seen.

Dancing and singing were on the agenda. I don't have a photo of the
early aerobics demonstration in the rain by the fairly hefty Niuean women.


    VIDEO: Tuapa Show Day Dance (0:38 - 2.4 MB)


A fashion show was part of the day's activity. Since the only entrant in the men's category was the mayor, Alene suggested David and I add our haute couture to the proceedings. We were asked to describe our outfits. Mine was 'typical cruiser' fashion (le mode navigeur) consisting of ball cap, sunglasses repaired with tape, shorts, sandals, and a non-solid shirt.

Look carefully at the photos. Alene enjoyed pointing out—afterwards—
that the one time I'm in a fashion show, I have my shirt buttoned wrong.
Paris, New York, Milano... here I come!



One of our goals upon returning to Niue was to complete Vaikona cave. We entered this cave last year when we toured the island with our friends on Avel Mad, Canela, and QoVoP. We didn't have enough lights—or knowledge—to transit the entire cave system. This time we went prepared with ropes, climbing harness, a map from another cruiser, and extra lights. David and Janet were gung-ho to jump right in... literally.

Intrepid explorers.

A 45-minute hike through beautiful jungley
forest and coral pinnacles brings you to the
welcome sign at the entrance:
Niue Police

First we had to crawl through the narrow opening and then work our way down a long slippery rock slope with a low roof. Then comes the Big Gap: about two meters across with only a few handholds.

Below David there is a crevasse about 5 meters deep. There's a pool
at the bottom so all the breaks and bruises you'd receive on the way down would be
soothed by the very cool water.

After the gap we climb over and around some huge
boulders to arrive at the first pool.

This section of the cave is not a cave at all, but a huge chasm. You can see the sky above through the scores of bromeliads clinging to the rock face. Ferns hang from the cliff edges and grow among the boulders. The first pool is crystal clear—and cold!—and an exquisite aquamarine color. We spotted several small fish and a large eel.

I'm swimming down toward the
bottom of the first pool.

The far end of the pool ends at a sheer rock cliff. Diving below the face, there's a four-meter tunnel leading into the next chamber. This one is quite large—probably 25 meters long. Blue light filters up from the tunnel behind. Ahead is all darkness. Unfortunately we don't have a light for our waterproof camera so we don't have any photos.

There are two more swim-throughs and then a scramble across rocks and into the light at the bottom of a second chasm. This is where we got lost... we thought we were supposed to climb out here but could find no way up the sheer walls. Eventually we backtracked through the pools and exited the way we entered—which meant crossing the scary gap again.

Now that we'd had two tastes of Vaikona, we couldn't give up. We returned a third time, also accompanied by Les and Sandy—Aucklanders who were on holiday. Plus we were armed with another round of local knowledge as we'd quizzed one of the Niuean guides about the exit.

This time, after the first set of pools and the scramble in the second chasm, we jumped into another set of pools. This led far back into the cave system until we finally saw light shining from high above. Les and David carefully explored routes up and out. Though it was quite steep, very high, and a bit nervous-making, we managed it without incident and finally squeezed through an opening to find ourselves on the very rough and sharp landscape above the coast.

Ready to set off on the third attempt.


A twenty-minute hike brought us back to the cave entrance where we gathered the rest of our gear before the hike back to the road. We'd done it! It was a great feeling of accomplishment and certainly one our best adventures... shared with good friends. We later found that we hadn't exited the 'normal' way which is why it was so difficult to get out. Still we'd made it!



Vaikona is only one cave of dozens on Niue. With David and Janet we visited as many as we could fit in during our visit.

The wonderful land and seascape of Niue
(Some Photos by David Mason of s/v Navire)

What happens if you spend too much time
alone in the caves of Niue?
Click on the photo above to find out.


 Says ADR: Niue Adventures




Now that we had conquered Vaikona, and visited most of the caves, we could turn our attention to some other activities on our list.

Just as last year, I visited the school and did a presentation on books and
writing for some of the older students.


A couple of dives with Niue Dive: beautiful coral, caves, and sea snakes.


    VIDEO: Cool Fish That Climb Walls  (0:21 - 1.4 MB)  


And a whale watch trip where, after hours of searching, we got in the water
with a singing male. The song! The song! Resonating through our bodies!
This was the sound that woke us up several nights at 1 AM. We could hear
it right through the hull of Migration.


