Friday, October 15, 2010

The Kingdom of Tonga - Vava'u

The Vava'u archipelago rises out of the sea, uplifted from the sea floor by tectonic plate movement, as ridges of limestone. There is seismic and volcanic activity along the entire Tongan island chain that sits on the edge of the Pacific 'ring of fire'. Vava'u and surrounding islands are steep to and covered in dense green forest.
We had a very comfortable overnight trip to Vava'u. We caught a small rainbow runner (fish) on the way and enjoyed him on the grill. We checked in with customs and immigration and enjoyed the first day of the Puddlejump party. They had food booths set up and some of the locals were singing and dancing.
They had a kid's day where Kim joined in painting children and adult faces, the kids played corn hole (throwing bean bags into a hole from 20 feet), and attempted stilt walking, juggling and weaving. The cruisers painted a mural on a building next to the open market and it looked much better than before. The town had a nice parade where the local and cruiser kids marched together through town.



On Saturday night, they had a full-moon party where everyone dressed up in pirate attire and enjoyed loud music and much alcohol. Luckily, having Emily along gave us a reason to leave early.  We reunited with several of the kid boats and one day they had a science lesson for about 10 kids on one boat. They learned about water surface tension, chemical electroplating and other fun topics while Mom and Dad completed a few boat chores in peace.

We visited an elementary school one day with several other boat kids. We toured the classrooms and met some of the local first through sixth grade age kids. One of the teachers was absent on the day we arrived, so we took over the class room and I had 20 second graders singing "Old MacDonald had a Farm". We even learned the Tongan words for Pig, Horse and Cow. They knew their alphabet and numbers pretty well. They were really good at listening and repeating our sounds and we all had a grand time.
We gave the principal of the school a bag full of pencils, paper, pads, and other school supplies and one cruiser even gave away a microscope that they had never used. At the end of the visit, we were all given hand-woven fans and beaded necklaces that the kids had made.

The Vava'u group is a cruising Mecca. There are both Moorings and Sunsail charter companies that operate here. There are 34 islands with over 40 anchorages all within a day's sail or less. The people are friendly and the prices are very reasonable. There is fantastic snorkelling, diving and every year Tonga is home to humpback whales. The whales come here from June to November each year to calve and breed, before they return to Antarctica for the Southern Hemisphere summer. We saw humpback whales almost every time that we moved the boat to a different anchorage. Tonga is one of the few places that they even let you snorkel in the water with the whales. One a couple of occasions, we got very close to a mother and baby humpback. We put the boat in neutral and drifted. If they remained close, we might have been tempted to enter the water, but they slowly moved away. We respected their space, took a few pictures and moved on.
There are two volcanic caves along the coast in Vava'u and we explored both. Swallow's cave was big enough to drive our dingy into and birds and bats were swooping down on us while inside. Although the cave is named Swallow's Cave, according to ornithologists, the birds nesting here are starlings. We even saw a meter long saddle banded sea snake slither into the water to greet us.

The other cave is called mariners cave and could only be entered by swimming down about 5 feet and horizontally about 15 feet and then rising up into a pitch black cave. Not every cruiser visits this cave for obvious reasons, but we were not deterred. We had Emily practice swimming under our keel (5 feet deep) and across the beam of the boat (15 feet) and were confident of her abilities. We swam in without problems and our eyes slowly adjusted to the dark. The sunlight steamed into the cave under water through the entrance tunnel.

A thick green fog filled the air plunging everything into obscurity. Then, as suddenly as it had come, it was gone and I was in a magic place, a large dome-like chamber, whose walls and ceiling seemed to have been sculpted of some rosy, lucent rock. Directly across from us, beneath the water floor was a heart-shape opening through which surged the sapphire strange light that filled the place. Then it was gone again in a swirl of green fog. The fog disappeared and I looked down and saw the bottom 30 feet below us through crystal clear water. As the water surges in and out of this closed cavity, fog is created and cleared in cadence with the surge. One second the air is crystal clear and the next it is obscured by a dense fog as our ears cycled and popped with the pressure change. We looked upward at the dome 20 feet overhead and saw the ledge where a maiden was said to have hid here for a young chief. It faded in the fog and came back into view, faded and came back again like some fleeting, half recaptured dream.  We took another cruising couple with us since our dingy is fast and they repaid us by creating the following video...enjoy.

Fishing has always been a part of the Tongan way of life. The fish story to end all fish stories became a part of Tongan storytelling when Maui, the great Polynesian God, threw his line into the sparkling ocean and soon felt that tug which spells excitement. He gave a mighty pull, another mighty pull, then another, and there were all the islands of Vava'u. No wonder the local people feel so much at home on the sea. The islands themselves curve lovingly around the water, creating endless bays, tiny beaches and secret inlets.
We enjoyed this Tongan island group for almost 3 weeks before heading further south to the Ha'apai Group. While only another overnight passage away, it is much more remote and covered with reefs. Once inside the reefs, it is only safe to move in good light during the day. There are few towns there and very little provisioning. However, with a refrigerator and freezer loaded with food and a crew ready for new adventures, we were up to the task.



A.Cl said...

Hi Tom, Kim and Emily
Our family has been following your voyage across the Pacific and always look forward to your posts. Your description of the mariner'a cave in Tonga was enticing and is now on my children's "to do" list.
If you decide to sail south to Tasmania we will happy to show you some places worth visiting that are off the beaten track.

ssbsings said...

Hi Guys: Although we have no intention of doing more than down the east coast again, the description of mariners cave made Gene and I think that chartering in the Pacific might be a great idea. Glad that Emily is still far ahead of the science curriculum for her grade level. Still miss seeing you at Gwenmore but we are enjoying your blog. Sail (oops, boat) safe.
Susie and Gene on Evensong.

Anonymous said...

Dear Kids; Just went back to reading your report and found pictures, the video is great. Loved it Miss you all.