    VIDEO: Listen to the Whale Song! (0:36 - 0.8 MB)  



That's Ian of Niue Dive. Note that we
are wearing our new Niue Dive hats. We
had a really good time with Ian, Annie,
and their kids Tofi and Tahi.

The supply ship came in and we enjoyed watching some of the unloading. The ship anchors out with a line to the wharf and lighters transfer the cargo. Notice the car being unloaded in the center photo. Then check out the video below—it's wild. Also aboard this ship were the remains of Anna, a 57' catamaran that had capsized on its way to Niue the month before. The crew were rescued.

    VIDEO: Car Swing! (0:23 - 1.5 MB)   
     How would you like to be the owner anxiously awaiting
     the arrival of your new car?



A GOOD STORY: One night Janet and David joined us on a night snorkel along the reef to look for lobsters. We did see some lobsters but just weren't fast enough to get them. Still, it was a cool snorkel with lots of different fish and the chance to see big parrot fish sleeping in various nooks and crannies.

Janet and David's wet suits weren't as thick as ours so they went back to their boat because they were cold. About a half-hour later, as we quietly swam past Navire on the way to Migration, we stopped and did our very best whale song imitation through our snorkels. We were patient. Slowly increasing the volume and sounding more whale-like with practice. After five minutes, David rushed naked into the cockpit shouting "Janet, there are whales all around the boat! Get a torch!" Of course, we couldn't stop laughing as he shined the flashlight down on us. It was a good joke and we very proud of ourselves.

However, we didn't just play hoaxes on our friends the whole time we were there. We behaved ourselves and hosted several fun get-togethers aboard Migration.

We celebrated Janet's birthday...

invited Tofi and Tahi aboard for an
after-school visit...

and introduced our new friends Enya and Mia  from
the South African boat s/v Mojo to Chinese food and
chopsticks. And they introduced us to a great card
game (
The Noise Game) while their parents were on a date...

and enjoyed more good times, and delicious
meals, with David and Janet...

and had a dessert & music night on deck.

With all we wanted to do—and did do—the time flew by. Before we knew it, it was time to head back to Tonga.

First we need haircuts...

Then we signed the guest book, sadly let go the mooring, and waved goodbye to one of our favorite islands.

(Our continued travels in Tonga and return to New Zealand will soon be chronicled in Migrations #16.)

Writing (and reading) clichés usually makes me cringe. My apologies for subjecting you to so many. Sometimes the theme appears and I just have to run with it. However, as I said at the beginning, clichés can serve a purpose. Within their well-used embrace, there is an understanding of a feeling or experience that is common and easily shared.

I write this on 1/1/11, the first day of the New Year. We are in Wellington Harbor in New Zealand; few cruisers sail this far south so we are far from the friends we've made sailing—most of whom are in the north of New Zealand. We're even farther from the friends we made in Tonga and Niue, and very far from loved ones in the United States and beyond. But our friends here in Wellington have opened their arms to us. The feeling of being cared for and loved is an experience that is easily shared. We hope it is one that you experience and share during this holiday time of year. Alene and I are mulling over our resolutions. Though mine aren't quite defined yet, I know they'll include the desire that our path across the planet leaves the land and sea no worse (and maybe better) than before we arrived, and the people we meet with memories that bring only pleasure. So may it be for you in Two Thousand and Eleven.

And one other resolution?

Avoid overusing clichés.

Happy New Year.

Be good.



  Where we've been June - September 2010
  Approximately 1,000 nautical miles traveled this period.
  Approximately 22,449  nautical miles since leaving Long Beach in June 2005.

Sunset in the Ha'apai
Where are the words, where are the words,
Where are the words
Where are the words, where are the words,
Where are the words
And it’s almost not worth singing about,
It seems so everyday anyway
Still we play that old cliché

And here sit I, one man show
I vivisect and then pretend to know
All it ever gets me is an ache in the mind
Can’t somebody help me to try to make the knot unwind
And I say what I say when I know
There’s really nothing left to say
Then I play that old cliché
Throw away that old cliché
Cliché, Todd Rundgren


This site was last updated 11/22/17